Queer Voices

December 6th 2023 Queer Voices

December 06, 2023 Queer Voices
December 6th 2023 Queer Voices
Queer Voices
More Info
Queer Voices
December 6th 2023 Queer Voices
Dec 06, 2023
Queer Voices

Send us a Text Message.

Are you curious about the intersectionality of being Black and Queer? Then let the captivating voice of Joelle Espuet wash over you as they share their experiences as a program director for the Normal Anomaly, a Black Queer-led nonprofit. They're not just breaking barriers; they’re establishing norms for communities often misunderstood and sidelined. Discover their groundbreaking work, from creating safe spaces for the community to hosting exciting events like the BQAF music festival. We also have a sneak peek into their upcoming gala, poised to become a vibrant celebration of the Black Queer community. 

The holiday season usually comes with its joy and cheer, but for some, it’s a stark reminder of loss and rejection. Our conversation about mental health during the holidays offers insights and practical strategies for overcoming these challenges. We also discuss the importance of community support initiatives, like the annual Christmas giveaway event and a group's journey to expand their outreach and bring smiles to families in their community. Hear how one member, a therapist, is making a difference at a domestic violence shelter during their events. 

Lastly, we turn our focus on the critical role of LGBT representation in local government. Tune in as we engage Nick Helier and Mario Castillo, both running for city council, in a spirited discussion on diversity in local government, the need for basic city services, and how their campaigns are championing these needs. They're not just running for office; they're redefining what representation looks like. From public safety to infrastructure and affordable housing, they open up about the significant issues facing Houston. So, come along as we explore these essential topics and so much more.

Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Are you curious about the intersectionality of being Black and Queer? Then let the captivating voice of Joelle Espuet wash over you as they share their experiences as a program director for the Normal Anomaly, a Black Queer-led nonprofit. They're not just breaking barriers; they’re establishing norms for communities often misunderstood and sidelined. Discover their groundbreaking work, from creating safe spaces for the community to hosting exciting events like the BQAF music festival. We also have a sneak peek into their upcoming gala, poised to become a vibrant celebration of the Black Queer community. 

The holiday season usually comes with its joy and cheer, but for some, it’s a stark reminder of loss and rejection. Our conversation about mental health during the holidays offers insights and practical strategies for overcoming these challenges. We also discuss the importance of community support initiatives, like the annual Christmas giveaway event and a group's journey to expand their outreach and bring smiles to families in their community. Hear how one member, a therapist, is making a difference at a domestic violence shelter during their events. 

Lastly, we turn our focus on the critical role of LGBT representation in local government. Tune in as we engage Nick Helier and Mario Castillo, both running for city council, in a spirited discussion on diversity in local government, the need for basic city services, and how their campaigns are championing these needs. They're not just running for office; they're redefining what representation looks like. From public safety to infrastructure and affordable housing, they open up about the significant issues facing Houston. So, come along as we explore these essential topics and so much more.

Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Glenn Holt:

Hello everybody, this is Queer Voices, a home-produced podcast that has grown out of a radio show that's been on the air in Houston, Texas, for several decades. This week, Brian Levinca talks with Joel Espue about the normal anomaly, their upcoming Gala on December 14th and the work of the organization.

Joelle Espute:

I am a part of the executive team and the program that I kind of oversee are advocacy and leadership programs, and that includes our Project Liberate, which is our small business entrepreneur leadership development program, and our transgender allyship collective program, which uplifts and empowers Black trans women in community through leadership development.

Glenn Holt:

Deborah Moncriff Bell has a conversation with the group Lesbians for Causes about several upcoming events and about the organization.

Speaker 3:

Now we do five projects a year School supply drives, christmas giveaways, helping the homeless, feeding them. They're doing domestic violence and mental illness. This will be our second year, coming up in 2024.

Glenn Holt:

And Brian interviews two out gay runoff candidates for different positions on City Council. With the runoff election happening this coming Saturday, Queer Voices starts now.

Bryan Hlavinka:

This is Brian Levinck, and today I'm speaking with Joelle Espute from the Normal Anomaly. Welcome to the show, joelle.

Joelle Espute:

Hi, brian, thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So what is the normal anomaly? I know we've had you on before, but let's refresh our listeners.

Joelle Espute:

So thank you for asking a question. The Normal Anomaly is a Black Queer-led nonprofit organization. We are aimed at eliminating barriers and creating norms for communities at the intersection of Black and or queer. That includes, but is not exclusive to, black LGBT persons, black trans women and persons living and impacted by HIV.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So what is your role at the Normal Anomaly?

Joelle Espute:

I am a program director, I am a part of the executive team and the programs that I kind of oversee are our advocacy and leadership programs, and that includes our Project Liberate, which is our small business entrepreneur leadership development program, and our transgender allyship collective program, which uplifts and empowers Black trans women in community through leadership development. So how did this all get started? So we started in 2016 as a storytelling blog. It was started and founded by E&L Haddock and it was really started as a way to kind of dispel those stories that are being told in our community, that kind of point to the doom and the gloom of the Black, lgbt and Black gay community.

Joelle Espute:

So he kind of started the organization, really as a storytelling blog, to kind of shift that narrative and change the narrative. When the pandemic hit in 2020, he just saw a need for there to be more than just simply storytelling. He saw a need for the community that you know, a need for direct services, for resources, for advocacy, for leadership development. And that's when the normal anomaly became an official 501C3 organization. Well, it gained its 501C3 status at the end of 2021, but the seeds were kind of planted in 2020.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So what is the accomplishment that you're most proud of? With the normal anomaly.

Joelle Espute:

God, you know we've accomplished so much just in the, you know, in the short time that we've. You know we've been, you know, active in community. I would probably say the thing that I'm most excited and proud about is how we create courageous, braver spaces for community, and community is very broad. I don't want to necessarily give a you know, a specific definition of community, but I feel like we create a braver, courageous spaces, whether that is our BQAF music festival, which has had, you know, more than 1500 people, or if it's our smaller community-based events where they're open to community. They're usually free, but that's kind of one of the things that I'm most proudest about is our ability to continue to cultivate and co-create these courageous, braver spaces for community to engage in.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Is Ian still involved with this?

Joelle Espute:

Oh yeah, Ian is still executive director. He is still my boss and my friend. He's very much involved.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Yeah, I love Ian and the work that he's doing.

Joelle Espute:

Oh, absolutely, I love Ian. I'll be. I'll be seeing him later today.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So you mentioned the BQAF festival. Can you talk about that? What is that and when does it happen?

Joelle Espute:

Yes, so the BQAF festival, which stands for Black Queer, af the AF could stand for a myriad of things and in this instance we're just going to say it stands for Advancement Festival but it is a music festival that uplifts the Black Queer and Black LGBTQ community to kind of celebrate Black pride.

Joelle Espute:

Oftentimes throughout the history of pride celebrations, black LGBT persons have been pushed out of the pride celebrations or completely left out, and so BQAF is kind of a way to center our community and uplift and celebrate the community and its wholeness. Next week we are going into I mean, sorry, next year we're going into our third year of the music festival, which typically takes place during Black pride weekend, which is the first weekend in May, and it's, you know, the festival itself is a music festival, uplifting both Black LGBT artists as well as ally artists. But it's also not just a music festival. We also have a welcome reception, we have a Black pride hall of fame where we uplift community stakeholders and people in community that have really been active in helping to build and shape the community, as well as kind of. You know, we've had a pool party, we've had a rooftop party, so we really try to have a celebration during our festival weekend that really spans the spectrum of Black queer.

Bryan Hlavinka:

If you're joining us. We're speaking with Joel Esput from the normal anomaly about an upcoming event, so let's talk about the gala that you're going to have. When is that and where's it going to be?

Joelle Espute:

Yes, so the gala is going to be December 8th, it's going to be at the Ballroom in Tanglewood and it's really just a night for us to not only, you know, uplift and celebrate our organization and the work that we do, but also uplift and celebrate many people in the community that are going to be honored. We're going to be honoring, you know, community stakeholders and people that have done amazing community work locally, as well as people that are on a national level that have done amazing work, as well as political figures that have just done amazing work in community. So we're going to be kind of uplifting and celebrating them as well and using it as a way to kind of fundraise, because this is our first official fundraiser as an organization, can you?

Bryan Hlavinka:

disclose who you're going to honor? Are you going to keep?

Joelle Espute:

that? No, no, I can't. I'm going to try to see if I can remember everyone off the cuff. So the political figures that we're going to honor and we're so excited to have are going to be Sally Alcorn and Amanda Edwards. We're also going to be honoring about eight community figures that do amazing work locally, and that's everyone from radio host and personality Tyden Capri to entrepreneurial genius John Nichols, to health and wellness professional Jatina Buck, to the executive director of Montrose Grace Place, courtney Sellers. So we're going to be honoring a variety of people locally, as well as some national figures that do work on a national level, which include Daphina Ward, julian Walker and Micah Marquise I think that's how you say his name and then we're also excited to be honoring PJ Motenpool from Veeve Healthcare. So we're going to be honoring just various people that have really done some amazing work, who oftentimes their work doesn't get uplifted as it should.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So how did you get involved with the normal like?

Joelle Espute:

So it's interesting, I met Ian in 2020, when he started to shift the organization into kind of doing direct services, advocacy and leadership. Ian had started this program called Trans Ally Collective, which had started as a program that uplifted and empowered black trans women as a response to the untimely death of entertainer Shaina Gibson in our community, and so the first kind of thing that he did with the program was he had this video campaign about what allyship meant for black trans women, and so he had a couple of different black trans women on, and then he interviewed me, and so the first time that I actually met him was him doing my interview for the Trans Ally Collective.

Joelle Espute:

And then we kind of connected a couple of other times in community and then when he was opening up the physical center for the normal anomaly, the BQ Plus Center for Liberation, he was interviewing to have two full time staff members and I applied. One referred me to the position and we connected and we talked on the phone and then I applied and then the rest is kind of normal anomaly history. I've been with the organization every since and that was February. Well, january, february of 2021.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So when do people not know about the normal anomaly that you would like them to know?

Joelle Espute:

You know, I think that a lot of people see the brand. You know, the brand is everywhere. We do a lot of work on a national level. We also do a lot of work regionally. People see the pictures and they see the videos and they see our photo shoots and they see these big events, but I think that people don't realize or see the hard work that goes behind it. We are just, we are still a small nonprofit. We are a team of. We're just recently expanded, but for the longest we were a team of five people who was running anywhere from eight to 12 programs. So we are still a small nonprofit. So we're, you know, doing the direct services, we're answering the calls, we are the ones that are setting up for events. We're not this grand or multimillion dollar organization although, you know, soon, hopefully, that's coming. But I think that people oftentimes see the brand but they don't realize the hard work that goes behind it.

