Bill White says LGBT vote ‘absolutely critical’

Democratic challenger says he expects ‘a very close election’ as he works to unseat incumbent Perry

John Wright  | Dallas Voice wright@dallasvoice.com

OPPOSITE SIDES  |  Democrat Bill White, above, has courted LGBT votes in his bid for Texas governor, including making appearances at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings (above). Republican Gov. Rick Perry (below) has courted anti-gay conservatives, suggesting that same-sex marriage hurts job growth.
OPPOSITE SIDES | Democrat Bill White, above, has courted LGBT votes in his bid for Texas governor, including making appearances at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings (above). Republican Gov. Rick Perry (below) has courted anti-gay conservatives, suggesting that same-sex marriage hurts job growth.

A strong turnout from LGBT voters is “absolutely critical” to his chances of unseating Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Democrat Bill White told Dallas Voice this week.

In an exclusive interview, White said he expects “a very close election” and that gay voters in Texas shouldn’t stay away from the polls because they may be frustrated with a perceived lack of progress on LGBT issues in Washington.

White declined a request for a phone interview but agreed to answer questions via e-mail.

“It’s absolutely critical. This will be a very close election,” White said when asked about the importance of the gay vote. “I’m proud of my support in the community and so grateful to all the volunteers who have been raising funds, making phone calls, and knocking on doors to spread the word about the choice we have for the future of our state. This is no time to stay home. Whatever is going on nationally, we have major issues facing our state and need a leader to take them on.”

White, the former Houston mayor, is widely considered a strong LGBT ally, and he appeared in Dallas’ gay Pride parade in September.

White had a gay brother who died several years ago and has said he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was championed by Perry.

However, White hasn’t made LGBT issues a major part of his gubernatorial campaign, presumably in part because they might be used by Perry to energize right-wing voters.

Some Democrats seeking statewide office, including Barbara Ann Radnofsky and Hank Gilbert, have published policy statements in support of LGBT equality on their websites.

“Actions speak louder than words, and I have a track record of inclusive leadership,” White said in response to a question about why he hasn’t focused on LGBT issues. “That’s why I’ve received a rare endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign. Rick Perry wants to divide Texans — it’s what we’ve seen from him for decades. He’d rather divide for his personal political purposes than bring people together to get things done. Major corporations in our state, like Shell Oil for example, know that being inclusive makes them more competitive. But Perry recently made some comment saying that Texas’ job growth was somehow tied to the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. What? It just shows you how clueless a professional politician is.”

White was referring to Perry’s comment during a campaign stop in Temple in August, when the incumbent said: “There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas. We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

Dallas Voice also asked White whether, as governor, he would support or sign bullying legislation that provides specific protections for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas public schools.

Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from the Houston suburbs, committed suicide in September after his parents say he was bullied relentlessly at school. Asher’s suicide was one of several across the country in recent months by teens who were gay or perceived to be gay.

“Asher Brown’s suicide is a heartbreaking tragedy,” White responded. “I’ll support policies that prohibit school and workplace discrimination and harassment of any kind, and I’ll work hard to build an atmosphere of respect in Texas.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, this poster featuring local gay Dems will be a collector’s item

Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who happens to be gay, sent over this poster that will reportedly be going up around town in the next few days. It’ll also be part of an ad in this week’s Voice, we think. We can’t seem to get in touch with Fitzsimmons to ask him how it all came about — and how they managed to get all these folks in one room at the same time — but in some ways the poster speaks for itself. Fitzsimmons also mentioned that he can make extra copies, so you’d like one, call his campaign headquarters at 214-948-8700.

UPDATE: We finally spoke with Fitzsimmons, and he said the photo shoot for the poster was put together hastily on Monday afternoon in response to rumors that some in the LGBT community may stay home from the polls this year over disappointment with President Barack Obama and Congress, for failing to fulfill their promises on things like “don’t ask don’t tell.”

“The major thing here is that the Democratic Party in Dallas County has done very well by the gay community,” Fitzsimmons said. “A lot of folks may be disappointed in the pace of progress in Washington, but when you look at the Democratic Party in Dallas County, we’ve kept our promise to the LGBT community.”

Fitzsimmons pointed to people like District Judge Tena Callahan, a straight ally who’s up for re-election after last year declaring Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

“If we’ve got Democratic elected officials putting their asses, their careers, on the line for the gay and lesbian community, then the least we can do is stand up for them on Election Day,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said he’s “bullish” about Democrats’ chances in Dallas County on Tuesday and feels they will win most countywide races, including his own. But he said he’s concerned about races like the one for the District 4 seat on the Commissioners Court, which pits Republican incumbent Ken Mayfield against Democratic challenger Dr. Elba Garcia. Fitzsimmons called Mayfield “the most homophobic elected official in Dallas County” and “a sworn enemy of the gay community,” whereas Garcia is a proven friend.

