The Decent Place

Late-night thoughts on listening to opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance

By Scott Vogel September 14, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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The homosexuals are intent on creating a sexual revolution that will bring moral anarchy to our society.

—Steven Hotze, president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, June 4

I’ve been thinking a lot about anarchy lately—how much I miss it. Indeed, the other day, while on the stairs in my home in the First Ward, I felt its loss so acutely I thought my legs would give way. Why? I’d never heard my feet on the stairs before. Until recently, such sounds had always been drowned out by something else—by someone rushing to school, or practicing the piano, or scratching and groaning through math homework, or kicking a soccer ball through the living room and knocking over a lamp. There was laughter and whistling. Doorbells rang and music blared and alarms buzzed. Noise. Always noise. Then nothing.

I sat down on the steps. Is this what it means to be in fatherhood’s autumn, I wondered? The child is only 15. Then again, 15 is almost grown. Already the house—like the Hot Wheels and the board games before it—gets less use with each passing year, as do I. And so I sat, caught between up and down, hating the silence, craving every soundless trip I ever made on the steps, the good and the not.

The trips down—to warm baby bottles at 4 a.m., to whisk away a toddler with a 103-degree fever to the emergency room. The trips up—to a little boy’s bedroom, and hours spent trying to find beauty in the rigid geometry of Legos. At the top of the stairs, at the bottom of the stairs, glories awaited me: first words, first steps, all the thrills and exasperations of a childhood that seemed to go on forever until it was over in an instant. And not until I stopped in the middle did I finally see it all for the blessing it was.  How lucky I was to become a father, I thought to myself. How lucky we both were to become fathers.

Memory gilds everything in loveliness. In memory, every day is an impossibly fragrant Spring afternoon and my partner and I want nothing more than to push our three-year-old’s stroller around the block one more time. In memory, there are no clouds in the sky, no cracks in the sidewalk, and not a word of idiocy from passing strangers. Nobody drives by yelling your kid needs a mom, not two fags. In memory, the driver stops the car and shakes our hands and sees how happy we are. In memory, we are safe.

Back on the steps, I shake off the false memories. You aren’t safe, not yet. Small though it may be, there’s still an army out there bent on your destruction, bent on keeping Houston from being the decent place it’s always wanted to be. But then, in the next moment, I hear the last of the brigades dismantling, its battle cries becoming so much stuff and nonsense. Could decency’s final victory be at hand?

We’ve already found a secret memo coming out of the Justice Department. They’re now going to go after 12 new perversions, things like bestiality, polygamy, having sex with little boys and making that legal….LGBT is only the beginning. They are going to start expanding it to the other perversions.

—Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader, June 30

Houston, in my youth, was the kind of place where 15-year-olds spun the wheel at Catholic school fundraisers for the chance to win cases of Coors, and no one batted an eye when you walked out a winner. Moreover, you and your friends drank the case right there in the church parking lot, on the car hoods of Trans Ams if you were lucky, AMC Gremlins if you weren’t. After a while, an uncommon honesty born of summer heat and cheap beer would announce itself. Someone would roll up a sleeve revealing a painful bruise, even as someone else talked of insults humiliating and savage, of defaced lockers, of defaced cars, of being branded a 15-year-old perversion. “You know what Houston is?” one of us would conclude after the long list of litanies. “Houston’s the kind of place you have to leave to have a decent life.”

And so we did, many of us, as soon as we could, for places more equable, more exciting, more tolerant. Most of us didn’t really want to go, it seems to me now, but in those days, Houston was a town of Us and Them, and if you were a Them, you left. Decency was in exile.

This is combat. When we are up against—literally, face to face, nose to nose—the evidence of the presence of evil, it forges relationships in a way that nothing else can.

—Pastor Dave Welch, leader of the Texas Pastor Council, Aug. 4

I’ve found the demise of our city’s ugliest minority to be one of the chief pleasures of moving back home, especially as it held the town hostage for so long, especially as its death is self-inflicted, especially as it’s drowning in its own hate. But it’s been even more thrilling to watch Houston rediscover its true self, to remember who it is, who it must be. Which is to say a place where relationships forged by the presence of good are stronger than the ones forged by evil, and where the people—notwithstanding how different they look and how different their aims—feel the same powerful strain of decency coursing through their veins.

Ours is not an obvious sameness. Many of you, perhaps most of you, won’t know what it’s like to be bombarded from birth with messages questioning the legitimacy of your deepest desires, or feel compelled to pen essays like this, essays whose ink won’t yet be dry before the nasty, bilious replies come flooding in—from souls boldly longing for your obliteration, boldly claiming religious endorsement, and boldly afraid to sign their names.

But you no doubt possess injustices of your own, injustices for which our collective decency—our greatest resource—might provide a lasting balm. It can protect you, and me, all of us, now and forever. And all we need do is stand up for it. Decency’s final victory is at hand. 

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