Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ray Hill kicks off campaign for Texas House with YouTube videos

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 30, 2011


Ray Hill
As previously reported by Houstini Ray Hill, the iconic and iconoclastic Houston LGBT activist, announced this year that he would challenge ten-term incumbent state representative Garnet Coleman in next spring's Democratic Primary. Hill is running what he calls an "unfunded campaign," relying on social media and support from community members to get his message out.

We haven't heard much about the campaign since Hill filed at the beginning of the month (perhaps he's been distracted by his recent arrest during an attempt to prevent the HPD vice squad from harassing strippers), but Hill seems to have gotten back into the campaign saddle, releasing two YouTube videos about his campaign and why he thinks he's the best choice to represent district 147. The audio's not the best (tip: taping next to a roaring waterfall does not produce the best sound), but in both videos Hill expresses his belief that the common people of the district will vote him into office. Judge for yourself:


Saturday, December 24, 2011

John Lawrence of Lawrence v. Texas Has Passed Away

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 23, 2011

John Lawrence, left, and Tyrone Gardner
Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the "Lawrence" in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:
"In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas's Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence's home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them "engaging in a sexual act." The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional."
I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas' law against "homosexual conduct" unconstitutional. A group of more than 100 people gathered in the parking lot of Resource Center Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal and now executive director of Equality Texas, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state and nation, as an entire community breathed a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Pleasanton, lamented that repealing 21.06 would also entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that "homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code."

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against "homosexual conduct." The Texas Legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping "homosexual conduct" a crime but making it a class-C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through the appeals process, the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the "homosexual conduct" prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

John Lawrence's legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner that is administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship "recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need." Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence's passing.

"John was a hero. The community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court," said Brookover. "They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models."

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President to lead Harris County Democratic Party

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 22, 2011

Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus president and longtime Democratic party activist Lane Lewis was elected to serve as the Harris County Democratic Party interim chair by the County Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 20. Lewis will serve the remainder of outgoing chairman Gerry Birnburg term, which expires in April. Birnburg announced earlier this year that he would step down after the November general elections.Lewis has also completed his filing as a candidate for HCDP chair on the April 2012 primary ballot.
Lewis previously served as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 1997. He has a long history of advocacy on LGBT issues.

“Words cannot express the profound sense of responsibility I feel right now,” said Lewis moments after his election as HCDP Chair.  “I am grateful so many fellow Democrats have entrusted me to lead during such a pivotal time. We have much work to do over the next several months to get our county and our candidates ready for the November 2012 election.  This enormous task will take the work of current elected officials, precinct chairs and activists working in unison.  My job will be to foster a new vision for our party and work to keep us all focused on our common goal.”

During Lewis’ acceptance speech, he spoke briefly about the direction and his vision for the party.
“A unified effort from every Democrat is the key to winning elections,” Lewis said.  “It’s plain and simple.  The middle class is under attack; the work we do in 2012 will be key to protecting the future and the promise that the American Dream provides.”

Lane Lewis was elected by an overwhelming majority.  He will begin operating the HCDP immediately.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

HCC Board of Trustees unanimously approves trans protections

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 21, 2011

The Houston Community College Board of Trustees unanimously approve trans protections during their regular meeting last week. The measure to include Gender Identity and Expression in the college's system-wide nondiscrimination policy was voted on as part of a group of noncontroversial actions considered by the board.
Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, attended the board meeting and said the vote happened so quickly, and with so little discussion, that he almost missed it. "As an HCC alumn, I can't express how thankful I am to the HCC Board of Trustees for taking this step," said Weaver. "I look forward to working with the school to ensure that the new policy is fully implemented in a way that insures that members of the transgender community have the same educational opportunities as everyone else."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Head Figure Head" more about journalism than about Gov. Rick Perry's sex life

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 16, 2011
 
Glen Maxey
Head Figure Head, the new e-book from Glen Maxey, details the author's arduous and frustrating six-month effort to investigate rumors of Gov. Rick Perry's gay sex life. Maxey served as executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now Equality Texas) during Perry's tenure as a state representative, later serving for 12 years as a state representative, spanning Perry's time as agricultural commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor. Of all the people who've attempted to look into the rumors of Perry's trysts with men, Maxey is perhaps best positioned to get to the truth, and takes great pains to ensure we are aware of that fact.
The book is the narrative of Maxey's research, assisted by a journalist from a national media outlet. Like almost every character in the book other than Maxey and Perry himself, "the Journalist" is referred to only as a pseudonym. Maxey and the Journalist begin their search for proof in June 2011 as rumors of Perry's impending presidential bid are widely circulating. Immediately the pair find that almost every gay man in Austin has a friend who has a friend who claims to have slept with Perry. For the next three months they track those leads and come excruciatingly close to breaking the story.

In their investigation Maxey and the Journalist meet:
• "James" - who claims to have answered a Craigslist "casual encounters" ad by Perry and come face to face with his armed Department of Public Service escort,
• A "Former Legislator" rumored to have had a sexual relationship with Perry who told a friend he knew for a fact Perry was gay,
• Multiple people who claimed detailed knowledge of Perry's alleged trysts with former Secretary of State Geoff Conner, none willing to go on the record. (The section where Maxey and the Journalist confront Conner at his Bastrop home is particularly thrilling),
• A gay Republican staffer who claims to have lost his job in the Governor's office after rumors of the Perry/Conner affair broke and the office was purged of anyone who was gay, or seemed to be,
• A jogger who claims that Perry hit on him,
• A New York political operative with stories of Perry "disappearing" with a New York City policeman during a reception, and
• "Joey the Hustler," who claims Perry hired him several times.
The story of Joey the Hustler takes up half the book, as Maxey alternates between an avuncular desire to protect Joey from the national spotlight telling his story will create and his thirst to get to the root of the Perry rumors.
Much of the book is direct transcripts of text messages, e-mails and Facebook messages between Maxey, the Journalist and their various contacts. Those who know Glen Maxey only as a venerable political figure may be surprised by the saucy language and frank sexuality of Head Figure Head's unvarnished conversations. In person Maxey comes across as comfortably frumpy, the human equivalent of a Snuggie (the blanket with arms!). In Head Figure Head Maxey emerges as a tireless gumshoe with a heart of gold, a modern day Sam Spade, torn between his quest for the truth and his concern for those involved, particularly Joey the Hustler, who Maxey describes as "shockingly naive."
What emerges is less the story of a hypocritical closeted politician and more a question of the role of the media and the ethics of "outing." Maxey eventually fails to persuade Joey the Hustler to go on the record and the Journalist's publisher will not print the article without Joey's affidavit. At the same time news of Perry's fellow Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain's multiple alleged infidelities begins to break. The early Cain allegations were based solely on anonymous sources, leaving Maxey, and the reader, to wonder why the burden of proof for same-sex dalliances is higher than for opposite-sex.
Maxey hopes his book will encourage more investigation of Perry's life: "This was the teaser," says Maxey. "Someone in the lame stream media will maybe report now."
"Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry" is available for the kindle through Amazon.com.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book investigates Rick Perry gay rumors

Glen Maxey
This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 14, 2011

Glen Maxey, the only out LGBT person to serve in the Texas Legislature, has just released a new book, Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry, investigating rumors that Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry has a history of sexual trysts with men. Maxey used relationships built during his decades of experience in Austin as a legislative aide, state representative and lobbyist to track down firsthand accounts of men who have claimed sexual relationships with Perry contained in the book.
"Head Figure Head" is only available in e-book form via Amazon at this time. A quick e-flip through the pages promises an exciting read.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Iconic LGBT activist Ray Hill files for Texas House seat

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 8, 2011

Ray Hill
Long time Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill filed paperwork this week to run for the 147th Texas House seat against incumbent Garnet Coleman, D - Houston. The iconic (and iconoclastic) Hill said that he and Coleman agree on many issues but that he had "some issues  that aren't on the table in Austin."

Specifically Hill has concerns with the legislature's approach to criminal justice issues. "The Texas legislature is a serial world class red-necking competition," says Hill. "What they are doing on criminal justice is wrong and it doesn't work... we need a serious rethink."

Coleman has a strong history of supporting LGBT legislation. For the last three sessions he has attempted to pass anti-bullying legislation that would require school districts to report instances of bullying using an enumerated list of motivating characteristics that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, he has also filed legislation to remove the the crime of "homosexual conduct" from the Texas penal code (a law that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), to equalize age of consent laws in Texas and to add gender identity and expression to the state's hate crime law. In the 82nd legislature earlier this year Coleman authored seven pieces of legislation designed to create greater equality for LGBT people, including the first ever filing of legislation to standardize change of gender marker procedures for the transgender community and the first effort to repeal the state's constitutional prohibition against marriage equality.

Hill recognizes Coleman's historic contributions, "The incumbent and I agree on a lot of issues," says Hill, "but we don't tell young gay people 'if you work real hard and go to school and do your best you can grow up to have straight friends in Austin who like you.' No, we tell them 'if you work hard they can grow up to be Mayor of Houston, or City Supervisor of San Francisco.'"

When asked why the community would be better served by him than Coleman, a 20 year legislative veteran, Hill replies "I understand how government works. A freshman legislator can't do anything more than irritate, but that's about all any member of the minority party can do. On that level the incumbent and I are on the same level... I think we need somebody obnoxious [in the legislature] who's going to purposefully rub the cat hair the wrong direction."

Since being elected to the legislature for the first time in 1992 Coleman has been unopposed in 5 of his 9 primary reelection bids. No primary challenger to Coleman has pulled more than 21% of the vote.

Texas A&M Student Senate passes resolution supporting trans inclusion in nondiscrimination policy

Andrew Jancaric
Andrew Jancaric
This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on December 8, 2011

The Texas A&M Student Senate recently passed a resolution supporting the addition of gender identity and expression to the attributes currently covered by that university system's nondiscrimination policy. The policy already includes sexual orientation.

The action by the Student Senate stands in stark contrast to a resolution passed by the same body last year supporting legislation in the Texas House to defund campus LGBT resource centers, that resolution was later vetoed by the student body president. The nondiscrimination resolution's author, Andrew Jancaric, says it's no coincidence that the student senate has done such an about face. "Certain members who supported resolution [to defund LGBT resource centers] are gone," says Jancaric. "I wasn't involved in student government until I saw what my representatives, the people who were supposed to be representing me, were trying to do." He adds that many students were spurred to action by what they saw as a misrepresentation of the Aggie spirit. "We saw what they were doing and thought 'this is a problem that we have, we need to get involved to change the dialogue.'" According to Jancaric over 90% of the student senators supported his nondiscrimination resolution.

Jancaric is working with allies in the Faculty Senate and Graduate Student Council to pass similar resolutions. He says the next step will be to begin a lobbying campaign with the A&M system Board of Regents and Chancellor, who oversee the statewide A&M university system and its 100,000 students.

Jancaric acknowledges that A&M is not the most LGBT friendly school (last year the Princeton Review ranked it the least friendly public university in the nation for GLBT students). "It's an institution that's steeped in it's traditions as an all male military school. There's a culture of masculinity. That has been an obstacle towards equality." At the same time he feels that fighting for LGBT equality at A&M is vital. "I believe that equality needs to happen everywhere," says Jancaric. "If we leave instiutions like A&M alone in the corner to fester we won't achieve it."