Stonewall Dems gather in Austin to talk pro-equality strategy in Texas

Former Congressman Barney Frank addresses the crowd during the Equality Forward Summit in Austin on April 6. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

AUSTIN — Texas Stonewall Democrats met in Austin this weekend for the first Equality Forward Summit to discuss how to gain support for pro-equality measures and ultimately turn Texas blue.

The event was the first collaborative effort between the Texas Democratic Party and the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus and drew about 150 people for the weekend’s workshops.

About 250 people, many standing, packed a room at the Hilton Austin Airport hotel after a day of workshops on Saturday to hear former Congressman Barney Frank speak about his time in office and the change he expects in the future.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker introduced Frank, during which she said she still considers herself an activist and has since learned of a gay agenda.

“I don’t know of any gay agenda, but I have been doing this long enough that we do have a gay agenda,” Parker said. “Our gay agenda is the ability to have jobs that we love, to support the families that we care about and to pay taxes.”

She said No. 2 on the gay agenda was serving openly in the military, which has been accomplished, No. 3 is feeling safe in schools and being free from bullying, and No. 4 is the freedom to marry.

Parker said all of the items on the list will gain support from Texas votes but it is Stonewall and the state party’s job to get that message out.

“But just as we as Democrats have a message that will resonate in Texas, the GLBT community has that same agenda that will resonate across Texas,” she said. “And when we openly advocate for that agenda, I’m standing here as proof that being who we are, being open and honest, we can win at the ballot box.”

—  Dallasvoice

Marc Veasey visits Stonewall Dems; Barney Frank to keynote state summit

Barney Frank

Rep. Barney Frank

Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey will be one of three featured speakers at Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ monthly meeting on Tuesday night. Veasey, of course, represents the newly created District 33 that stretches from South Fort Worth to North Oak Cliff.

Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso, who represents North Oak Cliff and is up for re-election in May, and Equality Texas field organizer Daniel Williams will also speak. Williams will talk about pending legislation in the current session and the upcoming March 11 Lobby Day.

Stonewall Democrats also announced more details about their statewide Equality Forward Summit April 5-7 in Austin. This is the third biennial statewide meeting the organization has held.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker will attend and introduce keynote speaker Barney Frank, the openly gay former U.S. congressman from Massachusetts. In 1998, Frank founded National Stonewall Democrats, which is currently on hiatus. Frank retired from Congress at the end of 2012.

Other speakers at the summit will include Jamie Citron, director of the Obama campaign’s LGBT Leadership Council and LGBT Vote; State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, the first LGBT member of the Texas Legislature since Glen Maxey; Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith; and Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa.

Locally, on March 9, Dallas Stonewall’s Endorsement Committee will hold its candidate screening for municipal elections at Resource Center Dallas. Jeff Strater chairs the committee. In order to vote at the screening meeting, members must be current dues payers at least 30 days in advance of the vote.

Stonewall monthly meeting Ojeda’s Restaurant, 4617 Maple Ave. Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.

—  David Taffet

Barney Frank visits Cathedral of Hope, addresses group from Youth First Texas

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, from left, the Rev. Jo Hudson and Rep. Barney Frank are shown at the Cathedral of Hope’s Interfaith Peace Chapel on Monday.

Retiring Rep. Barney Frank toured Cathedral of Hope and met with members of Youth First Texas for an hour-long discussion at the Interfaith Peace Chapel on Monday.

Frank was in town for a fundraiser for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

“I’m not campaigning myself this year,” Frank said. “And Eddie Bernice Johnson is enormously respected in Congress.”

Frank predicted that within 20 years, there will be full LGBT equality. He said several things have changed recently paving the way. States that have passed marriage equality have seen no impact on anyone else’s marriage. The head of the Marine Corps who opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” said he was wrong and that repeal had no negative impact the military. And younger people are less likely to oppose equality and their support should continue as they age.

He said that the anti-LGBT faction has tried to divide the African-American caucus to stop their support of LGBT equality.

But Rep. Johnson said, “We know what it’s like to be treated unfairly.”

Frank said the black caucus is better on LGBT issues than the gay members.

“Not the openly gay members,” he said, politely declining to name any of his colleagues as closeted.

—  David Taffet

Barney Frank to bid farewell to Dallas at fundraiser for Eddie Bernice Johnson

frank.barney

Barney Frank

Fresh off his controversial comments comparing Log Cabin Republicans to “Uncle Toms,” gay Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., will be in Dallas next month for a farewell hosted by the Human Rights Campaign’s DFW Federal Club.

Frank, who’s been in Congress since 1981, is retiring at the end of this year.

The farewell will be Monday, Oct. 22 at the Turtle Creek residence of Eric Johnson and Dr. Mark Parker. The event will serve as a fundraiser for the re-election campaign of Dallas Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who faces faces Republican Travis Washington Jr. and Libertarian Ed Rankin in the November election.

Other hosts for Frank’s farewell are Vanessa Benavides, Deiadra Burns, Anne Faye, Jennifer Guyot-Wallace, Tracey Guyot-Wallace, Craig McCartney, Sonja McGill, Erin Moore, Jay Narey, Omar Narveaz, James Nowlin, Samuel Sanchez, Cathy Scalise, Jeff Strater and Dan Waldmann.

The event runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the cost is $250 per person. There will also be a private reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m. for $1,000.

RSVP by email to political@hrcdfw.org

—  John Wright

WATCH: Barney Frank on coming out

Via ThinkProgress, above is a clip of Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., talking about his decision to come out as gay in 1987, during a press conference today where he announced that he won’t seek re-election next year. According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Frank was the second openly gay person to serve in Congress. The first was Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., who came out in 1983 while in office. Via Pam’s House Blend, below is the full written statement sent out by Frank’s office today:

I will not be a candidate for reelection to the House of Representatives in 2012.

I began to think about retirement last year, as we were completing passage of the financial reform bill. I have enjoyed—indeed been enormously honored—by the chance to represent others in Congress and the State Legislature, but there are other things I hope to do before my career ends. Specifically, I have for several years been thinking about writing, and while there are people who are able to combine serious writing with full-time jobs, my susceptibility to distraction when faced with a blank screen makes that impossible.

In 2010, after the bill was signed into law, I had tentatively decided to make this my last term. The end of next year will mark 40 years during which time I have held elected office and a period of 45 years since I first went to work in government full time as an aide to Mayor Kevin White in late 1967.

But with the election of a conservative majority in the House, I decided that my commitment to the public policies for which I have fought for 45 years required me to run for one more term. I was—and am—concerned about right-wing assaults on the financial reform bill, especially since we are now in a very critical period when the bill is in the process of implementation. In addition, recognizing that there is a need for us to do long-term deficit reduction, I was—and am—determined to do everything possible to make sure that substantial reduction in our excessive overseas military commitments forms a significant part of the savings over the next 10 years.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Barney Frank to retire

Rep. Barney Frank

Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., is expected to announce his retirement today.

Frank is the longest serving of four openly gay members of the U.S. House. The other three are Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and David Cicilline, D-R.I.

Frank will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. Eastern time today in Newton, Mass., to announce that he won’t seek re-election in 2012, according to multiple reports.

Frank, 71, is the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. He was first elected in 1980.

The Boston Globe reports that a major factor in Frank’s decision to retire was the new district in which he would have had to run next year.

—  John Wright

Stonewall Archives to honor Joel Burns

Joel Burns

Officials with the Stonewall National Museum and Archives announced today that they will be presenting Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns with the Stonewall Spirit of Pride Award at the museum’s Our Stars event Nov. 11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Burns is being honored for his efforts as part of the It Gets Better campaign to fight bullying and LGBT teen suicide, which began in October last year when he delivered a tearful speech during a council meeting about his own experiences as a bullied teen and the day he contemplated suicide.

Video of Burns’ speech went viral on YouTube, receiving more than 2.6 million views.

Burns will also be speaking Saturday at the annual award program for LEAGUE, the LGBT employee group at AT&T, and on Sunday, Sept. 18, he will be honorary grand marshal in the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade — a fitting choice since the theme for this year’s parade is “It Only Gets Better.”

The Stonewall museum and archives will also be honoring pioneering lesbian politician Elaine Noble at the Our Stars event, presenting her with the Heritage of Pride Award. Noble made history in 1975 as the first openly gay person in the U.S. to be elected to a state legislature.

