In Houston, everyone who is in any way politically active knows Ashton P. Woods.
Not a glad-handing, slick political operative, Woods is an activist in the true sense of the word. He’s been at it since just 15, and to hear him tell it, there is too much work to do, and too many needs unmet to think of slowing down.
“During COVID especially, there are people who need help. Immigrants, gay people, poor people, anyone who has a human rights struggle — we have to do what’s right,” he said. “People have been suffering. People are quarantined with their abusers right now. People have mental health struggles. We have to work out how to improve those lives.”
Woods leads Black Lives Matter Houston. He has called the city home, since moving away from New Orleans in 2005. Woods says he’s simply following the Golden Rule.
“I was tired of people not speaking up for me. The principal and the teachers not caring that I was 14 and 15 going through bullying that was anti-Black and anti-gay.”
A co-chair of the Black Humanist Alliance, Wood is an open atheist and was actually granted an honorary doctorate from a seminary in 2018. “That reverend thanked me and said that even though I don’t subscribe to their ideas of faith and belief, the work I do was in line with their beliefs and I was doing the work even if not the prayer.”
Woods says he puts faith in the work of human hands. Philosophies, religions and politics don’t mean anything if the evidence doesn’t show improvement for people.
“We are not any safer now than when Trump was president! The least among us need to be heard and this can be done without forsaking others. Folks need to be fed, housed, clothed no matter who they are.”
Woods’ activism and organizing go back to when he was a high schooler creating the first gay-straight alliance in New Orleans in 1999. His ability to work with people different from himself is long established.
While he’s not willing to let the closed minds of some others deter his work, he’s open to offering them education. He says, “People that think the ‘gay thing’ somehow detracts from working for all Black people are full of it! When you erase LGBT Black people, that’s internalized anti-Blackness. Because when you put a 14 year old boy out ‘cause he’s gay, he’s still a Black boy.
“And if you have never been called a ‘fa***t’ and a ‘ni***r’ in the same sentence,” he says, :you can’t say anything! Because LGBT people have been out here doing the work for us all.”