North Carolina has until Monday to repeal or lose millions


Gov. Pat McCrory

Department of Justice determines North Carolina’s HB2 violates the Civil Rights Act and Title IX. They want a determination by Monday, May 9.

HB2 is the law that requires transmen to use ladies rooms and transwomen to use a men’s room and stopped a Charlotte nondiscrimination law from going into effect.

Although the legislature passed the law in one day during a special session, the repeal legislation is going to drag through the current session. Leaders in the legislature said they will not meet the Justice Department’s Monday deadline.

In an interview with the Charlotte News & Observer, Gov. Pat McCrory said, “This is no longer just a North Carolina issue.”

He said every state is going to have to comply with a new definition of gender for locker room, shower and bathroom facilities. He called it Washington overreach and blamed Houston’s HERO law on creating the controversy.

The state is in danger of losing millions of federal dollars if it doesn’t repeal the law. Here’s the interview the Charlotte News & Observer did with McCrory:

—  David Taffet

Ban people who pose a threat from public restrooms

Craig  Senate

Sen. Larry Craig

On Feb. 4, 1981, Rep. Jon Hinson (R-Miss.) was arrested and charged with sodomy in a public men’s room in the Longworth House Office Building. In 1976, he was charged with committing an obscene act at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Hinson was married.

Rep. Bob Allen (R-Fla.) was convicted of soliciting sex in a park bathroom in 2007. He offered an undercover officer $20 to perform oral sex. Allen maintained his innocence although he was fined $250 and given six months probation. He consistently voted against any LGBT legislation.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was caught in an airport bathroom soliciting sex in 2007 and was arrested for lewd conduct. Craig was named in a book by Henry Vinson as a frequent customer of his male prostitution ring. His wife stood by his side each time he denied the charges.

And the biggest brain Texas ever sent to Congress, Louie Gohmert, (R-Tyler) said, “in the seventh grade if the law had been that all I had to do was say, ‘I’m a girl,’ and I got to go into the girls’ restroom, I don’t know if I could’ve withstood the temptation just to get educated back in those days.”

Of course, sex in bathrooms aren’t the only things anti-gay Republicans in Congress have been caught doing.

Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Virg.) was caught on tape in 2004 soliciting sex from a male prostitute.

Rep. David Dreier, (R-Calif.) voted against a number of gay rights proposals and then was outed in 2004 for having a relationship with his male chief of staff .

Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned his House seat in 2006 after sending sexually explicit e-mails to teenage male congressional pages.

But, of course, it’s bathroom safety we’re concerned with.

So let’s compare this record from Congress with arrests of transgender people in bathrooms. Here’s a complete list of crimes committed by trans folk in public restrooms:

Ummmm …. sorry, I got nothing. Probably because it’s never happened.

So shouldn’t North Carolina and Mississippi change their laws to protect us in bathrooms by banning congressional Republicans from using public restrooms? Or at least insist businesses and public accommodations provide separate facilities for those people?

—  David Taffet

Missouri discrimination bill stalled in committee


Missouri Capitol

A bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people in Missouri has stalled in committee, according to the Kansas City Star.

The bill would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that voters would decide in November.

While the story doesn’t refer to whats’s going on in North Carolina or Mississippi as a result of anti-LGBT discrimination bills passed in those states, boycotts by businesses and entertainers have taken their toll and are making lawmakers in other states wary of going down the same path.

Businesses around the state formed a group called Missouri Competes to denounce discriminatory legislation. In Texas, a group called Texas Competes formed more than a year ago but so far has fewer than 1,000 businesses signed on. Equality Texas President Steve Rudner said earlier this week the goal for Texas Competes is 2,000 businesses before the Texas legislature meets next year.

Missouri Competes kicked off with 100 companies including Google Fiber, Pfizer, MasterCard and Monsanto signing an anti-discrimination pledge.

