Local members of Congress sign letter opposing anti-LGBT Russian law

Official Photo_Rep Marc Veasey

Rep. Marc Veasey

North Texas Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey are among 83 members of Congress who’ve signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to ensure the safety of LGBT athletes, coaches, staff, fans and reporters attending the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

The letter refers to a law by signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 30 under which public acknowledgement of one’s sexual orientation or support for LGBT rights, including displays of symbols such as a rainbow flag or HRC logo, can result in arrest and 15 days in jail.

The concern is over an announcement the law would be enforced during the Olympics.

Two other Texas congressmen also signed the letter — Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

Noticeably absent from the list were Houston’s Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who always scores high on HRC Congressional rankings and newcomers Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who worked for partner benefits while serving on the El Paso City Council, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, who won his seat with strong LGBT support in San Antonio.

The members of Congress are concerned with the rising wave of anti-gay activity in Russia including violent hate crimes and laws banning Pride parades for 100 years and limiting adoption of Russian children by people from countries that allow same-sex marriage.

Kerry has a long record of supporting the LGBT community. He was one of just 14 Senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act. Last week, in a speech at the embassy in London, he announced the U.S. would treat visa applications from married same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples.

Other signs of international protest of the new anti-gay law include a boycott of Russian alcohol. The New York City United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association called on all bars, cafes, taverns and restaurants to ban all Russian-made food and alcohol. Locally, some bars have joined in a boycott of Stoli vodka.

The Canadian government issued a travel advisory on travel to Russia. Over the weekend, two Canadian Olympic athletes marched in Vancouver’s Pride parade to show support for the LGBT community in opposition to the law.

The Sochi games are seven months away.

Below is the full text of the letter:

—  David Taffet

LGBT advocates say federal ENDA to be introduced in Congress on Thursday

ENDA Houston 4The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is expected to be reintroduced in both chambers of Congress on Thursday.

The bill would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT advocates have been reviewing the legislation the past few months to revise language for small companies and religious entities that would be exempt. However, the changes are not expected to be in the introduced bill, the Washington Blade reports.

In the last session, 40 senators and 171 representatives signed as co-sponsors to the bill. More are expected this session, especially since an increasing number of senators have come out for marriage equality. Dallas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson was a co-sponsor last session, and freshman Reps. Marc Veasey and Beto O’Rourke are expected to support the legislation.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, told the Blade the organization wanted the legislation advanced quickly and hoped to time a vote in the Senate with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in two marriage equality cases.

“After the Supreme Court rules in the Windsor marriage case, many right-wingers are going to denounce marriage equality for same-sex couples, but claim that they don’t believe in discrimination against LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “That’s the time when we should call some of those bluffs by putting ENDA on the Senate floor and letting all 100 senators go on the record about whether hardworking Americans should get fired just because of who they are or who they love.”

In Texas, a bill to prohibit statewide job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression had a hearing in the Senate, but was left pending in committee.

The House versions of the bill, HB 238 by San Antonio Rep. Mike Villarreal and HB 1146 Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson, have hearings scheduled Wednesday in the Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

—  Anna Waugh

2 TX lawmakers join call for executive order protecting LGBT workers

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

On Wednesday, 110 members of Congress — including Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Al Green of Houston — sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies.

Johnson and Green were the only Texas representatives who signed the letter.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth said the letter had not gotten to their office or the congressman would have added his name. She added that when ENDA is introduced this session, his name will be on it as a co-sponsor.

The letter indicates that 43 percent of gays and lesbians and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination.

“Our request begins with a simple premise,” the letter said. “It is unacceptable that it remains legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In February, 37 senators sent Obama a similar letter.

The executive order would expand one signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, which has been expanded several times to include contractors and subcontractors doing more than $10,000 in business with the federal government. Categories currently covered are race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

While an executive order does not replace a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it would cover everyone but it would extend nondiscrimination protections to more than 16 million workers.

Some states have enacted workplace protections, but it remains legal to fire employees for their sexual orientation in 29 states and for their gender identity in 34 states including Texas.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama said he would sign such an order. Since then he has backed off that pledge saying he would prefer the legislative solution of ENDA.

—  David Taffet

Congresswoman Johnson speaks out against more spending to defend DOMA

U.S. House Republicans’ funding of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act continued Thursday as they authorized more spending to defend it in court.

Republicans included authorization of their efforts to defend DOMA in the Rules of the House of Representatives. Spending for DOMA’s defense has reached nearly $2 million.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, joined several who spoke out against the continued funding.

