HISD Trustee Eastman to hold community meeting on anti-bullying efforts

Anna Eastman

HISD Trustee Anna Eastman

Houston Independent School District Trustee Anna Eastman has announced a special meeting for constituents in her District I to discuss anti-bullying programs currently implemented in HISD on Tuesday, February 7. The meeting, at Reagan High School (413 E 13th), coincides with HISD’s Anti-Bullying Awareness Week.

Guests include Kim A. Case of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Martin B. Cominsky of the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Fisher of +Works, a national, Houston-based anti-bullying organization.

Eastman has been on the forefront of anti-bullying efforts in HISD since joining the board of trustees in 2009, helping push through actions by the board last summer that protect students from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

—  admin

Politics and the rutting season

Like wild animals looking to mate, politicians during campaigns make a lot of noise over sex, but the real substance is the diminishment of our sexual freedom

Politicians are strange animals. They hibernate for years at a time, only emerging to participate in the curious ritual known as “campaigning.”

Much like “rutting season” for deer and elk, the politician spends much of the campaign season trying to make as big a show as possible of his prowess.

The culmination of the rutting season ends in showy battles where animals clash their antlers together, making great cracking sounds in the forest.

For the politician, this clashing happens in televised debates where there is much sound and fury and very little substance.

The only reason I say this is because there is an undertone of the whole season that is disturbing.

For elk and deer, it is the season of mating, and only the heartiest males can herd together a sizable group of females to impregnate and then leave.

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW
Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

For politicians it is the season to gather together voters whom they will screw in a metaphorical manner and then abandon, breaking all the pledges they made to their constituents.

OK, so I tortured that metaphor about as much as I can. Here is the point of this whole thing: Both rutting season and campaign season have one thing in common — sex.

For politicians the campaign is the ideal time to focus on the most incendiary topics, and sex is right up there in our society, along with taxes and religion.

The advantage in focusing on sex is it deflects focus from the real issues of the economy, war and jobs.

After all, it’s difficult for the average American to understand the real issues behind the economic problems, job losses and the ongoing wars. But sex? Well, that one is easy.

For politicians, focusing on sex is a slam-dunk. Point to those folks who have sexual preferences that differ from the majority of your voters and you are taking fewer risks.

In a society as sexually repressed as ours, any variance from the perceived norm causes panic, and that can be used to sway votes your way.

It is a sad fact that Americans do not consider sexuality, and more specifically sexual freedom, a basic human right. Because of that, politicians find it easy to whip voters into a frenzy using sex as a campaign issue:

“Ban gay marriage! Stop the homosexual agenda! Stop teaching sex education! End public access to contraception! Stop HPV vaccinations!”

At their root, these issues are all about sex and the discomfort Americans feel even discussing it.

It’s time America grows up and stops behaving like a herd of deer. If we could honestly and thoughtfully address our discomfort in talking about sex, we would go a long way towards becoming a greater nation.

The sooner we accept sexual freedom as one of our basic and sacred human rights, the sooner we will cease being a dysfunctional, adolescent society.

Sexual freedom is the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality. It is nothing to be afraid of, yet politicians and clergy have taken this sacred right and tagged it with incendiary language like “promiscuity” and “immorality.”

It should come as no surprise that they are lying to us. Sexual freedom, like all our rights, is something to be taken seriously. It is the right to express in speech and writing our unique sexuality.

It is the right to obtain medically accurate and inclusive information about sex and sexuality. It is the right to control our bodies and our relationships. It is the right to engage in consensual sexual activity as an expression of who we are as human beings.

It is one of the many gifts we have been endowed with, yet sex is systematically excluded from most discussions of citizens’ rights.

This Friday, Sept. 23 is Sexual Freedom Day. The Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance celebrates this day each year with seminars, conferences and media events. This year the conference takes place in Washington, D.C. at the Pew Charitable Trust Foundation Conference Center and will feature panelists from across the country and around the world.

The idea is to provide a safe space to start talking about sex and human rights.

Elevating the conversation is vital to assuring our rights as LGBT Americans. The sooner we can mature as a country, the sooner issues of sex and sexuality will cease to be tools for use by politicians.

And the sooner we can stop behaving like a herd, the sooner we will cease to be treated like frightened animals.

Maybe then we can concentrate on actually making our country a safer, healthier and better place.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Maryland panel advances marriage bill

Sam Arora

After three days of drama, a Maryland House committee has finally advanced a marriage equality bill, voting 12-10 to send it to the floor.

