Employees’ Retirement Fund board takes up city of Dallas pensions

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The board of trustees for the city’s Employees’ Retirement Fund brainstormed ideas Tuesday morning about the best approach to make the pension plan equal for LGBT retirees.

The Dallas City Council passed a comprehensive equality resolution last month directing the city manager to evaluate areas in city employment where disparities for LGBT employees exist. Among them, were the pension plans.

Under the current plan, opposite-sex spouses receive lifetime benefits when their spouses die, but same-sex spouses are treated as designees, and their benefits run out after 10 years.

The ERF board spent half an hour discussing the resolution, as well as the state’s constitutional marriage amendment and the Texas Family Code, both of which prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.

—  Anna Waugh

PHOTOS: Jillian Michaels maximizes time in Dallas with tour visit

Jillian Michaels at SMU's McFarlin Auditorium on April 4. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Jillian Michaels at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium on April 4. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Jillian Michaels, out trainer on The Biggest Loser, brought her “Maximize Your Life” tour to Dallas this weekend. As expected, she was spunky, uplifting and demanding all at once, dishing out some tough love in the areas of eating, workout and life habits — all while continuing to tell the audience at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium that Dallasites are so nice. It’s our Southern charm, to be sure.

While the program got off to a late start with traffic delays because of the Final Four in town, the program ran about two hours, giving attendees a quality show that even included a brief Q&A at the end.

While this writer went in looking for motivation in various areas of her life, Michaels told the audience halfway through she couldn’t give them motivation; instead, everyone had to find his or her own internal motivation as external motivation eventually wavers and success wanes. Message received.

But it was an inspiring show with Michaels’ own personal experiences and some Biggest Loser highlights revisited. By the end of the night, she left us wanting more and waiting for the next tour.

If you bought a VIP ticket, photos from the meet and greet can be found here. And if you scroll through them, you’ll find a cameo appearance from finance guru Suze Orman, who was in town and stopped by for a photo.

More photos below.

—  Anna Waugh

University of Houston student Senate introduces bill to help trans community

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 12.19.48 PMStudents at the University of Houston are considering a bill to help transgender students and staff better identify themselves as their gender identity on campus.

The bill, the Josephine Tittsworth Act, was introduced by the student Senate Wednesday and calls upon the university to “fulfill its existing nondiscrimination policy (of the UH Student Handbook)” in regards to LGBT students, the student newspaper The Daily Cougar reports.

The bill seeks to acknowledge that “gender expression is the external characteristics presented by an individual such as masculine or feminine features displayed in mannerisms, speech, social environments or attire,” and to formally acknowledge “the terms, gender identity and gender expression represented trans, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff” on all University documentation.

It would allow students to have their preferred name on rosters and other university documents.

“Honestly, this is a freedom of speech issue. It allows people to choose which box to check. Over the past few weeks, people had unfortunately misinterpreted (the bill). This bill is about respect and tolerance on this campus,” newly elected student body President Charles Haston told the paper.

The bill comes a few months after the student government at the University of Houston-Downtown approved gender-neutral restrooms.

UH students at the meeting Wednesday explained the bill would help address students who go by a name associated with their gender identity only to be outed as trans when the professor calls roll, revealing their legal name.

The bill cites “high rates of harassment, physical violence and sexual assaults” as a result of failing to acknowledge trans and gender-nonconforming identities.

“This bill will translate into people being open with their identity,” said Tanzeem Chowdhury, former undergraduate-at-large senator.

“I think it would create a safer campus. Currently, UH is the second-most diverse campus in the nation. We’re always making progress in acceptance, and this would be a strong move forward — it would create a safer campus not only for members of the LGBT community, but for the entire student body.”

A town hall meeting to discuss the act will be at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

—  Anna Waugh

Houston couple wins ACLU same-sex wedding contest

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A Texas couple is among the five winners of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest.

Jeff Robertson and Jeremiah Pyant of Houston were one of 23 same-sex couples from the Lone Star State vying for the chance to win $5,000 toward their dream wedding. Contestants had to live in state like Texas where same-sex marriage is prohibited to be eligible to enter.

Pyant, a flight attendant, and Robertson, an ad executive, met four years ago aboard a plane that Pyant was working on. They got engaged in December and want to marry aboard a hot air balloon taking off from Texas and flying over New Mexico, where the marriage will be legal.

Winners were chosen out of the top 25 couples that received the most votes. ACLU told The Associated Press nearly 200,000 votes were cast for the 400 entries since the contest’s December launch.

After the contest began, more court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage started coming out of states, including a decision in Texas back in February.

“As soon as we entered the contest, the court decisions started coming out,” said Jeff Robertson. “We’re living a civil rights movement right before our eyes.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the wedding contest highlights the type of problems faced by gay couples in the nearly 30 states where marriage-equality lawsuits have been filed.

