Powerful GOP Rep. Byron Cook supports supplemental birth certificate bill

Byron-Cook

State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

State Affairs Chairman and Republican Representative Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, voiced his explicit support today (Wednesday, April 15) for legislation that would allow same-sex couples and legal guardians of a child to receive a supplementary birth certificate reflecting both of their names.

Cook’s announcement came following Dallas Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchia’s moving speech in support of the bill, HB 537.

“I want everyone to know I support [the bill] too,” Cook said after asking for Anchia’s comments to be included in the House’s written record.

The move was a milestone for the bill that has languished in the House for the past three sessions. Cook chairs the powerful State Affairs committee, which recently heard comments for and against the bill. He is also a close ally of House Speaker Joe Straus.

Cook expressed skepticism to opponents of the bill during a March 18 State Affairs committee hearing, telling one opponent he “struggled” with her opposition to the measure, according to the Texas Tribune.

“That’s a terrible indictment on one group to be real honest with you,” Cook told conservative legislative analyst Julie Drenner with the group Texas Values during the hearing.

You can watch Anchia’s moving speech and Cook’s statement below.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton announces 2016 presidential bid

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Longtime Clinton family confidante John Podesta announced today (Sunday, April 12) that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running for president.

This is her second presidential run. The former senator from New York and first lady made her first bid for the presidency in 2008, where she was defeated in a bruising presidential primary by then-Sen. Barack Obama, a first term senator from Illinois. After securing the Democratic nomination he ultimately crushed another longtime titan, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, in the general election.

While it is not the first time she’s been the presumed frontrunner for her party’s nomination, she is expected to face only token opposition this time. Despite the Democrats’ best efforts, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are said to be considering bids as well.

But not everyone wants to see Clinton go without a challenge. On Twitter, the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith pointed out HRC2016.com links to a 2013 article in The New Republic calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts and a favorite of progressives, “Hillary’s Nightmare.” Many progressive activists have repeatedly attempted to recruit the first-term Warren to jump into the race. She has repeatedly declined.

So far, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican with Texas ties, have declared their bids for their party’s nomination. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is set to announce his campaign tomorrow (Monday, April 13). Other Republicans with Texas ties, including former governors Rick Perry, R-Texas, and Jeb Bush, R-Florida, are also expected to announce soon.

—  James Russell

Indiana Senate votes for religion-based discrimination

The Indiana Senate voted yesterday (Tuesday, Feb. 3) to allow organizations such as hospitals and universities with religious affiliations to discriminate against employees who refuse to follow the employers’ religious beliefs, even if the employing organization receives state funds.

Holdman.Travis

Indiana Sen. Travis Holdman

Senate Bill 127 would allow those employers to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs and to require employees to follow the religious tenets of the employer. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill on a vote of 39-11. All 10 Democrats in the Senate voted against the measure, and they were joined by one Republican: Sen. Ron Grooms of Jeffersonville.

Republican Sen. Travis Holdman, who authored the bill, said it does not grant license to discriminate, but instead follows federal law which allows similar exemptions from nondiscrimination requirements. But Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian said the part of the bill that allows such employers to require employees to adhere to employers’ religious tenets goes way beyond federal exemptions, and called the measure outrageous.

Outrageous or not, such “religious liberty” bills are definitely all the rage this year, being pushed by right-wingers furious over advances in marriage equality and LGBT civil rights try every tactic they can think of not to have to comply with court rulings striking down marriage equality bans — including an expected ruling this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2015 Texas Legislature, in session for less than a month, has already seen its share, as the Texas Observer points out here.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Rep. Eric Johnson files bill to end LGBT job discrimination

Rep. Eric JohnsonRep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, today (Thursday, Jan. 8) filed HB 627, which would protect workers from being fired or otherwise discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. He did so on the 37th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s inauguration to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as one of America’s first openly gay elected officials.

Texas law currently protects workers from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability. It does not protect workers from being fired or discriminated against solely due to their sexual orientation or gender expression.

“Every Texan should have the opportunity to work hard and provide for their families,” Rep. Johnson said. “Right now, the law allows someone to be fired simply for being him or herself or for whom they love. This really is a civil rights issue.”

The bill would include sexual orientation and gender expression in the list of prohibited employment discrimination. The Legislative Budget Board estimates that under this law more than 500 credible cases of discrimination could be reported each year.

Polls show that more than 3 in 4 Texans (75.8%) of Texans support prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. “The Legislature is lagging behind the people of Texas on this issue,” Rep. Johnson said. “We need to catch up.”

Today also marks the anniversary of Harvey Milk’s inauguration as one of the first openly gay elected officials in America, in 1978. One of Milk’s first acts as a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors was to pass a landmark non-discrimination ordinance that contained the same employment non-discrimination provisions that Rep. Johnson filed today.

