Standing By, or Standing Up?

Houston people of faith speak out For Prop 1.
Houston people of faith speak out For Prop 1.

My life is full of interesting people.

I’ve been a vocal coach for many years. That part of my professional biography has brought me into contact with hundreds of students over several decades, many of whom are now teachers in public school systems and universities around the country, performers at every level in opera, musical theatre, television, and film. I also work with actors, dancers, broadcasters, and garden-variety regular folks who want to “find their voices,” at all the rich levels that phrase implies.

My definition of “performance” expanded about fifteen years ago, when I also became a movement educator, specifically, a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method. This work has opened my world and filled my days with people who are on a quest for personal excellence. Each person comes because they want to learn how to do something that is important to them, and to discover and fulfill their untapped potential. Not only does this work intersect beautifully with my tribe from the performing arts; it includes families devoted to their child with special needs, folks dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, or the progress of a dire disease process, or recovery from an injury. Each one wants more out of life, and better quality of the life they have.

On an otherwise unremarkable day in May of 2008, the phone rang. After greetings and a few pleasantries were exchanged, we got down to business. “I’m looking for a voice teacher, and something about your website just made me think you might be able to help me. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with somebody like me before. I am transgender. I am in the early stages of transitioning from male to female, and I really need my voice to sound more feminine. I’ve discovered a few things on my own, but I need to work with somebody. Would you be willing to meet with me?”

I said yes immediately. Why? Because this was a person who needed help that I could give.

During and after our association, I continued to learn about helping transgender people with movement and voice. She introduced me to a world that I did not know anything about. I was ignorant, but I was curious and I wanted to learn. As I heard her story, and the stories of others on their incredible journeys of self-discovery, authenticity, and transformation, I was changed.

I was filled with sorrow and compassion when I learned that all of these people, now my friends, had considered suicide and/or had attenpted it. I learned of the losses of family, jobs, housing, and relationships, and began to glimpse the heartwrenching sacrifices made because of the human need to be honest and authentic about who one is. When I learned that they have NO PROTECTION under the law, I could not be a bystander anymore. I was already involved, but from the sidelines. I had to get into it.

Several years later, a different trans client and I went out to dinner and to the opera. Our Girls Night On The Town was wonderful, and thankfully, it was uneventful. As I look back on it, the reality sets in. We could easily have been harrassed or refused service at the restaurant. I imagined being unable to use the restroom while at the Wortham Center for over four hours. Our evening out could have been a nightmare, simply because there are no local protections from discrimination.

I got involved with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance because my friend asked me to stand with her. I could no longer stand by when the possibility existed that someone I care about would not be protected by the same laws that protect me.

But wait a minute. I am protected by HERO, as well, and it’s likely that you are, too. I am 60 years old, and hope to get a lot older. Under HERO, I will have a local remedy if I experience discrimination based on my age. So will you, or your parents. I am a member of a religious minority, the Quakers. We are pacifists, not a popular or easy position to advocate for anywhere, but perhaps particularly in Texas. I will have a local remedy if I am discriminated against because of my religious practices or beliefs, and so will you. I think of the families who have included me on the team of caring for their special needs children, and helping them to lead as full a life as possible. They will have a local remedy if they are discriminated against while out in public with their child, since both disability and family status are also protected classes. Look in the mirror. Certainly you, or someone you care about,  fall into at least one protected class under the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance: race, age, pregnancy, sex, color, disability, military status, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, family status.

Equality is a core testimony of Quakers. We believe that there is “that of God in everyone.” Quakers tend to wait in silence, to listen and to discern, and then to be spirit-led into action. We vote our consciences. We don’t often say much, but we  know how to advocate for and be Friends to those in need. Our friends need us now.

Will you find your voice? Will you stand up and speak out with me?

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