Top 10: City elections proved groundbreaking for LGBT community

Rawlings

VOTERS LIKED MIKE  | Mike Rawlings defeated David Kunkle in a runoff for Dallas mayor in June. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

No. 2

With former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert announcing that he was stepping down early to run for the U.S. Senate, and longtime Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief announcing he would not be running for re-election, candidates were lining up early this year for both offices. And the LGBT community on both sides of the Trinity River played a more visible and more vocal role than ever before in city elections.

In Dallas, businessman Mike Rawlings, former Dallas Chief of Police David Kunkle and City Councilman Ron Natinsky, who had reached his term limit representing District 12, quickly emerged as the frontrunners in the mayoral election. All three candidates came courting the LGBT community, participating in the North Texas

GLBT Chamber of Commerce’s mayoral debate and asking for endorsements from individuals in the community, as well as from the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance and Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

Kunkle’s involvement with the community during his days as police chief helped him win the Stonewall Democrats endorsement in the general election, while Natinsky withdrew his name from contention for the Stonewall endorsement after questions came up over whether his Republican voting record disqualified him.

DGLA threw its weight behind Natinsky, then went a step further to issue a warning against Rawlings, saying that based on his answer to a question during the confidential interview, they feared the candidate’s commitment to business interests might override his commitment to civil rights.

In the general election, Kunkle won in precincts considered to be heavily LGBT and came away with 32 percent of the vote overall to claim a place in the runoff against top-vote-getter Rawlings, who had 41 percent.

The two candidates continued to court the LGBT vote in the runoff, both participating in a second debate on LGBT issues, this one sponsored by Dallas Voice and partner organizations. Although DGLA had shifted its endorsement to Kunkle, Rawlings’ performance in the second debate seemed to win over some LGBT voters, and he won the runoff and the mayor’s seat, with 56 percent of the vote. Kunkle, however, again captured the most heavily LGBT precincts.

DGLA and Stonewall also split their endorsements in the District 14 City Council race, where longtime LGBT ally Angela Hunt faced three opponents, including one-time supporter James Nowlin, a gay man who filed in the race early when Hunt was still considering a run for the mayor’s seat. The race split the community, with Stonewall

Democrats endorsing Nowlin, who was a member of the organization, and DGLA backing Hunt. Hunt went on to win another term of the council without a runoff, taking 65 percent of the vote in the general election. Nowlin was second with 30 percent.

In Fort Worth, former City Councilman Jim Lane, who was on the council when the city became one of the first in the state to include protections for lesbians and gays in its nondiscrimination ordinance, and former Tarrant

County Tax Appraiser/Collector Betsy Price were the top two vote-getters in the general election, and during the runoff campaigns, the two met for the first-ever Fort Worth mayoral debate focusing on LGBT issues.

While Price had raised suspicion among some with a vague answer regarding her position on the city’s recent decision to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression in the nondiscrimination ordinance, both she and Lane pledged at the debate sponsored by the GLBT chamber and Fairness Fort Worth to support LGBT equality and to maintain an open door to the community.

Price went on to win the runoff, 56 percent to 44 percent, and in October became the first Fort Worth mayor to not only ride in, but also serve as grand marshal of, the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade.

Also in Fort Worth, the city’s first and only openly gay councilmember, Joel Burns, still riding a wave of national popularity following his “It Gets Better” speech during a council meeting the previous October, didn’t even draw an opponent in his bid for a second full term on the council.

Down the road in Arlington, Chris Hightower became the first openly gay candidate to run for city council, tossing his hat into the ring along with three others challenging District 5 incumbent Lana Wolff. Hightower, who easily outpaced all the candidates in fundraising, came out on top of the heap in the general election. But he lost the runoff to Wolff by less than 100 votes, an outcome many of his supporters blamed on anti-gay robocalls describing him as a “weirdo,” a “convicted sex pervert” and a “sex creep” — even though Hightower has no criminal record.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Top 10: Suicides led to anti-bullying law

Anti-bullying-Press-conference-at-Texas-Capitol-March-7,-2011-0-02-25-07

PARENTAL RESPONSE | David and Amy Truong, the parents of 13-year-old gay suicide victim Asher Brown, became tireless advocates for anti-bullying legislation this year. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

No. 4

In the fall of 2010, a number of high-profile suicides brought attention to the problem of bullying in schools. This year, the LGBT community worked to change laws and save lives.