Amendments to the bill would limit protections to churches and clergy, who are already protected under federal law, and remove religious protections for private companies.

—  David Taffet

Threats turn real in N.C.


Gov. Pat McCrory

PayPal has announced it will not open a new global operations center in North Carolina because of the state’s new LGBT discrimination law, according to NBC Charlotte-affiliate WCNC.

The company announced plans for the new facility just a few weeks ago. The center was to have been located in Charlotte, which had just passed a nondiscrimination ordinance, and would have employed 400. After that city passed its new law, the legislature met in special session and passed a law that would force trans men to use ladies restrooms and allow any business claiming “deeply held religious beliefs” to fire or refuse to do business with an LGBT person.

A number of companies threatened to withhold business from the state after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law. Cities, states and a number of companies limited or forbade travel to the state.

PayPal has become the first company to withdraw business and jobs from North Carolina.

—  David Taffet

Georgia gov vetoes discriminatory bill and Lambda Legal sues North Carolina


Gov. Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a discriminatory “religious protection” bill that’s been sitting on his desk for several weeks after passing both houses of the Georgia legislature.

“This is about the character of our state and our people,” Deal said. “Georgia is a welcoming state full of kind and generous people.”

Well, actually it was about money. The state’s major corporations — OK, not Chik-fil-A — but the state’s other major corporations and employers threatened to pull business from the state. Disney, for example, which does quite a bit of filming in the state, said it would move production elsewhere.

“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to,” Deal said according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”

North Carolina

Lambda Legal is representing Equality North Carolina in a suit against that state’s new anti-LGBT law, House Bill 2, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this month.

Lambda Legal represents Joaquín Carcaño and Payton Grey McGarry, who are trans, and a lesbian named Angela Gilmore.

“This outrageous new law targets them for no reason other than prejudice and puts them at risk every day for simply living their lives — for going to work and school,” Lambda Legal Legal Director Jon Davidson wrote in a press release. “Let’s be clear: HB2 violates the constitution and federal law.”

Once this gets to the Supreme Court, the discriminatory law will be thrown out and the LGBT community will be given more rights than the North Carolina legislature ever thought of taking away. That will take several years. In the mean time, I reached out to Lambda Legal to find out if they’ll be filing an injunction preventing the law from going into effect while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

—  David Taffet

North Carolina’s new homophobic travel ad

Screen shot 2016-03-25 at 2.49.00 PMEarlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law one of the most oppressive anti-LGBT bills we’ve seen. The new law tells people where to pee and invalidates any of those pesky equality ordinances the state’s municipalities might dare to pass. (This means the ordinance recently passed in Charlotte is gone.)

Now the state, I think it’s the state, well maybe not … released a new homo-free tourism commercial.

—  David Taffet

Petition to support gay ambassador needs your signature


Ambassador James Brewster

Anti-gay forces are circulating a White House petition to have President Barack Obama recall James Brewster as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Their only objection to Brewster is that he is gay.

A petition has to get at least 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House, and the anti-Brewster petition already has about 25,000.

But there’s a pro-Brewster petition that’s been started that only has 2,300 signatures as of this writing. Click here to sign the petition supporting Brewster. You must confirm your signature on the petition by clicking a link in a confirmation email.

Since coming into office, Obama has named a number of gay diplomats. The year the president appointed Brewster, State Department officials assigned four other gay diplomats to posts abroad, but they all went to gay-friendly countries in northern Europe.

The year Obama took office — 2009 — his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, changed the rules for gay and lesbian diplomats assigned overseas. Previously, a same-sex partner could live at the embassy with his or her spouse. However, things like moving expenses were not covered for the spouse. The cost of moving furniture, for example, was split in half if they were moving as a couple. The diplomat’s dog was covered. But the diplomat’s spouse was not.

Since 2008, spouses have been treated equally, whether they are same sex or opposite sex.

