Texas House committees and pro-LGBT bills

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Legislative Queery

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has finally announced the committee assignments for the 82nd Texas House. As I predicted last month the partisan breakdown of the committee chairs roughly reflects the distribution of party control in the House with 11 Democratic chairs and 25 Republicans (not including the four select and joint committee chairs, all Republicans).

House committees that queer Texans will want to watch very carefully:

Public Education — Will get the anti-bullying bills. Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, scheduled the hearing for HB 1323 (last session’s anti-bullying bill) very late last session, but he did schedule a hearing and the committee eventually voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the whole House. Unfortunately, time ran out last session (more info on HB 1323 is here). Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, whose HB 224 is expected to be the water bearer for anti-bullying bills, is on the committee this session.

Public Health – Will get HB 405, which would allow same-sex parents to get accurate birth certificates for their children. Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Austin, was visibly moved by testimony last session on this bill. Let’s hope that causes her to schedule it for an early hearing.

Criminal Jurisprudence – Will get HB 604, the repeal of Texas’s unconstitutional sodomy law and HB 172, the study of the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Act. Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has a solid record of voting in the best interest of queer Texans, but repealing the unconstitutional sodomy law, however common-sense, is going to be a hard sell. Plus, with virulent homophobes Wayne Christian, Bill Zedler and Will Hartnett on the committee, it seems unlikely that common sense will beat out bigotry. The Hate Crimes study has a better chance. It made it out of committee last session, but it’s hard to predict what will happen this session.

Insurance – Will get HB 208 prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, hasn’t let this bill through in past sessions, and I’d be shocked if he lets it through this session. Smithee takes every chance he can get to hurt queer Texans. He’s not likely to pass this chance up, either.

State Affairs – Will get HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This bill, or a version of it, has been filed every session for over a decade, and it never gets a hearing. While new Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is an immense improvement over old Chairman Burt Solomons, it’s unlikely that this bill will go anywhere.

Now that we have committees, bills are going to start moving left and right. The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature is finally getting going!

—  admin

A queer take on the Texas Lege

Former Dallas resident Daniel Willams (right), who n0w lives in Houston, is the author of a very informative blog devoted to coverage of the Texas Legislature from an LGBT perspective, Legislative Queery. Williams has agreed to allow Instant Tea to cross-post his material from time to time, and we hope to do so regularly in our Community Voices section as this year’s session progresses. Read Williams’ first contribution to Instant Tea below, and be sure to visit his blog yourself to catch up on other topics.

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Today is the 11th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Monday at 1:30 p.m. The Senate is expected to begin what is certain to be an impassioned debate on voter suppression legislation, the House may finally adopt rules.

Senate committee assignments are also expected which means bills should start being referred to committee. Of particular interest is SB 245 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, which proposes comprehensive and inclusive anti-bullying measures. We’ll be watching that carefully and will let you know as soon as it’s referred to committee.

Today is Friday, which means that most of the representatives and senators are back in their district offices in your cities and neighborhoods. Fridays are great days to call your local office and ask for support from the people elected to represent you. This is particularly important if you know that your elected officials are not supportive of the queer community.

To find the phone number for your representative and senator’s district offices go HERE. Put in your address and press enter, then scroll down the page until you see the listing for state senator and state representative and find the phone numbers for their district office. Now put those numbers in your phone’s address book so you don’t have to keep looking them up!

For a suggested script for your phone call read Legislative Queery’s post from Day 4.

You can call about any topic that’s important to you. For lists of bills that have been filed this session check out the taps at the top of this page.

I suggest calling your representative about HB 604 by Farrar, which would repeal the state’s unconstitutional ban on “Homosexual Conduct”. Ask them to “co-author HB 604″. Equality Texas has an excellent fact sheet on the bill HERE.

Sen. Davis has been unabashed in her support for anti-bullying legislation. I want to thank her by reiterating my suggestion from last week to call your senator and ask them to “co-author SB 245.” The Equality Texas fact sheet is HERE.

—  John Wright

Phyllis Frye becomes Texas’ 1st trans judge

Phyllis Frye

It’s been a historic couple of weeks for the transgender legal community.