After helping to push through policies in the Dallas and Fort Worth school districts, as well as a few others around the state, the LGBT community focused on passing statewide anti-bullying legislation in the 2011 session of the Legislature.

Equality Texas made the legislation a priority and a number of bills were introduced.

In February, Equality Texas hosted a Lobby Day. Several hundred people from around the state participated.

Among them were Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, suicide victim Asher Brown’s parents — Amy and David Truong — and a group of 10 students from Youth First Texas.

Burns and the Truongs met with key legislators including members of the committees that would  hear the bills.

The students from YFT spoke to their senators and representatives telling their own stories of being bullied.

Legislators not usually considered allies were visibly moved by stories of violence in schools in their hometowns.

Equality Texas board chair Anne Wynn, Executive Director Dennis Coleman and Deputy Director Chuck Smith spent the spring lobbying on behalf of the bills.

The organization arranged for the Truongs as well as the parents of Montana Lance and Jon Carmichael, two other Texas suicide victims, to testify at committee hearings.

As originally crafted, the bills specified categories that would be covered. National studies have shown that the more specific the law, the more effective it is in protecting LGBT students. When sexual orientation and gender identity are not specified, school staff often ignore anti-gay bullying. But to increase the chances that anti-bullying legislation would pass, several bills were combined and all references to specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity, were deleted.

The new anti-bullying “super bill” passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House — and was eventually signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Under the new law, for the first time, the bully rather than the victim can be transferred to another classroom or school. Parental notification rules were strengthened and protections added for the person reporting the bullying. The definition of bullying now includes electronic means, or cyberbullying. And every school district must adopt an anti-bullying policy, including any necessary procedures to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents.

A second bill also passed that provides money for counseling services, which includes services for both the bully and the victim. School staff already receive training to recognize potential suicide risks. That training will be expanded to include victims of bullying.

Meanwhile, although the Dallas Independent School District approved an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy last year, Resource Center Dallas and Lambda Legal accused some DISD officials of blocking its implementation.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox along with Lambda Legal community educator Omar Narvaez addressed the DISD board about the problem in December.

Cox said she had gotten word from frustrated school district employees that principals were being instructed not to use the electronic reporting system that the board mandated. She said she would continue to track the district’s compliance with the policy in 2012.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

28th Annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade today

It only gets better

That’s this year’s theme of the Pride parade which features Honorary Grand Marshal, Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns and VIP guest, rugby star Ben Cohen. The parade is followed by the festival at Lee Park featuring live music and speakers. And it’s looking like the perfect day for a parade. Happy Pride.

DEETS: Parade starts at 2 p.m. $5 for festival. For details, click here.

—  Rich Lopez

Pride 2011 • Joel Burns: The difference a speech makes

When Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns followed his heart and spoke at a council meeting about his experiences as a bullied gay teen, the nation listened — and, he hopes, it helped make things get better

Burns.Joel
Joel Burns

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Honorary Grand Marshall

When Joel Burns made a speech to the Fort Worth City Council about his experiences being bullied as a teenager, he had no idea the kind of impact his words would have on people around this country.

But a year later, when organizers of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade chose “It Only Gets Better,” as the parade theme, Burns was the obvious choice for honorary grand marshal.

Burns said that his husband, J.D. Angle, calls the day Burns spoke at the council, “the day I blew up our lives.”

In some ways, that speech also blew up Fort Worth City Hall.

Burns received so many emails in the days following his emotional speech that the city had to replace its email server.

The phone system was so overwhelmed that it also had to be replaced.

And Burns’ office was so busy answering calls and replying to messages from teens from across the country who were bullied that the mayor’s office was running messages to him.

During a speech at the recent national convention of LEAGUE, the LGBT employee resource group for AT&T, Burns joked about what he learned from his sudden celebrity: “Between Ellen [DeGeneres] and Matt Lauer, Ellen’s the better kisser,” he said.

But on a serious side, Burns recalled receiving a torn piece of paper from a teen. It was what would have been the rest of a suicide note, which the teen decided not to finish after seeing Burns’ video.

“This is what remains of the note I left my roommate. Thank you,” the young man wrote to Burns.

Burns said that he wishes he could go back in time and tell his 13-year-old self that it really does get better.

He said that he believes that as human beings, we are drawn to bold action. But during our lives we tamp that impulse down. We learn that there are sometimes consequences and so we decide not to speak out, he said.

As a councilman, “My job is to fill potholes,” Burns said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

But last year he started hearing about young people taking their lives. He mentioned Asher Brown in Houston and a teen in Indiana who hung himself in his family’s barn. Then came another suicide in California, then Zack Harrington who killed himself after hearing anti-gay hate speech at a city council meeting in Norman, Okla.

“Someone should do something about this,” Burns said he told himself.

The Fort Worth City Council meets on Tuesday evenings with pre-council meetings held throughout the day. When Burns decided to tell his story, he told Angle, who advised against it.

“But I remember what it was like to be 13 and beaten up,” Burns said.

So when Angle realized there was no stopping Burns, he suggested that his partner write his speech down.

“J.D. said I suck extemporaneously,” Burns explained.

So Burns went home from the pre-council meeting and wrote a stream-of-consciousness account of what happened to him as a teenager. He said he had hoped to reach a few hundred people — those that actually watch Fort Worth City Council meetings online and those that sit through council meetings at City Hall.

But then local TV news stations broadcast portions of his speech, and then it was posted to YouTube. Burns called his parents as soon as he realized more people than just Fort Worth City Council junkies were watching it.

Inside Edition showed up at his parent’s house the next day.

Burns said that he’s closer to his family now than he’s ever been. He laughed about his parents’ differing reactions. He said his mother asked him if there was anything they could have done better and his father told him, “You need an alarm. And a gun.”

Burns said he had an hour-and-a-half conversation with his brother Cody that week as well, the longest conversation they had ever had. His brother was 15 years younger and so Burns was already out of the house through most of Cody’s life.

Burns said he cherishes that talk even more now because in March his brother was killed in a car accident.

When Burns spoke to the LEAGUE national convention in Dallas on Sept. 10, everyone attending had seen the YouTube video from the council meeting. As Burns told them the story behind the speech, the reaction was very emotional.

“I got beaten up everyday, not because I was gay but because I was Hispanic,” said Ernie Renteria, a LEAGUE member from Austin.

LEAGUE member Darrin Chin was attending from Los Angeles and said he first heard of Burns after speech at the council meeting.

“He’s a very inspiring person,” Chin said.

Chin and his partner have a 15-year-old adopted son. He said his son came out last year and they worry about him being the target of bullying.

Josh Hampshire of Bay City, Mich. said he was called everything from “sissy to the f-bomb. I was shoved into plenty of lockers.”

For him, he said, Burns’ speech really hit home.

“As someone who’s been on the edge, it really does get better,” Hampshire said. “I’m glad someone is looking out for our youth.”

One of LEAGUE’s youngest members is John Wakim of Providence, R.I. At 22, he’s already been with AT&T for five years. He said the company gives him a place where he feels safe for the first time in his life.

“I think everyone was bullied at school,” Wakim said. He agreed that things do get better for LGBT youth and that he can really relate to Burns’ story.

Burns said he has no idea how many young people may have benefited from his speech during the council meeting that night and his many appearances afterwards. But from the volume of calls and emails he has received, he said he does believe he’s made a difference.

But Burns said he is determined to not just use the video that went viral as platform for personal fame. He wants to make a real difference.

So when the Texas Legislature was in session this year, Burns lobbied House and Senate members with the parents of teen suicide victims Asher Brown. He said spending time with them was an honor, and Burns still tears up as he describes Asher’s mother’s anguish when she came home to a house wrapped in police tape.

In March, Burns also participated in a White House anti-bullying conference that he hopes will help set national standards for student safety in schools.

Burns said he is still surprised at the continued attention his council speech attracts, but that he realizes that his experience as a gay teen is a common one.

Burns said he learned from his experience that there are days that you’re supposed to fix the potholes but there’s a time when you have to speak out. He said that with two anti-bullying laws passed in Texas this year, “We’ve had amazing success here in Texas.”

For more information, go online to FortWorthGov.org/Government/District9.

To watch Joel Burns’ speech on being bullied, go to YouTube.com/Watch?v=ax96cghOnY4.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

UPDATE: Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle appear headed to runoff for Dallas mayor

With 426 of 555 precincts reporting at 9:25 p.m., it sure looks like former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings and former Police Chief David Kunkle are headed to a June runoff.

Rawlings leads with 42 percent of the vote, and Kunkle is second with 32 percent. City Councilman Ron Natinsky is third with 24 percent, and he now trails Kunkle by more than 4,000 votes.

Rawlings has 25,245 votes to Kunkle’s 19,023 and Natinsky’s 14,683. Edward Okpa has 1,321 votes, or 2 percent.

 

—  John Wright

Natinsky, Rawlings say they opposed Texas’ marriage amendment; Kunkle says he didn’t vote

Photo by Chance Browning/Dallas Voice

Two of the three major candidates for Dallas mayor said Monday that they opposed Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

During a forum at Cityplace sponsored by the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, City Councilman Ron Natinsky said he couldn’t remember whether he voted when the amendment was on the ballot in November 2005. But Natinsky added that if he did vote, he voted against the amendment.

“I can’t remember what I did last week,” Natinsky said, after seeking clarification about the date of the election. “I’m pretty sure that I voted. Assuming that I voted, I did not vote for that, but ’05 is eight years ago. I wouldn’t have voted for it, let’s put it that way, if I voted.”

In response to the same question, former Parks Board Chairman Mike Rawlings said he votes in every election.

“I was against the amendment if I understand the way it’s all on the ballot,” said Rawlings, who also sought clarification before adding, “I voted against it.”

Former Police Chief David Kunkle said he recalls being at a Democratic meeting on election night in November 2005 but was unsure why he didn’t vote on the amendment, which he pointed out passed by a wide margin.

“I don’t know why I didn’t vote,” Kunkle said. “I remember it was a very rainy night and a rainy day, but I don’t’ know about voting.”

—  John Wright

Gay Rawlings supporter Pam Gerber slams DGLA over group’s we-don’t-like-Mike warning

Pam Gerber

Pam Gerber is a member of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, and she says she has the utmost respect for the group’s leadership.

But Gerber also supports Mike Rawlings for mayor, and she called the warning DGLA issued about Rawlings over the weekend “absurd.”

In endorsing City Councilman Ron Natinsky for mayor, DGLA issued a warning about Rawlings that said his “passion for commerce and business interests supremely overwhelms his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.”

According to DGLA, the warning is rare for the group and was based on statements Rawlings made during his candidate interview, in response to a question about contracting requirements.

“It looks like a warning on a cigarette package saying cigarettes cause death — ‘Mike Rawlings does not believe in civil rights,’” Gerber said of the warning Monday.

“It’s such an overstatement. It’s a distortion, it’s misleading and it’s underinformed,” Gerber added. “I think it makes us look immature. I think it’s over-reactive and not thoughtful. I think it undermines our credibility. It undermines DGLA’s credibility.”

Gerber, who’s also a member of the LGBT task force set up by City Councilwoman Delia Jasso, said that as Dallas’ homeless czar, Rawlings devoted his time to people who are “far less fortunate” than DGLA members who issued the warning.

“When was the last time any of them went out and served a meal over at the Bridge?” Gerber said, referring to the city’s homeless shelter. “That’s who he [Rawlings] spends his time with. You want to talk about people who don’t have civil rights. … Although I hold DGLA, their leadership and their judgment in the highest esteem, I strongly disagree with this and find it irresponsible to say such a thing, because it’s not the truth about this man. He has a profound appreciation for the civil rights of people.”

To read our full story on DGLA’s endorsements, go here.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Joel Burns, Nikki Peet accept GLAAD awards; firefighters fired for nude pics

Joel Burns and Lawrence O’Donnell, via Facebook

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and Bianca “Nikki” Peet, a student at Corpus Christi’s Flour Bluff High School, were among those honored Sunday night during the 22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles. Burns, husband J.D. Angle and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell accepted the award for Outstanding TV Journalism Segment, for their interview on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Peet received a Special Recognition Award for her efforts to organize a Gay Straight Alliance at her school. We’ll post more photos from the event as soon as they are available.

2. Who would have thought Oklahoma would be home to the first transgender person elected to lead a statewide Young Democrats group? Trans attorney Brittany Novotny, who challenged bigoted State Rep. Sally Kern in November, on Saturday was elected president of Young Democrats of Oklahoma.

3. Two firefighters in Victoria, Texas have been fired for creating a montage of photos of nude men that was posted at their station. According to The Victoria Advocate, the montage included a scantily clad crotch shot, a shot of one nude man kissing another nude man’s body, a cartoon of two men kissing, a shot of one nude man looming over another with his hands on his shoulders, a bare-chested man,  a shot of a man’s scantly clad rear end, and face shots of two Hollywood actors. The city isn’t releasing details of the incident, other than to say that the employees violated the city’s conduct policy. One expert noted that the incident could be an example of anti-gay harrassment:

“Sometimes in a case where straight people harass homosexual people, it may be an attempt to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ separation; a clumsy or immature attempt to demonstrate their own ‘straightness’ through not-so-subtle intimidation,” University of Houston-Victoria criminal justice professor Casey Akins told the newspaper. “Straight on gay harassment is under-reported and when it is reported, it is often not necessarily classified as ‘sexual harassment in the workplace.”

