Last October, Mayor Steve Adler called for the formation of an LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory Commission to further the city’s mission to analyze and serve the needs of Austin’s diversifying population. Adler’s call to form an LGBTQ commission adds another essential link to the city’s cultural commissions that already include African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic groups.
On June 20, Mayor Adler and Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan launched the historic first meeting of the City of Austin LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory Commission, introducing the inaugural commission members.
“The commission’s work comes at a critical time when LGBTQ Austinites and their families face new threats of discrimination,” said Council Member Flannigan, the first openly gay man to be elected to Austin City Council. “In 2017, hard fought rights and freedoms are still being attacked, and complex intersectional issues demand that a diverse set of voices work together to address these problems.”
This historic first meeting of the new Austin LGBTQ Commission occurred during National LGBT Pride Month, representing years of diligence on the part of many local activists, city staffers, and elected officials, including the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Austin City Council, former Council Member Randi Shade.
“We stand up for human rights. We stand up for equality. We stand up for equal protection under the laws; for governance that represents us; for the ability to love our neighbors as ourselves… It is reflective of who we are,” stated Mayor Adler during the June 20 press conference. “Austin has the largest LGBTQ community per capita in the country. Today’s meeting shows, yet again, additional progress toward a more perfect union to a city which represents all of its residents.”
After an extensive public input process, 11 members have been appointed by each of the 10 Council Members and the Mayor to represent the rich diversity and complexity within Austin’s vibrant LGBTQ community and make up the initial commission. The Austin Police Department LGBT Outreach Office of Community Liaison Charles Loosen and LGBTQ Commission members were also present at the announcement of the historic meeting.
“The spirit of Austin cannot be so easily quelled. I believe the people of Austin report to a higher authority than that of authoritarian, nationalistic politicians who put their own thirst for power ahead of the ethical and moral responsibilities of justice and equality,” said LGBTQ Advisory Group Commissioner Paula Buls. “The formation of this commission is one small but vital measure that Austin takes to stand for those values.”
Dr. Victor Martinez, LGBTQ Advisory Group Commissioner, emphasized the importance of advancing local policy in the face of state-level resistance against LGBTQ friendly laws.
“The city is very progressive, but we still live in Texas, so it is perfectly legal for somebody to fire me because I happen to be gay,” expressed Dr. Martinez. “That causes higher unemployment rates in the LGBTQ community, which leads to disproportionate poverty in our community and results in bad healthcare that contributes to the issues some of our community members suffer from. I want to be able to work with the council to move forward proposals that will help alleviate those issues.”
Charles Loosen, Interim Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley, and Interim City Manager’s Chief of Staff Ray Baray will serve as the commission’s city staff liaisons. Additionally, four more commission slots will be elected by the first 11 members to complement the City appointees’ skill set.
“There’s a very diverse set of experience [among newly appointed commission],” said Council Member Flannigan. “We’ve got folks who have served in commissions before; we have folks that are new; we have folks with government experience and private sector experience… But we also wrote the ordinance for this commission very specifically to include four at large positions. We encourage community members to apply through the City website.”