Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time to switch cereals: Kellogg's out, General Mills in

Apologies for the non-legislative post.

The important question about today's teens is why they love money so much? Are we living in consumption society? Is it going to end soon? Are we ready for more money in our lives? All these question are important!


Growing up there were two breakfast cereals available at our house: Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Cheerios. The two options were so ubiquitous on the breakfast tables of my youth that to this day I can't stand to eat either. But I may have to find a way to stomach Cheerios again after the taurus-shaped staple's parent couple, General Mills, came out against a proposed ban on marriage equality in its home state of Minnesota this week.

In contrast, the other purveyor of the processed grains of my youthful mornings, Kellogg's, has pulled its advertizing from the Teen Nick series "Degrassi" over story lines involving transgender youth. "Degrassi" is a long running Canadian television series that since 1979 has taken on a number of difficult teen issues including abortion, drug use, racism, gay teens and eating disorders. But apparently the existence of transgender teenagers is a step too far for Kellogg's.

The ad pulling comes after pressure from the hate group The American Family Association, which characterizes the portrayal of trans teens as promoting "bizarre sexual role-playing with transvestism, [and] homosexuality."

I've never been a fan of "Degrassi." I find it over-acted and melodramatic. But for some kid in middle-of-nowhere America (or Canada) who's trying to figure out their gender identity having a positive portrayal on television of another kid dealing with the same thing can make a world of difference, and in some cases can save lives.

So in my house we're going to go buy some Cheerios today, and if a bizarre craving for corn flakes pops up we'll just have to go with the store brand.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Comments at the Third Annual Harvey Milk March and Rally

Today I had the incredible honor to address the crowd at the third annual Harvey Milk March and Rally on the front steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. These are my prepared comments on that occasion:

I stand before the doors of this grand temple to democracy today; these doors I have walked through more times than I can count; these doors whose creek and polish have welcomed me time and time again and I say to you:

You don’t know the power you have.

Next January 8th the people who work behind those doors will return to begin making decisions that affect your lives.

You have the power to turn their minds towards the path of equality.

You have the power to tell them, face to face, your story of how inequality affects you and the ones you love.

You have the power to carry with you the spirits of those we’ve lost: to disease, to violent hatred, to the self-hate generated by a society that over and over again tells our children that they are not acceptable.

Over the next seven months most of the people who work behind those doors will not hear from a single constituent about our state’s continued systemic enmity towards queer people.

I’m going to say that again: most of the people who work behind those doors never hear from their constituents about queer issues.

We, gathered here today, at the doors of this grand temple to democracy, have the power to change that.

We have the power to tell those nestled in the seats of privilege the stories of our vibrant, varied community,

We have the power to speak for ourselves, to speak for the silenced and to speak for those just finding their voices and to say with a loud clear voice “I am here, and you are hurting me.”

One of the things Harvey taught us is the importance of coming out. He knew that it is harder for everyday people to hate us when they know us.

Well... the people who work behind those doors are everyday people, and it is harder for them to hate us if they know us.

So it is not enough to come out to your parents.

It is not enough to come out to your employer.

It is not enough to come out to your dog walker, your green grocer or your barber...

You must, you must, you must come out to your lawmaker!

In the days of Harvey Milk, the rallying cry was “out of the bars and into the streets.” On this day, on this day just over 82 years since Harvey’s birth, I propose a new rallying cry:

Out of the bars and through those doors; and

Off of grindr and into the workplace; and

out of the closet and into the classroom; and

off of facebook and onto the phones; and

off of twitter and into the voting booth; and

back into the bars to pick-up reinforcements; and

never give up; and

never shut up; and

never, ever stop hoping

because you have more power than you know;

and together, together we can harness that power to tell the people who work behind those doors about our lives, our stories, our Texas;

and that is how we win.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

House Candidate's Homophobic Tweet Stirs Controversy

Pat Carlson

Republican Candidate for Texas House Pat Carlson is in hot water as news of her recent homophobic tweet becomes viral.

Carlson is the former president of the Texas chapter of the Phyllis Schlafly-founded Eagle Forum, an ultra-conservative organization that last session (while Carlson was president) worked to defeat nearly every piece of legislation in Texas designed to improve the lives of LGBT Texans, including testifying against anti-bullying bills HB 1942 and HB 1386, and surrogate parenting bill HB 910.

In other words she has quite literally made a career of homophobia.

Even given Carlson's curricula vitae, the blinding ignorance betrayed by this tweet still comes as a bit of a shock:

"Don't be fooled by anti-bullying rhetoric. Not about kids, it's about LGBT's getting their foot in door of schools."
The link in the tweet refers back to Carlson's campaign website, patcarlsoncampaign.com, but the linked page has been removed.

It would, I'm sure, shock Mrs. Carlson to the core to learn that LGBT people are already in schools, even private christian schools; many of them have even infiltrated home school classrooms...

 ...they're called students.

That's the reason that so very many people - gay and straight, cis- and transgender, Republican and Democrat - have become concerned about anti-LGBT bullying in schools: because real students are suffering the consequences. Perhaps if Carlson was as concerned with the well being of actual flesh-and-blood kids as she is about defending her ideology she would understand that.

The good news is that Pat Carlson has almost no chance of being elected to the House. Carlson originally entered the race running for House District 91, the seat being vacated by Kelly Hancock (R-Fort Worth), but during all of the back and forth involved in redistricting she found herself in House District 93 running against incumbent Barbara Nash (R-Arlington). Nash, incidentally, voted for last year's anti-bullying bill HB 1942 (which, admittedly, had no specific protections for LGBT students).

It is much harder to unseat an incumbent than to win an open seat, on top of which Carlson is up against two opponents in the Republican primary: Nash and Matt Krause, both of whom have soundly out-fundraised her (as of last week Nash's and Krause's campaigns had $101,965 and $23,201 respectively, whereas Carlson has gone $8,200 in debt). Of course fundraising is not the only measure of a candidate's viability, but it often gives a glimpse into the level of community support a person has, particularly when the fundraising totals are so lopsidedly against one candidate in a crowded field, and these totals tell me that Carlson is running a serious deficit of community support.

Of course stranger things have happened in Texas politics than an underfunded candidate from far outside the political mainstream being elected, so the threat of Carlson, and her radical agenda, having a voice in the Texas House is still very real.

A change.org petition has been started calling on Carlson to retract her statement.

Monday, April 30, 2012

More Than Six Thousand Transgender Texans to be Disenfranchised by New Photo ID Law, Says Study

Over six thousand transgender Texans will be barred from the polls if legislation requiring photo identification in order to vote goes into effect. That's according to a recently released study by the Williams Institute, an independent legal institute at the UCLA School of Law. The study is based on information from National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted jointly by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality and released earlier this year.

Last year the Texas legislature passed SB 14, a bill that requires anyone voting to present one of five forms of photo identification:
  • Driver's license or state ID,
  • Military ID,
  • Citizenship certificate that includes photograph,
  • Passport, or
  • Concealed handgun license.
If the person does not have one of those forms of identification, or if the election judge determines that the identification provided does not match the record of the person on the voter registration roles the voter may fill out a provisional ballot and then must submit proof of identification with-in six days of the election in order for their ballot to be counted.

According to the Williams Institute report 27% of transgender Texans do not have updated ID. Under this new law these voters may be unable to vote.

The new law has not yet gone into effect. So any registered voter who wishes to vote in the upcoming primary election need only show their voter registration card in order to vote (early voting starts today!). Implementation of the law has been delayed while the Justice Department considers whether it would violate provisions of the Voting Rights Act by making it unduly difficult for minority communities to vote.

Unfortunately the Voting Rights Act does not require the Justice Department to determine if the law would disenfranchise transgender voters.

If upheld the new photo ID law will have the ultimate effect of silencing one of the most vulnerable segments of the LGBT community, and at this stage in the process there is little that can be done to defeat the law other than wait and hope that the Justice Department refuses to approve it, or that a lawsuit brought to defend the voting rights of people of color is successful.

In the meantime we can prepare and educate our community about what will need to be done if this law goes into effect:

  • Double check that you are registered to vote (this goes for everyone, trans and cisgender people alike). You can look up your voter registration on-line on your County Clerk's website (just search for "(your county) TX clerk);
  • If you have a history of gender transition make certain that you have at least one of the five forms of ID listed above that matches the name and address on your voter registration;
  • Work to educate your local election officials about the issue (again, this goes for everyone). Both the Republican and Democratic parties (and to a lesser extent the Libertarian, Green and Reform parties) try to have a chair in every voting precinct. Generally the contact information for these chairs can be found on your county party's website. Contact the chair for your precinct and let them know to be on the lookout for the issue. While you're at it contact your County Clerk and ask that, if the law is upheld, election judges receive training on how to be sensitive towards transgender voters.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

National Day of Silence: A Texas Legislative History

Tomorrow is the National Day of Silence, an annual day of protest where High School and College Students pledge to be silent for a day to draw attention to the persecution of LGBT students.

Every session the Texas House and Senate pass resolutions recognizing events in Texas, from Rose Festivals to Pharmacy Day. The resolutions don’t do anything; they’re just a nice way for lawmakers to recognize events in the community.

In 2005 (The same year that the Texas version of the “Defense of Marriage Act” passed) State Rep. Garnett Coleman (D-Houston) introduced House Resolution 1162, recognizing the National Day of Silence. HR 1162 would not have required Texas schools or universities to recognize the day of silence in anyway, nor would it have compelled anyone to participate. It simply recognized that the day existed as a way to bring attention to issues facing LGBT students.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Rules and Resolutions and was never heard from again, effectively silencing the Day of Silence resolution.

No word on when the Legislature will recognize “Irony Day”.

This post appeared in a different form on legislativequeery.com on April 15, 2010

Friday, March 23, 2012

When We Were Hidden: Ten Years of the Gay/Lesbian Support Group at Rice University

In January of 1979 the "Gay/Lesbian Support Group" formed at Rice University in Houston. The organization was the prestigious school's first officially recognized LGBT student group. The group, with the Latin motto Noctuae Excubiculum Una (roughly: one owl out of the closet (the Rice mascot is the owl), did not appear in the University's yearbook, the Campanile until 1983.

That year the twenty member group appeared photographed in front of a statue of the University's founder,William Marsh Rice. All but two of the group hid their faces beneath paper bags to insure that their identity would remain secret.

For the next ten years LGBT students at Rice would continue to hide their identities in the Campanile.

1983 was the first year what was then known as the Rice Gay/Lesbian Support Group appeared in the yearbook. Members were identified as Harvey J. Spooner, J.Q. Public, Rin Tin Tin, Wilhelmina Marsha Rice (a feminization of Rice University founder William Marsh Rice's name), Wonder Woman, Vallery girl with bagged face, Brainiac V, Anacin II (Anacin was a popular pain reliever at the time), "Eggs" Ackley, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, Typical Rice Guy, Typical Rice Girl, Clark Kent, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Sapho, Plato, Damon, Pythias, L. Davinci and Alexander the Great. Also listed in the pictures caption: "not pictured: approximately 10% of Rice students, faculty and staff."
For the 1984 yearbook the group replaced the paper bags with paper plates. No names were listed in the caption.
The 1985 yearbook again contained no caption for the Gay/Lesbian support group, but did include a description ending with "As of January, 1985, RG/LSG is proud of a half-decade of service and activity as an official student organization. We look forward to many more years of pride in who we are, not labels such as "Rice people" or "gay people," but people just proud to be ourselves.
For the 1986 picture the Gay/Lesbian Support group got a little more political, using pink triangles (symbols used in Nazi concentration camps to signify gay and trans inmates) to block their faces. The caption is more political too, listing famous historical figures known or rumored to be LGBT: "(standing) Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, King James I, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Alexander the Great, Emperor Hadrian, Frederick the Great, Sophoclies, Socrates, Aristotle, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. (kneeling) Hans Christian Anderson, Alan Turing, and Peter Tchaikovsky. (not pictured) Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, John Milton, Emily Dickinson, King David and Jonathan, John Maynard Keynes, T.E. Lawrence, Lord Byron and approximately 10% of the other people throughout history."

In 1987 the organization got a new name "Gays and Lesbians at Rice" and faces (but not names) started to show up in the year book. Caption: "This picture was taken at GALOR's end-of-the year pool party. Included are members of GALOR along with our guests, gay students from the University of Houston. And those record albums? Just what are we up to this time? Well, maybe it's a message about the value of diversity ("marching to the sound of a different drummer," that sort of thing), or perhaps it says something about the need for harmony among people, or maybe it's just one of our bizarre satanic rituals involving cardboard and virgin vinyl. Stay tuned to Jerry Falwell for the incorrect answer!

1988 was the first year the group published both faces and names of members in the yearbook. Still, some club members choose to hide behind the previous year's Campanile and the historical pseudonyms "Alexander the Great" and "Sappho." Listed under their own names are Dan Whittaker, Morgan Slusher, Don Baker, Doug Moore, David Schnure and Gary Hislher.

