Equality Texas says turnout already paying dividends
AUSTIN — They came from areas as remote and farflung as Abilene, Amarillo, McAllen and Tyler.
They were young and old — black, brown and white — gay, straight, lesbian and transgender.
Evidently still energized by November elections, more than 400 people stormed the State Capitol on Monday, March 2 in what was the largest turnout in the history of Equality Texas’ biennial Lobby Day.
Now, officials with the statewide LGBT advocacy organization are hoping the unprecedented participation translates into votes by lawmakers in favor of pro-equality bills.
With a razor-thin Republican majority and new leadership in the House, legislative sources told Dallas Voice this week they believe at least two pro-equality bills have a chance of passing this year — and possibly even making their way through the Senate to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.
If Perry were to sign the bills, it would mark the first time since 2001 that any pro-equality legislation has become law in Texas. And in a possible first since 1999, no anti-LGBT legislation had been filed as of Thursday, March 5. The bill filing deadline for this year’s session is Friday, March 13.
"I think we see, definitely, a climate change," Equality Texas Executive Director Paul Scott said on Lobby Day. "It still requires our members and our organization and all the other organizations to continue to work harder to take advantage of that climate change."
Scott said feedback during Lobby Day from lawmakers and their staffs seemed more positive than ever, and a few days later, Equality Texas reported that the event was already paying dividends in the form of additional co-sponsors for pro-equality legislation and a committee hearing on one bill.
Scott said participants in Lobby Day came from more than 60 percent of Texas’ 150 House districts, which he called incredible given the geographic enormity of the state.
Troy Carlisle, a gay-rights activist from Tyler who was participating in his second Lobby Day, confirmed that the atmosphere seemed friendlier this year.
"Even the representatives from East Texas are starting to wake up to the idea that they don’t have infinite job security," Carlisle said. "They have to realize that human beings deserve human rights."
Jeanne Rubin, a member of the Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said her goal during Lobby Day was to make it impossible for her representatives to claim they don’t have any LGBT constituents.
"I feel confident that they’ll never say that again, so in that way I feel we’ve made progress," Rubin said.
Lobby Day seemed to enjoy a particularly strong showing from LGBT youth and the transgender community.
Lobby Day participant E.B. Allen, 27, of Houston said her generation is beginning to realize that although the LGBT community has come a long way, it hasn’t achieved equality.
"Our struggle is trying to keep the momentum going when people aren’t facing as much adversity," Allen said.
Stephanie Martinez, a transgender woman from Austin, said she wanted to ensure that any pro-equality legislation is trans-inclusive, thereby avoiding another situation like ENDA in 2007.
"I think ENDA was kind of our Proposition 8," Martinez said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2009.