23 TX couples compete for $5K in ACLU’s Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest

weddings-aclu

Even though same-sex marriage isn’t allowed or recognized in the Lone Star State, that doesn’t mean those in the LGBT community aren’t busy planning their dream weddings here at home and in other states.

Of those couples, 23 have entered the American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest, which highlights the unfair patchwork of state marriage laws. Couples from states without marriage equality were eligible to enter and share their dream wedding plans across state lines. Five couples will win $5,000 toward their wedding. Voting ends this weekend.

Among the Texas entries are some pretty sweet love stories, including Dallas activists Mark Jiminez and Beau Chandler, who would marry in New Mexico and then “decorate our pick-up truck with all the gayest ‘Just Married’ decorations we could find and drive back across the State of Texas to our home in Dallas.”

Here are a few other examples:

1391179874-104204-01Sharon and Marcel, who plan to marry in Hawaii.

“Marcel is my first love, first girl I kissed 30 years ago. It was the summer of 1984 when I first came out and met her. It was love at first sight, but due to the shock of the overwhelming feelings of love and coming out our relationship lasted only 6 months. We went separate ways and lost one another to life’s roller coaster, military, other relationships, heartache and never spoke to each other again. We saw each other again at my high school reunion and all those feelings came back … I proposed to her the summer of 2012 at the same spot where we first met.”

Jeff and Jeremiah, who want to take a road trip and record their wedding journey.1390127543-98122-01

“We met on an airplane. Jeff was flying home to Milwaukee, Wisc., and Jeremiah was the airline attendant on the flight. I (Jeff) was interested in him and gave him my number. We later connected online/on the phone, and began talking very often. The next time that Jeremiah’s work took him to Wisconsin, he and I shared dinner, and from their months of conversation evolved into a long-distance relationship. Jeremiah would go out of his way to book hours on flights that passed through or ended in Milwaukee, and we fell in love months later. We recently relocated to Houston, TX for Jeff’s new job.”

1391966181-111267-01Toby and Daniel, who want to wed in Washington, D.C. and have a celebration at their family’s country home in Brenham, Texas.

“We met in 2007, Daniel was from Mexico living in Houston. Bar Manager at my favorite TexMex Restaurant. I work in Consulting and would meet clients at his restaurant. In between meetings I would visit his bar and communicate via “span-tran” on my laptop with him. I didn’t know Daniel would one day save my life 7 years later by being tested anonymously and donating his healthy Kidney to me after high blood pressure and hypertension destroyed mine in 2013. His blood type, and antigen match was a perfect match to me. God knew. Miracle.”

To view all of the Texas entries, go here and search by state or couple.

—  Anna Waugh

NATIONAL BRIEFS: Lesbian couple says Vt. resort barred them; 831 civil unions in Cook County

Lesbian couple says Vermont resort barred them

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Two New York women say a Vermont inn refused to host their wedding reception because of the owners’ anti-gay bias. The couple is now suing, alleging discrimination under the state’s public accommodations law.

Kate Baker and Ming Linsley say they were turned away by the Wildflower Inn, a 24-room inn in Lyndonville, when they told the inn the wedding would have two brides but no groom.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Wildflower Inn said the owners weren’t taking calls on the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Vermont chapter filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Caledonia Superior Court. It says the inn violated the state Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which bars public accommodations from denying services to people based on sexual orientation.

831 civil unions in Cook County in June

CHICAGO (AP) — Cook County couples rushed to use Illinois’ new civil union law.

The county clerk’s office says 831 civil licenses were issued in June. That was the first month couples could get them.

A civil union gives gay couples in Illinois many of the same rights and legal benefits as heterosexual couples. Unmarried heterosexual couples also are eligible.

Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office says more female couples — about 51.5 percent — applied for licenses compared to male partners, who made up about 43 percent of the licenses. About 5.5 percent of the couples who applied were heterosexual.

Most of the civil union licenses — about 65 percent — were granted to people who live in Chicago.

The office says licenses and other fees generated about $37,000 in revenue.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Right-wing evangelist puts out ‘voters guide’ for Fort Worth city elections

Richard Clough

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A right-wing evangelist from Kenneth Copeland’s church has distributed a “voters guide” to Fort Worth city elections, the Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy reports. The Rev. Richard Clough, a failed political candidate operating under the name Texans for Faith and Family, sent questionnaires to city council candidates seeking their positions on so-called “precepts” about sharia law, abortion and, of course, LGBT issues. Nine of the 22 council candidates actually responded to the survey, with some indicating through their responses that they strongly oppose LGBT equality. So perhaps this is as much a voters guide for the LGBT community and its allies as it is for the fundies. View the candidates responses by going here.

2. East Dallas garden designer Robert Bellamy will host a second “Light A Fire” anti-bullying event benefiting Youth First Texas tonight, the Dallas Morning News reports. While the first “Light A Fire” event was geared toward teachers, this one will be geared toward parents. Speakers will include Dallas mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings, YFT director Sam Wilkes, Dotty Griffith from the American Civil Liberties Union, and Wendy Ringe of the Human Rights Campaign. Admission is free, but a $25 donation to Youth First Texas is suggested. The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave.

3. In its cover story this week, the Dallas Observer takes a look at the Latin American drag shows, or “travesty shows,” that have become popular at Taquerias around Dallas. Although the topic is hardly new, it’s a pretty good story with some really good photography. But we’re not sure some transgender advocates will appreciate the online headline for the article: “Tortillas and Trannies at Dallas Taquerias.”

—  John Wright

Flour Bluff High School GSA to hold inaugural meeting on Day of Silence

Bianca “Nikki” Peet accepts her GLAAD Special Recognition Award from actress Kirsten Dunst on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Great news on the eve of the Day of Silence.

Nearly two months after the Flour Bluff Independent School District made national news by refusing to allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance, the GSA will meet on Friday for the first time, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports tonight.

After the district denied 17-year-old student Bianca “Nikki” Peet’s application to start the GSA, the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action and hundreds of LGBT advocates rallied outside Flour Bluff High School.

The district revised its policies to allow the GSA, but then the group’s faculty sponsor reportedly backed out due to the controversy. Under the new policies, Flour Bluff Principal James Crenshaw will monitor the group’s meetings. The ACLU of Texas says it will also continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the GSA receives equal access.

Peet, 17, was honored by GLAAD for her efforts to start the GSA on Sunday in Los Angeles. She was also was named one of The Advocate magazine’s Forty Under 40. Below is video of Peet accepting her GLAAD Special Recognition Award from actress Kirsten Dunst.

—  John Wright

ACLU accuses Texas’ Goose Creek school district of building a cyber-dam to block LGBT content

A while back we told you about the American Civil Liberties Union’s effort to get school districts in Texas and several other states to stop illegally filtering LGBT content on the Web. And we’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, a student in Baytown’s Goose Creek school district saw our post and contacted the ACLU.

Either way, the Goose Creek district now stands accused of maintaining a cyber-dam to shield its little goslings from the gay stuff. According to MyFox Houston, district officials say they received a public information request from the ACLU Foundation of Texas on April 7 about their web filtering practices. But you’ll never guess the Google search that led to the ACLU’s investigation:

ACLU’s outcry stems from a Goose Creek Memorial High student’s research for a news story about Chik-Fil-A donating to anti-gay organizations. The senior’s search hit a bump when several sites appearing on Google News were blocked by the district.

The ACLU says the district is violating free speech rights as well as the Equal Access Act. By failing to remain “viewpoint neutral,” the ACLU claims the district is denying helpful support information for gay or transgendered students.

—  John Wright

If you can’t read this post at school, your district may be illegally filtering LGBT content

If your school district is illegally filtering LGBT content, you probably can’t read this post — at least not from a district computer. So, you’ll just have to read it at home and take notes so you can check tomorrow when you’re at school or work. Ready?

Earlier today we posted a story from the Associated Press about how the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that school districts stop filtering LGBT web content in violation of federal law. As the story notes, Texas is one of a handful of states where the ACLU sent letters to school districts requesting information about web filtering. We inquired of the ACLU as to which districts in Texas received requests, but we haven’t heard back. A few years ago, according to Lambda Legal, the Dallas Independent School District agreed to allow access to web sites that were blocked at the time, including those belonging to Youth First Texas and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). DallasVoice.com was also among the sites DISD had blocked.

On Tuesday we contacted Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for DISD, and sent him a copy of the press release from the ACLU. Dahlander responded by saying that he had not seen any request from the ACLU, although he added that it may have gone to the district’s technology department. He also pointed us to the district’s policy on web filtering:

Each District computer with Internet access shall have a filtering device or software that blocks access to visual depictions that are obscene, pornographic, inappropriate for students, or harmful to minors, as defined by the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act and as determined by the Superintendent of Schools or designee. Every computer shall have a filter device or software that protects against viruses.

Because the DISD policy seems open to interpretation, we asked Dahlander to check whether the following sites are accessible from DISD computers. He said he did so and confirmed that all of them are accessible:

www.dayofsilence.org
www.itgetsbetter.org
www.thetrevorproject.org
www.gsanetwork.org
www.glsen.org
www.dallasvoice.com

Note that these are the same sites, with the exception of DallasVoice.com, that the ACLU recommends checking to determine whether your district is illegally filtering LGBT content. For more, watch the video above. If any of the LGBT sites are blocked,the ACLU recommends that you check the following anti-LGBT sites to see whether they’re also blocked:

www.NARTH.com
www.peoplecanchange.com
www.pfox.org

Dahlander said the three anti-LGBT sites are also accessible from DISD computers, which is a little scary, but hey, free speech is free speech.

Still, DISD is just one of hundreds of school districts in Texas. So if you think your district may be illegally filtering LGBT content on its computers, you can fill out the ACLU’s form by going here.

—  John Wright

ACLU to schools: Stop web filtering LGBT content

Group requests info from districts in several states, including Texas

HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH | Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The American Civil Liberties Union sent letters Monday to schools in Missouri and Michigan telling them to stop blocking students’ access to educational websites about gay, lesbian and transgender issues.

Besides the letters to the North Kansas City School District and Rochester Community Schools, the ACLU also is sending requests for information about web filtering programs to school districts in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington. The Missouri district blamed a technical problem for sites being blocked, and the Michigan district said it’s looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, the North Kansas City School District’s filtering provider Lightspeed Systems reclassified one LGBT website Monday so it would be less likely to be blocked.

The ACLU first addressed the issue in 2009 when it filed a lawsuit over access to LGBT websites in the Knoxville and Nashville school districts in Tennessee. The districts ultimately agreed to stop using filtering software to block those sites.

Since then, Block said the organization has received numerous complaints that schools are continuing to block LGBT sites, prompting the national campaign.

“Before it was a game of whack-a-mole,” said Joshua Block, the staff attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project. “You would fix it in one school district, and it would pop up in another.”

The ACLU identified the schools it is contacting by working with the Yale Law School on a campaign called “Don’t Filter Me,” which asked students to check to see if their schools are blocking content by having them look up eight LGBT sites. Five provide educational and support while the ACLU characterizes the other three as anti-gay for encouraging gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation.

Block said filtering systems are set up to block out a range of content, everything from Internet gambling and shopping sites to social media and sports sites. The ACLU had no problems blocking out sexually explicit content, but Block said that’s not the aim of the filters blocking out LGBT content.

One filter provider has a warning that pops up on students’ screens when they go to off-limits websites, telling them their search is being blocked because it’s LGBT and that their Internet usage is being monitored and logged. Block said that for a LGBT student without a supportive home environment “that’s not very helpful to say the least.”

He said that while it’s legal for parents and private schools to block LGBT material, it’s another thing when public schools do it. Schools aren’t allowed to limit access just because they disagree with a group’s viewpoint, he said.

He also said the ACLU is looking into whether the web filtering vendors know their public school customers are using their software to block material that students should be able to access. The record requests that the ACLU is sending to schools are seeking a range of details, including the types of content blocked under filtering software’s default settings.

He said getting companies to address the issue could prove easier than approaching thousands of schools.

“At a minimum the companies should warn public schools that some of the filter categories aren’t appropriate,” Block said.