“We live in this crazy time, with a patchwork of protections, where you can go across the border and get married,” he said. “The problem is that when you turn around and go back, you’re not going to be considered married by your home states. That’s not the way it should work in America.”

—  Anna Waugh

Greg Abbott comes out for same-sex marriage in April Fool’s news story

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Greg Abbott

As if anyone would believe the Texas Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott would back same-sex marriage, some Texans may have thought he had done just that on Tuesday.

In a post by the Burnt Orange Report, Abbott is quoted as saying he’s decided to support his old friend Mark Phariss and partner Victor Holmes. The couple is suing the state of Texas for the right to marry in the Lone Star State along with a lesbian couple form Austin.

“I had an epiphany this morning when I looked at myself in the mirror,” Abbott told The Associated Press, according to the story. “I thought, ‘Gosh, Mark (Phariss) and Victor (Holmes) make such a cute couple. They’ve been happily in love for over 16 years now. It’d be such a shame if I were the person standing between their love and the true happiness of all other LGBT couples in Texas.’

“Look, this whole governor gig thing may not play out as smoothly as I thought it would, with me seriously offending someone new every week. I just don’t want to be forever known as that guy who stood against the love of his long-time friend and the rest of the thousands of LGBT couples in Texas simply looking to be treated like everyone else. That sounds like the bad guy in a James Cameron movie.”

Abbott’s support would indeed be a surprise to say the least. He’s been a staunch defender of the state’s 2005 a same-sex marriage amendment and intervened in the divorce case of a Dallas couple, preventing them from receiving a divorce. The case, and one of a lesbian couple in which Abbott’s office intervened in after the divorce was granted, is pending a decision at the Texas Supreme Court.

Perhaps a more believable April Fool’s story would be that Gov. Rick Perry came out. But then that’s already true, according to a book by former out state Rep. Glen Maxey.

—  Anna Waugh

Methodist Church suspends retired Dallas minister for performing same-sex wedding

The Rev. Bill McElvaney marries Jack Evans and George Harris at Midway Hills Christian Church on March 1. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The Rev. Bill McElvaney marries Jack Evans and George Harris at Midway Hills Christian Church on March 1. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The Rev. Bill McElvaney, emeritus pastor of Dallas’ Northaven’s United Methodist Church, has been suspended for marrying longtime couple Jack Evans and George Harris.

McElvaney married the couple of 53 years on March 1 at nearby Midway Hills Christian Church after announcing in January that he was taking a stand for marriage equality and “would consider it a privilege to officiate at a same-sex wedding.” Northaven’s current pastor decided not to have the ceremony take place at the church becasue of possible repercussions by the Methodist Church.

He received notice a week later from Dallas Bishop Michael McKee, notifying him of a complaint filed by the Rev. Camille Gaston.

“The UM Discipline calls for a supervisory response from the bishop,” McElvaney wrote in a post on Northaven’s website, where he announced the news. “This response is intended to be pastoral and administrative, directed toward a just resolution between the parties.”

McElvaney is not on trial for the wedding yet, but the meeting is the first step in determining how to move forward. He is suspended from clergy duties as the process unfolds. Other ministers who’ve violated the Methodist discipline and presided over same-sex weddings have been defrocked.

But McElvaney told Dallas Voice earlier this year that at 85, and who has recently undergone chemotherapy, he had nothing to lose by standing on the right side of history.

“I owe the Methodist church a lot, but what I do not owe the Methodist Church is my soul,” he said.

Read McElvaney’s statement below.

—  Anna Waugh

Vigils planned across Texas for murdered Houston lesbian couple

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Four vigils are scheduled throughout Texas on Wednesday night to remember the lives of a Houston lesbian couple killed earlier this month.

Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, both 24, were found in a trash bin near Port Bolivar on March 7. They’d been a couple for two years.

Cosby’s father, James Larry Cosby, was arrested for tampering with evidence in the case. He remains a suspect in the women’s’ deaths. Cosby’s mother told Houston media outlets over the weekend that her daughter’s father was upset she was gay, and she believed he killed them because of their sexual orientation.

Galveston detectives are still searching for a man who police believe was last seen with the women and information about the couple’s Kia Sorrento that was stolen. A $150 reward for information has been raised through a fund Dallas GetEQUAL TX activist C.d. Kirven started.

“We want to celebrate the way Britney and Crystal lived and not the way they died. They were a part of a community, an LGBT family that mourns their loss,” Kirven said about the vigils in a statement.

She said the Galveston vigil was canceled, and a Fort Wirth vigil  was added, along with vigils in Dallas, Austin and Corpus Christi.

