As the state legislative session comes to a close in Texas, Democrats have impressively managed to beat back the bulk of over 20 anti-gay bills conservative Republicans had created in committees in an effort to blunt a Supreme Court ruling this month that could bring marriage equality to the entire country, including Texas. Some of the bills were stalled by Democrats running out the clock, while Republicans chose not to move forward with others. Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), a member of the Texas House from the El Paso area and the nation’s first openly pansexual legislator, says one way she tries to change minds among her colleagues in both parties is by fostering a “familial” bond, which she believes goes a long way toward helping people “overcome a lot of their prejudice.”
Sitting in her office at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, speaking with me for an interview for SiriusXM Progress, Gonzalez first wanted to dispel some misinformation about her identity. She first came out as pansexual — which is distinct from bisexual because it defines an individual who is attracted to various gender identities — in 2012 after first being elected, noting that she’d dated transgender and "gender-queer" people. But it had been reported that she came out as lesbian first and then later came out as pansexual. But, she explained, "lesbian" was never an identity that she claimed for herself.
“It’s a more complicated history,” she said. “The media labeled me [as a lesbian]. I always identified as queer or LGBT-identified or pan. When I first came out in politics, I used to say I was LGBT-identified and the media took that [as], ‘Well she must be lesbian’ as opposed to having a more complex understanding of our sexual community. And so, because of that I had to clarify that and say, ‘No, not lesbian. Love them. [laughs] but…’ I identify as pan and talk about what that means. And having those conversations does bring up gender diversity and the trans community. And so, I’ve been able to have a lot of conversations about that in the political world in Texas.”
Changing minds by exposing people to the diversity of gender isn’t easy, Gonzalez says, but it can be done.
“I’m not going to lie — those have a been a lot of difficult conversations at times,” she said. “But I think one of the best ways to combat homophobia and heterosexism is to use your own story as a tool for justice. So I tell my story, and these colleagues, while some people might have an impression about them, they also wind up being my friends. We work on other issues together. I’m on the agriculture committee. So I get to talk to a lot of conservative members and we care passionately about supporting agriculture in Texas. And we bond on those issues and then they really like me and they hear my story. And well, you know, I think that that they start to at least change their minds a little bit.”
Gonzalez tells a story that underscores the there are many ways that work at helping make people connect with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — and pansexual — people.
“Last session I came onto the floor,” she said. “There were 3000 articles written about me. There were a lot of whispers, ‘Oh, there’s the — they don’t know a lot of language I use — they would go, ‘Oh there’s the gay one.’ And they would whisper. And I could hear it and it would be hurtful at times. But in March — because we started in January — March of 2013, one of the Republican legislators came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Mary Edna, do you know you’re the same age as my daughter?’ And I said, ‘No sir, I had no idea.’ And he said, ‘Well, on this floor you’re my daughter.’ To build relationships that are grounded in familial ways helps people to understand and overcome a lot of their prejudice, their misunderstanding and their stereotypes.”
Listen to the interview with Gonzalez below: