Friday, September 30, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER, Lou Weaver: Let Your Voice be Heard

Lou Weaver, president of the
Transgender Foundationof America,
and Daniel Williams, the nerd who
started LegislativeQueery.com
Lou Weaver is the president of the Transgender Foundation of America, based in Houston, TX.  Lou expressed to me his amazement that any member of the transgender community would not vote, but explained that some felt their vote did not matter and others felt that as trans Texans they would not be welcomed at the polls.  I encouraged him to write an open letter to the community, which follows:



Dear friend,

I write in hope of encouraging you to vote this year.

At every level, Politicians need to hear from their constituents. They need to be aware that they have transgender people in their districts, and they need to be aware that those transgender people vote.

I used to think that my one vote couldn't make a difference. Through my service at Transgender Foundation of America, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and with the friends I have made in the past couple of years I have come to realize that I can and do make a difference, but only if I work to make my voice heard.

Remember HB 723 this spring? The bill that would have endangered the marriage of every trans person in Texas? The bill that we kept from going to a vote by calling and visiting our State Legislators over and over again? I do. I will always remember the pride I felt knowing my community stood up for something they believed in. We won because we were able to show elected officials that we were paying attention, and that there would be consequences to their actions.

If you are worried about voting and showing id that might not match, try early voting at the West Gray location; that's what I did last time. http://www.votexas.org/early_voting.html No questions were asked.  I'm not trying to endorse any particular candidates or party. I want to encourage everyone to let their voice be heard because we can not afford to be silent and have others determine our future.

Thanks for your time,


Lou Weaver,
Board of Directors,
Transgender Foundation of America

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Moment of Silence for Asher

From Equality Texas:


Today, September 23, 2011, marks the one-year anniversary of the bullying-related suicide of Asher Brown, a 13-year-old who was bullied and harassed in the Cy-Fair ISD in Houston.
 
Marking the one-year anniversary of Asher's death, his parents, David and Amy Truong, invite people from around the world to join them in a moment of silence to honor and support every child who has been the victim of bullying and every child who continues to be the victim of bullying.

Before taking his life, Asher was a target of frequent bullying for being Buddhist, for his disabilities, for being perceived as gay, and for just not being "cool enough."

The family plans to spend the day in meditation and prayer in commemoration of their son's life and death.  They ask that you join them in a moment of silence at 8:00 p.m. in remembrance of all children who have lost their lives due to bullying, including Asher.  They also ask that you think about and pray for those who bully, as it is vital to our roles as parents, adults, and educators to teach them and to care for them as well.

In addition to honoring Asher's life, his family seeks to use this commemoration as an opportunity for healing - to come together as a unified community in an environment of understanding, compassion, love, support, and generosity of spirit.

Join us in a moment of silence to remember those we have lost because they were not safe, and to support those who still live in fear.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GetEqual invites Texas Legislators to "Come Out for Marriage Equality"

Iana Di Bona and Isaac Brown from GetEQUAL TX take a trip to the State capitol to invite our State Representatives to "Coming Out for Marriage Equality" which will be happening statewide in a local city/town near you. Please take a stand and join us October the 15th 2011 for the repeal of DOMA, the repeal of 2005 Prop 2, and amending Texas Family Code to include marriage equality.
To find out more and which one is nearest to you go to getequaltx.org

NSFW: Pool Campaign Sign Vandalized, Is Anti-Trans Bias to Blame?

Houston's historic "gayborhood" of Montrose is home to an active street art community that often sparks conversations about whether graffiti is art or a crime, but the recent vandalism of a Jenifer Rene Pool sign along the busy thoroughfare of Westheimer begs the question "is it art or a hate crime"?

Art, hate crime or overzealous supporters?
I've never been much good at art criticism, so it's hard (natch) for me to tell what the intended message of this graffiti is.  It's possible that the person who painted this is saying that all politicians are metaphoric "dicks," but it's difficult for me to view this and not think that the message is directed specifically at Pool, an out and proud transgender woman. The subtext would seem to be that any person who is presumed to have been born with a penis continues to be male regardless of surgical intervention or actual gender.  The choice to dress the penis in a business suit (traditional male attire) and to have him point at an euphemism for male genitalia suggest that the gender one is assigned at birth should be rigorously enforced.  The large red "X" through "At Large Position 2"conveys a message that it is inherently inappropriate for a transgender person to run for public office, regardless of their qualifications.

Overzealous Dick Supporters
Of course it's also possible that this is just another one of those "overzealous supporters" that Pool's opponent Eric Dick keeps blaming for his illegally placed signs on top of utility poles.  Maybe the warnings from the city and utility companies to the Dick campaign have persuaded them to take another tactic and simply re-purpose other candidate's signs, who knows?

I can't know what the intention of the person who vandalized Pool's sign was, but the message I received was that trans people should shut-up and stay out of public life.  Fortunately I know Jenifer Rene Pool well enough to know that some anonymous graffiti is not enough to send her running. Jenifer has diligently served this city for years: sitting on the Building and Standards Commission and the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Buildings and Standards, serving three terms as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and working as a board member for the Houston Transgender Unity Committee and the Diversity Committee of the Human Rights Campaign-Houston. She's encountered tougher obstacles than some punk with a can of spray paint... and won.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Equality Project" Returns to Houston

The Equality Project is coming to the University of Houston on Saturday, October 1st. The Equality Project is a public education program on policy issues and their effect on Texas citizens designed by Equality Texas. The Project also trains participants to establish relationships with their state representatives and senators, and to advocate for policy changes with their elected officials.

Learn more about employment nondiscrimination, relationship recognition, LGBT-parented families, hate crimes, bullying & harassment, gender marker changes, public accommodations, and other pertinent issues. Also learn how easy it is to have a one-on-one conversation with your elected officials and their staff. Discover how empowering it is to realize that, as a constituent, you have the right to be heard!

Attendance is free (lunch provided), however advance registration is required. You can register on-line HERE.

I am honored, once again, to be asked to lead this training, which is being presented by the LGBT Advocates at the University of Houston. The training begins at 10 am and runs til 4 pm.  Most of the day is spent with "hands-on" exercises and roll-playing designed to make people comfortable (and effective!) when communicating with elected officials.

Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, attended the Equality Project Training last January when it was last offered in Houston and said that the experience was critical this last spring when the trans community was fighting SB 723, a bill that could have invalidated the marriages of trans Texans.  "I learned a ton about how the Texas legislative branches work," said Lou. "It made everything make sense, and taught me how to speak to Representatives."

The Equality Project is taught by a network of volunteer trainers around the State.  If your organization would like to host a training contact Equality Texas to find out how.

Shapiro Will Not Seek Re-election to Senate, Paxton To Seek Seat

Florence Shapiro
State Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) announced yesterday that she will not seek re-election to the Texas Senate.  Shapiro, who has served in the senate since 1993, told the Texas Tribune that she is in  final negotiations for a job with a Texas Based education company.

Shapiro currently serves as chair of the Senate Education committee, a crucial bottleneck for any legislation dealing with anti-bullying efforts in Texas.  Her support of both HB 1942 (the "super" anti-bullying bill) and HB 1386 (teen suicide prevention) during the 82nd regular legislative session last spring was crucial to both bills passing.  Shapiro also voted in favor of legislation by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) that made the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee statutorily permanent.

Historically Shapiro's support of the LGBT community has been limited to bills which did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender people (for example the two anti-bullying bills mentioned above).  In 2001, when the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act was debated in the Texas Senate, Shapiro offered an amendment that would have completely rewritten the legislation to remove an enumerated list that included "sexual preference" as one of the characteristics bias against which would allow prosecutors to pursue tougher sentences.  The amendment failed.  When the Senate finally voted on the bill, with the enumerated list intact, Shapiro was one of 10 Senators who opposed it. Shapiro also supported both the 2003 "Texas Defense of Marriage Act" and the 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality in Texas

Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) has announced he will run to replace Shapiro. Paxton has served in the House since 2003. Since legislation in Texas must pass both the House and Senate in order to become law his long career creates an opportunity to compare his voting record directly against Shapiro's.  Like Shapiro, Paxton opposes marriage equality, but his opposition to LGBT equality extends further. In the 19 record votes on LGBT issues taken during Paxton's 8 year career he has consistently voted against the community on all but one vote. In 2007 Rep. Coleman attempted to amend the state budget to require schools receiving state funds to file reports documenting instances of harassment or discrimination on the basis of an enumerated list of characteristics that included sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.  Paxton was out of the room at the time the vote was taken, but his opposition to even reporting that LGBT students were being bullied (let alone doing anything to stop it) was so strong that he entered a note in the official House record explaining that, had he been in the room, he would have voted against Coleman's amendment.

Paxton's record reveals an elected official who will oppose any legislation that even hints at being good for LGBT people. While Shapiro is by no means a staunch ally of the community her potential replacement by Paxton would be disastrous for future attempts to achieve equality.

Author and former Air Force Pilot Scott O'Grady has also announced plans to run for Shapiro's seat. O'Grady is new to electoral politics but has been courting Tea Party support since last year, speaking at various DFW area events.  O'Grady's campaign has not made a public statement regarding his positions on LGBT issues.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Equality Texas Action Alert: Support Domestic Partner Benefits in San Antonio

An action alert for San Antonio residents has been issued by Equality Texas:


San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley has included provision for domestic partner (DP) benefits in the City of San Antonio's operating budget. There really should be no controversy here. Unfortunately, there has been vocal opposition to the City Manager's proposal.  The San Antonio City Council will vote on the budget, and the provision for domestic partner benefits, this Thursday, September 15th.

KNOW THE FACTS

ASK THE COUNCIL TO SUPPORT THE CITY MANAGER

APPROVE THE BUDGET WITH PROVISION FOR DP BENEFITS
Talking points and a link to an automatic e-mail generator on Equality Texas' website.

Christian Draws Primary Opponent

Wayne Christian
"I'm one fellow that was racially discriminated against. See back in the 70s I was on the first team in basketball at high school my sophomore and junior years. We integrated my senior year and I rode the bench because I couldn't play as good as they did."
-Wayne Christian (R-Center)

Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) has drawn an opponent in next spring's Republican Primary. Christian (who LQ ranked as one of the ten worst Texas house members on LGBT issues), has served as the Representative from House District 9 since 1997 (with a brief break in 05-06 to pursue a fruitless bid for Congress).  Christian has historically performed well in general elections (in 2010 more people in District 9 voted for him than for Gov. Perry or Lt. Gov. Dewhurst) and handily won contested primaries in '06, '08 and '10.

Chris Paddie
His newly declared challenger in the Republican primary, Chris Paddie, is a relative political newcomer.  The general manager of Marshall, TX radio station KMHT, Paddie was elected to the Marshall city council in 2010 and currently serves as Marshall's mayor.  'Mayor' is, perhaps, a bit of a misnomer however. Marshal elects its city council members from eight single-member districts.  Each member serves for two years with half of the members up for re-election each year.  The council then elects, from among its members, a mayor who presides over city council meetings.  The day-to-day business of the city of Marshall is handled by a City Manager who answers to the council.  So Paddie's previous election experience is running for city council in a small slice of a small town, a far cry from running in the six county District nine.

District nine is strongly Republican, and the winner of the Republican primary is all but certain to win the seat. So the primary race should be looked at the same way a general race would be considered in a competitive district. Burka has posted information from the Paddie campaign suggesting that the district, under its newly drawn lines may be primed for a challenge to continued Christian incumbency.

If anyone needs to be reminded why LQ ranked Wayne Christian one of the worst members of the Texas House on LGBT issues the quote at the top of the page should serve as a reminder.  Christian was the driving force behind efforts during the 82nd regular and special sessions to defund or ban from state college campuses resource centers that serve LGBT college students (the blindly racist quote was his response to charges that his legislation was discriminatory). Christian's seniority also provides him with an entrenched seat on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, the committee through which any effort to repeal Texas' unconstitutional law against "homosexual conduct" must pass.  Christian, along with freshman Rep. Jose Aliseda (R-Beeville)  (who recently announced he would not seek re-election) were, thanks to their possitions on the committee, the most effective opponents of repeal in the 82nd legislature.  Both of these members being absent from the committee next session would dramatically improve the chances of repeal.

What of Paddie?  Is there anything to indicate that he would be any more supportive of the LGBT community than Christian?  It's difficult when dealing with such a political neophyte to draw conclusions.  Paddie describes himself as a "social conservative," which does not bode well.  His daily radio talk show backs up that assertion, although reviewing hours of tape from the show has yet to turn up anything overtly trans/homophobic.

The Texas House has an extremely steep learning curve.  Most freshman find themselves overwhelmed by the byzantine process and breakneck speed. It often takes new members four to six years in office before they are able to effectively navigate the system and successfully pursue their policy initiatives. Additionally seniority is incredibly important in the House, determining things as insignificant as seating arrangements in the chamber and as important as committee assignments. Even if Paddie is just as maleficent in his approach to LGBT issues as Christian (and it's hard to imagine anyone being more so) his inexperience and lack of seniority would make him a less effective foe than his predecessor.

