Texas media outlets highlight problem of anti-LGBT workplace discrimination

Trans woman Lisa Scheps tells her story of anti-LGBT job discrimination to Austin’s Fox 7. Watch the full report below.

For the first time I can recall, non-LGBT media outlets in Texas are reporting on the fact that it’s perfectly legal for employers here — and in about 30 other states for that matter — to fire someone just for being LGBT. Which is critically important because, as Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith tells Austin’s Fox 7, 80 percent of the public wrongly believes that LGBT people are already protected against employment discrimination. Again, just to be clear, we’re not. Except in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth — which have city ordinances — you can legally be fired in Texas just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Coincidentally, Fox 7′s story highlighting transgender woman Lisa Scheps’ story of workplace discrimination aired on the same day that Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, filed SB 237, which would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination statewide. Equality Texas’ Daniel Williams says it’s the first time a version of the bill has been filed in the Senate, where one Republican at least, Dallas Sen. John Carona, told Dallas Voice recently that he would vote for it. The House version was again filed this year by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who’s also interviewed in the Fox 7 story. Even the Dallas Observer posted something about Van de Putte’s bill. The Observer says the bill’s chances of passage in the Republican-dominated Legislature are “almost zilch,” and that’s probably true, but just getting the media to report on it is progress.

Watch Fox 7′s report below.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: PolitiFact finds attack on birth certificate bill ‘mostly false’

A conservative group’s claims that a bill to allow same-sex adoptive parents to have both names on birth certificates would affect everyone’s records were mainly unfounded, according to research by PolitiFact Texas.

The nonpartisan politics fact-checking project analyzed claims Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz made on Austin’s KTBC-TV Nov. 19 about HB 201 filed by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Saenz said the bill would mandate a change in all birth certificates in the state, suggesting that the bill aims to grant gay couples special rights and would lead to two or three fathers listed on certificates in cases of polygamy.

But the bill would only apply to adopted children of same-sex couples, allowing both parents to have their names on the supplemental birth certificate. Texas law currently only allows one man and one woman to be listed on birth certificates, but the bill would remove that requirement from the Texas Health and Safety Code.

PolitiFact found Saenz’s claims “mostly false” saying the potential wording of forms remained unclear after they consulted with a State Health Services representative, who said it’s unknown whether “Mother” and “Father” would be replaced with “Parent 1″ and “Parent 2″ on forms for adopted children if the bill passes. Gender-neutral parent designation on birth certificates would raise the risk of distinguishing records for adopted children, which is prohibited under state law.

—  Anna Waugh

WATCH: Texas Values president attacks Rep. Anchia’s gay adoption bill

A bill that would provide accurate supplemental birth certificates to same-sex couples came under fire last night by Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz.

Saenz appeared on Austin’s Fox 7, speaking out against HB 201 filed by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Under the impression that the bill would mandate a change in all birth certificates in the states, Saenz suggested that his three children would have to have theirs changed. But the bill would only apply to adopted children of same-sex couples, allowing both parents to have their names on the certificate. Texas law currently only allows one man and one woman to be listed on birth certificates.

“In the state of Texas, homosexual adoption is allowed, so that’s not the issue here. The issue is that you have a small group of people that want to change a birth certificate for everybody else,” Saenz said. “This is an issue about what is natural and what is common sense. You have a mother and a father.”

—  Anna Waugh

Longtime assistant Chuck Smith named executive director of Equality Texas

Chuck-Smith

Chuck Smith

The press release came in after we’d already stepped out the door for Black Tie Dinner on Saturday, but Equality Texas has named Chuck Smith as its new executive director.

Smith has served as interim executive director since August, when former ED Dennis Coleman resigned. Prior to that, Smith served as deputy executive director since 2005.

“It is always gratifying to look nationally and then select one of your homegrown to lead an organization,” said Anne Wynne, chair of the Equality Texas board of directors. “Chuck’s knowledge and experience will allow Equality Texas to start in high gear for the 2013 legislative session. No one is more passionate about working for LGBT equality in our state than Chuck Smith.”