—  David Taffet

Paxton appoints Liberty Institute homophobe Assistant AG


Jeff Mateer

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has appointed Jeff Mateer as Texas’ first assistant attorney general. Mateer replaces Chip Roy, who left the AG’s Office to join Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

Mateer was chief counsel for the Plano-based First Liberty Institute, a right-wing group that has been fighting LGBT rights in Texas for years.

Liberty Institute fought the first same-sex divorce case in Texas and, rather than allow the couple to divorce quickly, tied the case up in court for five years. Liberty Institute is the place  all those homophobic florists and cake bakers who don’t want to cater a same-sex wedding can go to find attorneys who will defend them.

Mateer has called the criminal charges pending against Paxton frivolous.

Of note is this endorsement in Paxton’s announcement from another discredited crony:

Edwin Meese, 75th Attorney General of the United States, said, “Having worked with Jeff Mateer on major legal issues, I am pleased to learn that he is joining Ken Paxton’s fine staff, where I know he will do an excellent job.”

Meese was the discredited attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. In 1988, he abruptly resigned from office after a special prosecutor decided not to indict him for actions he took as a government official that benefited a longtime friend, E. Robert Wallach, by sending lucrative contracts to his company Wedtech. Wallach was indicted for racketeering, conspiracy and fraud.

—  David Taffet


James Laster says he wants to make amends to those he hurt



DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

“It took 45 seconds to throw away eight years of my life,” 36-year-old James Laster said, speaking through a glass partition in the visitor’s building at the Ramsey Unit prison in Rosharon. Laster is serving an eight-year sentence at the Texas prison unit south of Houston after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the 2011 gay-bashing attack on Burke Burnett in Reno, Texas, just outside Paris.

Laster said he keeps himself busy in jail. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning and does 300-400 pushups. After breakfast, he works as a teacher’s aide in cabinetmakers class.
“I’m good at it,” he said.

LasterHe said he enjoys showing others who’ve never touched a skill saw or a drill how to use them to build furniture. He called his job therapeutic.

Later in the day Laster said he works on his associate’s degree. He’s taking four classes this semester — government, history, geology and English. After dinner he spends time out in the rec yard, reads, does homework and writes. He has a TV in his cell, but said he rarely has time to watch it.

Laster was charged with three counts of aggravated assault after the October 2011 attack. He pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (his hands and feet).

Burnett said everyone at the party they were attending that night was drunk. He said that when a fight broke out, several people — including Laster — attacked him, leaving him with cuts on his face, neck and arms from a broken bottle, contusions and burns resulting from when he was thrown or fell on a burning 55-barrel drum used to heat the barn.

Laster takes exception to some of the claims, saying Burnett wasn’t thrown onto a bonfire, as some news outlets reported, but fell on the burning drum, and that at least some of what police called stab wounds were from Burnett falling on his own broken beer bottle.

But Laster willingly takes responsibility for his part in the attack on Burnett, acknowledging that as he hit and kicked Burnett, he also called him “faggot,” which led to hate crime charges being leveled.

Another attacker, Micky Joe Smith, who was 25 at the time, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Charges were dropped against a third man, Daniel Martin, after Laster told police Martin had already left the party when the fight broke out. Burnett said he remembers more than two people attacking him, but no one else was charged.

Laster wrote to Dallas Voice in January. In his letter, he said he wanted to make amends to the LGBT community. We get letters from inmates all the time, but there was something introspective and interesting about Laster’s missing. Not only was his contact with us timely, coming as it did within months of a rash of attacks on gay men in

Oak Lawn last fall, he also seemed to be taking responsibility for his actions. So I arranged a visit with him through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The prison wasn’t easy to find. Google maps sent me to the wrong place — or more accurately, the map stops about four miles short of the prison’s location. But I was able to find someone who gave me accurate directions.

Laster was a little rattled as he came into the meeting room and sat behind a partition of glass and metal mesh. A guard had gotten him out of his class and brought him to the warden’s office before escorting him to our meeting. He said he’s trying to stay out of trouble, so a trip to the warden’s office can be quite upsetting.