Nearly four decades after San Francisco adopted Milk’s ordinance, 21 states and hundreds of cities have prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A number of Texas cities have passed employment non-discrimination ordinances as well, including Plano, Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Austin. However, the State of Texas has not yet joined them in enacting such protections for its workers. Rep. Johnson is looking to change that and extend non-discrimination protections to all Texas workers.

—  James Russell

Leticia Van de Putte visits Dallas tomorrow for rally

Leticia Van de PutteState Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor, will visit Dallas tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 21, at CWA Union Hall Local 6215, 1408 N. Washington from 6–9 p.m..

Van de Putte will be joined by Democratic candidates Carol Donovan and  Leigh Bailey, who are running competitive campaigns for two Dallas County Texas House seats, and by Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Darlene Ewing. The event is sponsored by the Dallas County Democratic Party and Dallas AFL-CIO.

Van de Putte, a staunch LGBT ally, was recently endorsed by every major newspaper editorial board in the state. She is running against Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick.

—  James Russell

The beginning of the end of bigotry in Texas

Editor’s note: Below is an opinion piece written by Todd Whitley, a columnist who contributes regularly to the Texas Voices (formerly Viewpoints) section of the print edition of Dallas Voice. Whitley will also be a regular contributor to our new blog page, which will be called CommuniTEA and which will feature the voices of people of our LGBT community. Watch for CommuniTEA, coming to our website soon.

A vision of what could be, if we all turn out to vote next month

Todd Whitley, Contributing Columnist

I can still remember that moment as if it were just yesterday: I had watched the past two presidential elections with amazement. But never had an election seemed to affect me so personally — in my own state.

Todd WhitleyYou see, back then, although gays and lesbians were making great progress toward marriage equality in other states, in Texas the nation’s longest serving governor, the Republican-controlled state Legislature, both U.S. senators and most of the U.S. representatives were against us. We had no marriage equality and no job protection.

Heck, the establishment was against women and poor people, too.

I admit: I had felt helpless, as if my vote — my voice — didn’t matter. But still, I voted.

As the polls closed, we had only a glimmer of hope. But we had no idea that hope was about to be realized.

A small group of us were watching the election returns at JR.’s. First, the early vote numbers came in and how we rejoiced at the landslide! Then, county by county, we held our collective breath.

Most — but not all — of the rural counties went red, as expected. But the vote count was closer than anyone could have predicted.

But how would the four major urban areas turn out?

The wait was excruciating and the entire bar was on edge, waiting to see what Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas would do.

Then, like a line of dominoes, they fell as something that had once seemed impossible happened. One county after another went blue — definitively so. People in overwhelming numbers — women, lesbians, gays, Latinos, African-Americans — had shown up at the polls and elected Wendy Davis as the first Democratic governor of Texas in 20 years, and only the third woman ever!

It is said, “As Texas goes, so goes the nation.” A state that had been so deeply red — the hateful, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant shade — began to change. And so did our country.

Our new governor set about to expand Medicaid so that the taxes we were sending to Washington came back home to take care of our most vulnerable citizens, including those with HIV/AIDS. She set a course for our Legislature that increased funding to our schools instead of slashing it. She fought the uphill battle to end discrimination of Texas gays and lesbians, both in matrimony and in the workplace. And she fought for the rights of young Texas “DREAMers” to receive higher education.

Eventually she increased the minimum wage and we experienced real job growth — not the kind that comes from more minimum wage jobs.

It was not easy at all. The stubborn, still-Republican-controlled Legislature fought her tooth and nail.

But by the next election, more Democrats and moderate Republicans had won seats in both houses, and the country began to take notice.

What our governor started could be continued for decades and could catch on in other formerly red states.

You see, no longer was Texas a safe haven for those who would try to oppress women, take away their access to safe healthcare or control their bodies. No longer would the state exclude lesbian, gay and transgender Texans from the benefits and protections heterosexuals enjoyed.

No longer did our students perform at the bottom of the nation but rather they excelled because of the investment we made in their educations. No longer was Texas a state that gave preference to white, heterosexual citizens and instead became known as the Everyone has a Chance State, where each one of us — white and Latino, straight and LGBT, wealthy and poor — had equal footing, was respected, and flourished.

We still had our guns. Churches still decided whether to perform same-gender marriages. But we moved ahead so far.  And the nation followed suit.

All because we showed up at that Nov. 4, 2014 election.

 *****

So.

This scenario is fiction, a vision of what could be.

This history has yet to be written. But it will be written, in just a few days.

And it could happen.

We are so close to seeing this vision become a reality. But only if you claim the power of your vote.

The future of Texas — and the nation — is up to you.