“That race may be decided by less than 50 votes,” he said, noting the District 4 includes heavily gay neighborhoods in North Oak Cliff. “You can be dissatisfied with Washington, but this election is about what’s going on in Dallas County.”

—  John Wright

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Lt. governor candidates low key on LGBT issues

Dewhurst lists fiscal responsibility as a top issue; Chavez-Thompson says she is focusing on education

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

ON THE ISSUES | Although the candidates for Texas lieutenant governor have been relatively quiet on LGBT issues, a few key statements give an indication on where they stand. Republican incumbent David Dewhurst, left, chimed in to help cancel a student production of the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” last spring. Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic challenger, Tweeted her support for equality when a judge overturned California’s Proposition 8.

LGBT issues are not playing a big role in the race for Texas lieutenant governor between Republican incumbent David Dewhurst and Democratic challenger Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Neither candidate addresses LGBT issues on their website. But while neither campaign returned phone calls from Dallas Voice seeking comment for this story, a Tweet and a recent incident give an indication of their positions.

Dewhurst played a role in last spring’s controversy over the production of the play “Corpus Christi” at Tartleton State University in Stephenville.

“No one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans,” Dewhurst said in a written statement.

In later praising the university for canceling the performance, he claimed he was “a strong defender of free speech.”

Chavez-Thompson has taken a more LGBT-friendly stance.

After the Proposition 8 decision was handed down in California, she Tweeted her reaction to the ruling: “So glad to hear Prop 8 was overturned today. It was discrimination at its worst. I will keep fighting for equality for all Texans.”

Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Darling Ewing said she believes Chavez-Thompson would be an ally to the LGBT community.

“Linda comes from an immigrant family, a poor family,” said Ewing. “On equality, she’ll be right on the issues.”

Dewhurst has been lieutenant governor since 2003 and is running for a third term. He was first elected to statewide office in 1998 as commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas.

On his website, Dewhurst prominently displays a “Petition to Repeal Obamacare” directly under his “Take Action” call for volunteers for his campaign.

Under a pull down list of issues, health care is first. While he claims that an overwhelming majority of people oppose the “2,000-plus page, $1.2 trillion, health care overhaul” and estimates the new law will add $27 billion in costs to taxpayers, he proposes no solution to the lack of health coverage by Texans.

“He isn’t in favor of health care,” Ewing said. “He’s only interested in not paying for it.”

Dewhurst’s other top issues are fiscal responsibility, border security and property rights. He believes the federal government has not stopped the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants into Texas, and he says Texas has stepped in to enhance border security. He does not, however, propose an Arizona-type immigration law for the state.

Chavez-Thompson lists jobs and education as her top issues.

“The state has dropped the ball on education,” Ewing said. “It’s all about saving a buck. They’ve made college education a luxury. The cost of a college education today is ridiculous.”

Chavez-Thompson also addresses the health care debate on her website, saying, “Today, rising health care costs has forced too many Texas families to go without insurance.”

Chavez-Thompson spent most of her career working her way up through union ranks. When she was chosen to serve as the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, she was the first woman and the first person of color to hold that position.

President Bill Clinton appointed Chavez-Thompson to serve on his Race Advisory Board and on the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Today, she is vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“I think what she brings us is a workingman’s perspective,” Ewing said. “Because of her union history, she brings bargaining skills that would bring groups together.”

Local Republicans did not return calls or offered no comment for this article.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

AG candidates polar opposites on gay issues

Radnofsky pledges to stand for equality; incumbent Abbott has record of fighting LGBT rights

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

OPPOSITE NUMBER  |  Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general Barbara Radnofsky supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has spoken against same-sex marriage. He also recently intervened to appeal a trial court ruling granting a same-sex couple a divorce.
OPPOSITE NUMBER | Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general Barbara Radnofsky supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has spoken against same-sex marriage. He also recently intervened to appeal a trial court ruling granting a same-sex couple a divorce.

Possibly no race in Texas this election cycle is as clear-cut about where the candidates stand on LGBT issues as is the attorney general’s race.

Neither Attorney General Greg Abbott nor anyone from his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story. But Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman agrees that the choice in this race is clear for those who vote primarily on LGBT issues. Still, he suggested looking at Attorney General Greg Abbott’s entire record.

Democratic challenger Barbara Ann Radnofsky stands by her positions on equality.

“I try to follow the Golden Rule,” Radnofsky said.

In other races, candidates run from the issue. Radnofsky was happy to talk about where she stands.

Radnofsky said she supports employment nondiscrimination legislation and she uses language on her website that is transgender-inclusive.
She said she would like to add gender identity and expression to the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, the Texas penalty enhancement law that

applies to hate crimes committed in Texas.

Radnofsky said she would also like to see the legislature pass a law prohibiting discrimination against or harassment of LGBT students and teachers in Texas public schools.

Radnofsky campaign spokeswoman Katie Floyd said the candidate taught mediation for 15 years.

Radnofsky addressed another threat to gay and lesbian families that makes its way into legislative committees each session. She said that taking the best interests of the child into account, she supports guaranteeing foster and adoptive parenting rights to LGBT parents.

She would also like to provide domestic partner benefits to state employees and opposes any legislation that would prohibit private employers from offering those benefits.

On her website, Radnofsky also mentions supporting the Americans With Disabilities Act. While that doesn’t seem controversial, the Texas Republican Party platform calls for gays and lesbians to be excluded from protections guaranteed under the ADA.

Greg Abbott recently won an appeal of the Dallas same-sex divorce case. In enforcing the anti-marriage amendment passed in Texas in 2005, he appealed a lower court ruling that would have granted a divorce to a gay couple married in Massachusetts.

Abbott is equally clear on his website about his stand on marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

“Texas law defines marriage as an institution between one man and one woman,” his website claims. “Attorney General Abbott has fought efforts to undermine Texas’ law and the basic family structure in our state. He understands that traditional marriage is the cornerstone for a strong and stable family.”

But Abbott goes further defending opposite-sex marriage by claiming studies support his stand without citing any of those studies.

“A wealth of empirical data demonstrates the unmatched potency of the family to combat social ills, foster strong communities, and promote happier, healthier lives,” he claims in his official position statement.

Radnofsky, on the other hand, agrees with the ruling from the lower court in the same-sex divorce case.

“The Attorney General shouldn’t intervene in the non-violent, orderly wind-down of a relationship,” she said. “He should leave divorce orders to the proper court decision-making, and get back to work on the problems facing our state.

“Orderly divorce and family law allows the peaceful separation of the two disputants, property disposition, payment of taxes and debt, alimony, child support and custody,” Radnofsky said. “That’s the way civilized society is supposed to function. Ignoring or voiding an out-of-state marriage, suggested by the AG, is not a solution to these many issues and the need for courts to supervise peaceful, orderly solutions.”

Abbott lists his success in collecting more than $13 billion in child support payments as his top issue.

“He’s very strong on going after deadbeat fathers for child support,” Neerman said. “He fights for the interests of children.”

Neerman also mentioned Abbott’s record on prosecution of white-collar fraud and online data protection.

“He’s also been strong on fighting Internet predators,” Neerman said.

He mentioned a number of areas where Abbott has protected rights of Texans. On behalf of 31 states, Abbott fought the District of Columbia’s handgun law before the Supreme Court and won.

But on LGBT issues, he has worked against equality.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore said, “Abbott’s been a henchman for Republicans for years.”

Moore called this one of the most important statewide races as far as LGBT rights are concerned.

“It’s one of the ones we’re keeping the keenest eye on,” she said. “He’s been malicious in his prosecution of LGBT rights. He’s got to go.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Kern supporters start slinging mud at Novotny

It appears that the mudslinging has started in the race for the District 84 seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where incumbent Republican Sally Kerns of Oklahoma City is facing Democratic challenger Brittany Novotny, a transgender woman also from Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee sent an e-mail to its members on Tuesday, Sept. 7, in which Novotny was described as “a confused ‘it’” who hates God.

The e-mail, signed by Charlie Meadows and headlined “Sally Kern’s opponent in Hollywood for a fundraiser,” said, in part:

“Brittany used to be a ‘he,’ had a sex change operation to make him into a ‘her’ but turned out to become a confused ‘it.’ Some have suggested that having a sex change operation is a person’s greatest act of rebellion and hatred toward God for His making them what they were.

“It is truly sad to see people reject God’s love for them by being willing to mutilate themselves. If they would submit their life to God, they could find the true the joy in life that will forever elude them while on their path of rebellion. ”

Kern is the legislator who in 2008 was tape recorded telling a Republican group that LGBT people are a bigger threat to America than terrorism. She recently defended those remarks, telling an Oklahoma City TV station that while there have been only three “real big” terrorist attacks on the U.S., society is constantly “bombarded with the message that homosexuality is normal and natural.”

In a statement released Thursday, Sept. 9, Novotny responded: “If Rep. Kern and her allies spent as much time focusing on Oklahoma’s future as they seem to spend worrying about my past, maybe we could keep teachers in the classroom and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

“This type of personal attack is what Oklahomans are tired of, and it shows why Kern and her political allies continue to be out of touch with mainstream Oklahoma values,” Novotny added.

Novotny also said that OCPAC’s claim that she hates God is “ridiculous,” and noted that she attends services at United Church of Christ.

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

—  Kevin Thomas