Equality Texas ED says nearly twice as many people already signed up to participate as did in 2007 event
Rallies and protests may garner a few seconds on the evening news, but they rarely affect public policy, according to Equality Texas.
Face-to-face conversations with state legislators, on the other hand, have the power to change hearts and minds.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said this week he’s hoping increased enthusiasm in the LGBT community since the November elections —as evidenced by numerous recent demonstrations in Dallas —will also translate into record attendance at the group’s Lobby Day on March 2 at the State Capitol in Austin.
While rallies and protests can sometimes play a vital role in the struggle for equality, Lobby Day — held every two years during the state legislative session — is perhaps the single most important event for LGBT Texans, Scott said. As of Tuesday, Feb. 17, 290 people had signed up for this year’s Lobby Day, including about 55 from North Texas.
"We’re getting closer to doubling what we had in 2007, which is incredible," Scott said. "I think people are wanting to be engaged."
This year, for the first time in recent memory, no anti-LGBT legislation has been publicly discussed by state legislators, meaning Equality Texas can focus instead on advancing pro-equality measures.
Proposals have been introduced, for example, that would ban anti-LGBT job bias in Texas, and grant hospital visitation rights and medical decision-making powers to domestic partners.
Due to the conservative makeup of the Senate, and the presence of right-wing Republican Gov. Rick Perry, it’s unlikely any of the pro-equality bills will be signed into law in 2009, but Equality Texas’ goal is to get at least one of them through the House, and to have committee hearings and floor debates on as many of the others as possible.
While Scott said he’s pleased with registration numbers for Lobby Day thus far, Equality Texas is still hoping to attract more participants from certain House and Senate districts, including the one belonging to Republican Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, who represents about half of Oak Lawn.
Scott said Equality Texas has more than 330 members in Branch’s district, but by Tuesday only a handful had registered for Lobby Day.
During Branch’s campaign for re-election last year, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas attacked him for his anti-LGBT voting record, leading to a heated dispute with Log Cabin Republicans, which later invited Branch to speak at one of its meetings.
After defeating his Democratic opponent in a landslide in November, Branch was recently named chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, meaning he’ll likely help decide whether a bill advances that would extend health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of state university employees.
Scott noted that Southern Methodist University, which provides domestic partner benefits, is situated in Branch’s district, and Equality Texas says the bill is needed for the University of Texas and Texas A&M to remain competitive with other schools.
Neither Branch’s chief of staff nor Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, responded to requests for comment this week.
Jesse Garcia, who served as president of Stonewall Democrats last year, said he hopes to see Log Cabin members at the Capitol on March 2.
"They supported him [Branch], they rallied around him, let’s see if they step up to the plate and actually travel to Austin and lobby him," said Garcia, who’ll be attending his second Lobby Day.
"Mr. Branch said he was not a homophobe. We’re going to see if those words ring true. If he met with our community when he was running for election, he should be able to meet with us now."
In addition to Log Cabin members, Garcia said he also hopes to see some of those who’ve participated in the recent rallies and protests at Lobby Day.
He said the event is an opportunity to not only meet with legislators who need encouragement on LGBT issues, but also to thank those who’ve backed Equality Texas’ causes.
"If we ever wanted to protest, if we ever wanted to boycott, those are all great vehicles to get our message out, but this is the best," said Garcia, who noted that a Nov. 15 marriage equality rally at Dallas City Hall drew about 1,200 people.
"If we could just get half that amount to go to Austin, we would totally overwhelm the State Capitol."
Erin Moore, current president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, was even more pointed in encouraging people who’ve participated in the recent demonstrations to attend Lobby Day.
"I think it can actually accomplish something," Moore said of the event. "Getting noticed is one thing. Doing something is another."
Blake Wilkinson, founder of Queer Liberaction, which has organized some of the recent demonstrations in Dallas, said this week he won’t be attending Lobby Day. Wilkinson also said he’s doesn’t know of any other QL members who plan to travel to Austin for the event.
"We think it’s fundamental to stay in your city and work for change in your city. I think that’s ultimately how change happens, not by busing a group of activists down to talk to legislators," Wilkinson said. "I think it’s time to really start making serious demands, demanding action from our politicians, and not just encouraging them to be a little better on our rights."
LOBBY DAY INFO
Registration for Equality Texas’ Lobby Day, set for Monday, March 2 at the State Capitol in Austin, continues through Friday, Feb. 27. The daylong event is free and includes a free breakfast and lunch. To register, go to www.equalitytexas.org or call 512-474-5475.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 20, 2009.