BREAKING: Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman resigns

Dennis Coleman, who has served as executive director of Equality Texas for two years, resigned from his position with the organization, effective today, according to a press release.

Equality Texas announced his resignation and the beginning of a nationwide search for Coleman’s replacement.

In the meantime, Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will serve as interim executive director. Smith has served as deputy executive director since 2005, and previously served as interim executive director from February to August 2010.

Coleman was not immediately available for comment.

Before joining Equality Texas, Coleman served as executive director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, based in Dallas. Coleman lives in Dallas and commuted to Austin during his time leading Equality Texas.

Coleman, Dallas Voice’s 2011 Person of the Year, helped push through two anti-bullying bills during his first and only session of the Legislature. Although the bills didn’t include LGBT-specific protections, Equality Texas has called them the first two pro-equality bills to pass in Texas since hate crimes legislation in 2001.

Read Equality Texas’ full statement on Coleman’s resignation below.

—  Anna Waugh

PHOTO: 6 who’ve led Texas’ statewide gay-rights group gather at service for Bettie Naylor

The executive directors are, from left, Randall Ellis, Paul Scott, Laurie Eiserloh, Dianne Hardy Garcia, Glen Maxey and Dennis Coleman.

All of the former executive directors of Equality Texas, originally known as the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby, as well as its current leader gathered in Austin on May 5 for a memorial service for Bettie Naylor.

Among those attending the service to honor the group’s founder were current Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and the group’s first director, Glen Maxey. Maxey left the organization to run for the Texas House of Representatives. He remains the only out person to have served in the Legislature. The other executive directors are Randall Ellis, Paul Scott, Laurie Eiserloh, Dianne Hardy Garcia

After coming out in her 50s, Naylor began lobbying the Texas legislature on gay and lesbian issues. Her efforts evolved into what is now Equality Texas.

Naylor, 84, died April 18. She was also a founder of Annie’s List and Human Rights Campaign. Before coming out, she lobbied the Texas Legislature about women’s issues since the 1960s.

—  David Taffet

Equality Texas seeks nominations for inaugural Ally Awards; ceremony set for June in Dallas

Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, announced today a call for nominations for its first Ally Awards. Via survey, the organization will collect nominations of individuals, businesses and civic leaders/groups, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. You’ll be able to nominate one of each, and the process continues through April. Fill out the survey by going here.

“We want to actively involve as many Texans as possible in this statewide nomination process,” Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said. “Texas is a big place, so to ensure that we’ve heard from as many folks as possible, we’re fully leveraging the power of the world wide web.”

The winner will be announced in May with the organization’s inaugural Ally Awards ceremony set for June 22 at The Vendome in Dallas. Tickets for the event are available for purchase.

—  Rich Lopez

LGBT advocates take their fight to have mayor sign marriage pledge to the Dallas City Council

LGBT advocates who attended today's council meeting gather in the Flag Room afterward. They are, from left, Daniel Cates, Patti Fink, Dennis Coleman, Cece Cox, Omar Narvaez and Rafael McDonnell. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

It’s becoming clear that Dallas’ LGBT community doesn’t plan to let Mayor Mike Rawlings off the hook over his refusal to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

Five LGBT advocates spoke during public comments at the start of today’s regular City Council meeting, calling on Rawlings to sign the pledge — and asking the City Council to formally back pro-equality state and federal legislation.

“I’m here to ask Mayor Rawlings to do something, and I’m here to ask you as council people to support him in signing the pledge for marriage equality,” said Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, the first of the speakers. ”This is a matter of standing for justice. Pure and simple, that’s what it’s about. ”

Cox noted that Rawlings has argued that marriage equality doesn’t fall within the mayor’s duties.

“When one stands up for justice, it requires courage,” Cox said. “It requires going outside the regular rules and the regular lines, and that’s what I’m here to ask for today.”

—  John Wright

Former gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, Dallas resident Wade Hyde join Equality Texas board

Chris Bell

Straight ally Chris Bell, the former Democratic congressman from Houston who lost to Rick Perry in the 2006 gubernatorial race, has been named to the Board of Directors for Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group.

Bell served five years on the Houston City Council before capturing the District 25 Congressional seat in 2002. After his district was redrawn, Bell lost to Gene Green in the Democratic primary in 2004. Running as a Democrat against Perry in 2006, Bell captured 30 percent of the vote to Perry’s 39 percent. Bell lost a runoff in a special election for a state Senate seat inn 2008.

