Politics can sometimes hit too close to home

Russell.JamesI received a campaign solicitation this morning from a fellow prep school graduate whose husband is running for office. The generic donation solicitation e-mail, titled “Why Our Family is Running,” espoused the virtue and wisdom of her husband, Bo French, a candidate running to the right of incumbent Republican Charlie Geren of Fort Worth. (Geren’s family attended the school as well.)

Sheridan French, who graduated from high school a few years before me, describes in her e-mail how a combination of courage and faith has prepared them to enter the “difficult arena” otherwise known as politics. In a bold font indicating a clear sense of urgency, Sheridan writes, “Both Bo and I are deeply concerned about the direction of our country and strongly believe Texas is the light that can lead the way to a better America.”

I’ve been casually following French’s and other right-wing challengers’ campaigns against perceived moderate Republicans like Geren since their April announcements. French has so far remained mum on social issues, largely denouncing “radical Islam” and “burdensome taxes.” But Sheridan’s e-mail, with references to faith and family and freedom, gave me a sense of things to come. Given its veiled language, if his campaign unfolds as I expect, he’ll soon garner the support of hard-right groups, including the anti-LGBT Texas Values PAC, Texas Eagle Forum PAC and Empower Texans. He’ll pursue traditional values, extolling marriage as an institution between a man and a woman that should be kept that way by the state. Maybe he’ll oppose extending protections based on gender identity and expression and sexual orientation. (It’s part of a formula I’ve documented here and here.)

I don’t want to speculate. But I don’t want to be silent either.

Having shared teachers and hallways and classrooms and textbooks and the struggles of senior year with Mrs. French, her e-mail felt like a punch in the gut.

Even before landing my gig at the Voice, I regularly heard about and experienced suicides, bullying and hate crimes. While rarely on the receiving end of the bullying anymore, I am still reminded of high school. I remember being called a “fag,” cornered in the men’s bathroom and picked on more often than not. That type of vitriol was not representative of the student body as a whole, much less the amazing faculty and staff. And to them I am grateful.

In the ongoing struggle for acceptance, I also learned we must have courage and strength. I thank my privileged life for helping me develop enough strength to stick up for myself in even the most adverse situations. Yet I recognize not all LGBT Texans share that privilege. Not all Texans have the ability to fight back after being called a “fag” or the option of going to counseling when on the verge of suicide or, even, the confidence that comes from being out.

We all know the facts because we’ve likely all experienced them first hand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study of LGBT youth in grades 7–12 found that LGBT youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight peers. According to a 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality, 82 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school while 44 percent of them had been abused physically.

Bullying and discrimination are not confined to youth though: lesbian, gay and bisexual adults can still be fired from their jobs in 31 states. Trans people can be fired from their jobs in 39 states, and 14 percent all of reported hate crimes are LGBT-related. We still live in fear of the police, of losing our friends to self-loathing suicides, of winding up on the streets.

Which brings me to my point.

Legislation is not an end, but a means to an end. Discrimination and hate do not have to be ways of life. There are opportunities for aspiring and incumbent state lawmakers to help inch Texas toward creating an equal working environment, where you’re fired based on performance; where you feel safe enough to report a crime without fear of retribution; where you’re free to hold your girlfriend’s hand in the hallway.

But is that the way Texas can be a light to the country, as Mrs. French suggests?

Our alma mater has, since its humble beginnings, regularly pumped out leaders. We in fact were all taught to use our knowledge to change the world. Its logo, per aspera ad astra or through difficulty reach for the stars couldn’t make that any more clear.

At the end of her e-mail, before the links to the various social media accounts, she requests  prayers for resilience and strength as they go on the campaign trail. I briefly felt a sense of pride that may not be familiar to someone outside our cloistered alma mater. Hopefully in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, she’ll remember the courage of her LGBT classmates, who overcame enormous obstacles to become leaders. And hopefully, should her husband be elected, he will not make it any more difficult for any of us to reach for the stars.

—  James Russell

Participating in Day of Silence? Send us photos!

facebook_shared_DOS15_2Today is the Day of Silence, where thousands of students, faculty and staff at schools around the world take a vow of silence against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey, 85 percent of middle and high school students were verbally harassed in school in the past year and nearly two-thirds frequently heard anti-LGBT language among peers.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance will eat their lunch in silence from noon–2 p.m. in the University Center, according to the Shorthorn, the school’s student newspaper.

If your school or classmates have organized a similar event and you’d like to share any photos, please send them as an attachment to russell(at)dallasvoice(dot)com. We’ll post them on the Instant Tea blog.