Democratic Del. Tiffany T. Alston, once a co-sponsor of the bill, voted against it after attempting to amend it to establish civil unions instead of same-sex marriage. However, Democratic Del. Sam Arora, who’s also wavered in his support for the bill in recent days, voted for it and issued a statement saying he will also do so again on the House floor.

“I have heard from constituents, friends, and advocates from across the spectrum of views and have thought about the issue of same-sex marriage extensively,” Arora said in a statement before the committee vote. “I understand their concern—this is a very serious issue, and one that many people feel passionately about. As the vote drew nearer, I wrestled with this issue in a way I never had before, which led me to realize that I had some concerns about the bill. While I personally believe that Maryland should extend civil rights to same-sex couples through civil unions, I have come to the conclusion that this issue has such impact on the people of Maryland that they should have a direct say. I will vote to send the bill to the floor because it deserves an up-or-down vote. On the floor, I will vote to send the bill to the governor so that Marylanders can ultimately decide this issue at the polls. I think that is appropriate.”

—  John Wright

Query • 12.10.10

Do you call the two Texas senators when a vote like DADT comes up?

…………………..

Gregg S. Gunter — “Absolutely! They have paid staff members to take our phone calls and listen to their constituents! Democracy in action!”

Carl Smith — “No. I e-mail them — repeatedly — and encourage others to do the same.”

Kissiah Aiken — “No. I don’t figure they give a damn, being Republicans.”

Latisha McDaniel — “Never hurts.”

Alex Hanselka — “No. I should probably.”

Elizabeth Parker — “E-mail repeatedly.”

Brian Burcham  — “Definitely call them. They need to know that it is time for DADT to be repealed!”

…………………..
Have a suggestion for a question you’d like us to ask?
E-mail it to nash@dallasvoice.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Texas hops on the Crazy Train again

Leo Berman

Hardy Haberman |  Dungeon Diary

Just when you think sanity might have been restored, the delightful Texas State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has introduced a “birther” bill in the Texas Legislature. Berman is the same representative who was famously quoted as saying, “Barack Obama is God’s punishment on us.”

Now easy as it would be to just paint this guy with the broad brush and call him “frigging nuts,” he represents a real problem in this state and pretty much most of the U.S. For a long time the Democratic Party has believed that reason and facts would win the day. If there were ever an argument against that, the last election cycle would be it. That little debacle for the Dems was won not by reason but by emotion. Mostly it was fear and bigotry. Fear stoked by the economic situation many American’s find themselves in and bigotry disguised as the “Tea Party.” The whole “take America back” thing is about having a black man in the White House. Every other argument is predicated on that unspoken premise and a closer examination of their rhetoric will reveal it.

So, meanwhile the Dems keep relying on reason. How has that worked so far? Not at all.

The whole birther thing is a racially charged non-issue anyway, but don’t let reason get in the way of some good old fashioned fear. Even though the Obama birth certificate has been widely circulated and there is more than ample proof of his citizenship, the birthers persist. Why, because it is a good excuse to scare people and to tap into that old bigorty thing again.

So while I could just call Rep. Berman wacko, I will instead call him what he is, a politician who knows how to whip up his constituents with the most powerful tools in the GOP arsenal.

—  admin

Joel Burns begs teens contemplating suicide: Give yourself a chance to see life get better

Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns, right, and his husband, J.D. Angle

I have known Joel Burns for almost 10 years — several years longer than he has been on the Fort Worth City Council.

My wife and I met Joel and his husband, J.D. Angle, through mutual friends back when Joel and J.D. still lived in their beautifully restored home in the same East Fort Worth neighborhood where my wife and I and our children lived. I saw them then as the perfect couple: happy, handsome, healthy men with a beautiful home and great jobs. I knew they had great things ahead of them.

Then they moved to another beautifully restored older home in an historic neighborhood just south of downtown Fort Worth, and Joel ran for City Council. I was so happy when he was elected, because I believed that not only would Joel be a good representative for his constituents in District 9, but that he would also be a good representative for the LGBT community.

I think the fact that no one even stepped up to oppose Joel when he ran for re-election in 2009 shows that his constituents, overall, believe he is doing a good job on the City Council. But last night — Tuesday, Oct. 12 — during the weekly Fort Worth City Council meeting, Joel proved without a doubt that he also represents his LGBT community, and he proved why it is so important to have openly LGBT elected officials at all levels of government.

At each council meeting, council members are given a few minutes each at the start of the meeting to make announcements and to recognize people from their districts who have done something outstanding. Last night, Joel took his time to talk about the recent suicides of several LGBT youth — and to tell his own very personal and very powerful story.

After recounting the stories of several young men who have taken their own lives in recent weeks after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment, Joel told his fellow councilmembers and those in the council chambers that he was about to tell them something he had never told anyone before — not even his parents or his husband. And then, struggling through his own tears, he told them of the day when he was a 9th grader at Crowley High School and a group of older teens accosted him and “roughed him up.”

“They said that I was a faggot, and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged. That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down, that what I was beginning to feel on the inside must somehow be showing on the outside. Ashamed, humiliated and confused, I went home. There must be something very wrong with me, I thought, something I could never let my family or anyone else know,” he recalled.

Joel broke down then, and acknowledged that he couldn’t actually bring himself to read aloud the next couple of sentences he had written that described his own near suicide attempt. “I, don’t want my mother and father to have to bear the pain of having to hear … hear me say the …” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

When he regained his composure enough to continue, Joel said: “So I will just say, and I will skip ahead, I have never told this story to anyone before tonight. Not my family, not my husband, not anyone. But the number of suicides in recent days have upset me so much, they have just torn at my heart. And even though there may be some political repercussions for telling my story, the story is not just for the adults who might choose or not choose to support me. The story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight. Or the rope. Or the pill bottle. You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it on that unfortunate day. There is so, so, so much more.

“Yes, high school was difficult. Coming out was painful. But life got so much better for me. And I want to tell any teen that might see this: Give yourself a chance to see just how much better life will get. And it will get better. You will get out of the household that doesn’t accept you. You will get out of that high school, and you never have to deal with those jerks again if you don’t want to. You will find and you will make new friends who will understand you. And life will get so, so, so much better.”

Joel then talked about all the happy memories that fill his life now, from the first time he ever saw his future husband, to the day he asked J.D. to spend his life with him, to winning his first election to just a few days ago when he sat with his father after his father came out of surgery, and his father told him how happy he was to have Joel there with him.

He said: To those who are feeling very alone tonight, please know that I understand how you feel, that things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself. It may not seem like it tonight, but they will. And the attitudes of society will change. Please, live long enough to be there to see it.”

Joel ended by encouraging anyone who needs help or resources to deal with the issue of LGBT teen suicide to contact TheTrevorProject.org or to call him directly at 817-392-8809. “And you can call me, and I will get you whatever resources you need,” he promised.

As Joel finished, his fellow councilmember and friend Kathleen Hicks led the rest of the council and those in the council chambers in a standing ovation for Joel and his courage. I think he deserves a standing ovation from all of us, as well. Because last night, Joel Burns did us all proud, and maybe — just maybe — he helped save someone’s life.

Watch video of Joel’s speech to the council below:

—  admin

Local gay veteran offers $500 for meeting with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to discuss DADT

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, apparently doesn’t give a damn what her constituents think about repealing “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Dave Guy-Gainer, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County, is offering $500 in cold hard cash to anyone who can set up a face-to-face meeting for him — pronto — with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Gainer, a board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network who made the offer Monday morning, wants to speak with Hutchison about the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” which — God willing — will be voted on by the full Senate later this month. Hutchison has indicated she plans to vote against DADT repeal. But Gainer lamented that she’s seemingly made up her mind without ever even discussing the issue with constituents like himself who support repeal:

“Despite many attempts over the years, we have never been able to discuss the issue with her face to face,” Gainer wrote to Instant Tea. “During SLDN Lobby Day last spring, we had a meeting arranged with a DC staffer. Myself, three other constituents and a retired Army Major General arrived at the appointed time. The staffer was not there. After a two hour wait in her lobby, we were told that ‘oh, we forgot you were here.’ Other Texans have attempted to meet with her and have met with a brick wall as well. In my one voter opinion, I am not represented by a Senator who refuses to even hear what a constituent has to say about a topic as impacting as is DADT. I am certain of her vote against repeal. That is, unless she chooses to have discourse with constituents who  might convince her that repeal is warranted.

“My $500 bounty stands,” Gainer added, “but I doubt that I’ll ever have to award it.”

—  John Wright

Arlington councilman dismisses constituents’ concerns about gas drilling with a gay joke

Mel LeBlanc

Arlington City Councilman Mel LeBlanc recently responded to a constituent’s concerns about gas drilling in the city by making a joke about gay sex, according to e-mails obtained by Instant Tea.

LeBlanc couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

According to copies of the e-mails, Arlington residents Ken and Kim Feil sent LeBlanc a copy of an article from The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge, La., about an oil and gas well blowout in that state. Arlington is considering changes to its gas drilling ordinance.

LeBlanc, who reportedly supports gas drilling, responded to the Feils’ e-mail by saying he thought The Advocate was a national gay publication — which it is; there is more than one Advocate — and asking what this has to do with “drilling holes in the … .” Then LeBlanc added, “oh, wait, I see” in an apparent attempt at humor. Here’s the e-mail:

___________________________

____________________________

So, should we be offended by this bad juvenile joke? From a gay standpoint, probably not. But if we were the Feils we’d probably be a little annoyed that LeBlanc is making light of their concerns about gas drilling. We’d say LeBlanc’s e-mail might also raise the question of how he knows about the gay Advocate.

We spoke with Kim Feil about the e-mail on Friday, and she said LeBlanc has already called her to apologize. But Feil, who calls herself an environmental activist, said based on her past experience with LeBlanc, she wasn’t surprised by his joke.

“It was expected,” Feil said. “He just evades facing the issues. He’s pretty consistent with being offensive.”

UPDATE: LeBlanc has posted a response in the comments below.

—  John Wright

Dallas congresswoman, staunch LGBT ally says scholarship violations were unintentional

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, could face action by the House ethics committee following the revelation that she has, since 2005, awarded more than $25,000 in scholarship funds from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to her own relatives and the relatives of a staff member.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Johnson has given a total of 23 scholarships to two of her own grandsons, two of her own great-nephews and to the children of Rob Givens, one of her aides. The Morning News said Johnson initially defended her choices in awarding the scholarship funds. But in a statement released by her office on Monday, Aug. 30, Johnson apologized for what she said was an inadvertent violation of the rules and pledged to reimburse the funds immediately.

Her statement said:

“I am proud of the work that I have done for the 30th District of Texas. As a public servant, I have vowed to represent my constituents to the best of my ability.

“I have never and never planned to restrict my help to only Texans who reside in my district. My district lines have constantly changed and since I am the only Democrat in the entire North Texas Region, surrounded by Republicans, I have made myself accessible for nearly two decades. Much of my district office casework benefits people outside my constituency. While I am not ashamed of helping, I did not intentionally mean to violate any rules in the process — CBCF Scholarship Rules in particular.

“As previously stated, I was unaware of being in any type of violation and never intentionally violated the CBCF’s rules. Further, to rectify this matter immediately, I will reimburse the funds by the end of this week. Additionally, I have reinstituted a non-biased third party objective review committee to evaluate applications and put forth recommendations for future CBCF Scholarships. Going forward, this will eliminate conflicts of interest and consistently remain in compliance with CBCF Scholarship Rules.

“At present, I am home convalescing from major surgery. However, I am diligently working to resolve these issues as they are very important to me.”

Johnson has long been known as an ally of the LGBT community and has consistently scored 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, which rates legislators based on how they vote on LGBT issues. She has voted in favor of banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and including protections for LGBT people in the federal hate crimes law. She has also voted to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

In addition, Johnson co-sponsored several pro-LGBT bills, including one that would equalize tax treatment for employer-provided health coverage for domestic partners and other non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiaries,  and one that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the same immigration benefits as legal spouses of U.S. permanent residents

—  admin

Texas Congressman Lamar Smith plans to file ‘one man-one woman’ marriage bill this fall

Congressman Lamar Smith, R-Texas

Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican who represents a portion of Central Texas that includes, believe it or not, part of Travis County, is once again showing his way-right conservative roots — not to mention his lack of knowledge on the basic facts of world history.

According to the Christian news service One News Now, Smith has announced that he intends to introduce federal legislation this fall to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

In making the announcement, Smith told One News Now: “I think it’s important for Congress to go on record saying that we need to respect the traditional definition of marriage — to recognize a standard that has served all civilizations for thousands of years.” And that’s why I made the comment about his lack of knowledge of basic historical fact. Even the tiniest bit of research can show that the “one man, one woman” model is actually a fairly recent thing, in historical terms.

Anyway, Smith also said he will introduce the legislation in response to Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling on the California Prop 8 case, because his constituents are “somewhere between disturbed and outraged” by Walker’s ruling. And Smith poo-pooed the idea that LGBT people might have the constitutional right to marry whomever they want, saying, “Can you think of anything further from the minds of those who wrote the Constitution?”

(Actually, Congressman, I can think of several things that would horrify those authors of the Constitution, not the least of which would be seeing you and others like you use government to force religious beliefs on U.S. citizens.)

I am thinking we probably have some Instant Tea readers in Smith’s congressional district, District 21, which includes portions of Bexar and Travis counties and all of Comal, Real, Kerr, Bandera, Kendall and Blanco counties. So if you live in his district, you might want to contact his office, let him know that you are one of his constituents and tell him exactly what you think of his plan to introduce this legislation.

You can go here for contact information.

—  admin