Bipartisan bill would protect global LGBT rights

Rep. John Tierney introduced a bipartisan bill to protect LGBT people worldwide.

Rep. John Tierney introduced a bipartisan bill to protect LGBT people worldwide.

A bill recently introduced by a bipartisan group of representatives in Congress would protect and advance the global rights of LGBT people if passed.

Reps. John F. Tierney, D-M.A., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Richard, R-N.Y., introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act Wednesday, July 16. Sen. Edward Markey, D-M.A., introduced the bill in the Senate on June 3.

If passed, the bill would direct the Department of State to prioritize protecting LGBT people worldwide. The bill would require the department to develop a strategy to promote and protect LGBT rights worldwide and also appoint a “Special Envoy on the Human Rights of LGBT People” to oversee the strategy.

According to American Jewish World Service, a chief proponent of the bill, 77 countries jail people for having same-sex relations. Five of those countries allow LGBT people to be put to death.

“Defending the rights of LGBT people worldwide is crucial, as many governments are passing punitive laws and sanctioning acts of hate against LGBT people,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “As American Jews, we are members of a minority whose rights have been trampled in the past, and we understand fully that neither nor our government can stand by as the rights of vulnerable minorities are trampled in other parts of the world.”

—  James Russell

Out candidate Donald Brown leads in Southeast Texas congressional bid

Donald Brown

Donald Brown

Texas is on its way to having two out candidates for Congress after openly gay Donald Brown received enough votes to avoid a runoff after early voting results Tuesday.

Brown received 61 percent of the vote in his Democratic bid for Congressional District 14 and he could avoid a runoff if he maintains the strong lead.

Buck Willis, who received the local Stonewall Democrats endorsement, brought in 28 percent of the vote, with Gagan Panjhazari receiving 11 percent.

CD 14 spans Southeast Texas form Freeport to Beaumont. The winner will take on Republican incumbent Randy Weber, who’s unopposed in the primary.

Brown is one of two openly gay Texas candidates running for Congress. Louie Minor is unopposed in the Democratic primary for CD 31 in central Texas. He’ll face Republican incumbent John Carter in November.

—  Anna Waugh

5 GetEQUAL TX activists arrested for blocking traffic in Austin ENDA protest

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Five GetEQUAL TX activists were arrested this evening for blocking traffic near the state Capitol while protesting for LGBT nondiscrimination in the workforce.

Holding a sign that read, “We Work Together,” the group blocked the intersection at 11th and Congress in Austin, calling for the Texas Senate to stop blocking the progress of SB 237, which was left pending in committee. This is the second set of arrests in as many weeks for activists protesting SB 237.

The Austin action was part of a new national GetEQUAL campaign that launched today to urge Congress to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was recently reintroduced. In Washington, D.C., activists held light panels on the grounds of Congress, reading “PASS ENDA NOW.”

The campaign, “Workplace INclusion: Winning LGBT Workplace Protections (WIN),” kicks off a week of action across the country to draw attention to need for workplace protections for LGBT employees. The actions will end May 14, the anniversary of Bella Abzug’s Equality Act of 1974, which was the first piece of pro-LGBT legislation in the U.S.

“For LGBT Americans from California to Connecticut and from Alabama to Alaska, the need for federal workplace protections is clear,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL. “We hear story after story after story of folks who are simply trying to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families — but who encounter harassment on the job, who are refused jobs because of who they are, or who face insurmountable options for promotion because of who they love. In America, anyone qualified for a job should be able to get and hold that job without fear of violence, harassment, or termination. We need Congress to act now!”

A Dallas rally is planned for Saturday from11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Dallas County Courthouse, 600 Commerce St., to educate voters on the importance of passing SB 237 before the Texas Legislature ends its session in three weeks.

—  Anna Waugh

LGBT advocates say federal ENDA to be introduced in Congress on Thursday

ENDA Houston 4The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is expected to be reintroduced in both chambers of Congress on Thursday.

The bill would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT advocates have been reviewing the legislation the past few months to revise language for small companies and religious entities that would be exempt. However, the changes are not expected to be in the introduced bill, the Washington Blade reports.