Smith said in the release that Texas is on the cusp of change when it comes to public policies affecting LGBT residents.

“Public opinion continues to move in our direction,” Smith said. “We must work to ensure that public policy also moves in our direction. I look forward to working with and expanding our boards of directors to create the organizational capacity necessary for a statewide advocacy organization in today’s Texas of 25 million residents. Likewise, I am ready to take on the challenges of increasing our membership, as well as our political & electoral power, in order to enact real policy change. It will not be easy, but together we will make equality a reality in Texas.”

Smith’s appointment takes effect immediately, and he now has all of two months to prepare for the session. Good luck, Chuck.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas encourages people to thank Sen. John Carona for his support

Chuck-Smith

Chuck Smith

Groundbreaking.

That’s how the head of Equality Texas described a Republican state senator’s decision to come out in support of pro-equality legislation this week.

As we reported the other day, Sen. John Carona of Dallas backed three pro-equality bills on Monday in an exclusive interview with Instant Tea. Carona also said he was “evolving” but “not there yet” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Chuck Smith, interim executive director of Equality Texas, said Wednesday that Carona is certainly the only GOP state senator in recent memory to endorse pro-LGBT legislation. Smith said two sessions ago, a Republican state representative who has since retired signed on to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying bill.

“We’re thrilled to see him publicly take a stand in support of these issues and we really look forward to working with him on them in the session,” Smith said of Carona. “While we’re fully supportive and applaud what he said, we’ll watch now and see if he takes any blowback for it.

“He has broken the ice,” Smith added. “Whether or not he gets joined by other people, we’ll have to wait and see. It offers the opportunity to have a clear distinction between what it means to be conservative on fiscal and financial issues, and what it means to be conservative on social issues.”

Smith noted that regardless of whether Democrats pick up seats in the November election, Republicans will retain sizeable majorities in both the House and Senate.

“In order to be successful, all of our equality issues have to have bipartisan support,” he said. “Ultimately if we’re going to get anything done, there needs to be some cooperation and collaboration.”

Equality Texas also encouraged people to call Carona at 214-378-5751 and thank him for his support. If you’d rather write, Carona’s email is john.carona@senate.state.tx.us.

—  John Wright

EQTX pushes for Dallas County commissioners to approve DP benefits

Equality Texas is calling on Dallas County citizens and employees to tell members of the Commissioners Court to approve offering domestic partner benefits to county employees.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group created an action letter that people can sign online and send to commissioners.

Equality Texas Interim Executive Director Chuck Smith said offering DP benefits has become a standard practice.

“It’s what people in the real world, real businesses in the real world, do in order to attract and retain good employees to where it’s not a big step,” he said. “It’s not going out on a limb for municipalities and counties to start doing this.”

Dallas County would become the third county to approve the benefits after Travis and El Paso counties.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia are working on a plan to offer the benefits despite the lack of support from a regional government partner agency. A Commissioners Court vote is expected in the next few months.

—  Anna Waugh

BREAKING: Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman resigns

Dennis Coleman, who has served as executive director of Equality Texas for two years, resigned from his position with the organization, effective today, according to a press release.

Equality Texas announced his resignation and the beginning of a nationwide search for Coleman’s replacement.

In the meantime, Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will serve as interim executive director. Smith has served as deputy executive director since 2005, and previously served as interim executive director from February to August 2010.

Coleman was not immediately available for comment.

Before joining Equality Texas, Coleman served as executive director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, based in Dallas. Coleman lives in Dallas and commuted to Austin during his time leading Equality Texas.

Coleman, Dallas Voice’s 2011 Person of the Year, helped push through two anti-bullying bills during his first and only session of the Legislature. Although the bills didn’t include LGBT-specific protections, Equality Texas has called them the first two pro-equality bills to pass in Texas since hate crimes legislation in 2001.

Read Equality Texas’ full statement on Coleman’s resignation below.

—  Anna Waugh

Equality TX rakes in $4k in donations on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day

Equality Texas utilized Wednesday’s Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day as a donation day for those who do not support the chicken chain.

