University of Houston student Senate introduces bill to help trans community

Posted on 03 Apr 2014 at 12:27pm

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 12.19.48 PMStudents at the University of Houston are considering a bill to help transgender students and staff better identify themselves as their gender identity on campus.

The bill, the Josephine Tittsworth Act, was introduced by the student Senate Wednesday and calls upon the university to “fulfill its existing nondiscrimination policy (of the UH Student Handbook)” in regards to LGBT students, the student newspaper The Daily Cougar reports.

The bill seeks to acknowledge that “gender expression is the external characteristics presented by an individual such as masculine or feminine features displayed in mannerisms, speech, social environments or attire,” and to formally acknowledge “the terms, gender identity and gender expression represented trans, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff” on all University documentation.

It would allow students to have their preferred name on rosters and other university documents.

“Honestly, this is a freedom of speech issue. It allows people to choose which box to check. Over the past few weeks, people had unfortunately misinterpreted (the bill). This bill is about respect and tolerance on this campus,” newly elected student body President Charles Haston told the paper.

The bill comes a few months after the student government at the University of Houston-Downtown approved gender-neutral restrooms.

UH students at the meeting Wednesday explained the bill would help address students who go by a name associated with their gender identity only to be outed as trans when the professor calls roll, revealing their legal name.

The bill cites “high rates of harassment, physical violence and sexual assaults” as a result of failing to acknowledge trans and gender-nonconforming identities.

“This bill will translate into people being open with their identity,” said Tanzeem Chowdhury, former undergraduate-at-large senator.

“I think it would create a safer campus. Currently, UH is the second-most diverse campus in the nation. We’re always making progress in acceptance, and this would be a strong move forward — it would create a safer campus not only for members of the LGBT community, but for the entire student body.”

A town hall meeting to discuss the act will be at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.


Carson City ends opposition in challenge to Nev. same-sex marriage ban

Posted on 02 Apr 2014 at 6:15pm

Clark-County-GOPThe Clark County, Nev., Republican Party edited its official platform statement over the weekend to remove a section defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, cut out a statement opposing abortion and added a section affirming people of all sexual orientations The Associated Press reported.

The pivot came over the weekend after some debate and a vote at the group’s central committee meeting in Las Vegas. Strong statements on social issues don’t align with the group’s belief in individual freedom, according to Nick Phillips, the organization’s political director.

“A big part of it has to do with personal liberty and smaller government,” he said Tuesday, “and other people not infringing on our rights and beliefs.”

The Clark County GOP is among the first in the country to make such changes to their platform statement. It comes amid overall shifts in public opinion on same-sex marriage, changes in the county party leadership and efforts to appeal to a broader base.

“Younger people believe they’re getting screwed by the Democrats on fiscal issues, and screwed by Republicans on social issues,” Phillips said. “Take that away and you’ve got a party you can get behind.”

About 570 people attended the committee meeting, and about 100 to 120 people opposed overhauling the platform statement in a vote Saturday, Phillips said. Critics raised concerns that abandoning the marriage definition would lead to the government forcing churches to perform weddings for gay couples.

Removing the anti-abortion provision drew even more strident opposition, Phillips said.

The platform now includes seven tenets outlining the Republican stance on jobs, public education, health care, immigration reform, taxation, fiscal responsibility and personal rights.

Clark County is home to three-fourths of Nevada’s residents, but it’s unclear whether the state Republican Party will follow suit and eliminate abortion and gay marriage language in its platform statement.

The state party is scheduled to hold its convention in Las Vegas April 11 and 12.


Mississippi passes anti-gay hate law

Posted on 02 Apr 2014 at 3:31pm

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472The Mississippi Legislature passed an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill on Tuesday  similar to the one vetoed in Arizona. The law legalizes anti-gay discrimination as long as it’s done in the name of religion.

The bill that passed was rewritten after the Arizona bill was vetoed. The blatant anti-gay animus was removed. The new bill is simply written ambiguously so that there’s nothing unconstitutional about its wording. However, if anyone tries to use the law to justify discrimination, courts could strike it down as written only because of extreme animus against the LGBT community.

“The language still exposes virtually every branch, office and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Eunice Rho told MSNBC.

Wording of the bill is modeled after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That law, though, passed by a bipartisan coalition, was not intended to encourage discrimination or limit anyone’s civil rights.

The bill awaits the governor’s signature.


Houston couple wins ACLU same-sex wedding contest

Posted on 02 Apr 2014 at 3:27pm


A Texas couple is among the five winners of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest.

Jeff Robertson and Jeremiah Pyant of Houston were one of 23 same-sex couples from the Lone Star State vying for the chance to win $5,000 toward their dream wedding. Contestants had to live in state like Texas where same-sex marriage is prohibited to be eligible to enter.

Pyant, a flight attendant, and Robertson, an ad executive, met four years ago aboard a plane that Pyant was working on. They got engaged in December and want to marry aboard a hot air balloon taking off from Texas and flying over New Mexico, where the marriage will be legal.

