Giffords’ friend, out State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, keynotes Texas Stonewall conference in March

Two years ago I attended the first Biennial Statewide Conference of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus in Austin, which among other things yielded this rather memorable gaffe by then-freshly elected out Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado. That same year, the conference also included a visit from Matt Foreman, a venerable gay-rights activist and former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The point is, it was a pretty solid lineup of speakers, and it looks like Texas Stonewall has come pretty close to duplicating it for this year’s second biennial event, set for March 5 and 6 in the capital. (On top of that, it looks like they’ve stepped it up from the DoubleTree on 15th to the Hilton Garden Inn downtown.)

Daniel Graney

Topping the list of speakers this year will be Arizona State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who happens to be good friends with recovering Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Tuscon (Sinema’s interview with a local TV station the night of the shooting is above).

Sinema, who’s bisexual, has led two statewide campaigns to defeat anti-gay propositions in Arizona, and some may remember her from visits to Dallas in support of President Barack Obama in 2008.

This year’s conference will also feature Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio; Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell; Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie; Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman; and National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Michael Mitchell.

The theme is “The New Political Landscape In Texas: Where Do We Go From Here?,” and the conference will focus on what went wrong in November 2010 and how Democrats in Texas can reverse the huge losses they suffered. And once again, people are encouraged to stay over for Equality Texas’ Lobby Day on Monday, March 7.

For conference information and to register online, go here (the discounted hotel rate expires Feb. 14). A full press release from TSDC President Daniel Graney is after the jump.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Daniel Hernandez, Fort Worth Episcopal diocese; marriage battles intensify

1. In a victory for LGBT-affirming Episcopalians, a conservative Fort Worth group that left the church over its acceptance of gays has been ordered to surrender the property it tried to steal from the six-county diocese. A state district judge on Friday ordered the group to turn over the property — which includes 55 parishes and missions as well as several schools — within 60 days. The group says it plans to appeal the decision, but hopefully this ruling will mean schools like St. Vincent’s can no longer discriminate against 4-year-olds like Olivia Harrison (above) who happen to have lesbian parents.

2. Daniel Hernandez Jr., the gay intern credited with saving the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will sit next to first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Tuesday also happens to be Hernandez’s 21st birthday.

3. Battles over same-sex marriage are intensifying in Maryland, Wyoming and Iowa.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Daniel Hernandez, bigoted N.C. lawmaker, Palm Springs gay sex sting fallout

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. President Barack Obama and Daniel Hernandez Jr. — the gay intern credited with saving the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — disagree about whether Hernandez should be called a hero. Thus far, however, discourse between the two has remained civil. Hernandez, who sat next to Obama during Wednesday night’s memorial service in Tucson, also spoke to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann after the event. In case you missed the service, Obama also announced that Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time in the hospital. And as Bill Maher put it, now it’s time for the rest of the nation to open its eyes. Watch Obama’s full speech here.

2. The government shouldn’t spend money to treat people with HIV/AIDS who “caused it by the way they live,” according to Instant Tea’s official Bigot of the Day, North Carolina State Rep. Larry Brown. “I’m not opposed to helping a child born with HIV or something, but I don’t condone spending taxpayers’ money to help people living in perverted lifestyles.” (Winston-Salem Journal)

3. When the Dallas Police Department conducts one of its gay sex stings, it’s business as usual. But when it happens in Palm Springs, Calif., all hell breaks loose.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Sarah Palin, Westboro Baptist Church, The Advocate’s gayest cities

1. Sarah Palin released a video statement (above) this morning in response to the Tucson shooting, saying her decision to put rifle crosshairs on a map over Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ district had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the incident at all. How could it have, right? But why so defensive then? And what better way for Palin to address a shooting that targeted Giffords, who’s Jewish, than by using an anti-semitic metaphor? Palin says those who link the tragedy to her violent rhetoric are committing “blood libel” — which refers to an accusation from the Middle Ages that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh for Passover. Palin is right, this incident was more about mental illness than rhetoric — until you consider the fact that the ones spewing the rhetoric are mentally ill. (Politico)

2. The governor of Arizona signed emergency legislation to prohibit Westboro Baptist Church from picketing within 300 feet of the funeral for a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the Tucson shooting. The legislation was initiated by openly gay State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Tucson, who said this: “I’m a strong advocate of the First Amendment and the bottom line is this, Fred Phelps and his group of people can still spew their hate if they want. They just don’t get to do it close to the families that are grieving. They have to be farther away.” (ABC 15)

3. The Advocate lists Minneapolis as the gayest city in America, and Texas is shut out of the top 15. Have we mentioned that The Advocate sucks?

—  John Wright

Debbie Friedman, lesbian who composed prayer of healing used in service for Giffords, dies

Monday evening, as I drove home from work, I was listening to All Things Considered on KERA 90.1 radio. They were, as you would expect, talking about the shootings Saturday in Tucson. The announcer segued from one segment to another by noting that Congregation Chaverim, the reform synagogue of which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a member, had held a service in which they prayed for healing for the congresswoman injured in the assassination attempt.

Debbie Friedman

One of the prayers the congregation sang, the announcer said, was the Mi Shebeirach, a prayer for healing by Debbie Friedman, who translated the words and wrote the music. There was a particular line that really caught my attention: “May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing. And let us say Amen.”

That was, to me, such a beautiful piece of poetry that I posted it as my status on Facebook.

What made it even more poignant was the fact that Friedman died Sunday, Jan. 9, of complications from pneumonia. She was, according to The New York Times (free subscription), “credited with helping give ancient liturgy broad appeal to late-20th-century worshippers.”

That’s when my co-worker, David Taffet, stepped in to explain to me that Friedman was a lesbian, and that her music is very popular not only in Reform Judaism congregations, but also in some Conservative and Modern Orthodox congregations — and even, according to The New York Times, in some Christian congregations.

David also told me that Mi Shebeirach (though not necessarily Friedman’s version) started to become popular as a prayer of healing in Reform congregations with large LGBT memberships in the 1980s in response to the AIDS epidemic. (He also acknowledged that mainstream congregations might argue with that, but insisted he is right — as usual.) Not being Jewish nor ever having attended a Jewish service, I had never heard the prayer. And so it’s simple beauty really touched me when I heard Friedman singing it on the radio last night, especially since it was sung for Congresswoman Giffords and that Friedman had died the day after the congresswoman was shot.

So now, I have learned something new about my LGBT community. It’s just too bad, I think, that I learned it so late.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Dead birds and DADT repeal; gay shooting hero Daniel Hernandez; Chely Wright

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Whacko preacher Cindy Jacobs, founder of Red Oak-based Generals International, says the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” may be to blame for the recent bird and fish deaths in Arkansas. Others, however, have suggested that Jacobs’ wardrobe is the real culprit. In case you didn’t know, Red Oak is a little town in Ellis County, about a half hour south of Dallas on I-35. Here’s what Jacobs says in the video above: “Well, there’s something interesting we have been watching — let’s talk about this Arkansas pattern and say, could it be a pattern? We’re going to watch and see. But the blackbirds fell to the ground in Beebe, Arkansas. Well the Governor of Arkansas’ name is Beebe. And also, there was something put out of Arkansas called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by a former Governor, this was proposed, Bill Clinton. As so, could there be a connection between this passage [Hosea 4] and now that we’ve had the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, where people now legally in the United States have broken restraints with the Scripture because the Scripture says in Romans 1 that homosexuality is not allowed. It could be because we have said it’s okay for people who commit these kinds of acts to be recognized in our military for the first time in our history, there is a potential that there is something that actually happened in the land where a hundred thousand drum fish died and also where these birds just fell out of the air.”

2. The Los Angeles Times draws a comparison between Daniel Hernandez Jr., the gay intern who may have saved the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — and Oliver Sipple, a gay Marine who thwarted an assassination attempt against President Gerald in 1975. It’s sure nice to know that Instant Tea, which broke the story about Hernandez being gay, probably won’t be getting sued like the newspapers that revealed Sipple was gay. And the column is an excellent illustration of how what it means to be gay has changed so dramatically over the last 35 years. …

3. … But we’ve still got a ways to go. Country singer Chely Wright, who appeared at this year’s Black Tie Dinner in Dallas, says the perception that coming out has helped her career is flat out wrong. “My record sales went directly in half,” Wright says in a new interview with Autostraddle.com, adding that she’s also received death threats.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gay intern Daniel Hernandez, who saved Gabrielle Giffords’ life, on CNN

On Sunday morning Instant Tea broke the news that Daniel Hernandez Jr., the intern credited with saving the life of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after Saturday’s shooting, is gay.

Unfortunately, just a few hours after we posted this exclusive story, our website went down for maintenance. Talk about bad timing!

Anyhow, we thought we’d follow up on our little scoop by sharing Hernandez’s interview with CNN, in which he refuses to take credit for saving Giffords’ life.

“People have been referring to me as a hero. I don’t think that’s something that I am,” Hernandez tells CNN. “I think the people who are heroes are the people like Gabby who are public servants and who have dedicated their lives to public service. So it just makes me happy that I was able to help her in any way that I could.”

Spoken like a true gay Latino hero.

—  John Wright

Gay intern credited with saving Giffords’ life

Daniel Hernandez Jr. is shown accompanying his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to an ambulance after she was shot on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Daniel Hernandez Jr., a 20-year-old University of Arizona student who’d been working as an intern for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for only five days, is being credited with saving her life after she was shot on Saturday.

Hernandez, who confirmed that he is gay in an interview with Instant Tea on Sunday morning, is a member of the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. “She’s been a great ally to the LGBT community,” Hernandez said of Giffords during the brief interview across a bad connection.

According to the Arizona Republic, Hernandez was standing about 30 feet from Giffords during the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Safeway store near Tucson. When the gunshots began, Hernandez ran toward them and began checking the pulses of people who’d been hit. When Hernandez got to Giffords, he used his hand to apply pressure to the entry wound on her forehead.  He pulled her into his lap and held her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her blood.

Daniel Hernandez is shown with Giffords in this image from his Facebook page.

Hernandez used his hand to apply pressure to the wound until someone brought clean smocks from the meat department of the grocery store. He stayed with Giffords until paramedics arrived, then climbed into an ambulance with her. On the way to the hospital, he squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. From the Republic:

When they arrived at the hospital, Hernandez was soaked in blood. His family brought him clean clothes because the FBI took his for evidence.

He waited at the hospital while she went into surgery. He needed to tell police what had happened. He overheard people walking by talking about how Giffords had died. He also heard this on NPR. Later, he learned she had lived.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “She was one of the people I’ve looked up to. Knowing she was alive and still fighting was good news. She’s definitely a fighter, whether for her own life, or standing up for people in southern Arizona.”

The fact that Hernandez was nearby and able to react quickly probably saved Giffords’ life, said state Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and a hospital physician. He talked to Hernandez at the hospital after the shooting.

Eight hours after the shooting, Hernandez stood with Giffords’ friends and staff and told them what had happened. The tall, strong 20-year-old said, “Of course you’re afraid, you just kind of have to do what you can.”

They hugged and thanked him. Later, he sat with his mom and sisters and told them about his friends and the staffers who had died that day.

“You just have to be calm and collected,” he said. “You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown. … It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.”

—  John Wright

Giffords celebrated DADT repeal with photo of Arizona sunset, attended signing ceremony

Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot today, is a member of the House LGBT Equality Caucus.

Steve Rothhaus at The Miami Herald reports that Giffords said the following after first being elected to Congress in 2006:

“I have stood up for equality in Arizona, and I am grateful that HRC and the GLBT community stood with our campaign during the primary and the general elections. We can accomplish so much for our families when we work together. Fairness is an essential American value, and when we champion fairness, we can win decisive victories in even the most competitive congressional districts.”

Giffords received a score of 81 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2008 Congressional Scorecard.

After the Senate passed a standalone bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” last month Giffords sent out this Tweet along with the photo above:

Giffords would later attend the presidential signing ceremony for DADT repeal.

HRC just released this statement from President Joe Solmonese:

“We are shocked and saddened by the events involving Congresswoman Giffords and our hearts go out to her and the other victims of this awful tragedy. Gabby Giffords is a champion for LGBT equality and a principled leader for Arizona. We wish her a speedy recovery as our thoughts and prayers are with her family as well as with the families of all of those touched by today’s horrific violence.”

—  John Wright