Bryan Hlavinka:

And so is there anything else you want to listen to before we go?

Joelle Espute:

Yeah, I think that it's important that you support black LGBT organizations. I think that when we think about the community work and the movement work that's being done overall black LGBT organizations, while we can do a lot with a little and our impact is very big, we still aren't getting the support as many of our other sibling organizations. For every hundred dollars that is given to LGBT organizations, Only four cents goes to translate organizations, which the normal anomaly is a translate organization, with me on the executive team, and so when we think about other intersections, that that amount goes lower and lower. So really just support your black LGBT organizations, not just the national ones, but the local ones. Really get involved, really go to the events, show up, promote. You know we can do a little with a lot, but a lot can take us even further.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Working people. Find out more information about the normal anomaly and the gala.

Joelle Espute:

Yeah, so you can actually find out more about both the normal anomaly and the gala on our website, normal anomaly dot org, where we have a direct link to the gala. Tickets are going fast, tables are selling, but you can definitely still get some. You can also find out about sponsorship opportunities. You can also find out about us on social media. We're on all social media platforms Instagram, facebook, twitter. We're the normal anomaly Inc on Instagram and Facebook. We're underscore normal anomaly on Twitter. But, yeah, you can find out about all of the events we have coming up, any you know, any programs that we're running and everything about the org.

Bryan Hlavinka:

We've been speaking with Joel Aspute from the normal anomaly about the upcoming gala and all the work that they're doing in the community. Thank you for coming on, joel.

Joelle Espute:

Thank you. Thank you so much for allowing you the space to really talk about the amazing work that we're doing, our gala and our music festival that's coming up.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Thank you.

Glenn Holt:

This is quick wishes coming up next on Queer Voices, deborah has a conversation with lesbians for causes about their upcoming events and Brian talks with Houston City Council runoff candidates Nick Helier and Mario Castillo.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

This radio program we Are Voices has existed since the 1970s. On KPFT we have this little crew of folks working every week to produce what's no longer unique, because we're almost mainstream now, but we're still an important voice that might not otherwise get heard because it's not on that many places. So KPFT is very important to give voices to those who might not otherwise have voices. So, as Glenn always says, you participate by listening. You should also participate by supporting the station. So please go to kpftorg and make your donation right away. You're listening to the award-winning Queer Voices Radio. I'm Deborah Moncree-Bell and today we're talking with LaMika Lavellis and Kitty Howard, and they're with the organization Lesbians for Causes. Now, I don't know anything about this organization, so we're going to learn together. So welcome to the program. And LaMika, would you like to start?

Speaker 7:

Lesbians for Causes. Now for me. I just joined the group. Maybe this is my third year, so Miss Kitty could tell you a bit more, but for me, I always give back to the community. I have some projects. I'm originally from Port Arthur, beaumont area, and so I started doing some projects out there for the LGBT community. And when I moved to Baytown Miss Kitty and I just kind of linked up and she was like hey, I have some projects I'm doing, do you want to be a part of it? And I was like sure. And so this is year number three with a toy drive.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Okay, we'll talk more about that in a second. So, kitty, did you start this organization, or how did it come about?

Speaker 3:

I started Lesbians for Causes, I would say, without a name, at first. I just love to give back. So I started it with doing domestic violence seminars, doing mental illness seminars, because these were things that touched me, and then me and a few others that's in the group we decided that we was going to start with other things. So everyone in the group has something that's closer to their heart that we do and it just it kind of grew into like now we do five projects a year School supply drives, christmas giveaways, helping the homeless, feeding them, doing domestic violence and mental illness.

Speaker 3:

This will be our second year, coming up in 2024. And I am, I just love people and I think everyone needs that, just some kind of support to know to keep going, because when I didn't have anything, people gave me the support that I needed and I just believe in you have to pay it forward and I'm just grateful to have the people that I have in my group, such as LaRneka and Rochelle and Dekarman and Tweety, all of those people they are. They bring it all together to make it what it is now.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Is it a 501c3?

Speaker 3:

I am working on getting a 501c3 now. I've had certain people say they were going to help me and get it together, and I don't know if I'm just being too busy to get the paperwork done, but usually the things that we are doing is coming out of our pockets, so that's another thing I'm grateful for, because at this time of the year we're a little broke. This year we have been 200 plus kids with Christmas and all of this is coming out of our pockets.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

How do you find the kids to give to?

Speaker 3:

Okay, each year we go to different spots. Last year we was, oh, at apartment complex. I hope for 59. I'm sorry I shouldn't be the, but I'm having to think. And the year before that we was in Cash Mcgarden and then the year before that we was off in MLK. We travel, so we want to give every neighborhood just an opportunity to get toys. We do two toys a piece. We raffle off the bikes. We've had people to come in. We got a DJ that is donating her time. We have a bounce house that's being donated. So people are seeing that what we're doing and they are coming on in with different things that we couldn't possibly afford.

Speaker 3:

Because I tell my group I said my focus is on the toys. When I was younger, my mom I would say she was pretty much a single parent, even though I had my dad. So my mom, we knew on Christmas we was going to have panties, bra, just say the basic needs that you need when you're growing up, which I am not complaining. But I feel like if parents can give them the basic essentials that they need, why not come in and help them with two toys? It'll bring the child's face and then the parent won't feel so bad about just giving them some undies and a toothbrush and a toothpaste when they're trying to provide them with meals and a place to live. So that's where the Christmas giveaway came from, because I think, just, you know one little toy but we do two toys and we raffle off the bikes and ma'am, if you could see the faces and smiles that the kids have it, just it, just like my whole year.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Ornika, what has been your primary focus with the group?