In the last session, 40 senators and 171 representatives signed as co-sponsors to the bill. More are expected this session, especially since an increasing number of senators have come out for marriage equality. Dallas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson was a co-sponsor last session, and freshman Reps. Marc Veasey and Beto O’Rourke are expected to support the legislation.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, told the Blade the organization wanted the legislation advanced quickly and hoped to time a vote in the Senate with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in two marriage equality cases.

“After the Supreme Court rules in the Windsor marriage case, many right-wingers are going to denounce marriage equality for same-sex couples, but claim that they don’t believe in discrimination against LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “That’s the time when we should call some of those bluffs by putting ENDA on the Senate floor and letting all 100 senators go on the record about whether hardworking Americans should get fired just because of who they are or who they love.”

In Texas, a bill to prohibit statewide job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression had a hearing in the Senate, but was left pending in committee.

The House versions of the bill, HB 238 by San Antonio Rep. Mike Villarreal and HB 1146 Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson, have hearings scheduled Wednesday in the Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

—  Anna Waugh

Texas GOP congressman smears opponent with false, anti-gay ad

 

Francisco “Quico” Canseco

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart has a post up today in which he argues that the absence of LGBT issues from the presidential debates — which conclude tonight — is actually a good thing because it signals that gays no longer make an effective political wedge.

Unfortunately, that’s still not always the case in places like Texas — as evidenced by a recent attack mailer in a hard-fought congressional race.

The mailer from tea party freshman Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, accuses his opponent, Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego, of saying “no to God,” supporting “abortions for underage girls” and wanting “marriage to be between man & man.” Canseco and Gallego face off Nov. 6 in District 23, Texas’ only swing congressional district, which stretches along the Mexican border from San Antonio to El Paso.

The charges brought by Canseco in the mailer are mostly false, according to reports in the Texas Tribune and the Huffington Post.

—  John Wright

Bi U.S. House candidate talks about being a role model for LGBT youth at campaign stop in Dallas

Former Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a bisexual candidate for U.S. House, talks about her challenging youth that helped inspire her to run for Congress at a fundraiser at Sue Ellen's April 29. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Former Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema charmed a small crowd at Sue Ellen’s Vixen Lounge on Sunday night on her first campaign trip to Texas to raise money for her campaign to become the first bisexual elected to Congress.

Sinema, a seven-year veteran of the Arizona Legislature, resigned in January to focus on her campaign for Arizona’s new 9th Congressional District, which covers Phoenix and areas to the north and east.

In her speech to the audience about her run for Congress, Sinema talked about her time growing up with divorced parents and the time she lived in an abandoned gas station when she was 8. While Dallas Voice did an interview with her before the event where she discussed views on immigration and how former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, was a role model for her, Sinema spoke about how she now inspires youth.

“I want LGBT youth to see me and think, ‘I can do that,’” she told Instant Tea about running for Congress. “In particular I want young women and young gay people to feel like they can do anything, because they can.”

While working with youth as a social worker after putting herself through college with scholarships and grants, Sinema said she started lobbying at the Arizona Capitol to try to create change for the struggling youth and families she worked with daily. But the result was unsatisfactory as lawmakers refused to listen, she said.

“So I went to law school,” she said, adding that then she was not yet 25 and could not run for state office.

But in 2004, at 27, she won her first election as a state representative — the youngest women to win in the state’s history — and began to build relationships with Democrats and Republicans to change anti-gay views.

—  Anna Waugh

Gonzalez issues statement on marriage equality plank, as San Antonio continues to lead the way

Charles Gonzalez

U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, a national co-chair for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, is also the only member of Texas’ congressional delegation who’s signed Freedom To Marry’s petition in support of a marriage equality plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform.

