Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quintanilla's Departure May Create Opportunity for More LGBT Friendly House Democratic Caucus

Chente Quintanilla
Burnt Orange Report reports that five-term State Representative Chente Quintanilla (D-El Paso) will not run for reelection to his district 75 seat. Quinanilla has announced his intention to run for the El Paso County Commissioner's Court.

District 75 is in Eastern El Paso County. The district is strongly Democratic (during the 2010 election every democrat who ran for statewide office won House District 75). Quintanilla ran unopposed for the seat last year and has easily won re-election in the past (in 10 years in office his worst showing was in 2006, when he received a mere 66% of the vote). The changes to the district's borders made by the 82nd Legislature make it more rural, and slightly more Republican, but there is no reason that a Democrat shouldn't win HD 75 in 2012. Even under the new district lines gubernatorial candidate Bill White still won HD 75 in the 2010 elections (perhaps the most Republican-friendly election in Texas History).

Quintanilla's departure means that there will likely be a new Democrat in the 83rd Legislature. For LGBT Texans that may be a good thing. Quintanilla has a spotty record on LGBT issues. He supported both the statutory and constitutional provisions prohibiting marriage equality and in 2005 voted for an amendment that would have prohibited LGBT people from serving as foster parents. During the 82nd legislative session Quintanilla pointedly stayed out of the debate on efforts to defund or ban LGBT resource centers from Texas State Universities, choosing instead to be "present, not voting."

The only LGBT issue Quintanilla performs well on is anti-bullying efforts. He has historically supported Rep. Garnet Coleman's (D-Houston) efforts to require districts to report instances of harassment or discrimination using an enumerated list that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and voted for both HB 1942 (the "super" anti-bullying bill) and HB 1386 (teen suicide prevention), although neither bill specifically recognized the existence of LGBT students or that they are particularly the targets of bullying.

Quintanilla's unwillingness to support LGBT-specific legislation, or to defend the community from direct attacks, earned him an F on Legislative Queery's 82nd House Scorecard. He actually scored lower than Houston Republican Sarah Davis.

To my knowledge no one has announced a bid to replace Quintanilla. With the district in flux the LGBT constituents of District 75 have a prime opportunity to seek out a friendly candidate and support their bid. The balance of the Texas House is at stake.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Race for Chisum's House Seat Heating Up

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that Canadian, TX School Board President Ken King has announced he will enter the Republican primary for Texas House district 88, currently represented by Warren Chisum (R-Pampa). During the closing hours of the 82nd Legislature's special session, Chisum announced he would be leaving the post, which he has held for 22 years, to run for Railroad Commissioner. You may remember Chisum as the architect of Texas' version of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" barring recognition of same-sex marriage in Texas.

King (not to be confused withe the Polyester actor of the same name), has a key ally in his fellow school board member, and successful commodities trader, Salem Abraham. Abraham, grandson of the late Rep. Malouf Abraham (R-Canadian), has already formed a political action committee to support King's candidacy. His considerable resources, both as a successful trader and as an heir to his grandfather's oil and natural gas fortune, and his prominence as a local philanthropist in Canadian make Abraham's support invaluable.

(Incidentally, The Canadian School District Student Code of Conduct expressly prohibits students from engaging in verbal abuse that involves "ethnic or racial slurs," but has no similar protections for abuse based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. It will be interesting to see whether the school board avails itself of the anti-bullying resources that will now be available to it under HB 1942 (82-R) - the "super" anti-bullying bill passed this spring.)

Jim Landtroop
King will face freshman Rep. Jim Landtroop (R-Plainview), who currently represents district 85. After the Legislature redrew the district borders this spring Landtroop's home county of Hale was moved to district 88, it is the only county from Landtroop's previous 16 county district in the new district 88. Landtroop is a proven fundraising powerhouse. He raised over 1 million dollars during the last election cycle in his successful bid to unseat Joe Heflin (R-Crosbyton).

As a member of the 82nd Texas Legislature Landtroop initially supported HB 1942 (the "super" anti-bullying bill) before switching his position on the bill's final House vote. He also supported HB 1386 the teen suicide prevention bill. Unfortunately Landtroop's limited support for anti-bullying efforts is strongly outweighed by his positions on overtly homophobic legislation. He was a co-author of HCR 110, Paul Workman's (R-Austin) ill conceived attempt to pressure the Obama administration to defend section 3 of the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" in court. (Section 3 of DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages from jurisdictions that permits them.) He also consistently supported Wayne Christian's (R-Center) legislation to either defund or outright ban LGBT resource centers from Texas college campuses.

Gary Walker
Also in the race is former Representative Gary Walker (R-Plains) who represented district 80 from 1997 to 2003 before redistricting forced him to run in the primary against Delwin Jones (R-Lubbock), Walker lost the race. Walker was one of just 13 House Republicans (along with Chisum) who voted for the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which provides a mechanism for enhanced penalties for some crimes committed biased on a bias against the victims real or perceived "sexual preference."