—  John Wright

CORRECTION: All major candidates for Dallas mayor vied for LGBT vote in 2002

In my cover story for this week’s paper, I made a minor mistake. Actually it was fairly major. The opening paragraph of the story, as originally written, stated that 2011 marks the first time in history that all major candidates for Dallas mayor have actively courted the LGBT vote.

As former DV staff writer David Webb pointed out in the comments to the story, that’s not true. In 2002, Laura Miller, Tom Dunning and Domingo Garcia — the three major candidates for mayor — all courted the LGBT vote.

From The Dallas Mornings News on Jan. 15, 2002:

Dallas gays and lesbians, who used to hope that they could just find a candidate who wouldn’t be hostile to their interests, find themselves for the first time being wooed from all directions in what boils down to a three-way citywide race – and disagreeing about whom to support.

“It’s the first time I haven’t had to go vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Deb Elder, a Laura Miller supporter and political organizer. “Nothing has piqued my passion like this mayoral vote.”

Put another way, with major candidates Ms. Miller, Tom Dunning, and Domingo Garcia all touting their support for including gays in a nondiscrimination ordinance, a sector of voters that was shunned not long ago can’t lose this time around.

“It’s historic. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t know it would be this soon,” said Michael Milliken, one of the city’s first publicly identified gay appointees. “The gay community is in a unique position this year.”

I had based my report on statements by openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who called the 2011 mayoral election “a watershed moment for the community” and “unprecedented.”

While that may be true in some other respects, this isn’t the first time all major mayoral candidates have sought the LGBT vote, and I apologize for the error.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Joel Burns speaks about his brother’s death during Fort Worth City Council meeting

Nearly six months after he delivered his “It Gets Better” speech, gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns broke down again Tuesday during a City Council meeting — this time as he remembered his younger brother who died a few weeks ago.

Cody Burns, 27, of Stephenville was killed March 12 when he lost control of his pickup on a dirt road in Erath County.

Joel Burns

“It’s hard to find meaning in a loss like this, someone who’s 27 years old,” Joel Burns said, his voice wavering. “And I don’t want people to think that it was within God’s plan to take Cody. God didn’t cause that accident. God didn’t need another cowboy in Heaven and took Cody, but I do think it’s within God’s plan that we as human beings are compassionate and console one another through loss, and I have certainly experienced that in recent days, as has my family, and I want to thank so many of you for being there for all of us through this very difficult time.”

Burns also took the opportunity to promote seat belt use. He said his brother was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident because he didn’t believe in them.

“If you’re someone who believes in the myth that seat belts don’t save lives, I want you to reconsider, and I want you to talk to the people that you might know that don’t put on their seat belt,” Burns said. “Again, I don’t know that Cody would be alive today if he had his seat belt on, but I’ll tell you that the guy sitting next to him literally unbuckled his seat belt and he walked away from the wreck.”

Finally, Burns encouraged people to call their loved ones. He said he was at a bullying conference at the White House in Washington a few days before Cody’s death. After the conference, he texted with Cody, who had seen him on the news and wrote, “You didn’t make too much of a fool of yourself.” Joel Burns said he’ll cherish that text as his last communication with Cody.

Burns said he called his mom and dad and sister after the conference, but he put off calling Cody until the weekend because he had another appointment to get to.

“Man would I give anything to have that five-minute phone conversation that I didn’t have, that I put off for a couple days,” Burns said. “So if there is one other thing, other than wearing your seat belt, to take from this, I would encourage you if there’s somebody that it would just break your heart to go through life without having that five-minute conversation with, when this meeting is over you should give them a call.

“Cody’s life was an incredible one, and I will miss him every day,” Burns said. “I will miss him on happy days and I will miss him on sad days. He was indeed a miracle, and I thank everyone for your support in recent days.”

Mayor Mike Moncrief thanked Burns for his comments.

“As you always seem to do, you take a negative, and you try to add a lesson, whether that lesson is seat belts or whether it’s bullying or whether it’s contacting a loved one or someone you care about while you’re thinking about it and not as an afterthought,” Moncrief said. “That is something I think we all appreciate about you. As we adjourn today, we will do so in Cody’s honor.”

—  John Wright