Todd Whitley is a local activist who can usually be found tweeting (@toddwhitley), holding a picket sign, thrift store shopping, or eating Tex-Mex. Read his blog at tdub68.wordpress.com.

—  Tammye Nash

Out candidate George Clayton still in House race, but now as a Democrat

George Clayton

George Clayton

Former State Board of Education member George Clayton is still planning on running to replace Dallas Republican Stephani Carter in House District 102, but he’ll now be seeking the Democratic nomination.

Clayton announced the party switch in an email on Sunday, writing that he’d decided to run as a Democrat instead of a Republican. Carter isn’t seeking re-election because she’s running for the Railroad Commission.

As an administrator for the Dallas Independent School District, Clayton has said his campaign for the House seat would focus on education issues. During his time on the SBOE he was outed as gay and lost in the primary last year, but he told Dallas Voice he doesn’t want to be known as the gay candidate.

“For those of you who know me, you understand this change does not alter my views on education,” Clayton posted on Facebook. “Rather it allows for a much better campaign in terms of openness and acceptance of ideas, beliefs and goals. I hope you will join with me in this crusade.”

The district, which includes parts of North Dallas, Richardson, Addison and Garland, is already heating up on the Republican side with Republican activist Adryana Boyne, former Dallas councilwoman Linda Koop and Richardson businessman Samuel Brown set to battle out in the March primary.

—  Dallasvoice

Former GLBT Political Caucus President to lead Harris County Democratic Party

Former HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg gives new chair Lane Lewis the keys to the party office

Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus president and longtime Democratic party activist Lane Lewis was elected to serve as the Harris County Democratic Party interim chair by the County Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 20. Lewis will serve the remainder of outgoing chairman Gerry Birnburg term, which expires in April. Birnburg announced earlier this year that he would step down after the November general elections.Lewis has also completed his filing as a candidate for HCDP chair on the April 2012 primary ballot.

Lewis previously served as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 1997. He has a long history of advocacy on LGBT issues.

“Words cannot express the profound sense of responsibility I feel right now,” said Lewis moments after his election as HCDP Chair.  “I am grateful so many fellow Democrats have entrusted me to lead during such a pivotal time. We have much work to do over the next several months to get our county and our candidates ready for the November 2012 election.  This enormous task will take the work of current elected officials, precinct chairs and activists working in unison.  My job will be to foster a new vision for our party and work to keep us all focused on our common goal.”

During Lewis’ acceptance speech, he spoke briefly about the direction and his vision for the party.

“A unified effort from every Democrat is the key to winning elections,” Lewis said.  “It’s plain and simple.  The middle class is under attack; the work we do in 2012 will be key to protecting the future and the promise that the American Dream provides.”

Lane Lewis was elected by an overwhelming majority.  He will begin operating the HCDP immediately.

—  admin

Meeting the candidates: ‘Democrat’ Randall Terry and Vermin Supreme?

Presidential candidates Vermin Supreme, left, and Randall Terry

I know that there are a handful of Republican candidates who are getting all the attention these days as we gear up for the 2012 presidential election — folks like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. President Obama doesn’t have any big name Democratic opposition in his bid for re-election, so he’s keeping kind of quiet so far.

But there are some other candidates out there, both Republican and Democratic, who are running for our nation’s highest elected office who haven’t gotten much play in the media. And they showed up in Manchester, N.H., on Monday, Dec. 19, to participate in the New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ “forum for lesser known presidential candidates.” You can read all about it here at ConcordMonitor.com.

Here is what was, for me, the big surprise of the evening: Randall Terry is running for president — as a Democrat!

You remember Randall Terry, right? He founded what was, at one time, the biggest anti-abortion group around, Operation Rescue. He’s the one that suggested in 2009 that the murder of Doctor George Tiller, who performed abortions, was justified. He is also virulently anti-gay and when his adopted son Jamiel came out in 2004, Terry basically disowned him. (Jamiel was killed in a car wreck in Georgia on Nov. 30.)

Well, Terry, who now lives in Purgitsville, W. Va., announced early this year that he would be running for president, as a Democrat believe it or not, and he was one of the candidates at the NHIOP forum last night. His two main campaign issues are, of course, ending abortion and ending gay marriage. “We will never restore the greatness of this nation as long as we are killing our own offspring,” he said at the forum, adding that the “states’ rights” argument is not valid in either case. “There’s some things that are fundamentally evil, like slavery and there is no state right to hold another human being, there is no state right to kill your offspring, there is no state right to have homosexual marriage,” he said.

But Terry is not the only “fringe” candidate who was at the forum. They were all pretty much fringe candidates in one way or another. But the fringiest of them all was probably perpetual candidate Vermin Supreme of Rockport, Mass., who has, according to ConcordMonitor.com, “made a name for himself since 2004 running on a platform of giving a pony to every American and mandatory oral hygiene — ‘strong teeth for a strong America.’”

