Lobbying for equality

Posted on 27 Mar 2015 at 7:35am

About 90 people talked to legislators on family advocacy day, while equality opponents demonstrated on the Capitol steps

Lobby-Daniel-Williams

Daniel Williams

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer
As members of the LGBT community and allies prepared to lobby legislators at the Capitol in Austin on Monday, March 23, anti-gay protesters gathered on the Capitol steps to hear Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton bash the LGBT community.

Moore may have violated codes of judicial conduct when he gave a speech calling gays “perverts” and “the devil at work,” and comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, according to some of those gathered for the Equality Texas Lobby Day. Judges usually do not comment on issues that will be coming before their courts.

A number of lawmakers and their staffs attending that rally returned to their offices empowered to greet constituents with a level of rudeness few recalled encountering in past lobby days.

Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, and her staff exhibited no patience for constituents who disagreed with her positions. Among the bills White filed is one she thinks will overrule a U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, because it declares Texas will bar legal recognition of such marriages no matter what the court says.

Paula Wright, who is transgender, lives in White’s district and who says she was assaulted by three Bell County sheriff’s deputies. When Wright visited White’s office and began to explain her story to the lawmaker’s staff, Wright said she was dismissed with, “Thank you for your vote, but don’t expect any help from us.”

Frank Carlson is also from Bell County and knew staff members in the office. A staff member asked Carlson what group he represented.

“Equality Texas,” Carlson said.

“Drop your literature and leave,” the staffer said. “I’m the only one in the office right now. I don’t have time.”

When Carlson tried to continue the conversation, two staffers came out from the back room; obviously, the staffer wasn’t alone.

“Just leave,” one staffer told him. “We don’t want to waste your time and, more important, we don’t want you to waste ours.”

Participants in Family Advocacy Day were broken up into small groups, and each group was assigned a topic or a particular piece of legislation to talk about and six legislators to visit.

Daniel Williams, Equality Texas’ legislative specialist, said each of the groups going to lobby was given at least one extreme opponent.

“If no one talks to them, they think no one disagrees with them,” Williams said, explaining why citizen lobbyists were sent to opponents’ offices.

Williams encouraged them to just tell their stories, noting that Equality Texas was making sure statistics got into the hands of legislators.

Steve Rudner, president of Equality Texas Foundation, visited Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, who filed a bill to prevent state or local employees from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or from using funds to issue those licenses.

Rudner told Bell’s legislative assistant he had twin sons, one gay, one straight, asking, “Why should one of my sons have different rights than my other son?”

The aide in the office said Bell believes homosexuality is a choice and not a civil rights issue. And when Rudner asked, “How does Rep. Bell choose?” the aide replied, “He chooses everyday by kissing his wife.”

Rudner said he was confused and asked if he chooses between being gay and straight every day, then made an appointment to speak directly to Bell later in the week to try and clear up the confusion.

Among those attending lobby day were a group of Dell Computer employees. Although this wasn’t the first time any of them have participated, it was the first time they were sent to lobby on behalf of the company, Shane Zachariah said.

Scott Tyson said marriage equality in Texas was important to Dell to remain competitive in its national recruiting efforts.

Dell is located in the Austin suburb of Round Rock in Sen. Donna Campbell’s district. Campbell filed a bill that would allow Texas’ businesses to refuse service or deny employment to LGBT people based on individual’s or religious organization’s beliefs.

Cathryn Snyder said Dell’s position is legislation like that “sends such a bad message.”

While quite a bit of anti-LGBT legislation has been filed, Williams pointed out that a record number of pro-equality bills have been filed as well. He said for the first time, legislators came to him earlier in the session to find out what he had available for them to put their names on.
Equality Texas has two more advocacy days planned.

They mark Transgender Day of Visibility with a day of lobbying. Training and preparation takes place at 10 a.m. on March 31 at the Equality Texas office, 221 East 9th Street, Suite 302.

This week’s advocacy day was the second of three themed days. The first in February was Faith Advocacy. The March 23 day was Family Advocacy. On April 13, Equality Texas marks Freedom Advocacy day. To participate, meet at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church of Austin Family Life Center, 1300 Lavaca St., one block west of the Capitol.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 27, 2015.

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