Winners were chosen out of the top 25 couples that received the most votes. ACLU told The Associated Press nearly 200,000 votes were cast for the 400 entries since the contest’s December launch.

After the contest began, more court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage started coming out of states, including a decision in Texas back in February.

“As soon as we entered the contest, the court decisions started coming out,” said Jeff Robertson. “We’re living a civil rights movement right before our eyes.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the wedding contest highlights the type of problems faced by gay couples in the nearly 30 states where marriage-equality lawsuits have been filed.

“We live in this crazy time, with a patchwork of protections, where you can go across the border and get married,” he said. “The problem is that when you turn around and go back, you’re not going to be considered married by your home states. That’s not the way it should work in America.”


Report shows LGB people face additional health risks, transgender issues require another report

Posted on 01 Apr 2014 at 3:26pm

health-rainbow2_0A report released recently by the Boston-based Fenway Institute has found important health-related risks within the LGB community that are not well-documented or well-known and not addressed by prevention and treatment programs.

Many studies have shown that gay men have a higher risk of HIV infection and that LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied and considering suicide. But the new Fenway policy brief  shows that the LGB community has a higher rate of tobacco use than the general public, that lesbians have an increased risk of being overweight and that LGB elders have an increased risk of disability.

The Fenway report is based on data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through an annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys (BRFSS) in all 50 states, reaching 506,000 people. CDC provides the core questionnaire for each state to administer, asking questions about such health-related matters as diet, physical activity, smoking, immunization and sleep.

CDC does not include a question about a survey participant’s sexual orientation on the core questionnaire or on a list of additional optional questions states can add. Only 27 states have, on their own initiative, begun asking questions about sexual orientation and/or same-sex sexual behavior, according to the Fenway report.

Because sexual orientation data is not collected in all 50 states, says the Fenway report, “it is impossible to compare their health behaviors to those of other groups.”

“Without this information, states may miss the opportunity to develop programs, policies and services to address local health disparities.”

The Fenway report urges all states “to include, at a minimum, a sexual identity measure, and, whenever possible, to also include a sexual behavior measure.” Due to the “nuances and complexity of measuring gender identity, and the unique and understudied health disparities transgender people face,” said the Fenway report, “a comprehensive assessment of these issues” requires another report.

Some of the specific findings of Fenway’s analysis of the data collected by the 27 states that do ask questions about sexual identity and/or same-sex sexual behavior include:

  • Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than heterosexual women to obtain mammograms and Pap tests
  • Gay men have higher rates of alcohol and drug use
  • LGB people have higher rates of tobacco use and are more likely to lack health insurance
  • LGB older adults have increased risk of disability, excessive drinking and smoking
  • 18 percent of doctors in California are “sometimes” or “often” uncomfortable treating gay patients
  • 9.4 percent of men who identified themselves as “straight” in New York City had sex with another man during the past year.
  • 76 percent of self-identified lesbian sexually active adolescents reported having had sex with a male

Of the 27 states which have asked people about their sexual orientation, some have asked the question in only one year; some every year. The 27 states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The report urges all 50 states to begin asking about sexual orientation.

“Collecting sexual orientation data at the state level,” says the report, “can propel the federal initiative forward and enhance states’ ability to document and work toward eliminating health disparities experienced by their own populations.”

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service


Legacy Counseling holds clothing drive

Posted on 01 Apr 2014 at 3:11pm

legacylogoLegacy Counseling needs clothing for its Grace Project Conference for women living with HIV. Women attending the May 2–4 conference will be given tickets they can trade for clothing items they can take home. Most of the women attending have family members also in need, so men’s and children’s clothing also is welcomed.

The clothing drop-off takes place in the Legacy Counseling parking lot, 4054 McKinney Ave. at Elizabeth Street on April 11 and 12 from 9 a.m.–noon.

Items needed include gently used or new women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, shoes, accessories (such as purses, scarves, gloves and hats), jewelry and bulk goody bag items for the women attending. Any undergarments donated must be new and still in packaging.

For more information, call 214-520-6308.


Greg Abbott comes out for same-sex marriage in April Fool’s news story

Posted on 01 Apr 2014 at 3:10pm

Greg Abbott

As if anyone would believe the Texas Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott would back same-sex marriage, some Texans may have thought he had done just that on Tuesday.

In a post by the Burnt Orange Report, Abbott is quoted as saying he’s decided to support his old friend Mark Phariss and partner Victor Holmes. The couple is suing the state of Texas for the right to marry in the Lone Star State along with a lesbian couple form Austin.

“I had an epiphany this morning when I looked at myself in the mirror,” Abbott told The Associated Press, according to the story. “I thought, ‘Gosh, Mark (Phariss) and Victor (Holmes) make such a cute couple. They’ve been happily in love for over 16 years now. It’d be such a shame if I were the person standing between their love and the true happiness of all other LGBT couples in Texas.’

“Look, this whole governor gig thing may not play out as smoothly as I thought it would, with me seriously offending someone new every week. I just don’t want to be forever known as that guy who stood against the love of his long-time friend and the rest of the thousands of LGBT couples in Texas simply looking to be treated like everyone else. That sounds like the bad guy in a James Cameron movie.”