Previous winners of the Heritage of Pride Award include legendary LGBT activist Barbara Gittings and openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Burns is the first person to receive the Spirit of Pride Award.

—  admin

Frank to introduce ENDA; odds of passage slim

Federal ban on anti-LGBT job bias faces uphill climb in GOP-led House

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank today announced he would soon re-introduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), characterizing it as “winnable.”

But the bill, which seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by employers, is unlikely to move during the current Congressional session — primarily because the Republican Party controls the House.

The bill is typically assigned to the House Committee on Education and Labor, now chaired by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. In 2009, during a committee hearing on the bill, Kline said his many concerns about the bill in previous years had “not been alleviated” by its recent rewrite.

Between 2007 and 2009, the bill added “gender identity” and also provided exemptions for religious organizations.

Diego Sanchez, a spokesman for Frank, said the language in this year’s bill is “exactly” as the one from last Congressional session.

The bill reads, “This Act shall not apply to a corporation, association, educational institution, or society that is exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of title VII of the Civil 23 Rights Acts of 1964 … ”

Kline said back then that ENDA “creates an entirely new protected class that is vaguely defined and often subjective.” Specifically, he objected to the language of the bill prohibiting discrimination based on “perceived sexual orientation.”

“Attempting to legislate individual perceptions is truly uncharted territory,” said Kline, “and it does not take a legal scholar to recognize that such vaguely defined protections will lead to an explosion in litigation and inconsistent judicial decisions.”

Kline also said he thought legislators should consider the “consequences” ENDA might have on “religious and family-based organizations.”

A press person for Kline’s committee office did not return a call, but given that the language of the bill has not changed since 2009, there seems little likelihood that Kline will enable a committee hearing or vote on the bill this session.

Still, supporters of the measure say it’s important to have the bill in the Congressional hopper, as it provides a tool around which supporters can lobby legislators to support the measure in a future session.

Julie Edwards, a spokeswoman for Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said today that Merkley is working with his fellow co-sponsors to prepare ENDA for re-introduction there “in the next few weeks.”

The Senate is still controlled by Democrats and the bill received a hearing in the last session. But it did not get a vote in committee.

The last time ENDA got a vote in the Senate was 1996, when it came within one vote of passage. The Senate was controlled then by Republicans.

A version of ENDA passed the House in 2007.

But in both the House and Senate votes, the version of ENDA on the floor was one that included only sexual orientation, not gender identity.

By 2009, the LGBT community of organizations stood firm to insist that ENDA also include a prohibition on discrimination based on gender identity. And in 2009 as well as this year, ENDA does include both.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund issued a press release Wednesday, saying that 47 percent of transgender people surveyed reported being fired or denied a job because they are transgender.

The “gender identity” language would protect not just people who are transitioning from one sex to another, but also those whose outward appearance does not conform with common expectations for their gender. The language of the bill defines gender identity as: “gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

A press release from Frank’s office noted that there are no laws in 29 states to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in employment and none in 38 states to prohibit gender identity discrimination.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued a statement, pitching ENDA as a jobs bill, an appeal that would presumably attract more Republican support.

“Passing ENDA is a key element of making sure all Americans can get back to work and get our country moving again,” said Solmonese.

Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart took a similar approach, saying, “With ENDA now re-introduced, it is time for Congress to make good on its promise to focus on the top priority of all Americans — good jobs and economic security.”

Republicans have said publicly they want to focus on jobs.

But Republicans have also indicated they want broad exemptions for religious organizations, and that is something that does not set well for many supporters of ENDA.

In a little bit of intrigue, Frank’s press release on Tuesday and today indicated he would have an important announcement concerning ENDA. That prompted many people to expect Frank would actually introduce the bill Wednesday. But instead, he said he would try to sign up additional co-sponsors for the legislation before introducing the bill.