District 88 is strongly Republican (since Chisum switched to the Republican Party in 1995 no Democrat has run in the district), so the winner of next spring's Republican primary is all but certain to win the seat. Under the new House maps District 88 cuts an enormous 17 county swath across the Texas panhandle. The three candidates: Landtroop, King and Walker, are distributed from one end of the district to the other. Between Landtroop's proven fundraising skills; King's backing by Abraham and the sheer challenges of campaigning over such vast geography, this could easily become the most expensive primary of the 2012 House election season.

The New District 88 with Candidate's Home Towns

View House District 88 in a larger map (locations are approximate)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Elections Matter: Family Court Judge Limits Rights of Gay Father

The Houston Chronicle reports that 309th Family Court Associate Judge Charley Prine has issued a custody order forbidding gay father William Flowers from leaving his children in the care of any male to whom his kids are not related by "blood or adoption." The order includes Flower's husband, Jim Evans.

From the Chronicle post:

"When William and his ex-wife divorced in 2004, they agreed that their three children would live with her. Wanting to change the arrangement, William recently filed for custody in Harris County. A jury found that she should keep the kids, though his regular visitations would continue. Neither William nor his ex-wife alleged that the children had been abused or were in any danger of being abused.

Following the trial, Harris County Associate Judge Charley E. Prine, Jr. issued a ruling which included an injunction applicable only to William. It prohibits him from leaving his children alone with any male to whom the kids are not related by “blood or adoption.” So if, for example, William wants to visit his mother in the hospital (where she’s been for several weeks), he can’t leave his kids at home with his husband. As written, the injunction also prohibits male doctors, teachers and pastors from being alone with the children.

Attorneys who practice family law in Texas point out that in cases of abuse, it is common for courts to prevent children from being alone with specific people. But those same lawyers say that they’ve never heard of a case in which a step-parent or long-term partner is permanently enjoined from being alone with his or her step-children when abuse is not even alleged, let alone proven. No lawyer consulted for this story has ever heard of an order which prohibits children from being left alone with an entire gender."

Texas Family Code Sec. 201.001 allows Family Court judges to appoint associate judges to assist them with their case load (this practice was started in 1986 to help address back-logs in child custody cases). Prine was appointed to his position last January by Family Court Judge Sheri Y. Dean who was elected as a Republican last November by the people of Harris County after originally being appointed to the post in 2010.

Dean beat her Democratic opponent, Bill Rice, by 78, 342 votes or 9.8% of the 798,995 people who voted in the election. But here's the deal, 1,917,534 people were eligible to vote in that election, and most of them didn't. Even more frightening 42,621 of the people who did vote in the election didn't bother to vote in Dean's race.

It can be easy to forget about all those names down at the bottom of the ballot, the family court judges and criminal court judges and justices of the peace, but it's those people who form the front line of our government. If we ignore that front line people like Judge Dean and Judge Prine can move in and take over- with disastrous results (as this case shows).

So how's the educated queer voter to know for which of the seemingly fungible bottom-of-the-ballot candidates to vote? Most major cities in Texas have nonpartisan LGBT groups like the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance or the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (which endorsed Dean's 2010 opponent, Bill Rice). These groups
screen candidates' positions on LGBT issues and endorse accordingly. If your area doesn't have such an organization, or you don't trust the endorsement process of your local group, you have a responsibility, as a voter, to research each race and discover the candidates' positions. This is easier than you might think, any serious candidate will have a phone number or e-mail where they can be reached and should answer any questions you have.

What we, as LGBT Texans, cannot do is abandon these beachheads of democracy to people who either don't care about us, or (in the case of Prine) are openly hostile to our families and relationships. Every vote (and every election) matters.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Trailblazer Phyllis Frye is no Stranger to "Responding" to Out-Of-Town Bigots

The responses to "The Response" (Gov. Perry's rally at Reliant Stadium spearheaded by hate group the American Family Association) are already underway. The LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally in downtown Houston tonight was a rousing success and all over Houston people are buzzing about how they plan to welcome Perry and his extremist allies tomorrow.

One of the responses to "The Response" is the LGBT Trailblazers Luncheon hosted by the Democratic Party of Harris County. The Luncheon tomorrow morning will recognize Mayor Annise Parker, Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell, Judge Steven Kirkland, Judge John Paul Barnich, Judge Phyllis Frye, and Linda Morales for their contributions to the LGBT community and the world at large.

Frye, you may remember, became Texas' first out transgender judge (and only the third in the country) last November when she was appointed to the municipal bench by Mayor Parker, but her role as a prominent activist and community leader stretches back to the 1970s. Back then Houston had a "mask law" that allowed the police to arrest anyone whose attire didn't match the gender they were assigned at birth. The law was so strict that women were forbidden to wear pants that zipped up the front (which the police used to raid lesbian bars and round up patrons wearing blue jeans). Because of the mask law Frye risked arrest every time she left the house dressed as a woman.

