In our series Our Movement Monday, we talk with Texas Democrats across our state about their work and the challenges facing their communities.
Celia Israel has represented House District 50 in Austin since 2014. She serves as Vice Chairwoman of the House Elections Committee and sits on the Transportation Committee. Previously, she served on the boards of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Public Transportation. Celia served in the Ann Richards administration, tasked with recruiting the best and brightest to public service. In the community, she has worked to empower young girls as a Board member of GENaustin, as well as a past board member of YWCA. And that’s just skimming the surface of Celia’s long record of service to our community. In her first term in the Legislature, Representative Israel was named Freshman of the Year by the Legislative Study Group, a Champion of Equality by Equality Texas, and a Progressive Champion by Progress Texas. Since then, she has been honored by groups including the Capital Area Progressive Democrats, Progress Texas, Texas Democratic Women, and the Austin LGBT Bar Association.
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us today, Representative Israel! You’re a woman on a mission as the Texas State Representative for HD50, as well as LGBTQ, and community activist. As you know, Pride Month started on Friday. How have you experienced our country changing over the years?
Celia Israel: After I announced my candidacy for State Representative in 2013, one of my friends said, “Celia, you’re trending.” He was talking about how being a gay candidate made it to a trending topic on Twitter. Now, there are many open LGBTQ candidates on the ballot with me. Even in a state like Texas, there is so much hope. We’re making forward progress. People are more accepting, and you see even conservatives embracing gay marriage and accepting their neighbors. But, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
LGBTQ folks around the world still face barriers. How do we go about changing our culture and becoming a more inclusive Texas?
Celia Israel: From bathrooms to bakeries to the ballot box, LGBTQ Americans still face hurdles to equality across our society. I like to think a lot of work happens when people get to know me and other folks like me. I’ve made conservative friends in the Texas Legislature. hen folks from different backgrounds come together and work together, it helps break down barriers.
During the last special session, Transgender Texans were attacked with the bathroom bill and it failed. How do you think that represented the interests and values of Texans?
Celia Israel: You know, a lot of that was red meat for a right-wing base. No one should face discrimination, bullying, or violence because of who they are or who they love. Texans care about equality, better public education, and traffic congestion relief — not imaginary bathroom crimes.
In your thirty years in Austin, you served in the Ann Richards administration. What is one of your most memorable moments from that time?
Celia Israel: When Governor Richards met my mom and dad — she was busy, but she took the time to meet two Texans from El Paso. She let them know that they should be proud of the work we were doing. It meant the world to them and me.
What do you see as those most pressing issues facing Texans?
Celia Israel: Those that affect our children’s future. Especially the way in which we finance our public schools. These are issues I call the big rocks: education, transportation, and health care.
You are a dedicated blockwalker when you’re campaigning, what are the issues that motivate you to work so hard?
Celia Israel: Voting rights, voting rights, and voting rights! Texas turnout is so low and I see it as my civic responsibility to do everything I can to change that and blockwalking is one of the ways I can do it. I think the biggest barriers to voting are systemic, but we can work to change that by talking to folks at their doors. The work is hard and rewarding.
You’re a voice for the community and have been fighting to ensure our voices are heard! How do we get more young activists involved?
Celia Israel: Look, young people are the key to any movement. All we have to do is invite them. Young people have run my campaigns and work in my office. Seriously, just invite them! Give them the tools, teach them what you know, and you’re off to a great start.
Any advice to young LGBTQ Texans who want to get involved?
Celia Israel: Find someone or something you care about and join the cause. Volunteer and do the grunt work. Make calls, pick up trash, and stuff envelopes. That is what I did. You make a family, you meet lifelong friends, and you might even run for office one day.