On Nov. 2, Victoria Kolakowski became the first transgender trial judge in the nation when she won a seat on the Alameda County (Calif.) Superior Court.

Then, just this morning, longtime Houston activist Phyllis Randolph Frye became the first trans judge in Texas, when Mayor Annise Parker appointed her as an associate municipal judge.

Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports:

Phyllis Randolph Frye, longtime legal advocate for the transgender community, was sworn in this morning as the state’s first transgender judge. Frye was appointed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker as an Associate Municipal Judge. The city council unanimously approved her appointment, along with a couple dozen other appointments, with little fanfare and no dissent.

The significance of the moment was not lost on Mayor Parker who fought back tears as she welcomed the appointees to the council dais. Council member Sue Lovell who, along with Parker and Frye, fought for years as a citizen to improve the lives of queer Houstonians, beamed as she spoke of how far the three of them have come. Several council members specifically thanked Frye for her willingness to serve.

It was only 30 years ago that Frye risked arrest every time she entered City Hall. At that time the City of Houston and most American cities had ordinances criminalizing cross dressing. Frye defied the law to fight for it’s repeal, which finally happened in 1980.

UPDATE: Here’s an e-mail that came across this afternoon from Frye:

Dear Friends, Family and Neighbors,

With humility, I wish to share that this morning, October 17, 2010, I was sworn to be an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts.  Considering the many and varied discriminations I have borne over the past four decades, this is an honor that has great significance both for me and for the OUT-Transgender community.

For those of you who are not familiar, let me assure you of what this means and what it does not mean.

It means that I an assistant judge for the city courthouse.  I will be scheduled to do night court dockets and weekend probable cause dockets in rotation with other Associate Judges.  And from time to time I will sit as Judge in a trial, substituting for an ill or vacationing Judge.  The types of cases heard in Municipal Court are offenses that can be ticketed in this, the 4th largest city in the nation.  This is a great honor.  I thank Mayor Parker for nominating me and the City Council for unanimously  confirming me through a scheduled Council vote.

(NOTE: Mine is the second position where an OUT-TG has been appointed to a City of Houston position.  The first was Jenifer Rene Pool on the city’s Buildings and Inspections Oversight Commission.  Jenifer has recently announced that she is running for City Council At-Large #2 — the incumbent will be term-limited — in November 2011.  If you desire to wish her well or to send her a contribution, she is at jrpcom@aol.com <mailto:jrpcom@aol.com> .)

(NOTE: Mine is not the first OUT-TG Judgeship.  I think there are a few other  appointed OUT-TG municipal judges across the country.  Last month in California, Vicki Kolakowski was elected to a Judgeship, and I think that she will be sworn in January.  Congratulations to Vicki.)

My being Associate Municipal Judge DOES NOT MEAN that I will give up my “day-job.”

I WILL REMAIN as senior partner of Frye and Associates at www.liberatinglaw.com <http://www.liberatinglaw.com/> .

Our firm will continue to provide a variety of legal services for the LGBT and Straight-Allies community.  And our firm will continue to fight the Nikki Araguz case, of which many of you have followed.

I hope that my appointment and Vicki’s election encourage more Mayors or other appointive bodies to give OUT-TG lawyers a chance to be appointed to various judicial posts across the nation.  I hope that my appointment and Vicki’s election encourage more OUT-TG lawyers will run for elected Judgeships.

NEVER GIVE UP!

For more go to http://www.legislativequeery.com/2010/11/trans-pioneer-phyllis-frye-becomes.html
Phyllis Randolph Frye
THE PHYLLABUSTER  <http://www.liberatinglaw.com/>
www.liberatinglaw.com  <http://www.tglegal.com/>
www.tglegal.com
prfrye@aol.com

—  John Wright

Houston holds ENDA rally

ENDA Houston 3

On Tuesday, April 6, rallies were held in a number of cities to support the ENDA 4 who went to court that day.

In Houston, a rally was held at the office of Sen. John Cornyn. About 45 people attended. No one from Cornyn’s office talked to anyone from the Houston rally.

Thanks to Daniel Williams who sent these pictures. More information in the April 9 Dallas Voice.

ENDA Houston1
Richard Thumper in foreground

ENDA Houston 2 ENDA Houston 4

—  David Taffet