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

A brand new Technicolor life

Country singer Chely Wright, announced this week as BTD’s 2010 Media Award winner, says coming out freed her

RELATED STORY: Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin named keynote speaker

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

“Dallas has been a great market for me,” says Chely Wright.

Truer words might have never been spoken.

The country music star spoke highly of the city when referring to her past concerts here, but she’ll be heading to Dallas this year for a different reason — one that will reinforce her confidence in this city.

Officials with the Black Tie Dinner this week announced that Wright has been chosen to receive the 2010 Media Award during the annual fundraising gala set for Nov. 6.

They also announced that U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the openly lesbian Democrat from Wisconsin, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner.

When Wright came out of the closet in May with her biography, “Like Me,”  the media storm hit full force. She was touted as the first modern country singer to come out of thecloset, and her life story landed her on the cover of People magazine and Oprah.

As the recipient of the Black Tie Media Award, Wright sees it as a step in her reasoning to come out.

“This is noteworthy to be receiving this incredible honor,” she said. “I find it really interesting that this one thing I tried so hard to hide has really set me free. I’ve not only found this gay community but also activist, advocate and civil-minded communities. These are incredible people to be applauded.”

But not only was she setting herself free by coming out, Wright knew that since she was such a public figure, her coming out would facilitate dialogue and education.

Her announcement eclipsed her current album, “Lifted Off the Ground,” and even her career for the past 15 years. But she said she was prepared for that, because it was bigger than just a CD.

“The specific reason I did this in such a grand, comprehensive way was because I was aware this would be discussed,” she said. “As celebrities, we must be aware of our public capital in the community, and there had never been a commercial country artist who acknowledged being gay.

“That’s why I wrote a book, knowing that it was incumbent upon me to do so,” she said.

Along with all that attention came the backlash from both her audiences and the country music industry — no surprise considering it comprises a largely conservative demographic.

Wright said she knew there would be a negative reaction that could possibly put her into “Dixie Chicks vs. Texas” territory. But, she said, the good has outweighed the bad so far.

“I’m aware there are negative comments. No matter what you do, people will hate. On my social networks, we don’t leave them out unless they are overly caustic. We allow that dialogue to happen.

“But I think some of my fans never knew a gay person and thought they were all deviants,” she added. “They see this isn’t the case. Those people are the moveable middle.”

Wright mentions she even received support locally, saying KSCS on-air personality Chris Huff reached out to her after she came out.

To her, that was a step many people in the country music industry are either reluctant to take, or maybe do so quietly.

“Just judging from everything she said and her experiences and the emotions she fought, I think it was a really strong thing that she did,” Huff said. “I can’t imagine what she must’ve gone through the years leading up to that.”

Huff did what, according to Wright, not many have done in her industry. People have reached out to her, but only privately. She said public declarations of support by those in country music are hard to come by.

“Huff was one of the first to e-mail me after coming out.  The industry has a lot of really progressive people, but there are a lot of folks who just reach out privately. All of country music is not homophobic, but people don’t feel like that they can say ‘I’m behind you.’”

So instead, Wright is focusing on the positive support, which she has received from other LGBT celebrities, like Rosie O’Donnell and Lance Bass, and from the fans still coming to get her autograph. She’s even relishing the Prop 8 decision from her West Hollywood home.

But ultimately, she says, she feels simply free.

“Imagine a tiny secret being a big one and have it chasing you around, and you’re afraid. Then, it’s gone. It feels like I’ve retired an 80-hour-a-week job at a factory. There is so much emotional free space.

“I think my life felt like black and white before and now it’s in Technicolor.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Anne Rice quits Christianity, but not Christ

Anne Rice

I have been a fan of author Anne Rice for years. I read her books — the vampire books, the Witching Hour series — over and over. And one of the personal highlights of my 28 years as a journalist was getting the opportunity to interview some years ago.

Then I found out that her son, Christopher Rice — a successful author in his own right — was gay, and that she supported him completely. And I loved her even more.

Then a few years ago, I heard that Anne Rice, who had been an atheist, had found God and become a Christian convert. I couldn’t help but wonder: How would her conversion  affect her relationship with her son? Would she continue to support and love him as always? Would she take the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach? Would she insist he be “cured” of homosexuality? Would she turn her back on him completely.