As a result, we were both a little anxious as we began to chat and started by just introducing ourselves to each other.

“I love to write,” he told me. “If I’m frustrated, I can get a pen and paper out. Sometimes I write five pages.”

In part, he said, his writing is what got him to Ramsey Unit. He began taking classes before being moved to the South Texas location. Ramsey Unit is the only prison in the Texas penal system that not only allows a student to get an associate’s degree, but lets them advance their education to earn bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees.

Several hundred inmates at the unit are taking classes, Laster said. After he’s released, he’ll be responsible for reimbursing the state for his tuition.

Laster insists he’s not the same person he was when he entered prison. Burnett, reading Laster’s first letter, agreed, saying he didn’t recognize him from before, either.

“For the first two years, they punished me,” Laster said about his current sentence. “Now, I choose to try to do something productive and become a better person.”

He was first incarcerated in a prison near Palestine, where he described the treatment of gays and child molesters and said, “You see how they’re treated. You see the mentality. It begins to mold you.” Then, he said, he decided he was going to act like the kind of person he wanted to be treated as, and his behavior paid off.


James Laster, above, sits behind a glass partition during the interview for this article. Burke Burnett, here, seen just after he was attacked.

Laster said he’s thankful to be at Ramsey, where fighting isn’t tolerated. He said prisoners who are repeatedly caught in fights find themselves on a bus for another unit.

How did he get here?
When Laster was 15, his mother died. He had no relationship with his father, at the time, and no place to go. Child Protective Services had no options for him.

So some friends took him in and that’s when he got involved in dealing drugs. Within a few months, Laster was arrested for possession with intent to distribute and put into the juvenile detention system, where he was housed with violent prisoners.

“There should be some alternative for non-violent crimes,” Laster said of his first incarceration. “The state surrounded me with violence. All they did was prepare me for this” future of crime and violence.

But Laster is quick to stress that he isn’t trying to dodge responsibility for his actions. “That’s not an excuse, but an explanation,” he said of his assessment of juvenile detention.

When he was released from Texas Youth Commission, Laster lived first in a group home in Marshall and then with his sister, who’s less than a year older than he is. He described his work record outside of prison as spotty, and noted that he spent time in jail more than once, and when he was out, he often supported himself by selling drugs.

In his mid-twenties, Laster had a son, gaining full custody when the child was 18 months old. Laster raised his son himself — right up until the time his son was 7 and Laster was arrested for the attack on Burnett.

His son is still a source of great pride for Laster, whose eyes twinkle as he talks about his boy. “I taught him how to read and write,” he said. “He plays the trombone. He’s in National Honor Society and he’s extremely smart.”

Laster described what he called the best memory of his life — sitting with his son on the sofa, eating cookies and watching Sponge Bob Squarepants — before remorsefully acknowledging that he threw that away. “I chose this [violence and a prison sentence] over my son,” he said.

Laster gets to talk to his son on the phone from prison, but not often enough, he said. Prisoners can only call approved numbers, which must be land lines or cell phones that are billed monthly. His ex has a cell she pays monthly, so that number can’t be on his approved list. That means he only gets to talk with his son when the boy visits Laster’s aunt.

Laster recalled one instance when his son once asked him, “Why are you in there?”

“I told him I was at a party,” Laster said. “I told him I made a very foolish decision and I assaulted someone. I hurt this guy.”

“How hard did you hurt him?” his son asked.

“Pretty bad,” he said, adding that he apologized to his son for not being there for him.

Laster said his son was always a good kid he never had to spank, which means his son has “never seen the violent side of me.” That makes him happy, Laster said, because his violent side scares even him.

“One of the worst feelings in the world is not being in control,” he said. “I don’t like that I’m subject to hurt someone.”

He said that violent side only comes out when he’s drunk or high and he wishes there was counseling available. Since there isn’t, he has taken a course in prison called Christians Against Substance Abuse. But every time they were about to talk about an issue, like anger, the subject changed to the Bible, and since, Laster said, he’s not particularly religious, those classes didn’t help him very much

But classes did encourage him to read some self-help books that were helpful.

“I was mad at myself, at everyone else, at the system,” Laster said of what he has learned about himself. “My go-to feeling was, ‘I don’t care.’”

He described the night of the attack as one that began badly and quickly got worse. Already drunk, he got a ride to the party rather than drive himself. At one point he left and says now he wishes he hadn’t returned.

What’s next?

Laster had his first parole hearing last year. He described it as 10 minutes with people who wouldn’t be voting on whether to grant him parole.

He said they asked him: “Why did you stab this person so many times?” Laster disputed that characterization, telling them that he was in prison for assault with his hands and feet. But, he noted, the parole board sees all the charges as well as his full criminal history, which includes earlier drug charges and two DWIs.

Laster insists he’s planning to remain sober. That’s why, when he’s released, he doesn’t want to return to Paris where he’d be surrounded by people who are still doing drugs.

“My sobriety is very important to me,” he said several times during our visit.

In prison, among other skills, Laster said he has learned welding and hopes to find a job in that field when he is released. He also hopes to make amends to his son for not being there for him during the years he was locked up.

If he serves his entire sentence, Laster will remain in prison until Nov. 2, 2019.

Final words
Before I left Dallas, I asked Burnett if he had a message for Laster. He said nothing in particular he wanted me to relay, but told me I could tell Laster anything I thought was appropriate.

So I told Laster that after the sentencing, Burnett took a year to recover physically and emotionally, but now he’s living near Dallas, has done a lot of good in the community helping other attack victims and has a very happy life.

During the two hours we spoke, Laster repeated that he took full responsibility for his actions, and stressed that he didn’t want anything I wrote to sound like he was making excuses.

So, just before I left the prison, I asked Laster if he had a message for Burnett. Tears came to his eyes, and he thought for a moment.

“I apologize,” he said.

He tried to find additional words, then shook his head.

“Tell him I apologize.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2016.

—  David Taffet

Jeffress says he can’t endorse Trump — as he endorses him

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas

First Baptist Church Pastor Robert Jeffress

Churches and their pastors can’t endorse political candidates without risking losing their tax exempt status. But that didn’t stop the So-Called-Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas megachurch First Baptist, from making sure that everyone knows Donald Trump is his man. (See video below.)

Jeffress, who wasted no time making a name for himself as an anti-gay crusader when he moved to Dallas from Wichita Falls in 2008, flew to Iowa over the weekend to introduce the GOP’s leading presidential contender at an appearance at Dordt College. (This is at least the second time Jeffress has introduced Trump; he also did so at a rally in September at the American Airlines Center. And as the Dallas Morning News reported here, later in September, Jeffress joined Kenneth Copeland and some other right-wing hatemongers at a gathering at Trump Tower in New York City to lay hands on The Donald “in prayer.”)

In Iowa, Jeffress acknowledged the limitations placed on pastors when it comes to politics, but then continued on with what basically amounted to a “screw that, I am endorsing Trump anyway” moment: “Although as a pastor I cannot officially endorse a candidate, I want you to know I would not be here this morning if I were not absolutely convinced that Donald Trump would make a great president of the United States,” Jeffress said.

He also warned that only Trump could save the U.S. from its current “death spiral,” and that the country would not survive “another third term of Barack Obama in the form of” Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

He wound up the intro by describing Trump as “a great leader, a great visionary and a great American.”

Now, I am not endorsing any candidate for president. But I will say this, if the idea of a candidate that gets Robert Jeffress’ backing scares you — and it should — then you need to make sure you are registered, and you need to MAKE SURE YOU VOTE.

—  Tammye Nash