The 1989 yearbook did not feature a group photo of GALAR and the 1990 edition did not include the group at all. By 1991 only one member of the group felt the need to hide their identity, listed in the caption as "one foot out of the closet." Several members of GALAR are holding signs protesting Texas' law against "Homosexual Conduct" - Penal Code 21.06. (Although declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 the law remains on the books in Texas.) Also pictured: Stephen Sachitano, Vanessa Baker, Adam Thornton, Don Baker, Brady Lanier and Cory West.

GALOR did not appear in the 1992 Campanile. Finally, in 1993, 10 years after the Rice Gay/Lesbian support group began appearing in the yearbook and 14 years after its founding the group, now renamed "Gays and Lesbians at Rice and Friends" appears with all faces showing and with real names listed in the caption "Front row: Erica Ollman, Greg Rice, Shawn Brooks, Barbara Solon, Kathy Oaks, Beckra Yorke, Brad Monton, Jon Adler, Niescja Turner, Tandy Pittayathikun, Asad Jafari, Row 2: Robert Cervantes, Dr. Michael Winters, Rayan Wyatt, Keith Rozendahl, Chepe Lockett, Amy Nelson, Ray Brizendine, Kim Peyson, Eric olson, Jenny Maxwell, Daviv Richter, Dave Ross, Colleen Walsh, Wiel Robinson, Dr. Lindley Doran, Jeff Kuhr, Shaila Dewan, JJ Heldman, Dr. Deborah Nelson, Dave Brown, Jill Carroll, George Papastanpalopoulus, Stephen Kahan. Row 3: Brad Smith, Dr. Chandler Davidson, J.J. McCoy, Don Baker, Tex Duncan, John Doherty, Booth Babcock, Jim Paluszak, Kyle Gpton, Jenn Lee, Nancy Chaber."
It took fourteen years for members of Rice's student LGBT organization to feel comfortable having their pictures and names in the yearbook. 1993 was not that long ago, just under twenty years.

I look at that picture from 1983 and I am haunted by a past where such anonymity was necessary, but I also fear a future where it might again be needed.

Last year Rep. Wayne Christian twice attempted to remove resources for queer students from state universities. (Rice, being a private school, would not have been affected.) Although his efforts were defeated the threat remains. Paper bags are for groceries, not for faces. People like Wayne Christian who want to return to the days where students were afraid to be outed in the yearbook - people who want the lives and contributions and families of LGBT people to be hidden under a sack - must be stopped.

The only way to stop them is to be public, to put aside the paper bags and paper plates and to call the people who get to make decisions about things like campus LGBT resource centers: the members of the state legislature. Christian has an opponent in his Republican primary, but if he's re-elected there's a pretty good chance he will try again. Now is the time to tell your representative to support campus LGBT resource centers at Texas schools.

If you don't know who represents you visit this site to find out.

LQ would love to hear from any of the anonymous students in the photos! Please leave your comments below or e-mail Daniel@LegislativeQueery.com.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A New Chapter

The last few years have been a whirl-wind for me. This time in 2008 I was living in Dallas working as the Operations Director for the Dallas Peace Center and my partner Jason (the uncredited editor of almost everything I've ever written) was the assistant manager at a local art house movie theater. When Jason got an opportunity to take over his own theater in Austin we packed up and I started work as a legislative aide in the Texas House, the perfect job for someone as lege obsessed as myself.

Nine months later we moved to Houston so Jason could take over a larger theater. I found that I missed the hustle and bustle of the capitol and started legislativequeery.com as a way to stay involved with my obsession. That led to my work with the Dallas Voice and blogging at Houstini.com (this in addition to my day job at a local church).

All of this has led to the newest chapter in my life. On April 9th I start work as the Field Organizer for Equality Texas. Every step along the way has been leading to this and I'd like to thank everyone at the Dallas Peace Center, the Dallas Voice, Grace Lutheran Church, the Transgender Foundation of America and the many other groups and organizations that have allowed me to volunteer or work for them. That experience has led to this new roll and there is no way I would be prepared to take it on without the help and encouragement you all provided. 

Be forewarned! In the upcoming months most of you (the ones who live in Texas anyway) will hear from me, asking for your assistance with my new duties. Whatever our relationship in the past our time working together is not over and I look forward to everything the future has to hold.