New N. Texas congressional seat covers heavily LGBT areas, and race draws several allies, but who would be the strongest advocate?
The first representative North Texas sends to Congress in the new District 33 seat will most likely be a Democrat and an ally of the LGBT community.
One of four new Texas congressional seats, District 33 has drawn three Republican and 11 Democrat candidates. The district begins in Fort
Worth near the Rainbow Lounge and narrows to include parts of Arlington and Irving before widening to end in North Oak Cliff.
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said the District 33 race highlights the need to increase LGBT support in
Congress in order to “actually move forward proactively” with repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and passing LGBT-inclusive employment and student nondiscrimination acts.
Cole-Schwartz said the new seat is an opportunity to elect someone who is supportive and will impact positive change.
“In a crowded field of candidates, I think it’s going to be to these folks’ benefit to appeal to LGBT voters who in a close race could really make a decisive margin,” Cole-Schwartz said.
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said LGBT voters will have a “huge say-so” because about five of the most heavily gay voting precincts in Oak Cliff and Irving are in the district.
“It’s very important that we have not just an ally but an advocate as well in Congress, especially for the North Texas area because this area has the most same-sex couples in the state of Texas,” he said.
Any of the Democrats could end up in a runoff, Narvaez said, adding that the top candidates are state Rep. Marc Veasey, former state Rep.
Domingo Garcia, Fort Worth Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks and former Dallas Councilman Steve Salazar.
Veasey, who represents state House District 95 that encompasses one-third of District 33, has proved to be an LGBT ally since his freshman year in the state House in 2005, when he voted against an amendment to the Texas Constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.
He also voted against an amendment banning gays from being foster parents.
Thinking about the “legacy that I would leave behind when I left the Texas Legislature,” Veasey said he voted against the anti-gay legislation because it was the right thing to do.
Among the Democrats who was outspoken last year against a bill to ban LGBT resource centers on college campuses, Veasey also has authored a bill to study the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act — which has been rarely used since it passed 10 years ago.
If elected, Veasey said the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBT job bias, and the Student
Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban harassment of LGBT students in public schools, would be priorities.
“Ever since I’ve been in the Legislature I’ve always had a 100 percent voting record on issues that affect the gay and lesbian community,” he said.
Veasey also hired openly gay Kirk McPike as his chief of staff during two legislative sessions. McPike, who now works on the campaigns of other politicians, said Veasey was “someone who can be an advocate to parts of the Democratic community who might not necessarily be as sympathetic to LGBT issues.”
Regardless of who ends up in a runoff, McPike said strong support for the LGBT community is something voters should be looking for in the first District 33 representative.
“In District 33, it’s going to come down to the primary,” he said. “The LGBT community will have an outside voice in this election and they can have a real influence on who represents North Texas in Congress for years to come.”
Garcia also has a record of LGBT support. While serving on the Dallas City Council from 1991-95, he was a strong proponent of the Dallas police lifting a ban on hiring gays and lesbians and supported adding sexual orientation to the city’s policy protecting employees against discrimination. When he went on to serve in the Texas House in 1996 until 2002, he voted for an LGBT-inclusive hate crime bill in 2001.
While his efforts on behalf of the LGBT community have had “proven results,” he said his focus if elected would be the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, which would give domestic partner benefits to government employees. He said he thinks it is the next step in achieving LGBT legislation because it could gain bipartisan support, whereas repealing DOMA won’t happen for years.
“The repeal of DOMA is something you bring up and you fight, knowing that can’t win but hoping to get it defeated in four or six years,” he said.
Hicks is another frontrunner from Tarrant County. The youngest woman ever elected to the council, Hicks’ District 8 seat contains the area where the Rainbow Lounge is situated. She became outspoken for the LGBT community after the 2009 raid of the gay bar, calling it “a learning time for Tarrant County.”
She later voted in favor a fully LGBT-inclusive, citywide anti-discrimination ordinance in 2010. A strong supporter of ENDA and SNDA,
Hicks said she would first tackle repealing DOMA if elected, adding that she also wants to bring domestic partner benefits to government employees because she has heard her district voice concerns for benefits, especially with the economy.
However, she said repealing DOMA is the first step to opening the door to more progress and would be her first priority because she thinks it can be done in the next two years.
Openly gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns lives in District 33. He clarified in November that he is not running and endorsed Veasey.
The lesser-known candidates are even supportive of LGBT bills and are vocal about their focus on equality.
Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda said that while she has not served as an elected official, her law practice has made her value diversity when she assembles trial teams.
Repealing DOMA is her main priority because she thinks “it’s possible” to repeal DOMA in the next four years.
Her next “high priority” would be ENDA and SDNA because she has defended Dallas County employees in the past who faced sexual harassment allegations because they were gay.
Local activist and business owner Jason Roberts started the national program, The Better Block, in his Oak Cliff neighborhood. He said when the new seat was announced, his national project inspired him to make a larger change.
His progressive upbringing made him an LGBT supporter and he thinks “it’s unfathomable for me to even think that we’re even questioning equal rights for lesbians, gays or anybody” and wants to help change that as a congressman.
Former Dallas Councilman Steve Salazar served on the council from 1995-2001 and then again from 2003-11. He was not on the council for votes on anti-discrimination measures in 1995 and 2002, but he voted in favor of a budget in 2004 that included domestic partner benefits.
He was endorsed by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance in 2009.
Dallas dentist and businessman David Alameel is also running for the seat after building his company into a healthcare group with a network of dental centers called Jefferson Dental Clinics.
Neither Salazar nor Alameel could be reached for an interview.
Forum features full field
A forum hosted by West Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Dallas County Young Democrats will include all 11 Democratic candidates, according to a press release. The forum is Monday, April 9, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Salon Las Americas, at 1004 Fort Worth Ave. For more information or to R.S.V.P., visit WestDallasChamber.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 6, 2012.