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 [email protected].

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.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Four openly gay candidates seek Texas House seats

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2012.

Since 2003, when Austin Democrat Glen Maxey left the Texas House, no out LGBT person has served in the Texas Legislature.

The Lone Star State is now one of only 18 states that lacks an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC that backs out candidates nationwide.
But at least four LGBT candidates for Texas House will be seeking to change that this year.

Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said the group has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, and the filing period for May 29 primaries just ended last week. But Dison said he believes electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is a crucial part of passing pro-equailty legislation.

“No state legislature has instituted [same-sex] partnership rights without having out LGBT officials in the legislature,” Dison said. “We have seen in cases where there is just a sole legislator, that it can have a huge impact in terms of our community and changing people’s minds about who we are.”

Continue reading the story at DallasVoice.com

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"A happy, middle-aged Asian couple" endorses Elaine Palmer against Judge Steven Kirkland

Palmer's e-mail
This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on March 14, 2011.

Elaine Palmer is a Democrat running for judge in the 215 Civil District Court in Houston. Her opponent is incumbent Judge Steven Kirkland, the first out LGBT judge elected in Texas.

Palmer is very proud of her broad community support. So proud that she has sent out an email with snap shots of her supporters. At the bottom of the e-mail is a picture of the "Nguyens," proud supporters of Palmer.

Cute couple right? Tan Wei Ming, the Malaysian photographer who took the shot, thought so, too. That's why he uploaded it to the stock photo site 123rf.com.



Just think, for a small, one-time fee, any candidate could have the endorsement of "a happy, middle-aged Asian couple" and enjoy the same broad, grassroots support Elaine Palmer claims to have. Isn't that convenient? At the very least it would seem to be easier than garnering actual grassroots support.

A representative from Palmer's campaign couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Obama told Houston GLBT Political Caucus ‘yes’ on contractor nondiscrimination requirement

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on March 10, 2012.
Obama campaigns in Houston in February 2008

Metro Weekly reports that in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama told the Houston GLBT Political Caucus that as president he would support requiring companies doing business with the government to implement non-discrimination policies that would protect LGBT people.
Obama, as a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2008, was asked by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus if he would support a "formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression ... for all Federal contractors."

Obama's response – according to the survey, a copy of which was provided exclusively to Metro Weekly on condition of anonymity – was one word: "Yes."
Jenifer Rene Pool, who served as the Caucus president in 2008, confirms that Obama did answer the questionnaire as reported, adding that during the Caucus' interview she directly asked the candidate if as president he would issue an executive order instituting such a policy. "I was the primary interviewer and I reiterated the question and heard him say that he supported and would make that order," said Pool.

Pool adds that she feels that as president Obama has done a lot to improve the lives of LGBT Americans. "Having looked at what he has done for GLBT equality in other areas I will not complain too hard that he hasn't done that yet," said Pool. "However I think it's important that we continue to communicate the need for this policy."

GetEqual, a national grassroots organization with a mission " to empower the... (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality" has started a petition encouraging President Obama to issue that promised order. "When Obama was running and when he was elected he told us 'I need you to hold my feet to the fire,'" says GetEqual state coordinator Michael Diviesti. "This petition is one of the ways in which we empower him to do the things he promised."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Christmas-colored backtracking from the man who wants to close LGBT resource centers

This post first appeared on Houstini.com on March 9, 2012.

Rep. Wayne Christian
Poor State Rep. Wayne Christian, the Republican from Center is doing his damnedest to ensure that anyone who looks or thinks or loves differently than he doesn't have the resources to get a college education, but it seems he can't win for losing.

You may remember Christian as the architect of last year's attempts to defund and remove LGBT student resource centers from Texas college campuses, but he's also a strident proponent of keeping undocumented immigrants out of Texas' schools. Unfortunately for Christian, he voted for a 2003 bill that had the temerity to allow immigrant children to pay in-state tuition if they were working toward citizenship and graduated from a Texas public school.

Christian's Republican primary opponent, Marshall Mayor Chris Paddie, has seized on this momentary lapse into decency to attack Christian for being too soft on "illegal immigration." In response Christian has distributed a bizarrely Christmas-colored three-page missive alternatively highlighted in red and green defending his position. Christian points out that he co-authored a bill this session to revoke in-state tuition to non-citizens and three years ago authored a bill that would have prevented scholarships from going to non-citizens, but it's this passage (one of the few un-highlighted sections) that reveals Christian's true motive:
"We have an immigration crisis in our state and our nation, and most pressing is the rejection of the values and institutions of America by the growing illegal immigrant population."
It would seem that Christian's concerns are based less on issues of legality or illegality or concerns about creating a massive underclass of off-the-books workers unable to access workplace protections and more on the "rejection of the values and institutions of America." To put it another way, people who speak a different language or eat different foods or decorate their houses in different ways make him uncomfortable and must be stopped.

Which brings me back to Christian's attempts to destroy campus LGBT resource centers, because it really is all part of the same issue. There was a time in this state when the only people who got to go to college were people who acted and looked and thought like people who already got to go to college. When people who are different, whether it's because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression or because of where they were born and who their family is, are given the opportunity to learn and to then enter and walk the halls of power it changes who we are as a people. If you're comfortable with the way things have always been this is terrifying, but if you're part of one of those communities that has been kept out it can be thrilling (and perhaps terrifying as well).

It's not a coincidence that the same people who rush to burnish their homophobic credentials are the same ones tripping over themselves to be the most anti-immigrant. Keeping "those people" in their place has a long tradition in Texas politics, and it's time the people of Texas stood up and declared that we are "those people" and we're not going to put up with it anymore.

After the jump, read Christian's full candy-striped missive.