Three young twenty-something students from Texas have managed to get national press for a local discrimination law that’s up for a vote this November. The students had just met at a community organizing training and days later launched a campaign complete with graphic art, a hashtag and a famous target.
The students are calling on the most famous Houstonian, Beyoncé Knowles, to speak out and support a non-discrimination ordinance that conservatives have challenged because it extends protections to LGBT people. The students, all 23 or younger, are hoping Knowles will post a message on Instagram or Facebook to encourage young people to vote in favor of keeping the law.
“People love Beyoncé in general, and I think as a fellow Houstonian she also has a lot of influence on young Houstonians as well,” explained Aracely Garcia, a University of Houston-Downtown student who launched the #BeyBeAHERO campaign with two other friends.
Garcia, 22, says she created the graphic for the #BeyBeAHERO campaign in 5-minutes using Powerpoint. She said she didn’t own Photoshop and had little design experience but understood “graphics and visuals evoke more emotional responses to social justice issues, in a more convenient and faster way.”
Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, won her re-election in 2013 by 50,337 votes, despite there being more than 2 million people in the county registered to vote.
And this is precisely where the students think the city’s most famous Houstonian could make a difference. Beyoncé Knowles has some 63 million followers on Facebook. On Instagram she has 43 million followers and the students are hoping if Knowles posts a message encouraging people to support the HERO ordinance, the odds are in their favor.
"It is important for artists to speak out about certain issues because they have the 'superpower' to directly or indirectly influence the masses through their discourse," explained Jamie Hernandez, 21, who is studying communications and biology at The University of Texas at El Paso.
In May 2014 the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to protect the rights of an exhaustive list of marginalized groups. The law, which passed with an 11-6 City Council vote, prohibits discrimination based on “sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.”
Republican conservatives like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have argued the HERO law will “take away your rights to live what you believe” and “will be unsafe for women and children.” After a year long legal battle the HERO ordinance is up for a second vote. And now it’s up to the public to decide whether LGBT Houstonians will have laws that protect them from discrimination.
“As a Latina, I don’t feel safe living in a city where it’s perfectly legal for establishments to discriminate simply based on my sex and race, or knowing that my entire family is not protected from being denied housing or services just because of their race or sexual orientation,” said Garcia, who graduates with a political science degree in December.
Among the dozens of national news outlets to feature the #BeyBeAHERO campaign are NBC News, Nylon Magazine and BuzzFeed. The hashtag has been used more than 6,000 times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The students launched the campaign shortly after they read an August 3rd Huffington Post story by Carlos Maza which explored the power Knowles could have in the effort to preserve the HERO ordinance.
“We had no idea this hashtag would be picked up by so many national media outlets. No idea. The goal was always to raise local awareness in an effort to educate people about the ordinance so that we could defend it at the polls in November,” said Ali Gorczynski, an outreach coordinator at the Texas Freedom Network, the group that organized the Texas Rising training where the #BeyBeAHERO students met.
It’s unclear if Beyoncé Knowles has heard about the campaign yet. Requests for comments to her publicist went unanswered by the time this story was published.
The students still have high hopes though, considering Knowles has spoken out on social justice issues before.
On March 26, 2013, when the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in a case about California’s gay marriage ban, Beyonce posted a handwritten note on Facebook that read "If you like it you should be able to put a ring on it."
On Facebook Knowles is considerably more outspoken and political than she is on Instagram. On Facebook she supports everything from water conservation efforts to posting memorials honoring black men who have been killed by police.
Last Sunday she remembered Michael Brown, black the teenager fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer last year. "Today we will honor you and continue to fight for society to respect the humanity of all people. You are forever in our hearts. #MikeBrown"
Houstonians will go to the polls on November 3, 2015 and the students are keeping their hopes up until then.
“This [HERO campaign is] important because it will affect so many people in the city of Houston. I don't want people to be denied services or opportunities to succeed because of their identity or who they are,” said Ismael Melendez, 23, a computer science major at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who came up with the now infamous campaign hashtag.