Speaker 7:

My primary focus has been the domestic violence event this year. We went to a shelter and we were able to provide meals and bags, and I was able to. I'm a therapist and so I was able to speak with some of the residents there, providing resources for them. Many of them were in need of mental health counseling, of course, or any trauma support groups and whatnot, and so for what resources I knew of, I was, you know, giving them that information, and I think my favorite one is the toy giveaway. I said this is year number three and Miss Kitty was right.

Speaker 7:

Looking at those children's faces, I think for many of them in the past, if we had not provided anything for them, I don't know that they would have had anything. And not only are we giving toys to the kids, we have meals. You know, somebody brought some things for the elderly last year and we do have, like toiletries, things we're giving for adults as well Washing detergent, toothpaste, toothbrush, and, just like Miss Kitty mentioned, other groups may come and they're like, oh, you have something, we have leftovers from whatever we did, and so they may have all sorts of things provided for them there, but just giving back. I know for the holiday season it can be rough, you know, emotionally, mentally, trauma and grief and giving back is probably one of the best coping techniques that one could have. I know for me personally, it's an awesome coping technique that I utilize and you know that's I'm grateful that she pulled me in. She was like hey, come on. I was like sure, and so it's been gold ever since.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Let's talk a little bit about that mental health issue and holidays. What are some of the things that you would suggest to people for coping?

Speaker 7:

I think that loss many times when we lose someone, the holidays are the most difficult because you remember when you all spent these holidays together, maybe with our community and maybe as a family disconnect somewhere. And if my family is not accepting of who I am in 2023, you know I don't have that opportunity to engage, you know, with them like I did, maybe as a child. These are. Depression is something that occurs just because of the season and I think the best coping technique we can do is plan. We can plan for it. We know this will be our first Christmas or Thanksgiving without family there, for various reasons. So what can we do? You know the great thing about Houston and many communities, many LGBT communities, period, pretty any cities that have a community, their friends giving their things like that, where people can come together, different organizations, grassroots organizations. They serve the community with different with meals, with different things going on. So just looking up event bright or meet up or somewhere, seeing what's going on, or just checking out social media. There are many things there in plan to attend.

Speaker 7:

Self care is important. I know that is. Sometimes we try to keep ourselves busy so we won't think about whatever or we won't allow ourselves to feel whatever we're feeling. So we keep busy and a lot of times we just need to take care of ourselves. You know, do something nice for yourself. Clean up, clear the clutter. That's what I'm doing this weekend. Well, I mean clearing up some of this clutter, having an opportunity to pamper yourself if you can, you know, just a ROMA therapy, a warm bath, just cooking your favorite meal.

Speaker 7:

You know, being involved with things like that Christmas puzzles, holiday puzzles can be fun and it's something to kind of get your mind off of any negative thoughts, not avoiding them, because that's the next thing. Allow yourself, if you're having a bad day, have that bad day, sit in that bad day, name those feelings and emotions, understand where they're coming from, give yourself some grace. It's okay to feel this today. You know this is the anniversary of several loved ones.

Speaker 7:

I realized that my uncle died last year around Thanksgiving, had another uncle about four years ago, my grandpa about five, and it's like, okay, I understand what I'm feeling now, in this moment, and I'm just going to slow my little self down and allow myself to feel what I'm feeling and be active, cleaning up, clearing the clutter and those things. So I think self care is important Giving back, planning ahead, being involved in some activities. Don't feel forced to do anything. If you're just not feeling it, just don't feel it, you know. Just don't, don't go with it. Just find something in your home that you can do, you know, that brings you joy, something healthy and something positive. And remember you're not alone, because holidays can be tough on many of us.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

What are some of the other things the organization does throughout the year? I think you have something coming up specifically about grief.

Speaker 7:

For my practice. I have a trauma grief support group. We just finished one on the 21st and there's another one coming up on the 19th for our fall. I call it semesters. I think I want to be a professor. You know I'm not, I'm an educator also, but you know, for the fall semester, these are some things that I've done as far as giving that community.

Speaker 7:

You know, many times we shut off in the mental health world. We shut off for the holidays because we're going on vacations but everybody else is not going on vacations, and so that's one reason I was committed to having these groups available during the holiday season. So I have this trauma grief support group is free, it's free. There's another mental health check-in. There's a group that asks me to be a panelist for the invisible ones. So I will be a panelist giving some tips with that one and I'm trying to think because, lord, if you ask me to come, I'm coming. So it's a lot of stuff, I'm out there, but that's the main thing. That's through my practice. Now I know Ms Kitty and I we do. We did talk about something for mental health. We've already started looking at our 2024 calendar, and so she told me market calendar in May, so I know we have something coming up.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Kitty, can you tell us what that is?

Speaker 3:

Okay, I wanted to do a mental illness seminar, meaning I wanted to go for a whole week because a lot of us don't know the signs of someone who's going through a breakdown. A lot of people they'll see you out in public and they think, oh, they're on drugs. Not all the time is everyone on drugs. Sometimes they have mental illness. And because we don't know the signs or we don't know the things that people go through, well, we're not gonna know what everyone goes through, but you can at least see the signs and you can be aware and how to help them. Because I remember one time I was going through a little breakdown and my friends thought they were doing the best. One was trying to come through the window, one was fussing at me and said, to this day we laugh at it. But when you approach people like that, you have to have a certain tone and because sometimes that tone will send them over the cliff and if you don't know, but I wanted us to educate them on mental illness and the signs.

Speaker 3:

I even have a police officer who comes out because he does mental warrants and he speaks on how, what happens when he gets there to a scene and they have mental illness, and so I think that everyone can gain from this. And all of our stuff is free. I don't try to charge for anything. I'm never gonna charge for anything because I think this is what everyone needs is to be educated on different things. So I bring people into the group If I don't know, because I don't know everything. No one knows everything. But LaRneka is good with mental illness and when I have my domestic violence she has that tone. You see how he's talking. Now you feel calm and you're able to open up and share what you've been through.

Speaker 3:

And then after that we're doing a team what do you call it? A team summit when we're gonna teach teams from underprivileged teams how to eat, what forks to use, how to dress when you go somewhere and not wearing baggy clothes, because soon as someone see you with baggy clothes, they've already started judging you. You know, I just wanna educate. I love children, don't want anymore, I have one of my own, but I wanna educate the ones that are out there, out there. So when you don't teach them and you just start judging them by the way they look, then we'll never get anywhere. And I just feel like this is what my purpose is, and I think after that we're going to school supply drive and I've been giving away school supplies all year. It seems like no one wants them when you approach them. One way to excite are they free? Yes, take these school supplies so you can spend that money on all these bills that we have. That will always keep coming.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Is there anything that we didn't talk about that you want people to know, and also any contact information?

Speaker 3:

They can contact Lizman for causes Lizbyn with an S on it for causes at gmailcom. Do you need anything If I can't find it? If I don't have it, I'm gonna get it, Cause I hate to leave someone wanting something or needing something and I can't help Cause I'd know other numbers that they can call and get it.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Anything else.

Speaker 7:

We have free groups, free support groups that are for the LGBTQ community specifically.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Thank you, so much for being with us today. This is Deborah Moncrease, bell for Queer Voices.

Speaker 3:

I would say my name is Paul.

Joelle Espute:

I'm the owner of the LGBTQ Stunt.

Glenn Holt:

Martha, what that fellow on the wireless? Just say Something about him. Interwebs you don't have to ask Martha. We've got all the names, dates and webpage links for people, events and anything else that's mentioned in the show right on our own website. It's Queer Voicesorg. We even link to past shows and other tidbits of information, so check it out, queer Voicesorg. Besides, martha is a cat. She doesn't know anything about websites.

Bryan Hlavinka:

This is Brian Levinca, and today I'm speaking with Nick Helger and Mario Castillo, both runoff city council candidates for the city of Houston, city council. Welcome to Queer Voices guys. Thanks for having us.

Nick Hellyar:

Thanks for having us.

Bryan Hlavinka:

I'll start with you, Nick. Now that you're in the runoff, what are you doing differently than you did in the general election?

Nick Hellyar:

Yeah, so I mean, I think our message of quality city services and being responsive to Houstonians is going to stay exactly the same. Right, it worked in the first round. It had a field of six people. There was one Republican and five Democrats, and the Republican consolidated all of their votes and I came up on top on the five Democrats. So I think it's just hitting the same message over again. It worked in the first round and hoping to do it here in the second round. Of course, we need to raise a lot more money this time. In the second round, it's a little bit easier now that we're the only ones in the race and it is a D versus R race, so the money is coming in a little bit easier. We're going to use every penny of that to reach out to voters and talk to them about our message. So I think it's pretty much staying the same and just working hard until December 9th when the runoff is.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Mario, same question to you. What are you doing differently now that you're in the runoff?

Mario Castillo:

Well, to get here, we focused a lot on voter contact, direct voter contact. I knocked over 3,500 doors myself. My campaign attempted over 2,200 voters at the doors. We had a robust field program with phone calls, with text messages, with direct mail. And you look at election day and I think the results speak for themselves. We came out of the gate strong, we had a commanding lead, and that direct voter contact is a result of that. So we're going to continue that throughout the runoff. It's what we've been doing.

Mario Castillo:

The first weekend after election day we were back on the doors in the district and we have kept that up every day since, with the exception of Thanksgiving and the holiday. But there's no reason to change our approach there when clearly what we were doing was working. Nick mentioned it. We've got to raise a significant amount of money in a short amount of time to run campaigns again in a 31, 32-day window. So that's a different focus. Having to fundraise so heavily so early for an election where you're going to spend that money right away, that's different. We don't have a year plus to do that this time around, and so there's been an adjustment there. But for a district race, it's about talking to people face-to-face being in the communities and really having those one-on-one conversations, and so I'm confident that with that approach and with the ability to raise the money needed to run that effort, we're going to be successful on December 9th.

Bryan Hlavinka:

And I think that's an important distinction Nick, you're running at an at-large race and Mario, you're running at a district race. Let me ask you this question Are you surprised by your runoff opponent? I'll start with you, Nick.

Nick Hellyar:

No, I'm not. It's exactly what we thought would happen. You know, in this race there were just over 200,000 people that we're going to vote in the city races and when you have one person on the Republican side they were going to get all of that vote. So we knew that the opponent that I'm running against now would be the person that would be in the runoff. We just weren't sure if we would be there. We had two really good, strong, democratic opponents and I think, luckily, our message and our hard work put us over the top. But it kind of shook out the way that we thought it would and I'm lucky that with the hard work that the campaign did, with the messaging that we did, with the coalition that we built, that we were able to make it to the runoff.

Bryan Hlavinka:

And Mario question to you Are you surprised by your runoff opponent?

Mario Castillo:

No, not surprised. This was an open seat and there were five people in the race. A couple of folks had run multiple times. The person that I'm in the runoff with ran for the seat four years ago, along with some other race a couple months after that. So we expected to be in the runoff with our likely opponent and that's the scenario we ended up with Now. Were we expecting to be in the runoff with 46% of the vote? I will tell you no, we knew that we were going to be in the runoff, but we weren't sure by how much of the share. That was a surprise to us, but when you look again at the amount of people we did direct contact with and the robust field program that we ran, that shows you how impactful that is in a district race. When you're in neighborhoods, talking to people directly face to face, it matters and it's a motivating factor for people to get out and vote.

Bryan Hlavinka:

What have you two learned about the race and campaigning this election cycle? Nick, I'll start with you.

Nick Hellyar:

I've learned that people in the city of Houston, in city municipal races, they just care about the basics, right.

Nick Hellyar:

They care about public safety, they care about quality city services, they care about our tax dollars being spent efficiently.

Nick Hellyar:

And they really took to that message and that's what we're going to keep hammering home in this runoff is, you know, this city is at a turning point and we can take it to a great place if we fight for the right people to get elected. You know people want their homes to be safe from flooding. They want their roads to be smooth. They want police officers to arrive in a timely manner if their house is broken into. They want wealth, paid and well equipped firefighters to respond If there's an emergency in their home. You know they want their trash cans picked up on time, and so, having worked at the city before when I was younger, I kind of knew that going into this, but it really hit home. On this campaign, you know we've been campaigning for me I've been doing it for 17 months and it really has reiterated to me that it's just the basic city services that are important to Houstonians in this race and I think it showed in our race and I think Mario had the same message in district H and people really responded to that.

Bryan Hlavinka:

And question to you, mario what have you learned this election cycle?

Mario Castillo:

This is my first time ever running for office. I will tell you it's been a roller coaster. You've experienced every single emotion a couple of times. This campaign has totally taken over my life, impacted my family, my husband, significantly. But at the end of the day, you know, the campaign really kind of reveals your character and reveals who you are. When you're being tested and you're stressed and you're dealing with folks who want to speak to you, want to ask you questions are already reaching out to you for help. You're feeling the pressure to raise money. You're talking at forums, you're answering questionnaires, you're just kind of always on. It's a whole machine. Your character comes through, you know, and I think that was an interesting takeaway for me, because you know we all have opponents in this right and you know you see how they respond to things and some of it takes you by surprise and some of it you know you kind of expect, but you get to see who they are as well. And so I think you know, as a candidate, this has been really eye-opening experience for me. It's been really humbling as well, but you know, going forward, I have respect for folks that step up and do this more so than I have in the past.

Mario Castillo:

And to Nick's point, you know people, really, when you talk about these local elections, this really isn't driven by partisan issues. It's driven by who's going to care about my neighborhood, who's going to listen to our concerns and voice those at City Hall and get some results. How are we going to fix our sidewalks? How are we going to fix our trash pickup? I mean, these are the things that people care about that they deal with every day.

Mario Castillo:

You know projects that deal with parks and streets and roads. If there's things under construction, they're dealing with that when they drive to work and when they drive home twice a day, and so they want someone that's going to work with them, that's going to be advocates for their neighborhood, and it's all about these basic city issues, these quality of life issues, and it's not about all the noise that you know you get caught up with when you talk about federal and state politics and partisanship, and so, at the end of the day, they want good government and they want people that are going to represent their issues and their concerns. And so that's refreshing, you know, because you don't have to deal with all the bickering and the divisiveness. You just have to deal with wanting to make sure the city is doing the best it can for its residents.

Bryan Hlavinka:

We're speaking with Nick Helier and Mario Castillo to run off city council candidates for the upcoming election. Now, boys, you are running to replace Robert Gallegos. Why is it important that we have LGBT representation on city council? Nick, I'll start with you.

Nick Hellyar:

Yeah, I think it's incredibly important. I was lucky enough to be a city hall staffer when council members to level was at city council and I also got to work on mayor and niece Parker's first campaign. So I was lucky to have two strong LGBT Women from my community that were there and they were able to teach me how to Basically be an adult, how to be a good representative for the citizens of Houston. And, with council member Gallegos, carrying the torch for the last four years, is the only LGBT Member of council and the only Latino on council.

Nick Hellyar:

It is scary that we may, after this election if one of us or both of us don't win for the first time since 1997 not have somebody from our community on council.

Nick Hellyar:

And not only is it important that we have a voice at the table, because it is very difficult for people to Discriminate against your community when they're looking you straight in the eyes. If you're not in the room, it's a lot easier for them. So, one, it's to be at the table. Then two, it's also what I talked about at the beginning it is to bring up the next generation of people from our community, explain to them why civic engagement and civic work and the city of Houston work is so important and help guide them Along the way, like I, like I was by council member level and mayor Parker, so that's why it's important to me and it's something that has really, during this campaign, hit home to me. It's extremely important, especially With the way our community is being attacked from the, from the state government. It's important that we have people that will stand up and fight back and, with the experience that I learned when I was younger working for those two women, that will not be an issue if I'm elected.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Mario. Why is it important that we elect LGBT people to city council?