“House Republicans continue to demand drastic cuts to government programs at all levels under the guise of reducing wasteful spending,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “Yet, the GOP’s decision to retain a private law firm to defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act is both hypocritical and a waste of taxpayer funds.  It needs to be very clear to the American people that the views of the House of Representatives are not being fully represented.”

Johnson voted for DOMA in 1996, but is now a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, and the Human Rights Campaign also issued statements.

“It’s truly disheartening that, on a day of new beginnings on Capitol Hill, the leadership of the House of Representatives is advancing a measure, through its rules, to continue spending taxpayer dollars on expensive lawyers to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in court,” Solomon said. “This law has been struck down as unconstitutional 10 times, with support from judges appointed by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes. It’s past time for the Republican leadership to listen to their constituents, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry, and stop wasting precious resources in an effort to treat fellow Americans as second-class citizens.”

HRC’s statement is below.

—  Anna Waugh

Stonewall Democrats endure taunts from motorists at Election Day rally

Stonewall Democrats President Omar Narvaez, left, leads the group’s traditional Election Day get out the vote rally at the Legacy of Love Monument on Tuesday.

Members of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats, including a few elected officials, rallied this morning at the monument at Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road to get out the vote in an Election Day morning tradition. They stood on the chilly street corner for two hours during rush hour.

Many people driving down Cedar Springs Road honked and waved. Some driving on Oak Lawn Avenue also waved but others coming from the direction of Highland Park shouted epithets. One stopped, rolled down his window and yelled, “Get a fucking job.”

The Stonewall member standing nearest that car said he was self-employed and thought he was entitled to get to work a little late. He said he thought voting and getting people to the polls was important.

But other Stonewall members said it was a sad indication of how polarized the country’s become. Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said because they support Democrats, Republicans think their next stop is a government office looking for handouts.

Among the rally participants was Judge Tina Yoo. Because of her position, she cannot support a candidate, so her sign carried a simple “get out the vote” message. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s campaign manager stopped by with donuts for the rally crew.

Stonewall and other groups will host an Election Night watch party beginning at 7 p.m. at the Round-Up Saloon. The first statewide returns from the East Coast, including swing state Virginia, should be announced at 6 p.m. Texas early voting totals will be announced shortly after polls close at 7 p.m.

—  David Taffet

Barney Frank visits Cathedral of Hope, addresses group from Youth First Texas

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, from left, the Rev. Jo Hudson and Rep. Barney Frank are shown at the Cathedral of Hope’s Interfaith Peace Chapel on Monday.

Retiring Rep. Barney Frank toured Cathedral of Hope and met with members of Youth First Texas for an hour-long discussion at the Interfaith Peace Chapel on Monday.

Frank was in town for a fundraiser for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

“I’m not campaigning myself this year,” Frank said. “And Eddie Bernice Johnson is enormously respected in Congress.”

Frank predicted that within 20 years, there will be full LGBT equality. He said several things have changed recently paving the way. States that have passed marriage equality have seen no impact on anyone else’s marriage. The head of the Marine Corps who opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” said he was wrong and that repeal had no negative impact the military. And younger people are less likely to oppose equality and their support should continue as they age.

He said that the anti-LGBT faction has tried to divide the African-American caucus to stop their support of LGBT equality.

But Rep. Johnson said, “We know what it’s like to be treated unfairly.”

Frank said the black caucus is better on LGBT issues than the gay members.

“Not the openly gay members,” he said, politely declining to name any of his colleagues as closeted.

—  David Taffet

Eddie Bernice Johnson receives perfect score on LGBT equality from HRC

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Five members of Texas’ congressional delegation support marriage equality, according to the Human Rights Campaign, but only two earned perfect scores of 100 percent on the group’s Congressional Scorecard for the 112th Congress released Thursday.

Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, were among 115 members of the House nationally who receive scores of 100 percent from HRC. While Johnson is expected to win re-election easily on Nov. 6, Reyes was defeated by Beto O’Rourke in the Democratic Primary. Johnson received a perfect score for the sixth consecutive time, dating back 10 years to 2002. She has failed to receive a 100 only twice during two decades in Congress.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who has regularly received a 100 on the scorecard, fell to 85 this year for failing to co-sponsor legislation that would “equalize the tax treatment of employer-provided health coverage for domestic partners and other non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiaries.”

Overall, the average score in the House fell from 50.8 percent in the 111th Congress to 40 percent in the current Congress, according to the Washington Blade. In the Senate, the average score went from 57.3 percent in the 111th Congress to 35 percent in the current 112th Congress.

“While we continue to make advancements towards equality in Washington, the 112th Congress has more anti-equality members set on halting our progress,” HRC President Chad Griffin told the Blade.

