After gay teen’s suicide, El Paso ISD board adds LGBT protections

Brandon Elizares

A unanimous decision to add gender identity and perceived sexuality to the El Paso Independent School District’s nondiscrimination policy brought tears and hope Tuesday.

Board President Isela Castañon-Williams began crying after the vote because her son, Antonio, is gay, The El Paso Times reports.

“I know what it’s like going to school because of people who would bully us because we’re gay,” Williams told the board before the vote. “It can adversely affect the welfare of students who are different and that environment can create hostility.”

The policy previously prohibited discrimination against any student because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other chararistic prohibited by law.

Advocates of the updated policy said it would help prevent LGBT bullying in light of 16-year-old El Paso teen Brandon Elizares, who took his life June 2 after enduring relentless bullying since coming out in 2010.

Elizares’s mother said she thought the policy change was a “baby step” to future prevention and only time would tell if it would help.

“We can ask about it a year from now and see how well it’s worked,” she said. “I didn’t see anything at any of the schools my kids attended about any anti-bullying campaign or anything. If they did have it, I as a parent didn’t know about it, and I was going to the school every day.”

Daniel Rollings, president of PFLAG El Paso and community liaison for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Anti-Bullying Coalition, said the LGBT community has been the target of three-quarters of bullying cases in El Paso.

The school district will offer safe zone training to teachers with help from PFLAG and University of Texas of El Paso’s Social Work Department so students can know where to go if they need to talk. The district will also begin an anti-bullying campaign this fall with activities and events to help prevent bullying and promote acceptance.

—  Dallasvoice

Gonzalez profiled as ‘new face’ of El Paso politics

More like the new gay face of Texas politics.

In a profile about the future House District 75 Rep. Mary Gonzalez on the front page of Monday’s El Paso Times (shown at right), the 28-year-old is modeled as a “new face” for the district.

Gonzalez won her Democratic primary and will replace retiring state Rep. Chente Quintillia. She is unopposed in the general election.

Aside from being the first openly gay woman elected to the Texas Legislature, Gonzalez is also the first woman to represent the El Paso district. But Gonzalez “doesn’t dwell on those labels,” according to the article.

Instead, the eldest of 11 siblings will focus on how to improve the lives of families who face hardships from education to clean drinking water, remembering the time her house burned down and the community reached out to help her family.

Gonzalez recently told Dallas Voice after she won the primary that her passion lies with the impoverished unincorporated areas of her district and she wanted to bring better living conditions to the citizens there.

But her historic election has not gone unnoticed as she heads to Austin in January to serve as the second openly gay representative, after Glen Maxey, who served from 1991 to 2003. Her race – and election – drew a swarm of media attention. She told the El Paso Times the coverage was around 3,500 articles.

Read an in-depth interview with Gonzalez in an upcoming edition of Dallas Voice.

From the El Paso Times:

She added that there were times during her campaign that she questioned whether her gender, age or sexuality would work against her.

She focused on the issues, she said, and remembered her mother telling her that what she was facing was no harder than living in the colonias without basic infrastructure. That’s one of the key issues she hopes to address, Gonzalez said. “I am, of course, aware I’ve created this ‘history,’ but I always ran this race on issues,” she said. “I wanted people of El Paso to understand what legislators do and what they can do for them.”

“Do I think it’s important for people to see diversity in the Legislature? Yes, certainly,” Gonzalez continued. “But this campaign was not about me or the boxes people could put me into. It was about issues and having the qualifications to address them.”

What lies ahead, Gonzalez said, is more than mere politics.

“I think my whole life I’ve subscribed to the leadership style of inspiring and empowering groups and communities,” Gonzalez said. “If I can do that as a state legislator then I will have succeeded.”

—  Dallasvoice

WATCH: LGBT activists in El Paso rally against anti-gay petition being circulated at polling sites

Skip Rosenthal

Early voting in El Paso has apparently turned into a fight for another recall of elected officials who supported the city’s domestic partner benefits.

A video posted online today by the El Paso Times shows activists with signs trying to discourage voters from signing petitions for the recall that groups are asking them to sign outside polling locations. The rally comes two days after a settlement was announced in a lawsuit brought by five men who were kicked out of Chico’s Taco and threatened with arrest for a same-sex kiss.

The incident led to the City Council passing DP benefits in 2009 and again in 2011 after a ballot measure overturned the original decision. The mayor has stood firm in supporting DP benefits and won an appeal to recall the council’s decision earlier this year.

“We believe this has been a gay-rights issue from day one and we need to support the mayor and the city councils and we need to be visible,” gay-rights activist Skip Rosenthal says in the video. “The gay community is here, we are religious, we are God-fearing and we are also citizens and taxpayers and we deserve rights, too.”

The number of people at the rally was not mentioned in the video and the groups that were asking people to sign the petitions were not named, but El Paso Tom Brown spearheaded the recall petition in the past.

Rosenthal mentioned that President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage demonstrates a “turn of the tide” for the nation and El Paso citizens need to follow suit and support gay rights.

“We need to bring that to El Paso,” he said. “We need to show El Paso that we are here and we are active and we go to church and we vote and we’re taxpayers and we deserve rights, too.”

Well said.

Watch the video below.

—  Dallasvoice

El Paso settles suit brought by men threatened with sodomy charge for gay kiss at Chico’s Taco

Carlos Diaz de Leon

An El Paso discrimination case that began three years ago with two men kissing in a restaurant has come to an end after a settlement calling for diversity training for the city’s police officers was reached.

The settlement with the city was announced Monday by Carlos Diaz de Leon and his lawyers at City Hall, ABC-7 in El Paso reports.

