By Jenn Haight

With the 2016 presidential and regional elections already splashed across the news and media, many people are thinking about the issues that matter to them. The GLBT community of Houston has a ready-made outlet for ideas and empowerment with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Uniting under the slogan "Equality? Seek it. Discrimination? End it," the group hopes to open doors wide during the upcoming electoral season.

Founded in 1975, The Houston GLBT Political Caucus is dedicated to the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. The Caucus works to elect candidates through fundraising and spreading public awareness. Working as a nonpartisan unit, the Caucus attempts to connect GLBT and GLBT-friendly voters to elect pro-equality candidates and to influence local, state and national elections.

Under the heading of GLBT issues, equality is paramount. By helping voters to sort through candidate's rhetoric and discourse, the caucus lets supporters know which candidates will work toward the implementation of pro-equality public policy. The group's PAC (political action committee) lobbies for the caucus and then produces a list of the candidates endorsed as representing the caucus' issues. Voters can then take the list with them to the polls and vote with confidence, knowing they are choosing candidates who promise to uphold the group's pro-equality policy.

In 1981, the caucus endorsed Kathy Whitmire, who became the first female mayor of Houston. Her support of GLBT issues drew a backlash from conservatives, but she remained the mayor for five consecutive two-year terms. Annise Parker became the first openly gay mayor of Houston in 2009. A team of volunteers from the caucus provided a consistent and dedicated grass roots campaign for her, which is believed to have greatly influenced many voters. Parker has received numerous awards and accolades during her ongoing time as mayor. Some highlights include Time magazine naming Mayor Parker one of the 100 most influential people in the world and the National Award for Local Arts Leadership.

Recently the caucus has announced its continued support of HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). HERO is an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. The ordinance protects 15 characteristics including race, ability, gender identity, pregnancy, military status and sexual orientation. It is now a requirement that all candidates endorsed by the caucus must promise to support HERO.

The group's activities reach beyond elections. They also engage in community outreach and education, often providing instruction and training on GLBT issues to various agencies and companies throughout the Houston area. The caucus also refers members of the community to services and resources they may otherwise have difficulty finding.

Part of the strength of the organization lays in the dedication of its many volunteers. They work as a team to spread the message of the group. Whether they are educating voters by traveling door to door, handing out voting guides at polling spots or calling on the telephone, time in the field is essential in fighting for GLBT equality.

Another service of the caucus connects them with law enforcement agencies as an advocate to improve the conditions in jails. They also call for fair treatment of GLBT individuals from law enforcement officers.

Politics and law aside, the caucus extends its influence to promote effective public, corporate and organizational policies across the region. The ultimate goal is to make Houston and the greater Houston area a safe, welcoming place for GLBT individuals to live and work.

General membership meetings are held monthly at the Montrose Center, and listings can be found on the Houston GLBT Political Caucus website, Facebook or Twitter page. A basic membership runs $40, but there are student and senior rates. You may still attend meetings as a nonpaying member, but you must be a member to vote and attend certain events.