Houston City Councilman Greg Travis faces backlash over Facebook comments

HOUSTON – A Houston city councilman Tuesday defended comments he made on social media, comparing former First Lady Michelle Obama to current First Lady Melania Trump, amid growing calls for his resignation.

“I have every right to my opinion. They have every right to their opinion. I don’t tell other people they can’t have their opinion,” said Councilman Greg Travis, District G, who added, “They can call for whatever they want. I’m not resigning.”

Travis said the post, made to his personal Facebook account on Dec. 21, is a repost of a meme from the internet.  The post includes two photographs – one of Mrs. Obama, the other of Mrs. Trump. Both women were seated – Mrs. Obama, wearing a pantsuit, is seated without legs crossed.  Mrs. Trump, also wearing a pantsuit, is seated with her legs crossed.

“There is a meme that’s been out there for several years, and I reposted it,” Travis said. His reshare included the comment, “Yep, Just saying.”

“There’s a difference,” Travis said.  “I think one is classier. One is not,” Travis continued.

“How so,” pressed KPRC 2 Brandon Walker.

“Well, I just think that one represents the First Lady ideal. Michelle Obama has always been too political for me,” Travis continued.

Councilman Travis maintains his comment specifically was directed toward his thoughts on the former First Lady’s performance in the unelected position. He said it wasn’t racist, nor misogynist.

“Everybody can have an opinion. What makes me have a right to an opinion is that I’m an individual. I’m a person and every person has a right to their opinion. I have a right to have opinions about men and women.  I have a right to have opinions about everything. This wasn’t directed at anybody except one person, Michelle Obama.  I don’t hate Michelle Obama, I just don’t think she’s all that.”

Screengrabs of Travis’s post, and subsequent responses, were shared online by Black Lives Matter Houston, which called for Travis to resign.

“Honestly, it speaks for itself, to me, because when I see someone post pics like that it reminds me of how they tried to masculinize Michelle Obama and other black women which speaks to the way she was sitting,” said Ashton P. Woods, of Black Lives Matter Houston. 

“The way she was sitting, her legs were open and apparently, according to Greg Travis, only men should be able to do that. Well, it’s 2020 and not 1952 and his misogyny has gone too far. It’s representative of the racism toward Black women.  It’s representative of the racism toward Black women,” Woods continued.

Councilman Travis’ post netted responses. 

Laurie Robinson, a community leader and business owner, who owns a business in District G, responded to Travis’ post, with an inquiry.

“I stated to him that Michelle Obama is a Princeton graduate and a Harvard Law School graduate. So, my feeling toward that is she’s accomplished; therefore, the disparaging pictures that they post about her and things they say about her are not appropriate,” Robinson said. 

Robinson ran for an At-Large position on the Houston City Council in 2015.

Travis responded to Robinson’s comment by writing, “It’s called Affirmative Action.  Doesn’t take much – she was born with her qualification. She isn’t the brightest bulb in the lot,” Travis’ response read, in part.

In an interview with KPRC 2, Travis doubled down on his comments, insisting they weren’t racist or misogynist.

“What did you mean, though, sir, when you said she was born with her qualification,” KPRC 2 Brandon Walker asked.

“Well, Affirmative Action. You don’t get Affirmative Action if you’re white,” Travis said.

“But, how do we know Michelle Obama benefitted from that just because she went to Harvard,” Walker responded.

“Well, the answer is I don’t specifically know because I didn’t see her transcript, but I will tell you I’ve read articles that alluded to that. So, the answer is I don’t know if she did or if she didn’t.”

But Laurie Robinson, and others, maintain Travis’ comments were intentionally offensive.

“We know what he says. That was a dog whistle that said it wasn’t just Michelle Obama. It wasn’t Kamala Harris. That put everything into that quote group of people.  I know what he meant and that’s why I responded to him,” Robinson said.

On Travis’s claim about Affirmative Action, Robinson said, “It’s nothing to be ashamed about, but when we go to class, we don’t get separate tests, we don’t put in separate papers somebody writes for us. We attend class, we get through college through our merit.  It’s all about merit – hard work and putting in the time to pay our dues to get to where we need to be.”

While District G is comprised of a majority white constituency, data posted on the city’s District G profile placed the district’s Black population at 12% in 2018, up from 5% in 2000.

Robinson’s educational credentials include a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communications from the University of North Texas, as well as an MBA from The University of St. Thomas.

Travis’ response to Robinson includes Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“And let’s not talk about Kamala – her qualification is that she sleeps with powerful men,” Travis’s response said. “And don’t bring up Hillary. Please, she would be nothing without Bill and she had to cover up for him raping those five women. Feminism is dead on the left. These three helped to kill it,” Travis’s response continued.

Travis defended his response in an interview with KPRC 2, saying, “I like women. I like Blacks. I like Black women. One of my favorite people is Candace Owens. I actually gave money to her organization. If I didn’t like Black women, I probably wouldn’t be supporting her,” adding his Chief of Staff, Kathleen Shelton, is a woman.

“What’s trying to be done to me is to cancel me out. It’s not going to work. When people do that I just fight even harder,” he said, reiterating his conviction that his comments are his opinion, one to which he has a right.

“I think it starts a conversation about opinions, about free thought, and free speech,” Travis said.

Ashton P. Woods of Black Lives Matter Houston disagrees, as does Laurie Robinson.

“For him to say that it’s particularly aimed at Michelle Obama is to me defining what racism is and isn’t. He doesn’t, as a white person, get to say what is and what isn’t racist and what is or isn’t misogynist. I don’t believe that we should have any say over any woman’s personal autonomy or any person’s personal autonomy,” Woods said.

“I think that if Greg wants to be a leader, he needs to start acting like a leader and keep his personal thoughts out of the way because if you only think women make it to college because of Affirmative Action, then you need to see me coming into discuss an issue with you, that’s how you’re going to look at me,” Robinson said.

Robinson called for Travis’ resignation. KPRC 2 has confirmed with several sources that a call will be made for the City Council to publicly censure Travis during next week’s City Council meeting.

About the Author:

Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.