Which makes this Jan 1978 from the now defunct Houston Post all the more amazing:
1977 Houston Post article
Provided courtesy of the Houston Transgender Archive, the article covers a rally held in response to Anita Bryant's appearance at the Farm Bureau Federation of America meeting in Houston. Bryant was a former beauty queen and singer who in 1977 formed the "Save Our Children" campaign in a successful effort to overturn a Boward County Florida ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The article reads "A surprise speaker was a transvestite [sic] named Phyllis who said he [sic] was braving arrest by appearing "cross-dressed" in public."

In 1981 Frye's efforts to repeal Houston's mask law paid off and the ordinance was taken off the books. Thirty years later the woman who risked arrest to speak against Anita Bryant's visit to Houston will be honored by the Democratic Party of Houston as a LGBT Trailblazer in an event specifically designed to rebuff another out-of-town visitor who has come to Houston to advocate for the oppression of the LGBT community: Rick Perry.

Tickets to the Trailblazers dinner are still available. More information is available HERE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Responses to "The Response"

Gov. Perry's day of prayer and fasting "The Response" will kick off at Houston's Reliant Stadium this Saturday, August 6th. In addition to Perry and the American Family Association (a group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group) "The Response" is sponsored by a rouge's gallery of far-right organizations. Right Wing Watch, a blog run by People for the American Way, has done a wonderful job of profiling some of the more outrageous claims of the event's sponsors, including one pastor who claims that Oprah is a harbinger of the antichrist and one who says that the Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol.

Be sure to check out the Dallas Voice this week for my story profiling the leaders of some of the "Response to 'The Response'" events planned in Houston. In the meantime here is a rundown of events around the state:

Houston
LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally
Friday, August 5, at 7:00 pm
Tranquility Park (400 Rusk St)
This is the official response planned by the Houston LGBT community. Organizers are encouraging people to bring signs for this outdoor rally. National press is expected so it is vital that as many people attend as possible.

Family, Faith and Freedom
Friday, August 5, at 7:00 pm
Mount Ararat Baptist Church (5801 W Montgomery Rd)
Sponsored by the ACLU and Texas this event directly conflicts with the LGBT community response. The focus of the event is concerns that "The Response" violates the seperation of church and state.

Protest of Texas Gov. Perry/AFA's Prayer/Hate Event
Saturday, August 6 from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
Corner of Kirby Dr and McNee Rd
This is protest is outside of the site of "The Response." Organizers warn that the weather is expected to be very hot and encourage participants to bring sunscreen and plenty of water.

LGBT Trailblazer's Brunch
Saturday, August 6, at 9:30 am
Hyatt Regency Hotel (1200 Louisiana St)
Organized by the Harris County Democratic Party, this event honors LGBT people who have made contributions to the community and the world at large. Honorees include Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell, Judge Steven Kirkland, Judge John Paul Barnich, Judge Phyllis Frye and Linda Morales. Tickets are $50 and are available at the door or at www.HCDP.org

Inclusive Interfaith Prayer Meeting
Saturday, August 6 at 2:00 pm
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston (5200 Fannin St)
This queer inclusive event features clergy from Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Unitarian, Christian and Pagan faith traditions, and specifically includes a time to celebrate Atheists and Agnostics. The Gay Men's Chorus of Houston will perform.


Dallas
Repentance Means "Go Another Way" Rally
Thursday, August 4, at 5:00 pm
Pegasus Plaza (Main at Akard)
Sponsored by the Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance, this rally is designed to draw attention to the alliance's open letter to Gov. Perry.

Protest Gov. Rick Perry's Inappropriate and Hateful Prayer Rally & the AFA

Saturday, August 6, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Dallas City Hall (1500 Marilla)

Austin
Rick Perry: Bad For Texas, Worse For Our Nation
Saturday, August 6th
March starts at Victory Grill at 10:30 am (1104 E 11 st)
Rally in State Capitol Rotunda begins at 12:00 pm (
1100 Congress Ave)
Organized by the Travis County Democratic Party "
this rally will highlight Governor Perry’s failed record in Texas on public education, human services, environmental policy and many other important issues. His Enron style accounting plunged our state into its largest budget shortfall in history and we must expose this to the nation."

College Station
Counter Protest "Pray the Hate Away" - B/CS Carpool to Houston
Saturday, August 6th at 8:00 am
Parking lot of Kroger on Longmire and Rock Prairie (3535 Longmire Drive)
The Pride Community Center has organized a carpool to Houston to participate in the counter protest outside of Reliant Stadium. If you need a ride, or are able to drive one of the cars please e-mail [email protected]

Twitter
Professor David Dow, of the University of Houston Law School, will be live blogging "The Response" from inside Reliant Stadium. You can follow him @drdow

If you are on Twitter and attending any of the responses to "The Response" the hashtag #noAFA is being used for the conversation. The Young Democrats of America , LGBTQ Caucus
(@YDALGBTQ), is also hosting a twitter conversation using the hashtag #thanksgoverner in response to "The Response."

If you are aware of other events in Texas please let me know and I will happily add them to the list.