Rochester Community Schools said in a statement that it is is in the process of “reviewing the filtering rules in the software” it uses from DeepNines Technologies and stressed “this is the first time this issue has come to our attention.”

Scott O’Neill, a spokesman for Netsweeper Inc., which acquired DeepNines earlier this year, said he couldn’t discuss the Rochester situation specifically, but that if a school is inappropriately blocking content that’s an issue the school should resolve internally.

North Kansas City Schools said in a news release that two LGBT websites that the ACLU said were closed are now open and accessible.

“There appears to have been a technical problem,” the statement said. “For the record, NKC Schools does not block websites or students’ access to websites on the basis of content related to the fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons.”

Amy Bennett, a spokeswoman for Lightspeed Systems, North Kansas City Schools’ filtering provider, said the company’s default settings should have allowed students to view the two sites that the ACLU said were blocked. She said the company would reach out to the district to make sure the technical problems were resolved.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Rally in support of Gay Straight Alliance outside Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi

As many as 150 people gathered outside Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi on Friday to protest the school district’s decision to deny a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance.

Flour Bluff High School student Bianca “Nikki” Peet, 17, has been trying to launch the GSA since November.

Last week, Flour Bluff Superintendent Julia Carbajal announced that the district would bar all non-curricular clubs from meeting on campus in order to avoid allowing the GSA.

The American Civil Liberties Union responded by threatening legal action against the district, saying officials are required to allow the GSA under the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.

On Friday, supporters of the GSA rallied outside the school for eight hours and presented a petition with more than 28,000 signatures to a district spokesman. A handful of anti-gay counterprotesters, led by right-wing radio host Bob Jones, gathered across the street.

At one point, according to the video report below, a pro-GSA protester tried to give a couterprotester some water. The counterprotester responded by saying he wouldn’t touch anything a gay man had, telling him to “stay away from my grandson.”

—  John Wright

HAPPENING NOW: Protest outside Corpus Christi school that won’t allow Gay Straight Alliance

From KZTV.

More than 50 people are gathered outside Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi this morning to protest the district’s refusal to allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance:

Protesters with signs walked along the sidewalk in front of the high school while a handful of counter protesters with signs gathered on the other side of Waldron Road.

Paul Rodriguez, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, called for the protest after Superintendent Julie Carbajal said the district had no plans to approve a Gay-Straight Alliance proposed by senior Bianca “Nikki” Peet, 17.

The American Civil Liberties Union is backing Peet and has called on the district to approve her club by Wednesday or possibly face a lawsuit.

—  John Wright

Removal of sexual orientation doesn’t stop bigots — or the ACLU — from opposing anti-bullying bill

Jonathan Saenz

The removal of sexual orientation from an anti-bullying bill didn’t stop anti-gay groups from opposing the measure during a Texas House committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affiars for the Plano-based Liberty Institute, told the House public education committee that even though sexual orientation and other enumerated categories were removed from Rep. Mark Strama’s HB 224, Saenz fears the categories will be restored to the measure at some point.

“It is about the gay rights, the homosexual community, the transgender community, and an effort to create special categories and special rights in our law that don’t currently exist, and really carve off protections for some groups and not others,” Saenz told the committee. “It’s not about bullying, and it’s not about solving this problem. It’s about creating new classes of people and giving special protections to some categories and not others.”

Strama said during the hearing that he has no plans to restore the enumerated categories to the bill.

“We took all those classes out so we wouldn’t have to have this discusssion,” said Strama, D-Austin. “It’s not my intention to put any of that list back in the bill. At this point I’d like to keep it the way it is if we can get this bill moving through the process.”

Representatives from Equality Texas, which supports the bill and testified in favor of it on Tuesday, have said the enumerated categories were removed to improve the bill’s chances of passage and de-politicize the issue.

Also testifying against Strama’s bill were both the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum and the normally pro-equality American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU representatives say Strama’s bill, which would allow school officials to crack down on cyberbullying that occurs off campus, creates concerns about free speech and parental rights.

The bill was left pending in the education committee. To watch video of the committee hearing, go here.

—  John Wright