Abbott’s support would indeed be a surprise to say the least. He’s been a staunch defender of the state’s 2005 a same-sex marriage amendment and intervened in the divorce case of a Dallas couple, preventing them from receiving a divorce. The case, and one of a lesbian couple in which Abbott’s office intervened in after the divorce was granted, is pending a decision at the Texas Supreme Court.

Perhaps a more believable April Fool’s story would be that Gov. Rick Perry came out. But then that’s already true, according to a book by former out state Rep. Glen Maxey.


Death: Keith Alan Hollis

Posted on 31 Mar 2014 at 2:36pm

HollisKeith Alan Hollis, 34, entered into eternal peace at his home in Dallas on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Taken too soon, Keith is survived by his mother, Nancy McDaniel; father, Roger Hollis; grandparents, Gordon and Juanita McDaniel; Uncle/Aunt Steve and Vickie McDaniel; cousins Allie and Megan; aunt Rebecca Brannon; cousins Haley and Joseph Nelson and Dustin Grieg. Numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins on his father’s side.

Keith, loving and always caring, also leaves behind a huge community of friends. He was special to many and had a way of endearing himself to everyone he met. Keith will be sorely missed but never forgotten.

A celebration of Keith’s life will be held at Cathedral of Hope in the Interfaith Peace Chapel, 5910 Cedar Springs Road, on April 3 at 4 p.m. Services will be conducted by Reverend Todd Scoggins.

God will link the broken chain,
As one by one we meet again.
In our hearts he will always stay,
Loved and remembered every day.


GEAR presents scholarships, awards

Posted on 31 Mar 2014 at 12:21pm

GEAR, the Resource Center’s transgender program, presented awards and scholarships on Saturday at the 2014 GEAR Awards Reception to some of its members. San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks spoke to the attendees, who numbered about 100.

Wendy Marsden won the Katherine Walton Award for service.

“I had a rough time of it, and I wanted to pay it forward,” Marsden said as she accepted her award.

Katie Sprinkle began a legal clinic to help trans people navigate through the legal issues they will deal with. GEAR coordinator Blair High said the only other city with something comparable is New York. Sprinkle was also given and award for service to the community.

The next GEAR legal clinic is Wednesday, April 2. Anyone who would like an appointment should call 214-540-4498 to reserve time for a free 20-minute session with Sprinkle, who is an attorney.

Ann Marie, who started a job clinic for GEAR members, was also given a service award. The unemployment rate is exceptionally high in the trans community, and many members lose their jobs as they begin to transition.

Ally awards were given to American Specialty Pharmacy and Dr. Patrick Daly. The pharmacy set up a scholarship program to cover the cost of hormone therapy for two GEAR members. Daly runs a monthly clinic for GEAR and works with trans patients in his practice.

Despite some gloomy statistics, Sparks gave an optimistic talk about being your authentic self. Although trans people face high unemployment rates, face family rejection, are harassed in public accommodation and by the police and 41 percent have attempted or contemplated suicide, “Things are getting better,” Sparks said.

She cited a recent legal case that was decided and rules that trans people can’t be discriminated against in federal jobs. The Affordable Care Act made health insurance available to many trans people for the first time. The Department of Justice published nationwide training curricula for police on trans issues. In California, a new law allows trans students to use the bathroom, join a fraternity or sorority or a sports team for the gender they identify.

After Sparks told her story of going from CEO of an international corporation with thousands of people working for her to taxi driver after she transitioned and then back to another CEO position before heading the Human Rights Commission, she gave some advice.

“You can be who you are,” she said. “We need to come out to ourselves and love ourselves. Embrace it. You’re a very special person,” she said.


Black Tie Dinner holds season’s inaugural event in Fort Worth

Posted on 28 Mar 2014 at 11:56am

At its beneficiary and theme announcement party at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden on Thursday, Black Tie Dinner Co-chair Ken Morris said he thinks the group set a new record: More than 300 raffle tickets for a new Mercedes were sold, making this the earliest in the season so many tickets for the car had been sold.

Before the final drawing on the night of Black Tie Dinner, 20 tickets will be drawn and the winner will be selected from those finalists. The first ticket was drawn Thursday night from those first 300 tickets sold. Michael Robertson holds that ticket that was sold by Northaven United Methodist Church, one of the beneficiaries.

The car was donated by Park Place Motors.

Black Tie will participate in to raise additional funds.

“Donate gently used designer clothes, select Black Tie Dinner,” Co-chair Debra Davis explained, “They send a pre-paid shipping bag. When the item sells, Black Tie gets 55 percent of the proceeds and after five donations, you get a $40 Nordstrom gift card.”

Davis and Morris also announced Throwback Thursday. Post old Black Tie photos and videos to the group’s Facebook page. The best will be shown at the Nov. 15 dinner.

In addition to announcing the event’s theme — Forward — Morris and Davis introduced Greg Cave whose Turtle Creek Solutions donated $100,000 to become the presenting sponsor of this year’s Black Tie Dinner.