Interestingly, too, two of the House’s four openly gay members — Reps. Tammy Baldwin and David Cicilline — were not listed in Frank’s press release and did not attend the press conference. But spokespersons in both offices said the issue was one of scheduling and that both intend to co-sponsor the bill.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Bills to repeal DOMA introduced in House, Senate

Legislation seeking to overturn 1996 law has little chance of passage, but it arrives to a changing climate on same-sex marriage

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

When U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in 2009, he conceded there was little chance for passage in the 111th Congress. Absent from the 102 co-sponsors that year was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the most veteran and influential of the three openly gay members of Congress. He said the bill had “zero” chance of passage. Also missing was then-House Speaker Nancy Peolsi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as co-sponsors, and there was no companion bill in the Senate.

Clearly, something’s changed.

When Nadler reintroduced his bill to the 112th Congress this morning, Frank, Pelosi, and Hoyer were among its 108 co-sponsors.

And the Nadler bill this year is joined by a first-ever companion bill in the Senate, introduced today by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Christopher Coons of Delaware, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

What has not changed is the content of the legislation. The new Respect for Marriage Act is “precisely the same” as the last one, noted Nadler spokesman Ilan Kayatsky.

The measures seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA, enacted in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing the legally secured marriages of same-sex couples and provides for states to ignore those marriages as well.

And there is still little likelihood of passage — at least in the Republican-controlled House.

But the legislation arrives to a political climate concerning same-sex marriage that is clearly changing.

The latest independent poll, completed March 1 and involving 1,504 adults nationally, shows –once again— a new high in support for allowing gays to marry. While 46 percent told the Pew Research Center they oppose allowing gays to marry, 45 percent said they favor doing so –a two-point jump in the space of six months. (Nine percent said they were unsure. The margin of error was plus or minus three points.)

A poll sponsored last week by the Human Rights Campaign found that 51 percent oppose DOMA, 34 percent favor it, and 15 percent had no opinion. When asked whether legally married gay couples should be able to obtain specific federal benefits provided to straight couples, 60 percent supported gay spouses being able to obtain Social Security benefits and 58 percent supported health coverage for federal employees’ same-sex spouses.

The HRC poll gave its respondents — 800 registered voters nationwide — two statements and asked which came closer to their point of view about the House decision to defend DOMA in federal court. One choice was: the move diverts taxpayer money to a divisive issue at a time Congress should be focusing on creating jobs and cutting the deficit. The other choice was that Congress was forced to defend the law after President Obama’s administration “failed to do so.” Fifty-four percent chose the former, and 32 percent chose the latter. (The remainder said Neither, Both, or did not respond.)

In a related development, bills were introduced to both chambers last Thursday, March 10, seeking to enable coverage for domestic partners under COBRA.

COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is the federal law that requires group insurance plans to enable employees and their families to continue paying for their health coverage for a period of time following the loss or change in employment status.

In the Senate, the Equal Access to COBRA Act (S. 563) was re-introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and has no co-sponsors; in the House, HR 1028 was introduced for the first time, by Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, with 45 co-sponsors.

“Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses — even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees,” according to a press statement from Boxer’s office. The proposed law, said the statement, would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Barney Frank takes ownership of ‘the radical homosexual agenda’

Rep. Barney Frank

Rep. Barney Frank had a number of one-liners in TV appearances last weekend following the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

He said he wondered what would have happened if he or another elected official had suggested exempting gays and lesbians from service.

”We have this important idea,” Frank said on Hardball on MSNBC. “Let’s exempt gay and lesbian people from having to defend the country. You talk about people complaining about special rights.”

“Showering with homosexuals?” he said in an interview with CNS, a conservative media watchdog. “What do you think happens in gyms all over America? What do you think happens in the House of Representatives? Of course people shower with homosexuals. What a silly issue!”

“Remember, under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ by the way, the policy was that you would be showering with homosexuals, you just weren’t supposed to know which was which,” he said.

Speaking after the repeal, Frank said in a press conference that there is a “radical homosexual agenda” — to be protected against violent crimes driven by bigotry, to be able to get married, to be able to get a job and to be able to fight for our country.

And he put those worried about it on notice: “Two down. Two to go.”

But in a more serious assessment on Hardball, he said, “Giving gay and lesbian people the chance to show, in the most challenging thing you can do in America, that we really are just like everybody else, except for our choices about what we do in intimate moments, will do more to help us destroy the myth.”

—  David Taffet