—  James Russell

Uplift Education introduces new inclusive anti-bullying policy

60144_470172559670970_1080250106_nUplift Education, a network of 14 charter schools across North Texas, began the new school year with a new robust anti-bullying policy drafted in collaboration with Fairness Fort Worth and the Resource Center Dallas. David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, wrote on Facebook:

When school started at the 14 campuses of Uplift Education’s charter schools across North Texas last week, the over 12,000 students were greeted with a new, fully inclusive anti-bullying policy that includes protections against acts “motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic such as…sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.” That policy was developed with the input of Fairness Fort Worth and Resource Center. Officials from both groups met with senior leadership of Uplift in the spring of 2012, proactively suggesting that the schools adopt a policy that would specifically protect LGBTQ and other students. Uplift developed a draft policy last fall, and turned to Fairness Fort Worth and the Center for additional input and review. The new policy was adopted by the Uplift board this spring and went into effect at the beginning of the school year.

Check out this coming week’s edition of the Voice for more information on the policy.

—  James Russell

HRC endorses ‘champion for equality’ Wendy Davis for governor


The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, is endorsing state Sen. Wendy Davis in her gubernatorial bid, the organization announced Wednesday.

“Wendy Davis has been a champion for equality for all, whether it is the working poor or LGBT Texans,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “Her dedication to the underdog and commitment to fairness for all Texas families make her the right choice for Governor.”

Davis has a proven record on LGBT issues in the state Legislature.

She authored the only LGBT-inclusive version of anti-bullying legislation in 2011. That same year she co-sponsored youth suicide prevention legislation and lobbied to kill an anti-transgender marriage bill.

Last year’s session was just as impressive with her co-authoring the Senate version of a statewide workplace nondiscrimination bill and co-authoring inclusive insurance nondiscrimination legislation. And when a different version of the anti-trans marriage bill came up, she was one of only two senators to vote against it.

HRC endorsed Davis because of her “stellar record on LGBT equality” and ” history of putting Texas’ families first,” compared to anti-gay Greg Abbott, her likely opponent in November.

“Wendy Davis’ energy and courage are needed in Austin,” said Julie Johnson, a Texas attorney and HRC board member emeritus. “I’m proud to be one of the tens of thousands of HRC members in Texas, and I know that Wendy will fight for all our families when elected. Wendy has proven herself an effective leader — and that’s exactly what the people of Texas need.”

But, surprisingly, she wasn’t connected to any of the three pieces of legislation dealing with marriage equality last year, HJR 77, HJR 78 and HB 1300. Davis has never made a public statement in support of marriage equality, and when asked by Dallas Voice during a press conference about how she would approach it as governor, she replied that she would leave it in the Legislature’s hands.

Since filing for governor, Davis has publicly applauded San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Davis supported a similar ordinance in 2000 when she served on the Fort Worth City Council. But her campaign has since been silent on LGBT issues. Davis was a surprise speaker at HRC’s Black Tie Dinner in November, and she’ll be attending a Dallas LGBT fundraiser at a lesbian couple’s home this Friday, which is closed to media. Despite showing up at fundraisers and events where she appeals to LGBT voters, her campaign has refused several requests for an interview with Dallas Voice for the reason that she is too busy.

—  Dallasvoice

Wear purple Thursday and have a grape day

purple-shirtDallas has its Purple Foundation, which probably wasn’t so named as a reminder of anti-bullying, but which works for us. Anything to serve as a reminder that tomorrow, Oct. 17, is the fourth annual Spirit Day. The nationwide event is about raising awareness of bullying. And how do you do that? Well, you don’t need a ribbon or a wristband — you just need to get yourself to the far end of the rainbow.

Wearing purple on Thursday is a symbol of support for those who are bullied, who are often members of the LGBT community. Make it a shirt or some snazzy trousers or a thong if you’re an exotic dancer or a monster costume if you’re a Furry or play Barney or Tinky-Winky on TV. Anything that shows your support will be welcome.

Even businesses are getting into the act: Johnson & Johnson will be “going purple” by changing the colors on all its logos temporarily, from Motrin to Rogaine to Listerine. Corporate citizenship like that puts us in the pink … or at least, the mauve.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Texas Rangers pitcher Robbie Ross and wife pose for NOH8 photo


Texas Rangers pitcher Robbie Ross and his wife, Brittany, both Christians, posed for a NOH8 photo to speak out about how their support for LGBT people is part of their faith.

Ross wore a bracelet that said, “In Jesus name I play,” and showed off two tattoos with Bible verses Mark 9:23and James 4:10.

Ross told Outsports he and his wife wanted to how that they as Christians support the fight for LGBT equality and wanted the picture to portray that.

“Being in sports, and being around all kinds of different people, you just want to accept everyone for who they are,” Robbie told Outsports. “My wife Brittany and I are Christians, and we believe we as Christians should love everyone and show everyone love, and if this is the best way to do it, then we want to support them.”

“It genuinely breaks my heart,” Brittany said. “We’re all human, and we can all take things from the Bible and twist them however we want. You can basically take a verse from the Bible and say it’s OK to beat your wife, but the world says that’s not OK, so that’s what we go with. And I think the world is saying that gay people in the community are OK. Jesus came to love people. He never persecuted anybody. There are a lot of confusing things in the Bible, and I think if anything is confusing and it promotes hate, then you’re taking it the wrong way.

“Being gay shouldn’t just be tolerated, it should be celebrated that people can embody who they truly are,” Brittany added. “I think that’s the main thing.”

The Texas Rangers haven’t always been supportive. A homophobic tweet last year sparked controversy. Before that, the team was supposedly going to shoot an “It Gets Better” video for LGBT youth, but ended up making an anti-bullying PSA without mentioning LGBT issues.

—  Dallasvoice

Tyler Clementi’s roommate found guilty by N.J. jury of 15 counts, including hate crime

Tyler Clementi

The roommate of a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after a video of him kissing a man in his dorm room surfaced on the Internet was convicted of all 15 counts against him Friday.

Dharun Ravi, 20, was convicted of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation based on sexual orientation after his gay roommate Tyler Clementi committed suicide in 2010 after the video Ravi recorded with his webcam surfaced. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge, and his suicide made national headlines and began an anti-bullying moment for the LGBT community.

While Ravi was not charged with Clementi’s death and the jury found him not guilty on subparts of the charges, he was found guilty of all 15 counts.

The hate crime of bias intimidation based on sexual orientation carries a sentence of up to 10 years, but the Associated Press reports that he will most likely get a combined 10-year sentence May 21.

Clementi’s father spoke to the younger generation at a press conference after the verdict, according to The Associated Press:

At a news conference, father Joe Clementi advised young people: “You’re going to meet a lot of people in your life. Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean you have to work against them.”

A statement from Rutgers says “this sad incident should make us all pause to recognize the importance of civility and mutual respect.”

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office says it would pursue such a case again even if the victim hadn’t died.

—  Dallasvoice

HISD Trustee Eastman to hold community meeting on anti-bullying efforts

Anna Eastman

HISD Trustee Anna Eastman

Houston Independent School District Trustee Anna Eastman has announced a special meeting for constituents in her District I to discuss anti-bullying programs currently implemented in HISD on Tuesday, February 7. The meeting, at Reagan High School (413 E 13th), coincides with HISD’s Anti-Bullying Awareness Week.

Guests include Kim A. Case of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Martin B. Cominsky of the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Fisher of +Works, a national, Houston-based anti-bullying organization.

Eastman has been on the forefront of anti-bullying efforts in HISD since joining the board of trustees in 2009, helping push through actions by the board last summer that protect students from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

—  admin

Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tournament at Axiom

Aces high

Hope for Peace and Justice teams up with Pocket Rockets tonight for their Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tourney and mixer. With over $400 in prizes, the event benefits the anti-bullying campaign, the Safe Schools Program. Raffles, silent auction, drinks and food make the evening an event. And don’t worry. Non-poker players are just as welcome. Hey, it is a mixer, also.

DEETS: Axiom Sushi Lounge,  4123 Cedar Springs Road. 6:30 p.m. PocketRocketsDallas.com

—  Rich Lopez

Iconic LGBT activist Ray Hill files for Texas House seat

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

Long time Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill filed paperwork this week to run for the 147th Texas House seat against incumbent Garnet Coleman, D – Houston. The iconic (and iconoclastic) Hill said that he and Coleman agree on many issues but that he had “some issues  that aren’t on the table in Austin.”

Specifically Hill has concerns with the legislature’s approach to criminal justice issues. “The Texas legislature is a serial world class red-necking competition,” says Hill. “What they are doing on criminal justice is wrong and it doesn’t work… we need a serious rethink.”

Coleman has a strong history of supporting LGBT legislation. For the last three sessions he has attempted to pass anti-bullying legislation that would require school districts to report instances of bullying using an enumerated list of motivating characteristics that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, he has also filed legislation to remove the the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas penal code (a law that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), to equalize age of consent laws in Texas and to add gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crime law. In the 82nd legislature earlier this year Coleman authored seven pieces of legislation designed to create greater equality for LGBT people, including the first ever filing of legislation to standardize change of gender marker procedures for the transgender community and the first effort to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition against marriage equality.

Hill recognizes Coleman’s historic contributions, “The incumbent and I agree on a lot of issues,” says Hill, “but we don’t tell young gay people ‘if you work real hard and go to school and do your best you can grow up to have straight friends in Austin who like you.’ No, we tell them ‘if you work hard they can grow up to be Mayor of Houston, or City Supervisor of San Francisco.’”

When asked why the community would be better served by him than Coleman, a 20 year legislative veteran, Hill replies “I understand how government works. A freshman legislator can’t do anything more than irritate, but that’s about all any member of the minority party can do. On that level the incumbent and I are on the same level… I think we need somebody obnoxious [in the legislature] who’s going to purposefully rub the cat hair the wrong direction.”

Since being elected to the legislature for the first time in 1992 Coleman has been unopposed in 5 of his 9 primary reelection bids. No primary challenger to Coleman has pulled more than 21% of the vote.

—  admin