Donors were encouraged to give $6.50, the cost of a chicken sandwich meal, to the organization, but other amounts could also be donated.

Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith said 281 donors gave money Wednesday totaling $4,350. In addition, five new donors signed up to give monthly.

He said the funds would most likely go to fund the Equality Project, which is a public education program that travels across Texas.

Smith said he was surprised with the media coverage about the appreciation day that focused primarily on the company’s right to freedom of speech. He said members and allies of the LGBT community are not criticizing the freedom of speech, but the message that was behind the president’s recent comments and the actions of the company by donating to anti-gay organizations.

“No one is questioning Chick-fil-A or Dan Cathy’s right to free speech,” he said. “This is about disagreeing with them giving millions of dollars to fund discrimination and homophobia.”

Tomorrow is a national same-sex kiss-in day at Chick-fil-A. Smith said the organization wasn’t planning another donation day, but people can donate anytime online.

—  Anna Waugh

Lesbian bartender assaulted in Austin bar now says attack could have been a hate crime

Gina Adams

An Austin lesbian was out on the town celebrating a friend’s birthday June 25 when she said a bartender threw her on the ground and beat her.

Gina Adams, who works at a nearby bar, said she and her friends were bar hopping when she asked a male bartender at the Lodge Bar if they had drink specials after saying she worked at Rusty’s bar, according to Fox 7.

The man motioned for her to come around to the other side of the bar and then grabbed her, threw her on the floor and beat her repeatedly.

“He looks at me, grabs me and just throws me right behind the bar, doesn’t say a word to me. I try to get up and he threw me down again and he did this like four or five times,” she told Fox 7. “He had no reason, no reason at all. He didn’t know me I didn’t know him.”

Police were called and arrested the bartender for assault, but Adams told the Austin station she thinks it could have been a hate crime because the bartender could have assumed she was gay or thought she was a man hitting on him.

Although the police report doesn’t indicate the attack was motivated by bias, Equality Texas Deputy Executive Director told the station Adams could still report it as a hate crime.

“There may have been indicators of bias not noted on the night of the incident just because it didn’t click for her then,” he said. “If it clicks for her now then that’s what needs to be documented in the report and they can revisit and look at evidence from the scene.”

Watch the video below.

—  Anna Waugh

LISTEN: Equality Texas’ Chuck Smith talks TX anti-bullying law implementation, Flour Bluff ISD

Chuck Smith

The Texas anti-bully bill passed last year will take effect this fall, requiring schools to implement policies on reporting, preventing and punishing bullying in all its forms, including cyber bullying. An option of removing bullies from the classroom or school instead of transferring the victim is another aspect of the bill.

Equality Texas Deputy Executive Deputy Chuck Smith spoke with KUT News (audio above) about how the organization lobbied for the bill to prevent situations like the one involving Flour Bluff ISD student Ted Molina, who left his high school after years of ridicule and racial slurs in March. He committed suicide April 1.

Molina’s parents have blamed the school for ignoring the bullying and have hired an attorney. Flour Bluff ISD board President released a letter Thursday addressing Molina’s suicide and assuring students and parents that the school district has “always taken student safety very seriously and are continuing their efforts to provide a safe learning environment.”

Flour Bluff High School administrators have added a staff member to its counseling office in addition to holding several meetings with students to prevent bullying and address student concerns, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports.

Smith said the bill will force schools to create effective measures for changing bullying before another incident happens.

From KUT News:

“At this point in time, I sort of describe the Flour Bluff ISD as how not to deal with bullying and harassment in public schools,” says Chuck Smith of gay-rights group Equality Texas.

After lobbying for the new anti-bullying law with Equality Texas, Smith is happy that staff will be have required training on how to stop bullying when they see it. There are new staff procedures for reporting and investigating bullying. And a major provision in the new law allows the bully to be relocated to other classrooms or campuses. Smith says he thinks this is a good idea.

“It just provides an additional option,” Smith says. “If it’s in the best interests of the children for safety reasons for them to be separated, it gives them the option of having the victim not be the only child who might be moved.”

—  Anna Waugh