Gay committee chairs say large crowds and many first-time participants made for long, exhausting day; but predicted tensions didn’t happen
Resolutions calling for the Texas Democratic Party to support legislation to prohibit bullying and harassment of LGBT students in public schools and legislation banning discrimination against LGBT people passed in four Dallas-area senatorial district conventions on Saturday, March 29, according to officials with Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.
Stonewall officials noted that the Collin County Democratic Convention also passed those two resolutions, along with a separate resolution for the state party to support same-sex marriage.
Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas who coordinated efforts to introduce the resolutions at precinct conventions around the state, said this week that the safe schools and non-discrimination ordinances passed in several other SD and county conventions around the state on Saturday.
"I have heard that the resolutions passed in a number of places, sometimes with a lot of support and sometimes with some opposition. I also have heard that some conventions never even got around to considering resolutions, and some just passed them all together in a group," he said. "And I heard that at some conventions, the resolutions committee refused to pass those [LGBT-related] resolutions on to the delegates for a vote.
Terrell said he knew one or more of the resolutions passed in SD 14 in Travis County and in Val Verde and Hayes counties. But he said he hasn’t "heard anything yet" from conventions in the Houston and San Antonio areas.
Terrell also said he hasn’t heard anything of how a resolution calling on the Texas GOP to remove anti-gay language in its platform may have fared at Saturday’s conventions. The resolution, written by Log Cabin Republicans-Dallas President Rob Schlein, was approved at several Republican precinct conventions in the Dallas area.
Terrell said he believes "chances are good" that the safe schools and non-discrimination resolutions will be approved as part of the Democratic Party’s state platform at the convention in June in Austin.
"If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be doing this," Terrell said. "I think there will be some resistance from some Democratic constituent groups, but it will be moderate. I don’t think anyone from the Democratic Party is out to get us; the party in general is very supportive."
Terrell added that he believes there is "a lot of support across Texas" for including those resolutions, and that having them written into the platform "will represent a significant positive step."
"I think the Democratic Party is ready to take that step. I would like to say the Republican Party is ready for that step, too. But they may have a few growing pains left," he said.
According to Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, at least 21 openly LGBT people were chosen as delegates to the state convention during Saturday’s meetings, and another six were named as alternates.
One of those delegates was Steve Atkinson, who also served on the nomination committee for SD 16, which includes much of Oak Lawn and is considered one of the area’s "gayest" districts.
Atkinson said in a telephone interview this week that despite the dire predictions following the chaos that reigned at many Democratic precinct conventions on March 4, he thought the senatorial district conventions went surprisingly well, with little of the tension and sometimes outright animosity between supporters of presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
"The most challenging part of the day for us was getting everyone signed in and inside the auditorium," Atkinson said, noting that the SD 16 convention was held in Moody Coliseum at Southern Methodist University. "It took about three hours just to get everyone inside. It was a tedious and complicated process, but we still got started relatively early. … There were just so many people participating that have never participated before. It made for a long day, but I don’t think anyone was unhappy with the way things went overall."
Gary Fitzsimmons, Dallas’ openly gay district clerk, agreed. Fitzsimmons was chair of the credentialing committee for SD 23, located in Oak Cliff and South Dallas, which held its meeting in the Ellis Field House sports complex on Polk Street near Interstate 20.
"It went as well as could be expected," Fitzsimmons said, adding that the only real problems he saw were logistical problems rising out of "the routing process" that had delegates from various precincts recaucusing in the same where the credentialing committee was working.
"There was just lots of energy, lots of new people. I am still recovering from it all," he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, April 1. "I think for me, the most amazing moment was when Sen. Royce West, after he was elected permanent chair of the convention, asked everyone who had never been to a senate district convention before to stand up. The sheer multitude of the people who stood then was overwhelming almost.
"There was a time when I could go to a 23rd Senate District convention at the auditorium at Carter High School, and it would be maybe two/thirds full. I would know at least half the people there. It wasn’t that way last Saturday at all."
Fitzsimmons also vehemently criticized comments included in a letter to the editor in the March 28 issue of Dallas Voice, in which the letter’s author accused black Democratic Party leaders in the 23rd district of block-voting to stonewall the nomination of openly gay delegates and the passage of gay-friendly resolutions at a previous convention.
The letter writer also accused Sen. West of siding with those who worked to thwart the LGBT representation there.
"I thought those statements were absolutely disgusting," Fitzsimmons said. "I have been in the 23rd for years, and I know that our district was the first in the area to send an openly gay person to the state convention. Two of our four committee chairs this year were gay people. We have had threely gay people from our district on the state executive committee."
West, Fitzsimmons added, is "a great guy" who was long been known as "a good friend to the LGBT community."
While Fitzsimmons spent much of his time on Saturday with the SD 23 credentialing committee, working to settle challenges, Atkinson had the chance to watch a little more of the debate that went on in SD 16
He said he saw little of the tension that had been predicted to erupt between the two presidential campaigns.
"A lot of that is over-hyped by the mainstream media," Atkinson said. "We have a process that’s just not run its course yet. … They [Clinton and Obama] are both doing what they should: campaign hard and not give up.
"In the end, there will be one candidate, and I think the other will be totally gracious and supportive and totally behind the candidate," he said. "We’re all going to be united."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2008.