Mario Castillo:

you know it's it's so critically important and Nick hit on so much of this and he laid it out. You know really well, at the end of the day, representation matters. It absolutely does. And when you take a city like Houston, it's so diverse, you know it's one of the the most diverse in the country. It's the almost third largest in the nation. Your local government works best when it reflects the population of your city. You're gonna get a more comprehensive, a more robust local government and so to not have any LGBTQ voice on city council, it's it's a scary thought.

Mario Castillo:

You know I've been running for almost a year, since December the 8th, so we're almost there at a year. But you know there already been folks that are, you know, lgbtq, latino youth that have reached out, just sent me a message on Facebook, on the campaign page. It's so great to see someone like me doing something like this. I didn't know we could do these sort of things here in Houston. You know those messages, they really hit home because you know it's not the sole reason why I've decided to run right, but the inspiration that is provided, or the hope that it has provided To the future, to the youth.

Mario Castillo:

Nick talked about being able to mentor the next generation. You know our candidacies are able to be, you know, a beacon to others who may Want to serve their community or fight for their community. Or you know they hear what's coming out of Austin the legislation that's attacking LGBTQ Texans, and they can see this as an avenue to To push back against that. And there's folks like them that are running, that are succeeding, giving them the option, giving them that, that glimmer of hope, and so it's incredibly important that hopefully, both of us get on city council to Be able to provide that, that voice, to provide that push back against attacks and hatefulness and to help the next generation come up, because If not, we're, we're gonna be in for a long four years, given, you know what our legislature's been doing lately the fact that we don't have a non-discrimination ordinance here locally, and I hate to think about that.

Nick Hellyar:

What that, what those four years would look like and let me just add one thing also I don't think we're asking people to vote for us because we're gay. I think we're asking people to vote for us because we are the best candidates and we just happen to be gay. Right, this is something that, if you look at the people that are endorsing us, the work that we've put in, who we are as people, we are qualified for this position. So I think it's important and it's a good thing that we've gotten to this point in our community, right? That's, not only are we just running as openly gay men, but we are also the most qualified for this position, and I know that I'm here because of the leadership from the LGBT community in the past of elected officials at the city of Houston, and I want to carry that forward as well.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Speaking of attacks, have either of you experienced any anti-LGBT attacks in your campaign? Nick?

Nick Hellyar:

Yeah, I'm running against an openly anti trans, anti gay, anti marriage, anti choice Baptist preacher. He touts how he was part of the coalition that beat the hero ordinance. So this is not a joke and this is not a game. Not only is it coming at me from People when I'm out campaigning, but it's coming from my opponent, and people have a clear choice In this election to pick somebody that is hateful, that once our community to disappear and not exist, or somebody that cares deeply about this city and about everybody in the city of Houston, and we'll fight for our community.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Mario, same question to you, you know.

Mario Castillo:

I've heard rumors. I there's been nothing sort of Proven. I Mean I've I know that at the polls I've been called an atheist to my face and and you know I've corrected that and it still went on. I've definitely been dealing with with the typical things that that candidates deal with from opponents, but I hope that we don't get to a point where anti-LGBTQ Attacks are being Levy, because that would that would be very unfortunate.

Bryan Hlavinka:

What are the main issues facing the city of Houston, nick?

Nick Hellyar:

I think we touched on it earlier it's public safety is number one. On every poll, on every door that I knock on, every group that I go to, people talk about public safety and people don't feel safe. Now it is up to us as elected officials at the city to ensure that people do feel safe. So that's number one and whether honestly, if the numbers bear it out or not, people don't feel safe. Two is going to be infrastructure and roads, so flooding mitigation and road upkeep. And number three is gonna be quality city services, which will be trash pickup, the water bills which we've seen that have been inflated on the news lately. And also I'll add in a fourth, which is affordable housing.

Nick Hellyar:

And as somebody that's worked in real estate for the past decade and a half, we see the city of Austin is extremely expensive to live in and Houston is going that way. If we don't ensure that we have affordable housing for everybody here in the city of Houston, keep the rents down, keep the property values at a steady pace without spikes up or down in either direction. So those are the four that I've heard. I don't know Mario is, because Mario's running in a district. He's gonna be hypersensitive and have heard places. That are things that are specific to the places that he's gone to, so he's probably got a different answer, but citywide that's what I'm seeing.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Yes, Mario. What specific challenges is the city of Houston facing in district H?

Mario Castillo:

District H is very diverse in its neighborhoods and with that you're gonna get diverse issues. Every neighborhood has its own set of things it's going through. In some areas it's illegal dumping, in some areas it's stray animals, in some it's traffic and speeding and others it's housing and gentrification. So it really is a neighborhood-centric question. Now, overall, my campaign has been about safe, strong and healthy neighborhoods because at the end of the day, that's what every neighborhood wants and in some places we're pretty close to that and we need to keep that, and in others we need to do more to help them get there. But that's what my focus and my initiatives have all rolled up to Safe neighborhoods, strong neighborhoods with solid infrastructure and healthy neighborhoods with a high quality of life. And so between those three we've covered what we've seen in Woodland Heights versus Second Ward, versus Denver Harbor versus Garden Oaks. You know they're all dealing with their own set of issues, but they all kind of roll up to safe, strong or healthy neighborhoods.