I also wondered how her conversion would affect her stance on LGBT rights overall and if we were losing an ally.

Well, as it turned out, Anne Rice didn’t think converting to Christianity meant becoming anti-gay. Unfortunately, “Christianity” didn’t agree.

So this week, on Wednesday, July 28, Anne Rice posted a notice on her Facebook page declaring she has “quit Christianity.”

Here’s what she said: “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

And there was more. She also said, “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

So, I knew there was a reason I am an Anne Rice fan! I don’t think I have ever heard anyone give a better explanation of the difference between following Christ and being “a Christian.”

Read Karen Ocamb’s blog about Ann Rice’s announcement here. It includes a statement from Christoper Rice as well. Here’s what he had to say:

“For ten years I watched my mother bravely attempt to engage the hostile fundamentalist forces that dominate the leadership of almost every popular Christian denomination. She was met, in most instances with an iron wall of derision and scorn. Her departure from organized religion is a testament to the moral rot that exists at the politcized core of most church leadership. Throughout it all, her love and support of me as a gay man has never wavered and I love her just as much today as I did when she considered herself a member of the Catholic church.”

Oh, and here is the link to Christopher Rice’s Facebook page, just for good measure.

—  admin

DVtv: Video from Sunday’s Stonewall commemoration and, how The Dallas Morning News got it wrong — again

Apparently the Dallas Morning News attended a different rally last night than me. At the rally The DMN attended, all the LGBT community did was complain about Democrats. There was no mention of the Texas Republican platform. There was no mention of the hatred from religious extremists going on across the street. No mention of the success last week at the DART board meeting. No mention of the Rainbow Lounge Raid. No remembrance of Harvey Milk or other hate crime victims.

Nope. Just non-stop complaining about Democrats.

At the rally I attended, one banner read, “Dems: Keep your promises.”

One. That’s it.

But signs accused homophobes of murder and demanded equality now.

After savagely ridiculing the Republican platform and skewering the handful of protesters blaring hatred on bullhorns across the street, Daniel Cates did have a line for some Democrats who are bowing to right-wing pressure.

“The time has come to lead or get out of the way,” he said.

One line.

But from the Morning News article, the rally was a Democrat-bashfest.

What happened?

Several of the speakers asked me if I thought it was odd that the Morning News contacted them ahead of time. I answered that if a writer didn’t report regularly on LGBT issues, he was just doing his homework so he’d be up on the issues and concerns of the community when he got there. That’s just being prepared.

But that’s not what happened. The DMN article doesn’t quote what any speaker said during the rally. The article might quote what some of them said ahead of the rally. On the phone.

But not one quote FROM the rally. Not one chant from the parade route. Not one answer to the religious extremists.

So according to the Morning News, the rally was all about bashing the Democrats. Interesting, because it would have been hard to find a single Republican in the crowd. And if there were any Republicans there, other than the reporter whose piece could be used as a Republican Party press release and the counter-demonstrators across the street, it sure didn’t seem like they were very excited about the current Texas Republican Party with its platform calling for making criminals out of LGBTA people.

Read our coverage of the march and rally by going here.

—  David Taffet

What Jim Moran says about DADT

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

I just got an e-mail from someone in the congressional office of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, including the transcript of Rep. Moran’s remarks on the floor of the House today regarding the U.S. military’s anti-gay “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Here you go:

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to share the substance of an e-mail from an active duty soldier in Afghanistan. In response to an inquiry from his commanding officer related to the military’s review of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, the soldier shared how he and his partner of 10 years have managed multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He explained that they survive like any couple does except because of the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, his partner would not be informed in the event of his death and could not make any emergency decision that is would normally fall to a spouse.

“This situation is typical, even within his unit. He learned that a fellow soldier was also gay, only after he was killed by an IED in Iraq. The partner of the deceased soldier wrote the unit to say how much the victim had loved the military; how they were the only family he had ever known.

“Admiral Mullen said this issue is a matter of integrity. This immutable human trait, sexual orientation, like the color of one’s skin, does not affect one’s integrity, their honor, our commitment to their country. Soldiers serving their country in combat should not have their sacrifices compounded by having to struggle with an antiquated ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Let’s do the right and honorable thing and repeal this policy.”