Tiffani Bishop, co-state lead organizer for GetEQUAL TX said, “The tragic murders of Britney and Crystal are truly heartbreaking. To discover that Britney’s father is suspected of committing these crimes is difficult to wrap my head around. It is beyond time that our community begin an open and honest dialogue about violence against queer women of color.”

People attending vigils or who want to show support for the women’s memory are asked to wear yellow in the memory of Cosby and Jackson.

Other vigils are still being solidified, including one for Williamson County. GetEQUAL TX will update vigil information on its Facebook page.

Anyone with information about the case should call the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 866-248-8477 or Galveston County Crime Stoppers 409-763-8477.

Locations of the Texas vigils are below.

—  Anna Waugh

Lesbian couple files for divorce in Bexar County

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A San Antonio couple has filed to dissolve their 2010 D.C. marriage.

The couple, Allison Leona Flood Lesh and Kristi Lyn Lesh, filed for divorce on Feb. 18 after separating in July. Their case is the first divorce sought by a same-sex couple in Bexar County, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Eight days after they filed, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and its refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages is unconstitutional. But Garcia stayed his ruling pending appeal. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott later appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case may be put on hold until the Texas Supreme Court decides whether to allow same-sex couples to divorce in Texas. The court heard arguments for same-sex divorce in the state back in November, when lawyers for an Austin couple, who were granted a divorce, and a Dallas couple, who were still trying to obtain one, argued that the state didn’t need to recognize the marriages to dissolve the unions since the state where they were married already recognized their unions as legal.

The court has yet to rule in the cases, but a decision is expected by summer before the court’s recess.

But the San Antonio couple wants the case to move forward because they are also battling for custody of their 13-month-old daughter. Flood, who hasn’t seen the child in six months,  wants to share custody, while Lesh doesn’t because her wife isn’t the girl’s biological or adoptive parent. The Austin couple also has a child, but the case didn’t deal with custody.

“This illustrates what Judge Garcia identified as (what) same-sex couples are deprived of,” Neel Lane, one of the San Antonio lawyers for the gay couples who sued the state over the same-sex marriage ban, told the San Antonio Express-News. “First, they are deprived of the benefits of an orderly dissolution of a marriage. Second, their children are denied the benefit of the many laws to protect their interests in the event of a divorce.”

The couple has a hearing on Thursday.

—  Anna Waugh

Frank Librio resigns his post as Dallas spokesman, takes CVB job

Frank Librio, shown here in the city's 'It Gets Better' video last year.

Frank Librio, shown here in the city’s ‘It Gets Better’ video last year.

City of Dallas spokesman Frank Librio has resigned from his role as managing director of the Public Information Office to become the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s vice president of communications.

Librio, who’s openly gay, has worked for the city for nearly a decade and was instrumental last year in the making of an “It Gets Better” video, which featured more than a dozen city employees including himself. His last day is March 21.

In his resignation letter, Librio called his new role a “dream job” where he’ll “continue to help promote our great city.”

“I have worked with so many smart and talented employees — all working together to make our city better,” he wrote in the letter. “I will look back on my time at City Hall fondly and with great pride and gratitude.”

Read his letter below.

—  Anna Waugh

Equality Texas calls on police, public to help solve lesbian couple’s death

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A sketch of the man who police believe was the last person to be seen with the women.

Statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas is calling on the Department of Justice and local police to solve the deaths of a lesbian couple found dead in Port Bolivar over the weekend.

Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, both 24, were found Friday morning near the trash bin of a convenience store. Police have since released a sketch of the man who was last seen with the women.

Police believe the women were killed somewhere else before being moved to the trash bin. They were in Galveston County last week celebrating Mardi Gras before family members lost contact with them. Autopsy reports this week revealed that Cosby died of blunt force trauma and Jackson was shot to death.

“Equality Texas is deeply saddened by this murder, and our hearts and prayers are with Ms. Cosby’s and Ms. Jackson’s family and friends during this difficult time,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in a statement. “For many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community this is a stark reminder that nearly a third of Texas’ hate crimes are motivated by bias against sexual orientation.  A report issued last year by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 73.1 percent of all anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were people of color.

“I have faith that the Galveston County Sheriff’s department is working hard to bring closure to this senseless tragedy and will work with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Department of Justice to fully investigate,” Smith added.

GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven has set up a reward fund to encourage people to come forward with information. All money collected will go to Galveston County Crime Stoppers. Donations can be online here or checks and money orders can be mailed to Captain Cook with the Galveston County Crime Stoppers at 601 54th St. Galveston, TX 77551.

Investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying the man in the sketch and locating the couple’s silver 2006 Kia Sorrento with paper tags. Anyone with information about the case should contact the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 866-248-8477.

—  Anna Waugh