From Equality Texas’ press release:

Chris Bell has a unique way of identifying the key points of any dispute and, as a skilled communicator, a gifted way of making a winning argument and interrogating a witness. Whether as a lawyer, news reporter or politician, Chris Bell’s passion has always been fighting for others.  He takes it seriously and does it well.

“I have always been an advocate for equality and I’m excited to join the organization doing the most to make it a reality in Texas,” Chris said upon his appointment to the board.

Chris is married to Alison Ayres Bell and they have two boys, Atlee and Connally. They reside in Houston.

Also named to Equality Texas’ board of directors were restaurateur Gary Carter of the San Antonio suburb of Castroville; and Wade Hyde, a public relations specialist from Dallas. Carter and Hyde were named to the boards of both Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation. Equality Texas also announced that Executive Director Dennis Coleman has been named to the board of directors for the Equality Federation, the national alliance of state-based equality groups. Read the full press below.

—  John Wright

Gay Dems fear Perry would be ‘major step back’

ENTERING THE FRAY | Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the Red State Gathering, where he announced his run for president, on Saturday, Aug. 13 in Charleston, S.C. (Associated Press)

But Dallas Log Cabin president says group would back governor

JAMES BRIGHT | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Gay Democratic leaders in Texas fear that if Rick Perry becomes president, it would be a “major step back” for LGBT equality.

But the president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans indicated that the gay GOP group would support Perry if he wins the party’s nomination.

Perry, who hasn’t been supportive of the LGBT community during his time as governor, ended weeks of speculation when he formally announced that he’s running for president on Aug. 13.

And for the most part, LGBT leaders in Perry’s home state weren’t receptive to the news.

“He will regress everything we have accomplished and take us many steps backwards instead of the many steps forward we’ve taken under [President Barack] Obama,” said Omar Narvaez, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

“He is a top-tier candidate in that party with its radical right evangelical emphasis,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “He loves little government and low taxes, so he plays right into their hands. God forbid if he were ever elected president. We would take a major step back for equal rights.”

Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans Dallas, said the group likely will back the GOP nominee whoever it is.

“Rick Perry has been less of a friend to the LGBT community than we’d like, but on the issues that affect us all I think he is better than what we have in the White House,” he said. “We are all looking for a robust economy and he is going to make our national economic policies a lot more conducive to hiring, and that’s where I am concerned.”

Dennis Coleman, executive director of the nonpartisan Equality Texas, said the group will look at all candidates from both parties, but is unlikely to back Perry.

“As an organization we would to be more supportive of the governor putting a bid in for president, but we know where he stands on marriage for same-sex couples,” Coleman said.

“I’m a little concerned that based on his record he may follow the same rhetoric as [candidate Michele] Bachmann that may lead him to want to repeal the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

“People get frustrated because things don’t happen as quickly as they’d like, but more mature members of the community remember a time when they could be arrested for going to a club,” Coleman said. “The White House has to continue a dialogue with LGBT leaders and people like myself in the movement and publications like the Dallas Voice to hammer down what he has done, and what needs to be done for the LGBT movement.”

—  John Wright

Legislative session ends well for LGBT community

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED | Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said the LGBT lobbying organization stayed persistent and reached its major goal in this legislative session. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Although prospects were dim as session started, Equality Texas has achieved its top priority with passage of anti-bullying bill

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

When the 82nd Texas Legislature convened in January, things weren’t looking good for the LGBT community.

Republicans had seized a supermajority in the House in November elections, and Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, had eliminated half its staff — including its legislative lobbyist — due to budget constraints.

Five months later, when the legislative session ends this coming Monday, Equality Texas will have defied the odds and achieved its No. 1 priority — passage of meaningful anti-bullying legislation.

On top of that, the group has seen committee hearings on more than a dozen bills it supported, and appears to have staved off several anti-LGBT measures, including one targeting transgender marriage and another aimed at eliminating gay resource centers on college campuses.

“I would give this a very high mark as far as a legislative session for us,” said Dennis Coleman, who was named executive director of Equality Texas just months before the session began.

“I would give it an ‘A’ considering where we thought we were going. I don’t think that anybody thought that we would make any kind of progress based upon last year’s elections, and I would say I was a little skeptical as well.

“We stayed persistent,” Coleman added. “We found allies to work with all across the board. Equality Texas became the expert on a lot of the bills that were out there, especially around the bullying bills.”

For Equality Texas, the session was highlighted by final passage this week of HB 1942, the bipartisan anti-bullying bill by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that now awaits Gov. Rick Perry’s signature. Passage of Patrick’s bill, a compromise measure that includes portions of several other anti-bullying bills, comes on the heels of the gay youth suicide crisis of last fall.

“It’s unfortunate that it took the suicide of children for people to really pay attention to what we knew about almost 15 years ago,” Coleman said. “For many people they think it just popped up, but this has been going on for at least three sessions.”

To help win passage of Patrick’s bill, Equality Texas enlisted people like Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, as well as the parents of bullying victims including Asher Brown, the gay 13-year-old from the Houston area who took his own life last year.

“It was a promise I made to Asher the day that he died before his little body left this house,” Amy Truong, Asher’s mother, said this week in an Equality Texas press release marking final passage of HB 1942. “I told him that I would never stop fighting until we did something to change this.”

Coleman downplayed criticism that Patrick’s bill doesn’t include enumerated protections for LGBT youth. “I think by making it as broad as you can, you include everyone without excluding anyone,” Coleman said. “To say that LGBT students are not covered is wrong.”

Coleman added that although he doesn’t believe the absence of LGBT protections weakens the bill, “I definitely think we would not have gotten the broad bipartisan support had we continued trying to fight for everything we thought should have been in there.”

As of Thursday, Equality Texas was patiently awaiting final passage of a second bill it supports, a youth suicide prevention measure from Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

But the group’s work won’t end with the session on Monday. Dennis Coleman said he believes a special session is likely, which could provide an opportunity for defeated anti-LGBT measures to re-emerge. He added that the group has a very short window for fundraising prior to the 2012 election cycle.

“I don’t know what kind of vacation I’m going to be taking anytime soon,” Coleman said as he traveled from Austin to Dallas for a fundraiser on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re tired, but we’re happy with the results.”

—  John Wright

Lambda Legal’s Coleman named ED of Equality Texas

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman will become executive director of Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation on July 17.

Coleman will replace Paul Scott, who stepped down earlier this year to become executive director of AIDS Services of Austin.

For almost seven years, Coleman has served as regional director of Lambda Legal’s South Central office in Dallas. Much of his work built on the success the office had in June 2003 with the Lawrence v. Texas case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s sodomy ban.

Coleman said he’ll get an apartment in Austin, but he and his partner Gregory Pynes will maintain their home in Dallas.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, is based in Austin. He said the job of executive director entails travel throughout the state and can be done from Dallas as well as Austin.

Coleman said in his position with Lambda Legal, he covered eight states. He said his office manager kept day-to-day operations going while he was on the road. He foresees a similar relationship with Smith.

Although during the upcoming legislative session, Coleman said, “I’m fully committed to being in Austin.”

Equality Texas board chair Rob Scamardo said the search committee was looking for someone familiar with Texas, Texas politics and knew the challenges of advancing LGBT equality in the state.

Scamardo said he believes they found the perfect candidate in Coleman.

“He’s so well known and well respected throughout North Texas,” Scamardo said. “He can build that network in Houston. We would like to see our membership grow. He will be able to most immediately have an effect in North Texas.”
Coleman agreed that membership is a priority in his new position. “That runs parallel to what I was trying to do with Lambda Legal,” he said.

He also wants to raise the profile of Equality Texas, and change the perception of the group. He said many see it as an Austin organization. A third goal is to get activists motivated on statewide issues.

Coleman began his work in the LGBT community as a member of the Resource Center Dallas Speaker’s Bureau in the early 1990s. He joined the Black Tie Dinner committee. When hired by Lambda Legal, he was national chair of the Human Rights Campaign’s Board of Governors.

Scamardo said State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston has talked to the organization about the importance of forging alliances with other minority groups. Scamardo said he looks forward to Coleman doing just that.

Toni Broaddus, executive director of the Equality Federation, made up of state equality organizations from around the country, agreed. Broaddus said she thinks that in addition to his experience, hiring an African-American executive director is a smart move for Equality Texas.

“The LGBT civil rights movement can’t succeed alone,” she said, “And part of the work we need to do is representing our entire community, and exploring the intersection between discrimination against LGBT people and discriminating against people of color.”

Coleman will not be the first person of color to lead the organization. Through the 1990s, Dianne Hardy Garcia, who is Hispanic, headed the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby, which later changed its name to Equality Texas.

“Diversity is one of the things we struggle with in the leadership of our state equality organizations,” Broaddus said. “It’s a struggle to bring people of color and transgender people into leadership positions. It’s great news that we’re adding another person of color.”

But those who’ve worked with Coleman said he is simply the best choice for the job.

“I think that he brings a wealth of experience as a Texan,” Lambda Legal senior staff attorney Ken Upton said. “What makes him right for the job is he knows what works and what doesn’t work in Texas.”

Upton said he thinks Coleman’s Lambda Legal experience will give his advocacy a different tone. He said he expects Coleman will call when the legislative approach isn’t working and a legal approach might fare better.

Scamardo said two of the biggest challenges facing the new Legislature next year will be budget shortfalls and redistricting. The perennial challenge for the community is preventing anti-LGBT legislation from getting out of committee to a floor vote. But there’s also the hope of passing a pro-equality bill for the first time since 2001.

“Our hope is that we can push our key agenda item — the safe schools initiative — early in the session,” Scamardo said. He thinks the anti-bullying law has a good chance to pass before things get too contentious later in the session.

In the last session, the bill had enough votes to pass in the House and had Republican sponsorship. Working on this will be a natural fit.

“We’ve always had a collaborative relationship with Equality Texas, especially with the safe schools issue,” Coleman said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Dennis Coleman to be named ED of Equality Texas

Dennis Coleman

Dallas Voice has learned that Dennis Coleman will be named the new executive director of Equality Texas. Coleman has served as executive director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, based in Dallas, for more than six years.

This is the second consecutive time Equality Texas tapped the Dallas talent pool for its top position. Previous Executive Director Paul Scott, who stepped down earlier this year, came from Resource Center Dallas.

Coleman would become only the second African-American director of a statewide equality organization, after Nadine Smith of Equality Florida, according to Toni Broaddus, executive director of the Equality Federation.

In a letter to the Lambda Legal Leadership Committee dated Friday, July 2, Coleman wrote:

“I have had the privilege for the past six and half years to lead the South Central Region, building on the good work of those who championed the creation of a presence for Lambda Legal in the afterglow of Lawrence v. Texas. The staff here in Dallas, and New York alongside many dedicated volunteers have made Lambda Legal a known force in the struggle for equality. When I came to Lambda Legal,  I had a vision for the organization,  to tell the story of Lambda Legal, and how it along with the sometimes better know pantheon of GLBT organizations, was making a significant difference in the continued advancement of legal rights for all Americans, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity. Happily we have achieved success in making Lambda Legal a vital part of the community here in Texas and around the South Central Region.

“So while the work will continue, it must, I have decided that the time is right for me to move on to the next chapter in my personal journey and professional pursuits as the Executive Director of Equality Texas. In consultation with the leadership in New York and to maintain a smooth transition, my last day will be Friday, July 16, 2010. In the coming days and weeks as I wind down my work here, there will be further communication on any pending projects and programs and how those will be managed moving forward.

“My continued wish for the organization is that it will continue to make a difference and look forward to celebrating future victories for equality.”

Equality Texas was expected to make a formal announcement on Tuesday or Wednesday. For a full story, see Friday’s Voice.

UPDATE: Read Equality Texas’ press release by going here.

—  David Taffet

CROSSPOINTS panel to address opportunities, pitfalls of being out at work

Dennis Coleman

The opportunities and pitfalls of being out at work will be discussed at this week’s CROSSPOINTS panel discussion at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 1 at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Equality March Texas is coordinating the six-week series, which will take a break next week for the holiday.

Union organizer Mike Lo Vuolo will moderate this week’s panel discussion.

CROSSPOINTS organizer Latisha McDaniel said five people are tentatively scheduled to be on the panel.

Dennis Coleman from Lambda Legal will offer a legal perspective on what rights people have to be out at work and what rights employers have to discriminate pending passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Laura Martin, LGBT community liaison officer for the Dallas Police Department, will give her perspective on being out in an organization with few other out employees.

Binet’s Andi Reis will talk about being an out bisexual.

Louise Young and Rafael McDonnell will talk about Out & Equal employee groups. Young formed the LGBT groups at Texas Instruments and later at Raytheon when they purchased her division from TI. McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at Resource Center Dallas.

“There are plenty of pitfalls to being out at work,” said McDaniel. “But I hope they talk about some of the benefits. Being able to concentrate on your work rather than on people finding out about your personal life.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which McDaniel described as the biggest example of workplace discrimination, will also be discussed.

—  David Taffet