Bryan Hlavinka:

What would you do differently if you have to run again, Nick?

Nick Hellyar:

I have run before, so I think that question has already played out for me. What I did this time was running city-wide, is I've spent more time fundraising than I did last time. If you think about it, there's 225,000 people that voted in this election and the only way to reach voters when you're running city-wide in a large race is through mail, text messages, digital. I factored the other day if I knocked something like 100 doors every night and estimated how many people I would speak to, or 200 doors a night, it would take me almost six and a half years to talk to everybody in the city, whereas in Mario's race, in a district race, because it's one 11th of the city, it's one piece of the pie. He's knocked on everybody's door two or three times. So the focus is different.

Nick Hellyar:

In my race, and because I came from a district council office when I was younger, I kind of had that mentality of all right, I'm gonna talk to as many people as I can. And I got to the end of the race and kind of realized oh my, there's a lot of people coming out to vote that I haven't spoken to. So this time there's more of an effort on fundraising and I had the relationships built from last time. So I kind of started right where I left off. So that was easy for me and since I had run before, I could do that this time.

Nick Hellyar:

Mario has probably got a different answer because this is his first time running, but for me it was just the focus of where you spent your time. There is like in life, in your daily life, at work or with your family. There's a limited amount of time that you can do this during the day. So you have to dedicate that time to what's gonna be most successful and, having worked on Mayor Parker's race, it really was this time, and she made sure this time. To hammer it home to me is you have to raise the money to ensure that the most people hear your message and we have a winning message. The trouble is getting that message out to as many voters as possible. So that's what we've changed this time.

Bryan Hlavinka:

And question you, Mario, what would you do differently if you were to have to run again?

Mario Castillo:

I think that earlier on in the campaign what other folks in the race did? I let that get into my head a little bit about oh well, if someone was here, we should focus here, or if someone did this, we should look into this. And at some point it was just you know what, we're gonna run our campaign and it's gonna be this way and that's it. Let's go ahead full steam.

Mario Castillo:

I would have done that sooner, right, I would not have let other things kind of get in my head a bit. But as a first time candidate, you're kind of questioning things or you're taking things directly or you're taking things personally. At some point you've gotta just get a thick skin and say you know what, I have trust and I have faith in this process and in this method. Let's just go ahead and go down that road all the way, because I think ultimately, when we decided to do that and we went all in on it, it's what got us to where we are today, and had we started that a little earlier, maybe we'd be in a different position here. Maybe we'd be at 48 or 49 or not even in a runoff. But that was a lesson that I learned that I will take with me if I ever have to do this again, or you know, that's just a lesson for life.

Nick Hellyar:

I think you just taught us that's how we should all act. It's hard to do. That's a good point.

Bryan Hlavinka:

In the last few minutes. Why should people of Houston vote for you, nick?

Nick Hellyar:

I think it's my experience at City Hall. I've proven that I have a passion for this work. I love this work and if you look at the coalition that we've built, I was the only person in this race that got endorsed by incumbent council members. I got endorsed by every single former LGBTQ council member and Mayor Parker, and I think it's this effort that I've shown and passion that I've shown to do this work that puts me as the person that people should vote for in this race. You know this is a labor of love. This is not a sexy job. This is going to work 12 hours a day at City Hall, getting yelled at by constituents all day, working on budget stuff, going to civic clubs in the evenings. On the weekends it's going out to neighborhoods and looking at issues that people have come up with. During the week it's different for Mario, but for me it is just to get people to vote down ballot. There's enough people down there that will see our message and will vote for us if we can get the message out there.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Mario, why should the people of Houston and District H vote for you?

Mario Castillo:

You know I think about all the work I've done throughout my career in District H. It's been from my time as a organizer, helping people get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act here in Houston. A lot of that work in District H, serving as a chief of staff to the District H office, serving on the board of the Houston Land Bank, helping get workforce and affordable housing into the District, building better infrastructure in the near north side with my service on the near north side tax increment re-investment zone. This is my home. This district is where I was born and raised. It's where I have given back through service and through volunteering and that collective experience has led me to want to take this next step and serve the district as the District H City Council member and be a strong advocate for District H in every neighborhood in District H at City Hall.

Bryan Hlavinka:

We've been speaking with two candidates for City Council, nick Helger and Mario Castillo, for Houston City Council election December 9th.

Glenn Holt:

Part of our Queer Voices community listens on KPFT, which is a nonprofit community radio station, and as such, kpft does not endorse or hold any standing on matters of politics. If you would like equal airtime to represent an alternative point of view, please contact us through kpftorg or our own website at QueerVoicesorg. This is Queer Voices. This has been Queer Voices, which is now a home-produced podcast and available from several podcasting sources. Check our webpage QueerVoicesorg for more information. Queer Voices executive producer is Brian Levinca. Andrew Edmanson and Deborah Moncrief Bell are frequent contributors. The News Wrap segment is part of another podcast called this Way Out, which is produced in Los Angeles.

Glenn Holt:

Some of the material in this program has been edited to improve clarity and runtime. This program does not endorse any political views or animal species. Views, opinions and endorsements are those of the participants and the organizations they represent. In case of death, please discontinue use and discard remaining products.

Glenn Holt:

For Queer Voices. I'm Glenn Holt.

Queer Voices
Community Support Initiatives and Christmas Giveaway
Mental Health During the Holidays
LGBT Representation in Local Government
Houston City Council Election Main Issues
Queer Voices and Non-Political Stance