Gonzalez is one of several Obama campaign co-chairs who’ve endorsed the marriage equality plank. In response to a request from Instant Tea, spokesman Drew Stout sent over a statement from Gonzalez explaining his position. Here’s the full statement:

“The Democratic Party has been and always will be the Party committed to fighting for equality for all Americans,” Gonzalez said. “As an individual Member of Congress, marriage equality is an issue which I support. During the platform writing process, ideas and opinions will be considered from our diverse Democratic Party family, and I understand that the President and the Party are committed to crafting a platform that reflects our values and a belief that America is a nation in which everyone deserves a fair shot and hard work is rewarded. I fully expect that my opinion, and the opinions of others, will be an important consideration in reaching a consensus in drafting our party’s platform. The time will come to consider the content of the platform, but at this time, not a single platform committee member has been chosen and the process has yet to begin. As the election season moves forward, my chief objective will be for President Obama and our candidates in every part of the country to prevail in November so that we continue to make this country a better place for everyone.”

Interestingly, Gonzalez’s public support for the marriage equality plank continues a recent trend of politicians from the San Antonio area leading the way on this issue in the Lone Star State. Of the six Texas mayors who’ve joined Mayors for the Freedom to Marry campaign, three are from Bexar County.

—  John Wright

Openly bi Arizona legislator Kyrsten Sinema announces bid for Congress

One night just about four years ago, I was in the Rose Room at Station 4, waiting to participate in what was then an unprecedented event in Dallas — a debate of sorts between official representatives from the campaigns of then-senators and Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

While I was standing around waiting for organizers to tell me it was time to start, a vivacious young woman with short blond hair walked up and introduced herself to me as Kyrsten. It was kind of loud in the Rose Room then and so I couldn’t clearly hear what she was telling me. I did hear her say that she was from Arizona, and that she was backing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. I thought she was an Obama campaign staffer.

Before long, though, I found out that Kyrsten was actually Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, that state’s first legislator who was an out and proud member of the LGBT community.

I was impressed with the young woman’s personality and her passion. So since then, I have kind of kept up with Sinema through news stories about her on the Internet. I read with interest the news reports two years ago with Sinema was elected to the Arizona State Senate. I was actually quite pleased today when I read that Sinema has announced she is resigning from the state Senate to run from Congress representing Arizona’s newly drafted 9th District.

Don’t take that as an endorsement of Sinema’s campaign for Congress. I just mean that I believe our community has a better chance of making progress toward full equality when there are members of our community holding elected office, and we can’t have LGBT elected if we don’t have LGBT candidates. And from what I hear, Sinema is a strong candidate.

According to the Phoenix New Times, Sinema is the only Democrat to have officially declared a candidacy in District 9, although another state senator, David Schapira has formed an exploratory committee for a possible congressional run, and Arizona Democratic Party Chair Andrei Cherny is also rumored to be considering joining the race.

As the New Times also pointed out, in Arizona, members of Congress aren’t required to live in the district they represent. And Sinema actually lives in District 6. She chose to run for District 9, however, because it is more progressive than her home district, which leans toward the Republican side.

And speaking of Republicans, the New Times said Congressman Ben Quayle (yes, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle), who lives in District 9, is likely to run instead in District 6 where he would face Congressman David Schweikert in the Republican Primary.

Turning back to the Democrats, Sinema, in announcing her candidacy on her Facebook page, said: “I’ve decided to run for Congress because we need to wake up Washington! I will fight for the forgotten middle class and stand up to a system that is rigged against them.”

You can watch her video announcing her candidacy below.

—  admin

A beer by any other name…

On the long list of ridiculous Texas laws the alcoholic beverage code would have to take up about half the space (although that whole “no marriage equality” thing is pretty far up there), but it seems like at least a part of our antiquated system of booze laws is getting an update. Under current state law “beer” can contain no more than 4% alcohol by volume, anything greater and it must be labeled as “ale” or “malt liquor.” If a recent ruling by US District Court Judge Sam Sparks holds that’s about to change.

A group of brewers sued the state arguing that the current restrictions violated their free speech. The judge agreed, and in a hilarious ruling poked fun at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for thinking they can redefine words by legislative fiat, and gave a shout-out to Austin’s annual bat festival.  From Austin360.com:

“TABC’s argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restrictions on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word ‘milk’ to mean ‘a nocturnal flying mammal that eats insects and employs echolocation.’ Under TABC’s logic, Texas would then be authorized to prohibit use of the word ‘milk’ by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual ‘Milk Festival’ on the Congress Avenue Bridge.”

 

—  admin

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin