Rep sidesteps gay questions

Posted on 31 Jul 2008 at 4:08pm

branchdanLawmaker Dan Branch finally speaks at LCR meeting; Stonewall counters with Emil Reichstadt

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor

The fact that he may disagree with the LGBT community on certain issues doesn’t make him a homophobe, State Rep. Dan Branch told members of Log Cabin Republicans on Monday, July 28.

“I think when someone disagrees, that for me to call them a hetero-phobe would be a terrible thing, so I refuse to play,” Branch said in an apparent response to allegations that he’s anti-gay.

The comment, which drew applause, marked the only time Branch alluded to the controversy stemming from Log Cabin’s decision to invite him to speak at the gay Republican group’s monthly meeting.

It also marked one of the few occasions on which Branch addressed LGBT concerns, as he chose not to try to defend his support for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage or his opposition to gay foster parents in Texas.

Branch, a three-term Republican representative whose district includes portions of Dallas’ traditional gay neighborhood in Oak Lawn, spoke for the better part of an hour during the meeting at Mattito’s Tex Mex in Uptown.

He began with a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that focused primarily on Texas’ economy and the challenges facing the state. Following the presentation, Branch answered a handful of questions that had been pre-selected by Log Cabin President Rob Schlein.

While at least two of the questions were LGBT-related, Branch wasn’t pressed about his unfavorable voting record on gay-rights issues in the House, prompting members of Stonewall Democrats to accuse Schlein of “softballing” the legislator.

Stonewall, North Texas’ largest LGBT political group, has endorsed Branch’s opponent in the District 108 race, Democrat Emil Reichstadt.
Patti Fink, a Stonewall member who attended the Log Cabin meeting as president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said she voiced her concerns to Schlein immediately afterward.

“I said, ‘You didn’t softball him, you whiffle-balled him,’” Fink told Dallas Voice. “He [Schlein] was really kid-gloving him.”

Fink said she fears Branch may have left the meeting with the impression that he’s in good standing with the LGBT community.

“Certainly from a perspective outside Log Cabin, I thought that the questions asked were softball questions of a legislator who has a clear record of not supporting us at all, of voting against our community repeatedly on big, serious issues,” Fink said. “But I also understand their position as Log Cabin Republicans that any dialogue is better than no dialogue and to get dialogue, you can’t invite a legislator and hammer them. So in its context, I thought it was a very good event.”

Schlein defended his decision not to play hardball with Branch.

“I certainly wasn’t going to invite a guest in my home and then take out my baseball bat and hit them over the head,” Schlein said. “Otherwise they won’t want to come back, and otherwise other politicians won’t want to come, either.”

Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats, has said he believes Branch is pandering for votes and trying to use Log Cabin in what’s expected to be a tight race against Reichstadt.

In response to Log Cabin’s invitation to Branch, Stonewall Democrats held a fundraiser for Reichstadt on the same night. Garcia said the fundraiser at Sue Ellen’s nightclub drew 93 people and raised $1,750.

“It was just amazing the outpouring of support from the GLBT community,” Garcia said. “What spurred our event was the fact that people were angry. Our board members were high-fiving each other afterward because we took a negative and turned it into a positive.”

Schlein said the Log Cabin meeting drew more than 70 people, a near-record for the growing chapter.

“I think this is just going to swing open the door for other politicians to come see us,” Schlein said. “To me, that’s the story. We’re being recognized. You’ve got to make friends, and I think we’re playing a bit of defense here on our issues.”

Schlein said he didn’t open up the meeting to questions from the audience because he feared the atmosphere would become hostile.

Schlein also defended his choice of questions, saying he doesn’t believe marriage and foster parenting are the biggest LGBT issues in Texas. He argued that his two LGBT-related questions — which dealt with anti-gay language in the Republican Party platform and safe schools — were more universal.

Asked whether he agrees with the language in the platform, Branch said he hasn’t read the document “all the way through.” He added that he believes the platform also calls on Congress to secede from the United Nations and abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Branch said while he appreciates the sentiment behind those planks, he disagrees with them.

“The specific language you’re talking about, listen, as someone who’s in a law firm that allows for domestic partners — I have law partners that are gay — as someone who has family members, as someone who thinks there’s no room for hatefulness or derogatory speech, that we should be respectful of all individuals and that that’s the common currency of being a Texan, being respectful and to be tolerant and to give dignity to all individuals, I would say anything that has hateful speech in it I would be uncomfortable with, and as I said, I’m uncomfortable with a lot of things in it.”

Schlein also asked Branch whether he supports the Dignity for All Students Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination and harassment based no sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

Branch, a member of the House Public Education Committee, indicated that he’s not familiar with the specifics of the legislation.

According to Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group, Branch voted in 2005 to table an amendment that would have funded a study of harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity. In 2007, he voted against an amendment that would have required school districts to report incidents of bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation/gender identity.

“I am for dignity for all,” Branch told Log Cabin. “We’re all Americans, we’re all Texans, and to me we should all treat each other with respect. To me, you treat people the way you want to be treated. I think all humans have equal value. As someone who believes in a maker, I think that’s the way we were made and that’s the way we’re supposed to be treated. … Probably many of us in this room can remember being treated that way at one time or another in elementary school or in middle school. It’s a terrible thing. We’ve seen some horrible consequences where people have even taken their own life recently because of that. So again, I’m against bullying, and I seriously am for dignity for all.”

Dallas Voice requested an interview with Branch following the Log Cabin meeting. However, Branch left almost immediately, and a member of his legislative staff said he had another engagement to attend.

The staff member said she would try to arrange an interview with Branch the following day. However, when contacted on Tuesday, July 29, the staff member said she believed Branch had provided enough material during the meeting for a news article.

Reichstadt, on the other hand, was more than willing to talk.

“Dan Branch’s record speaks for itself,” Reichstadt said this week. “If the GLBT community wants to vote its interest, he won’t receive a single vote. Certainly on the GLBT issues, he is not representing his constituency.”

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Aug. 1, 2008.

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