This year, for the first time, HRC asked members of Congress whether they support marriage equality. Their responses are listed on the scorecard but were not factored into their scores.

The Texas representatives who said they support marriage equality were all Democrats: Johnson, Reyes, Jackson Lee, Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio and Lloyd Doggett of Houston.

Among Texas’ 23 Republicans, the only two who didn’t receive zeroes on the scorecard were Ron Paul and Ted Poe, who both received a 15.

In the Senate, Texas Republican John Cornyn received a score of 15, while fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison received a zero.

Click here to view the full scorecard.

—  John Wright

Barney Frank to bid farewell to Dallas at fundraiser for Eddie Bernice Johnson

frank.barney

Barney Frank

Fresh off his controversial comments comparing Log Cabin Republicans to “Uncle Toms,” gay Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., will be in Dallas next month for a farewell hosted by the Human Rights Campaign’s DFW Federal Club.

Frank, who’s been in Congress since 1981, is retiring at the end of this year.

The farewell will be Monday, Oct. 22 at the Turtle Creek residence of Eric Johnson and Dr. Mark Parker. The event will serve as a fundraiser for the re-election campaign of Dallas Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who faces faces Republican Travis Washington Jr. and Libertarian Ed Rankin in the November election.

Other hosts for Frank’s farewell are Vanessa Benavides, Deiadra Burns, Anne Faye, Jennifer Guyot-Wallace, Tracey Guyot-Wallace, Craig McCartney, Sonja McGill, Erin Moore, Jay Narey, Omar Narveaz, James Nowlin, Samuel Sanchez, Cathy Scalise, Jeff Strater and Dan Waldmann.

The event runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the cost is $250 per person. There will also be a private reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m. for $1,000.

RSVP by email to political@hrcdfw.org

—  John Wright

William Waybourn joins push to name Oak Lawn post office for Bill Nelson

William Waybourn

One-time Dallas activist William Waybourn, who now lives in Virginia, added his name to the drive to name the Oak Lawn Post Office after Bill Nelson.

In his letter to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Waybourn reminds the congressswoman that she was one of the original advisory board members of the AIDS Resource Center in the mid-80s, lending her expertise as a nurse as well as her political clout. She said she showed “courage and rejected fear” by putting her name out for such an unpopular cause as AIDS.

Waybourn and his partner, Craig Spaulding, started Crossroads Market with Nelson and his partner, Terry Tebedo, in the early 1980s. Waybourn also later served as president of the Dallas Gay Alliance.

Bruce Monroe and The Dallas Way: The GLBT History Project have been spearheading the petitioning project. They collected signatures at an event at Sue Ellen’s on Sept. 13, at Lee Park after the parade and at a Stonewall Democrats event at the Round-Up Saloon.

As Lone Star Ride co-chair Dan Babb signed the petition at the event at the Round-Up, he said Nelson was a teacher of his.

Read Waybourn’s full letter to Johnson below.

—  David Taffet

Majority of House Democrats from Texas decline to sign brief opposing Defense of Marriage Act

Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson was among four Democrats from Texas who signed the brief opposing DOMA. Five House Democrats from Texas declined to sign the brief.

With friends like these, who need enemies?

The Texas Democratic Party may have recently added marriage equality to its platform, but obviously that doesn’t mean all or even most Democratic elected officials in the Lone Star State support the plank — or have the guts to stand up for it.

In fact, a majority of U.S. House Democrats from Texas have declined to sign a court brief opposing the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

Five of the nine House Democrats from Texas — the most from any state — are among 60 from across the country who declined to sign the friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (BuzzFeed has a list of all 60 representatives who declined to sign the brief.)

The Washington Blade reports that 132 House Democrats signed the brief, which urges the federal appeals court to strike down as unconstitutional the the 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The brief was filed in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, in which federal employee Karen Golinski is seeking benefits for her partner.

Shelbi Day, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which represents Golinski, told the Blade that the brief filed by House Democrats “sends a powerful message” and “underscores just how problematic and unconstitutional DOMA is.”

“As the brief points out, DOMA is not the rational result of impartial lawmaking but rather was enacted in haste with no legitimate government purpose,” Day said. “We welcome this brief and applaud the members of Congress who have signed it.”

The four Democrats from Texas who signed the brief opposing DOMA are Reps. Lloyd Doggett, Charlie Gonzalez, Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson.

The five U.S. House members from Texas who declined to sign the brief are Reps. Henry Cuellar, Al Green, Gene Green, Rubén Hinojosa and  Silvestre Reyes. (To his credit Al Green is a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.)

In case you’re wondering, contact info for these five — and the rest of Texas’ congressional delegation — can be found here.

Read the full brief here.

—  John Wright