Christian's departure from the legislature can only be a good thing for queer Texans.  This may be the one situation where the devil you don't know is better than the devil you do.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Former Congressman, Gubernatorial Candidate, Joins Equality Texas Board

Equality Texas, the largest statewide organization working to advance LGBT equality in the Texas Legislature, has announced the appointment of three new board members, including former Congressman Chris Bell of Houston.

Chris Bell
Chris Bell previously served as the U.S. Congressmen from Texas' 25th district and a Houston City Council Member. In 2006 he was the Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas. While in Congress he co-sponsored the 'Permanent Partners Immigration Act' which sought to give bi-national same sex couples the same consideration in immigration issues that opposite-sex couples receive.

"I have always been an advocate for equality and I'm excited to join the organization doing the most to make it a reality in Texas," Chris said upon his appointment to the board.

Also appointed to the board are Gary Carter of San Antonio and Wade Hyde of Dallas. Carter and Hyde will also serve on the board of the Equality Texas Foundation. (The foundation is the 501(c)3 non-profit arm of Equality Texas; Equality Texas is an advocacy and lobbying organization organization, the Equality Texas Foundation does not engage in lobbying but educates and engages the public on policies and their effect on Texans of all sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions.)

Gary Carter
Gary Carter owns and operates the Castroville Cafe, and has served as President and Vice-President of the Castroville Area Chamber of Commerce. For the past several years, Gary has been one of the driving forces behind the success of Equality Texas' Spirit of Texas Brunch in San Antonio.

Gary said, "I am proud of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness in San Antonio of the important work being done by Equality Texas. I look forward to continuing those efforts as a board member."

Wade Hyde
Wade Hyde is a published writer and columnist, a member of the National Writers Union, and currently serves as an adjunct instructor of marketing at El Centro College in Dallas.

"There's no question that Equality Texas has accomplished some remarkable feats in our state over the past few years," Hyde said. "As a new board member, I'm excited to be able to help this great organization accomplish even more in the next few years."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is a Republican House Member Hosting a Fundraiser for Dallas' Pride Parade Grand Marshall?

Ben Cohen
Dallas' Pride Parade, The Alan Ross Freedom Parade, is September 18. The parade's "special VIP Guest" is English rugby star Ben Cohen, whose StandUp Foundation works to raise awareness of the long-term damaging effects of bullying. Cohen, who is straight, was inspired to create the foundation after hearing from LGBT friends about the difficulties they experienced. "I am passionate about standing up against bullying and homophobia in sports," says Cohen, "and feel compelled to take action. It is time we stand up for what is right and support people who are being harmed."

In honor of Cohen the week leading up to the parade, September 12-16, has been declared "Stand Up Against Bullying Week" in by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. According to this Facebook event the week will culminate in a fundraiser for the StandUp Foundation on Friday night at the Highland Park Home of Jim Pitts.

Jim Pitts
Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), is chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a 20-year Republican member of the House... which begs the question of whether the Jim Pitts who is hosting Cohen's event is the same Jim Pitts who supported efforts this last session by Wayne Christian (R-Center) to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas College Campuses.

A search of the Dallas County Central Appraisal District's website indicates that the address given for the fundraiser is owned by Pitts 2007 Properties LTD, which is a subsidiary of Pitts Property Management LLC, which is owned by none other than Jim R. Pitts, the honorable representative from House District 10.

So it seems that Rep. Pitts is, indeed, hosting the event: for which I give him kudos. The StandUp Foundation does good work and Ben Cohen is, by all accounts, a fierce advocate for the LGBT community. Hosting the event is in keeping with Pitts' voting record this last session, he voted for both HB 1942 (the "super" anti-bullying bill) and HB 1386 (the teen suicide prevention bill).

I would ask, however, that Rep. Pitts consider his votes on other issues and how they effect bullying in Texas schools. It's not enough to say that LGBT kids shouldn't be bullied or harassed if your actions tell their tormentors that LGBT kids aren't as deserving of respect or resources as other people. There is a direct line running through Christian's statements on the House floor calling LGBT people disgusting and the middle school student who punches an effeminate child for being a "fag." When Pitts fails to stand up to the former he enables the later. This inconsistency, this willful refusal to see the systemic discrimination faced by LGBT adults as the license that allows the torture of LGBT children, is, in ways both figurative and literal, killing our children - and it has to end.