WATCH: HISD Board gets earful on anti-gay flier

Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

A standing-room-only crowd greeted the Houston Independent School Board last night. While the board’s monthly meetings often attract an assortment of parents, community members and gadflies many in the crowd were there with a decidedly non-educational issue on their minds: the anti-gay flier distributed by Trustee Manuel Rodriguez during his recent reelection campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier encouraged Houstonians to vote against Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. because of his sexual orientation.

The first to address the issue were Rodriquez’s fellow trustees, Anna Eastman and Juliet Stipeche. Eastman spoke passionately of the importance of HISD’s anti-bullying policy which “protects people from harassment and bullying based on attributes we all have,” and said that she felt Rodriguez’s actions violated the spirit of that policy. Stipeche, near tears, read the names of teens who had committed suicide after enduring anti-LGBT bullying.

The board had planned to vote on a new ethics policy at the meeting that covered behavior by trustees. At the encouragement of two speakers, and the motion of Eastman, the board decided to delay that vote until December so that a policy stating that encouraging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression could be added.

After three and a half hours the crowd in the board’s chambers had dwindled, with most of those who had come to confront Rodriquez still waiting. When Board President Paula Harris finally opened the floor for public comment the first person to step up was Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman. Freeman told the board that the extant of Rodriquez’s homophobic campaigning was far greater than the flier which had drawn so much media attention. “What you all might not know is that he also went on television and said that he just couldn’t understand why a 54 year old unmarried man would want, quote ‘access to children,'” said Freeman. “That statement in and of itself, and the implications made therein is reprehensible and simply disgusting.”

Freeman asked that the Board remove Rodriquez as their representative on the Texas Council of School Boards, and as the board’s vice president. He went on to criticize the apology issued by Rodriquez after the election, saying that it did not address the concerns of the GLBT community, nor was it delivered to the community but rather to the press. “You cannot simply say ‘oops, I’m sorry’ and this all goes away,” said Freeman. “We will never forget what you did!”

Board President Harris had made frequent reference throughout the meeting to a group of students from HISD’s Milby High School, letting them know that their time to speak would come. As the students’ designated speaker stepped to the podium his hands visibly shook in nervousness. “When I first heard about [Rodriquez’s flier] I did not agree with it because I believe that the message was that a gay person could not be as successful as a straight person and that really hurt me,” said the student. “My question to you is are you going to help us stop the bullying, or are you going to be a bully yourself?”

Perhaps the strongest response from the board was garnered by Paul Gonzales, who choked back tears as he described the challenges he faces as a gay man and parent of an HISD student. “I have a kid, and I have a kid that I have enrolled in HISD, and I love her. Me and my partner every single day are trying to show her that there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong with our family. So for a board member to say that my family is reprehensible to him… I have to explain [to her] that there are still people who consider us not the kind of family that deserve respect,” said Paul to the board, who were fighting back tears of their own. “GLBT parents like myself trust HISD to give us that haven for our children, that they’re not going to be looked at any differently. But the words that we saw on this flier just made me cringe to think that this isn’t the place that I thought that it was.”

After the jump, watch some of the eighteen people who spoke to the board.

—  admin

Maryland House sends marriage bill back to committee; no word on what happens next

After three hours of debate on a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state, Maryland House of Delegates Chairman Del. Joseph Vallario today sent the Civil Marriage Protection Act back to the House’s Judiciary Committee.

The move came during the final reading of the bill. Delegates were expected to vote on the measure today. Supporters were sure of getting only 69 ot 70 of the 71 votes the bill needed to pass in the House. It has already passed in the Senate, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he will sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

Immediately after the bill was sent back to committee, the LGBT rights organization Equality Maryland sent out a press release containing statements attributed to “the staff and board of Equality Maryland; Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director, and Charles Butler, board president,” saying that while they are disappointed the House did not pass the measure today, “we are confident we will win in the future.

“With so much at stake today for thousands of Maryland families, we are thankful that our legislative allies have taken such care with this vote. It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win. We look forward to working strategically with our amazing allies in the legislature, and our supporters across the state, to continue to build support for, and win, marriage equality in the Free State,” the Equality Maryland statement said.

I have seen no explanation yet of what happens now with the bill.


—  admin

Donna Dumae: A friend indeed

For 14 years, Don Jenkins has used his royal alter ego to bring together ‘Friends Helping Friends’ to benefit ASD

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Don “Donna Dumae” Jenkins
Don “Donna Dumae” Jenkins

Donna Dumae  — aka Don Jenkins — will present her 14th annual “Friends Helping Friends” benefit for AIDS Services Dallas on Sept. 4 at Dallas Eagle.

Don Jenkins has performed as Donna for 27 years. But his alter ego Donna wasn’t something he had been rehearsing at home that was just waiting for a chance to burst out.

“I was out at one of the clubs in Fort Worth and someone dared me to do it,” he said. “At first I said no. Then I asked, ‘What’ll you give me?’”

His friends offered him $100 to enter a contest and win. He competed in the Closet Ball and lost but was asked to come back the next night and perform again.

“I never got the $100,” he said.

But he found that he enjoyed performing, so he joined some of the cast shows.

“And they’d pay me!” he said.

Jenkins joined the Imperial Court in Fort Worth and became Empress XI.

After he moved to Dallas, he became Empress XXIII of the Dallas court and currently serves as board president.

The courts are very involved in fundraising for the community.

“Fort Worth is a smaller city and there was a lot I could do there,” he said. “When I moved to Dallas, there was so much going on, so many groups. It was almost overwhelming.”

When he was about to run for empress in Dallas, Jenkins asked himself where he could make the most difference. Then he visited AIDS Services of Dallas.

“I really liked what they did,” he said.

That’s when Jenkins began his annual “Friends Helping Friends” show.

Over the years, Jenkins has raised money for many organizations in Dallas, but ASD remains special to him. He estimates he’s raised more than $20,000 for the PWA housing agency just from his annual show.

Jenkins said that Chicago Empress D’Vitta Deville is coming to town special guest in this year’s “Friends Helping Friends” show.

Don Maison, president and CEO of ASD, said the effort of the Court was exceptional.

“These are people who raise their money $1 at a time,” Maison said. “Don’s a true example of dedication. What augments that is their hands-on activity.”

He said that Jenkins came to ASD, took the tour and has been a reliable volunteer ever since.

“The Court does Easter baskets and Christmas presents for the kids,” Maison said. “Over the years, they even helped us lay sod. It was muddy and nasty and they weren’t afraid to get their fingernails dirty. They just rolled up their sleeves and jumped in.”

ASD’s Development Associate and Volunteer Services Manager Mary Beth O’Connor speaks fondly about Dumae’s help during the holidays.

“She is always in charge of the Easter Cookout, with Easter baskets for every ASD child and the Christmas Brunch with stockings for every child,” said O’Connor. “It is a big deal and they go to a lot of trouble to make the gifts nice for our kids.”

She said Jenkins makes a wonderful Mrs. Claus as well.

Jenkins’s partner, John Terrill, has been an emperor of the Court and is involved in much of the fundraising work. The couple have been together for 15 years.

Recently, Jenkins celebrated his 20th anniversary with AT&T where he is a communications consultant. He said most of the people he works with know about Donna.

“Some even come out and support me,” he said.

He’s hoping a number of those people are at the Dallas Eagle on Sept. 4 to raise a record amount for ASD.

Friends Helping Friends, Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave. Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. Entertainers who would like to perform line up at 5:30 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas