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It has been 44 years since the now-famous Stonewall riots of New York City, which are often considered the single most monumental event in the history of gay and lesbian rights. On a hot June night, a community took action and unleashed a power that had not been seen before. Every year in June, cities around the world remember this occasion with a weeklong celebration, and if we do say so ourselves, Houston shows pride like no one else, with ten days of events.
The Human Rights campaign goes far beyond a bumper sticker.
Drive around Houston for any length of time and you're sure to notice that familiar equal-sign bumper sticker proudly displayed on the back of a pickup truck; it's the quintessential mark of a Houstonian showing his or her pride. If you've driven behind such a bumper and wondered what exactly that equal sign stood for, then you've been overlooking the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil liberties organization in the country, the Human Rights Campaign. HRC was founded in 1980 with the mission of advocating on behalf of the LGBT community on a national level. Here in Houston, our local chapter has also played a large part in making the LGBT community what it is today.
In terms of progressiveness, Houston is doing fairly well. With the country's first openly lesbian mayor, Houston stands out as something of a blue bubble in a sea of red. Houston's HRC is pretty proud of that fact.
"Right now, our major goal is to keep Mayor Parker in office," Jennifer Bajorek, HRC Federal Club co-founder and a member of Houston's HRC board, says by phone.
Bajorek and her colleagues have been working hard to get the word out about the local chapter and how effective it has been due to the support of the city. On the national level, HRC spends a lot of its time and resources lobbying Washington to push bills that will support the gay community, and lately there's been a lot of activity going on in that area, with gay marriage such a hot-button issue.
But Bajorek says that even with Houston's liberal leanings, she worries that Texas will continue to lag behind the gay marriage curve; as of this month, 12 states legally recognize gay marriage. But that doesn't mean Houston needs to give up.
"The more people that come into the fold, the more we can do together to make an impact," says Bajorek.
And that fold is looking for more hands on deck. Houston's HRC is a completely volunteer-run organization, with all its donations going to the national foundation. It regularly sponsors events, supports relevant local legislation and educates the city on all things related to its cause. Houston was recently named the recipient of the Welcoming Schools Program, which offers "tools, lessons and resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping, and ending bullying and name-calling in elementary schools." That's a huge accomplishment for the chapter.
It has also been Bajorek's mission in the five years she's been with the organization to expand the diversity of the board and subsequent committees.
"Houston is such an international city. I want to make sure that all voices are represented, and I think we are getting there," she says.
In terms of Pride, HRC will have a booth at the festival and will be marching in the parade as well. Bajorek invites everyone to come out, march with the group and show their support for all to see. Because isn't that what unleashing your pride is all about?
"Unleashing your pride is about getting out there and putting it all out in the open," Bajorek says.
Female Grand Marshal Robin Brown knows how to raise money, advance awareness.
Robin Brown, this year's Pride Parade Female Grand Marshal, is an in-demand woman. Nonprofit organizations try and snatch her up because of her outstanding track record for raising both funds and awareness, not an easy feat. Her résumé is full of leadership positions that nongovernmental organizations drool over. Brown has served on the Board of Uncommon Legacy; she was a committee member for the Houston Black Tie/Human Rights Campaign gala. In the ten years she's been with the HRC, membership has grown, and she was co-chair of the annual Victory Fund Champagne Brunch that aided in the recent election of 124 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates. And now she's the Female Grand Marshal for Houston's Pride.
We chatted with Brown during a busy weekday lunch to get the scoop on what it means to be so important to Houston's LGBT community.
Houston Press: You have such a diverse background in fundraising and growing organizations. How did you get into that?
Robin Brown: My very first fundraiser that I did was back in high school. I used to do the muscular dystrophy dance marathons for two high schools in the area, and I did that for three years. And that got me the bug.
HP: And where did you go from there?