(Oh, and check out his website, where he lists his campaign priorities as “Dental Hygiene Law,” “Flying Monkey Public Safety Assurance Program” and “Time Travel Research Funding.”

At the Monday night forum, he declared, “I am a tyrant that you should trust, and you should let me run your life because I, too, know what is best for you.”

OK, who wouldn’t want a pony? And who can be against good oral hygiene? And to make it even better, Vermin Supreme goes around wearing a rubber boot on his head like a wizard’s hat, and one of those green toy Hulk fists over his crotch, kind of like a codpiece, I guess. And if THAT’s not enough for you, at the Monday night forum, Vermin threw glitter all over Randall Terry while yelling, “He’s turning gay, he’s turning gay, whoooooo!”

What’s not to love? I mean, when you have serious Republican candidates pledging to do away with judges if they do something they don’t like, voting for a guy who promises everybody a pony doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, after all.

—  admin

Barney Frank’s lasting legacy

Congressman made history when he came out in 1987, opening the door for other LGBT politicians

BarneyFrank_PL4

U.S. Congressman Barney Frank

Openly gay U.S. Congressman Barney Frank’s monumental contribution to the LGBT rights movement will one day be honored in the collection of unique individuals and events that makes up every American history book.

Frank, 71 now, may not be alive to see that day arrive, but as sure as God made little apples, it’s coming.

That’s because the LGBT rights movement has become an unstoppable force under the guidance of the testy congressman from Massachusetts and that of the scores of other openly gay and lesbian politicians who have joined him over the years in public office at every level of local, state and national government.

Now that Frank, a Democrat, has announced he will retire in 2012 and not seek re-election to the congressional office he has held since 1981, it is time to start putting his contributions to the American human rights movement in perspective.

Most LGBT rights activists agree the single most important measure in achieving success requires securing a place at the table where law is being made, and Frank accomplished that at the highest level a quarter-century ago when he publicly came out.

At the time Frank came out he had already served in Congress for six years, and it surely was no surprise to his colleagues, friends and families to learn about his sexual orientation. But the same could not be said for the majority of the American public, which still viewed homosexuality as quirky at best.

Even many LGBT people were unsure in 1987 about what to make of a congressman coming out as gay and thought it would likely be the end of his political career, which he began in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1973.

Probably to the shock of some, Frank continued to gain respect in Congress, and he now is viewed as one of the smartest, wittiest and most eloquent politicians in Washington, D.C.

Frank achieved success and gained admiration from his peers, the media, his constituents and others — even after being enveloped in a scandal in 1989 that nearly wrecked his career. The public learned that year that Frank had an affair with a male prostitute, whom the congressman had allowed to move into his home.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

Frank was investigated by the House Ethics Commission at his own request, and it ruled after a 10-month inquiry that the congressman had not been aware the live-in prostitute had continued to practice his trade from the household. The commission did recommend Frank be reprimanded for using his position as a congressman to get favors for his prostitute boyfriend.

In the height of irony, Frank survived an attempt by former Republican Idaho Congressman Larry Craig to remove him from office. Craig, who was elected in 1991 to the Senate for Idaho, made news in 2007 for attempting to solicit sex from an undercover male vice squad officer in a Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport restroom.

Craig, who pleaded guilty to the charge but made laughable excuses about his predicament in an attempt to claim his innocence, did not run for re-election the following year. On the other hand, Frank went on after his scandal to win every following election by a wide margin.

At the time Frank came out as gay there was not much more than a handful of openly gay politicians in the nation, if that many. As Frank’s fortunes rose, so did those of other politicians in the LGBT community, and today there are openly gay and lesbian people serving in a wide variety of major elective offices.

In the last election in November, the Victory Fund saw 53 of the 75 openly gay and lesbian candidates it had endorsed elected to office, including Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, State Sen. Adam Ebbin of Virginia and State Assemblyman Tim Eustace of New Jersey.

As Frank retires from public office, he leaves behind in Congress his openly gay and lesbian colleagues Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who also are Democrats.

No openly gay or lesbian member of Congress has ever been elected on the Republican Party ticket, although there have been a number of gay Republicans who have served from the closet. And more than one has been exposed for their hypocrisy as a result of a scandal, something Frank wisely avoided.

Frank’s legacy will be that he broke ground in American politics, inspiring other openly gay and lesbian people to seek and win elected office at every level.

That has resulted in the type of political gains that many people who have been around since the start of the gay rights movement in 1969 never thought they would see, regardless of how Frank might be viewed on some other issues.

Considering what has happened in the past four decades, it is conceivable that one day an openly gay or lesbian politician could be elected to any office, including the U.S. Senate — or even higher.  That’s a thought that probably never even occurred to Frank back in 1987.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas