Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Former GLBT Political Caucus President to lead Harris County Democratic Party

Former HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg gives new chair Lane Lewis the keys to the party office

Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus president and longtime Democratic party activist Lane Lewis was elected to serve as the Harris County Democratic Party interim chair by the County Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 20. Lewis will serve the remainder of outgoing chairman Gerry Birnburg term, which expires in April. Birnburg announced earlier this year that he would step down after the November general elections.Lewis has also completed his filing as a candidate for HCDP chair on the April 2012 primary ballot.

Lewis previously served as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 1997. He has a long history of advocacy on LGBT issues.

“Words cannot express the profound sense of responsibility I feel right now,” said Lewis moments after his election as HCDP Chair.  “I am grateful so many fellow Democrats have entrusted me to lead during such a pivotal time. We have much work to do over the next several months to get our county and our candidates ready for the November 2012 election.  This enormous task will take the work of current elected officials, precinct chairs and activists working in unison.  My job will be to foster a new vision for our party and work to keep us all focused on our common goal.”

During Lewis’ acceptance speech, he spoke briefly about the direction and his vision for the party.

“A unified effort from every Democrat is the key to winning elections,” Lewis said.  “It’s plain and simple.  The middle class is under attack; the work we do in 2012 will be key to protecting the future and the promise that the American Dream provides.”

Lane Lewis was elected by an overwhelming majority.  He will begin operating the HCDP immediately.

—  admin

25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at texashiv.org

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

Updated Election Results, HISD III may be headed for recount (updated)

With 31.98% of Harris County precincts reporting, most races look much the same as they did at 7 pm when the Harris County Clerk published early voting totals.  The HISD district III race between Manuel Rodriguez and Ramiro Fonseca is turning into a nail bitter. With 58% of precincts reporting only 36 votes separate the two candidates. This race garnered national attention after Rodriquez mailed an anti-gay flier attacking Fonseca, and the Houston Chronicle subsequently pulled its endorsement of Rodriquez

UPDATED: with 94.74% of precincts reporting Rodriquez is now leading Fonseca by 3 votes.

Only candidates with more than 10% of the vote at current count are reflected.

City of Houston, MAYOR, 29% of precincts reporting
Dave Wilson  10.99%
Fernando Herrera  14.56%
Annise D. Parker  52.09%
Jack O’Connor 13.43%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 1, 29% of precincts reporting
Stephen C. Costello 51.59%
Scott Boates 21.71%
Don Cook 18.31%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 2, 29% of precincts reporting
Kristi Thibaut 16.29%
Elizabeth C. Pérez 12.40%
Andrew C. Burks, Jr. 19.08%
David W. Robinson 11.76%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 3, 29% of precincts reporting
Melissa Noriega 56.88%
Chris Carmona 24.63%
J. Brad Batteau 18.49%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 4, 29% of precincts reporting
Louis Molnar 10.93%
Amy Price 19.47%
C. O. “Brad” Bradford 69.59%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 5, 29% of precincts reporting
Laurie Robinson 19.43%
Jolanda “Jo” Jones 41.03%
Jack Christie 31.31%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT A, 19% of precincts reporting
Brenda Stardig 42.77%
Helena Brown 47.45%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT B, 44% of precincts reporting
Kenneth Perkins 10.09%
Kathy Blueford-Daniels 17.49%
Alvin Byrd  26.86%
Jerry Davis  23.68%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT C, 23% of precincts reporting.
Ellen Cohen  55.56%
Karen Derr 10.50%
Brian Cweren  27.86%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT D, 35% of precincts reporting.
Larry L. McKinzie  16.44%
Wanda Adams  83.56%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT E, 33% of precincts reporting.
Mike Sullivan 100%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT F, 8% of precincts reporting.
Al Hoang  57.33%
Hoc Thai Nguyen (Nguyen Thai Hoc)  19.90%
Peter “Lyn” René  22.76%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT G, 20% of precincts reporting.
Clyde Bryan 21.00%
Oliver Pennington 79.00%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT H, 38% of precincts reporting.
Patricia Rodriguez 30.55%
Edward “Ed” Gonzalez 69.45%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT I, 46% of precincts reporting.
Leticia Gutierrez Ablaza 33.96%
James Rodriguez 66.04%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT J, 7% of precincts reporting.
Mike Laster 70.16%
Criselda Romero 19.86%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT K, 19% of precincts reporting.
Pat Frazier 23.15%
Larry Green 68.40%

Houston I.S.D., Trustee, District III, 58% of precincts reporting.
Manuel Rodriguez  50.61%
Ramiro Fonseca 49.39%

Houston I.S.D., Trustee, District IV, 29% of precincts reporting.
Davetta Daniels 33.27%
Paula Harris 66.73%

Houston I.S.D., Trustee, District VIII, 26% of precincts reporting.
Dorothy Olmos 42.12%
Juliet Kathy Stipeche 57.88%

—  admin

East coast victories for LGBT candidates

While we’re waiting here in Houston for the results of today’s municipal elections the Victory Fund reports of victories for LGBT candidates on the East coast where polls closed an hour earlier than Texas.

State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-District 30) was elected to Virginia’s state Senate today, making him the Commonwealth’s first openly gay senator.

“I am honored by the trust the voters have showed in me,”  Ebbin said in a statement. “During the campaign, I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment. I will make sure their voices are heard…”

“Alex Morse, a 22-year-old graduate of Brown University, has just been elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass., a city of nearly 40,000 residents near Springfield…”

“Zach Adamson has won his race for city council in Indianapolis, giving the city its first openly LGBT city council member.”

“An incumbent on the Largo, Fla., City Commission who attacked her openly gay opponent over his sexual orientation has lost her reelection bid to him tonight. Michael Smith defeated Mary Gray Black, who has a history of anti-gay and anti-trans activism on the commission.”

—  admin

Early voting results in Houston Races

At 7 pm the polls closed. The Harris County Clerk’s office must now count and tabulate the votes cast today in Houston’s 769 voting precincts. While we wait for the final results, let’s take a look at the numbers from early voting:

City of Houston, MAYOR, with 46,333 ballots counted:
Kevin Simms   7.55%
Amanda Ulman  1.60%
Dave Wilson  10.40%
Fernando Herrera  14.31%
Annise D. Parker  52.76%
Jack O’Connor  13.38%

Dave Wilson’s 10.4 percent is surprising, considering he’s been poling at less than 1%.  General wisdom is that conservatives are more likely to vote early than left-leaning voters. In my opinion his strong early showing is likely to dramatically decrease as the evening progresses.

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 1,
Stephen C. Costello 51.80%
James Partsch-Galvan  7.88%
Scott Boates  21.77%
Don Cook  18.54%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 2,
Kristi Thibaut 16.75%
Elizabeth C. Pérez 10.41%
Andrew C. Burks, Jr. 20.69%
Gordon R. Goss 1.75%
Bolivar “Bo” Fraga 9.51%
Eric B. Dick  7.44%
Jenifer Rene Pool  7.55%
M. “Griff” Griffin 7.25%
David W. Robinson  11.84%
Roslyn “Rozzy” Shorter 6.81%

With such a crowded field this race is still anybody’s game, fewer than 6,000 votes separate the early leader Burks from ninth position shorter.

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 3,
Melissa Noriega 56.67%
Chris Carmona  24.19%
J. Brad Batteau  19.15%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 4,
Louis Molnar 10.65%
Amy Price 18.43%
C. O. “Brad” Bradford 70.92%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, AT-LARGE POSITION 5,
Laurie Robinson 18.43%
Jolanda “Jo” Jones  42.16%
Jack Christie 31.46%
Bob Ryan 7.94%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT A, with 3,125 votes counted:
Brenda Stardig  43.06%
Helena Brown 47.01%
Bob Schoellkopf 9.93%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT B, with 4,710 votes counted:
Kenneth Perkins  8.87%
James Joseph 4.04%
Kathy Blueford-Daniels16.98%
Phillip “Paul” Bryant 5.66%
Alvin Byrd  28.27%
Jerry Davis 26.22%
Charles A. Ingram  6.63%
Bryan Smart 3.33%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT C, with 7,492 votes counted:
Randy Locke  3.88%
Josh Verde 17 2.47%
Ellen Cohen 55.28%
Karen Derr11.17%
Brian Cweren 27.20%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT D, with 6,498 votes counted:
Larry L. McKinzie  14.60%
Wanda Adams 85.40%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT E, with 4,283 votes counted
Mike Sullivan 100.00%

City of Houston, DISTRICT F, with 2,789 votes counted:
Al Hoang  56.72%
Hoc Thai Nguyen (Nguyen Thai Hoc) 20.84%
Peter “Lyn” René  22.45%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT G, with 5,917 votes counted:
Clyde Bryan  19.60%
Oliver Pennington 80.40%

Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT H, with 2,710 votes counted
Patricia Rodriguez 27.81%
Edward “Ed” Gonzalez  72.19%

Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT I, with 2,694 votes counted
Leticia Gutierrez Ablaza 31.28%
James Rodriguez  68.72%

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT J, with 2,013 votes counted
Mike Laster 70.67%
Rodrigo Canedo 9.78%
Criselda Romero 19.56%

Out gay candidate Laster takes a commanding lead, but this heavily Hispanic district is likely to see significant election day voting, so this early number, based on so few votes, is likely very different than the final number we’ll wind up with.

City of Houston, COUNCIL MEMBER, DISTRICT K, with 4,102 votes counted:
Pat Frazier 22.68%
Larry Green 70.24%
Alex Gonik 7.08%

Houston I.S.D., Trustee, District III, with 1,981 votes counted
Manuel Rodriguez 52.95%
Ramiro Fonseca  47.05%

This race garnered national attention after Rodriquez mailed an anti-gay flier attacking Fonseca, and the Houston Chronicle subsequently pulled its endorsement of Rodriquez.  That information did not become public until after early voting closed on Friday, so any effect it had on the race would not be reflected in these numbers. Only 102 votes separate the candidates at this time.

Houston I.S.D., Trustee, District IV, with 5,881 votes counted:
Davetta Daniels 33.81%
Paula Harris 66.19%

Houston I.S.D., Trustee, District VIII, with 3,091 votes counted:
Dorothy Olmos 40.28%
Juliet Kathy Stipeche 59.72%

Remember that these are only the votes cast during early voting, the final numbers can, and often do differ dramatically from early voting totals.

—  admin

HISD trustee distributes anti-gay flier

Rodriquez Flier (excerpt)

Excerpt from the Rodriquez flier attacking Fonseco for his advocacy for LGBT people and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (click to view full flier)

Houston Independent School District Trustee Manuel Rodriquez Jr. is under fire for an anti-gay flyer attacking his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. Both seek the HISD District III seat held by Rodriquez. Rodriquez’s flyer attacks Fonseca for his history of advocating for LGBT people, and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. The flyer also suggests that Fonseca being 52 and unmarried is a reason that Houstonians should not trust him to make decisions affecting children, and points out that he has a “male partner.”

The GLBT Political Caucus was quick to denounce the flyer, issuing a statement on Saturday. “Manuel Rodriguez is assuming the voters of District III share the same bigoted, hateful views he holds,” said Caucus president Noel Freeman. “Houstonians have proven time and time again that such views are not welcome in our City, and have consistently rejected candidates who espouse such hateful views. We urge the voters of District III to reject Manuel Rodriguez on election day.”

Other HISD Trustees have joined in the chorus of people speaking out against the mailer. “I denounce the reprehensible, mean-spirited, bigoted mailer that was sent out in the HISD, District III race,” Trustee Juliet Katherine Stipeche said via her Facebook wall. “I ask my colleagues to maintain and uphold HISD’s total non-discrimination policy and treat every person, including other candidates, with dignity and respect. Let us embrace diversity and equality and treat every person as we would like ourselves to be treated ” Stipeche is seeking re-election to her district VIII seat.

HISD District I member Anna Eastman echoed Stipeche’s comments. “My fifteen year old son could not comprehend why someone would think that distinction would change a vote for school board and would be used as such by a candidate.”

The GLBT caucus is urging people to contact the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle to encourage them to rescind their endorsement of Rodriquez in light of his campaign tactics.

HISD elections are part of the general elections taking place this Tuesday, Nov 8. Visit HarrisVotes.org to find your voting location and view a sample ballot.

—  admin

‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military

IMG_5132

CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.

Carpenter.Dodd

Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

LGBT officials, candidates out in force at JRR Dinner

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

GAIN holding monthly meeting

GAIN, the GLBT aging interest network that is a program of Resource Center Dallas, will meet Thursday, April 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Resource Center, 2701 Reagan.
Educator, public speaker and writer Deneen Robinson, BSW, will present the program on Alzheimer’s and dementia in the aging LGBT community.
Hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be served.

Students seeks study participants

Cindy Chwalik, a clinical psychology student at Walden University who is interning with Youth First Texas, is looking for natal females (those who were born biologically female) who were born in the South and came out as lesbians while living in the South to participate in a research project she is conducting. She is particularly looking for women born in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.

Participation involves a 60-to-90-minute interview. Chwalik said there is no compensation for participating, but the information will help those who come out in the future.
Contact her via email at cindychwalik @aol.com.

TDWCC to hear from candidates

Texas Democratic Women of Collin County will hold their next general meeting Monday, April 25, at 6:45 p.m. at the Preston Ridge Campus of Collin College, 9700 Wade Blvd. in Frisco, Founders Hall, Shawnee Room F148.

The program will feature a forum of candidates in the upcoming non-partisan municipal elections. Confirmed thus far from Plano are Judy Drotman, campaign manager for City Council Place 3 candidate Andre Davidson; City Council Place 5 candidate Matt Lagos; City Council Place 5 candidate Jim Duggan, and City Council Place 7 candidate Pat Gallagher.

Candidates in the Frisco elections who have confirmed so far are Mayor Maher Maso, City Council Place 5 candidate Bart Crowder, and Frisco ISD candidated Anne McCausland and Dody Brigadier.

—  John Wright