Well, let me just say, thanks Rep. Moran. I hope that your fellow members of Congress pay attention to what you said. This isn’t about keeping gays and lesbians out of the military; gays and lesbians are already there, in every branch of the armed services, serving with courage and honor.

The push to repeal DADY is, instead, about fully recognizing the service and sacrifice of the soldiers, of the families who support them and sacrifice for them, too. It’s about honoring these honorable men and women by allowing them to serve openly and without fear.

—  admin

Eric Johnson responds to Hodge's withdrawal from House race

Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson, candidate for Texas House District 100, has released a statement in response to incumbent State Rep. Terri Hodge’s announcement earlier today that she is ending her campaign for re-election to District 100 and pleading guilty to a federal criminal charge in connection with the Dallas City Hall corruption scandal. (Read Hodge’s statement here.)

In his statement, Johnson thanked Hodge for her 14 years’ of service to the people of District 14, and promised to “continue to keep Ms. Hodge and her family in our prayers.” He also called on Democrats to “come together as a party, as a district and as a city to achieve the improvements House District 100 so desperately needs,” and vowed to continue to “campaign over the next 27 days exactly as I have over the past eight months.”

Read Johnson’s statement in its entirety after the jump.

—  admin

Dallas could elect 1st gay judge

Judicial candidates John Loza, Tonya Parker among 4 LGBTs running in local races in 2010

By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com
IN THE RUNNING | Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, clockwise from top left, County Judge Jim Foster, attorney Tonya Parker and former Councilman John Loza are LGBT candidates who plan to run in Dallas County elections in 2010. The filing period ends Jan. 4.

Dallas County has had its share of openly gay elected officials, from Sheriff Lupe Valdez to District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons to County Judge Jim Foster.
But while Foster, who chairs the Commissioners Court, is called a “judge,” he’s not a member of the judiciary, to which the county’s voters have never elected an out LGBT person.

Two Democrats running in 2010 — John Loza and Tonya Parker — are hoping to change that.

“This is the first election cycle that I can remember where we’ve had openly gay candidates for the judiciary,” said Loza, a former Dallas City Councilman who’s been involved in local LGBT politics for decades. “It’s probably long overdue, to be honest with you.”

Dallas County’s Jerry Birdwell became the first openly gay judge in Texas when he was appointed by Gov. Ann Richards in 1992. But after coming under attack for his sexual orientation by the local Republican Party, Birdwell, a Democrat, lost his bid for re-election later that year.

Also in the November 1992 election, Democrat Barbara Rosenberg defeated anti-gay Republican Judge Jack Hampton.

But Rosenberg, who’s a lesbian, wasn’t out at the time and didn’t run as an openly LGBT candidate.

Loza, who’s been practicing criminal law in Dallas for the last 20 years, is running for the County Criminal Court No. 5 seat. Incumbent Tom Fuller is retiring. Loza said he expects to face three other Democrats in the March primary, meaning a runoff is likely. In addition to groups like Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, he said he’ll seek an endorsement from the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provides financial backing to LGBT candidates nationwide.

Parker, who’s running for the 116th Civil District Court seat, declined to be interviewed for this story. Incumbent Bruce Priddy isn’t expected to seek re-election, and Parker appears to be the favorite for the Democratic nomination.

If she wins in November, Parker would become the first LGBT African-American elected official in Dallas County.

Loza and Parker are among four known local LGBT candidates in 2010.
They join fellow Democrats Fitzsimmons and Foster, who are each seeking a second four-year term.

While Foster is vulnerable and faces two strong challengers in the primary, Fitzsimmons is extremely popular and said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected.

“I think pretty much everybody knows that the District Clerk’s Office is probably the best-run office in Dallas County government,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think this county is a Democratic County, and I think I’ve proved myself to be an outstanding county administrator, and I think the people will see that.”

Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas, said this week he wasn’t aware of any openly LGBT candidates who’ve filed to run in state races in 2010.

Although Texas made headlines recently for electing the nation’s first gay big-city mayor, the state remains one of 20 that lack an out legislator.

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, said he’s hoping Annise Parker’s victory in Houston last week will inspire more qualified LGBT people to run for office.

“It gives other people permission really to think of themselves as leaders,” Dison said.

The filing period for March primaries ends Jan. 4.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.

—  admin