by Ryan Sparkman
I’m from a conservative town in West Texas. Growing up, I came into contact with very few who were affirming of my LGBTQ identity. Entering my senior year at UT-Austin, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of confusion about what was to come next. I’m a Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, so I knew that I wanted to get involved with advocacy work in some capacity, but I was unsure of how to get my foot in the door. When I started in the LGBTQ Studies Internship Program in Fall 2019, things slowly began to fall into place.
I was lucky enough to be matched with the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus. The Caucus was formed in January 2019, to raise awareness and increase representation and equality for LGBTQ Texans, a community that has historically been an afterthought in the minds of Texas legislators. Working in the office of Representative Mary González, Chair of the Caucus, and her dedicated and driven staff has brought me out of my shell and made me feel unconditionally accepted.
Throughout the fall and winter months, the LGBTQ Caucus held a series of Town Halls and fundraising events in three Texas cities: El Paso, Austin, and San Antonio. My focus was on helping to plan and organize these three events. After the 2019 legislative session, the Caucus wanted to highlight the work that they had done since their formation. Hosting these events across our state allowed for the creation of a forum for discussions about how this historic Caucus has helped create more visible and widespread representation for all LGBTQ Texans. Outreach was one thing that I did not have any previous experience with, so it was interesting to be a part of that process and see how great the influence of outside organizations could be in elevating the level of support and attention surrounding our Town Hall events. Another task that I took on while interning was the Caucus’ social media platforms.
The Caucus currently is primarily Facebook and Twitter-based, reaching a wide base of individuals. This task consisted of researching newly published web articles pertaining to the LGBTQ community and drafting posts for these articles to be sent to the Chief of Staff for approval. This was one of my favorite parts of my internship experience brought my focus to how damaging legislation and our current administration has been towards the LGBTQ community. Towards the end of my internship, we shifted our focus towards prepping for the 87th Legislative Session.
The Texas House LGBTQ Caucus is in the process of launching a fellowship program that will begin in January 2021, coinciding with the beginning of session.The goal of this fellowship program is to bring on 5-10 fellows who will assist and support the LGBTQ Caucus during session, and to increase the number of staffers who are solely dedicated to working to progress the state of LGBTQ treatment and representation in Texas. This was an exciting process for me to be involved with because it was proof that our efforts to expand were finally coming to fruition. I believe that this was the perfect way to close out my work with the Caucus, assisting in the implementation of a fellowship program that would ensure LGBTQ equality and increased visibility would be a priority of the Caucus during this next legislative session.
One thing that this experience has taught me is that it is imperative that young people know the ways that they can make change and show their own forms of support for the LGBTQ community. These acts of solidarity can be as small as having an honest conversation with a friend or family member about the ways that queer-identifying individuals are actively discriminated against, or as big as running for an elected office.