The agreement calls for the city to fund annual police diversity training on LGBT issues. The security company that works at the restaurant will also train its employees on diversity and sensitivity.

Diaz de Leon, along with four other unnamed men, filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the city, Chico’s Taco and a security company after they were thrown out by security in June 2009 when two of the men kissed in the restaurant. They were also threatened with charges under Texas’ sodomy statute by El Paso police who were misinformed that the statute was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

The case spurred a response by the El Paso City Council, which had already approved an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation by businesses in 2003. Later in 2009 the council approved domestic partner benefits for unmarried gay and straight couples, but they were overturned in a ballot measure led by El Paso Pastor Tom Brown in 2010.

The council voted to restore the benefits in 2011, prompting Brown to start a recall effort. A county judge ruled in Brown’s favor in a battle with El Paso Mayor John Cook but a court of appeals overturned the decision in February. Brown then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Police later admitted to making a mistake in threatening charges, citing police officer Israel Rodriguez-Aceves’ rookie status for his misguided threats. Rodriguez-Aceves later wrote an apology letter as part of the case. Released Monday, it reads: “I am writing you to state that I regret the way the situation was handled that evening. From this point on, as a police officer, I will enforce the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.”

Diaz de Leon told ABC-7 that the outcome was “a step forward, not only for the gay community but the straight community as well.”

 

—  Dallasvoice

Gay El Paso House candidate Mary Gonzalez to visit Dallas for LGBT fundraiser next week

Mary Gonzalez

Mary Gonzalez, an openly gay candidate for Texas House from El Paso, will be in Dallas on Thursday, May 3 for a fundraiser sponsored by the Texas Equity PAC, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and Annie’s List.

Of the four known openly LGBT candidates for Legislature in 2012, Gonzalez arguably has the best chance to become only the second out lawmaker in the state’s history and the first since Glen Maxey, who served from 1993 until 2001. Texas is one of only 18 states that lack an openly LGBT legislator, and according to the Victory Fund, no state has ever passed relationship recognition without one.

Gonzalez is one of three candidates in the May 29 Democratic Primary  in El Paso’s District 75 who are vying to replace Rep. Chente Quintillia, who isn’t seeking re-election.

“The oldest of eleven children, Mary Gonzalez is a natural born leader,” an invitation for next week’s fundraiser reads. “Before putting herself through college to eventually become a PhD candidate and Adjunct Professor, Mary spent her adolescent years advocating for underserved colonias in her hometown of El Paso. Now, Mary is putting her education and experience to work for the people of El Paso and is poised to become Texas’ only LGBT voice in the state legislature. Come meet this remarkable young woman and catch a rising star on her way to the Capitol!”

The fundraiser will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the home of Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and his partner, Gregory Pynes. Other hosts include Cece Cox; Jack Evans and George Harris; Scott Green and Garrett Warren; Chris Luna and Kent Mecklenburg; Karl Meyer and Craig McCartney; Dr. Mark Parker and Eric Johnson; and Andy Smith and Paul von Wupperfeld.

The suggested donation is $100, or become a host for $250.. For more information or to RSVP contact Chuck Smith at 512-474-5475 ext. 2 or chuck@texasequitypac.org; or Michael McCall at 202-567-3304 or michael.mccall@victoryfund.org.

—  John Wright

2 El Paso teens get 10, 12 years for brutal attack outside gay nightclub; others await trial

The Old Plantation in Downtown El Paso.

Two 17-year-olds have been sentenced for their roles in a brutal beating of an El Paso man outside a gay nightclub in May, the El Paso Times reports.

Ruben Arturo Valenzuela pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison.

Esteban Alfaro was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January after a state district juvenile court found him guilty of assault.

Valenzuela and Alfaro were two of the five attackers believed to have beaten Lionel Martinez, then 22, with baseball bats outside of the Old Plantation nightclub in Downtown El Paso.

Martinez suffered severe injuries and remained in intensive care for several weeks. While he is not gay, his family wanted the assault labeled as a hate crime because the teens believed Martinez was gay. His sister, who he was waiting for at the club, witnessed the assault and told police that the teens shouted anti-gay slurs at Martinez. El Paso police linked the attack to gang violence.

Manny Portillo, 19, pleaded guilty in early April and is awaiting sentencing.

Ivan Gallardo, 18, and Roman Olvera, 20, are scheduled for trial this summer.

—  Dallasvoice

Don’t miss this El Paso Times profile on pioneering gay luchador Cassandro

Today, Texas Monthly’s Jason Cohen pointed us to this piece from the El Paso Times about the out, cross-dressing wrestler Cassandro. The profile, by Paul Imison, came out earlier this week.

Imison takes a look into Cassandro’s legacy as the first openly gay luchador as well as gives fascinating insight to the world of lucha libre.

This got me curious to see if Cassandro had ever wrestled here in Dallas. There is a slight lucha libre scene here that takes place in area bazaars and malls. While researching local appearances (any help would be most welcome), I did come across one wrestler with flair in a video taken from a match at the Irving Bazaar. Watch him in action with his opponent and the men in the crowd after the jump, as well as video of Cassandro in action.

—  Rich Lopez

Victory Fund endorses 28-year-old out lesbian Mary Gonzalez for Texas House in El Paso

Mary Gonzalez

The Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has endorsed 28-year-old rising star Mary Gonzalez, one of four openly LGBT candidates for Texas Legislature in 2012. And that’s good news because the Victory Fund only backs candidates the group believes are viable.

As we noted in our story about Gonzalez and the other out candidates two weeks ago, Texas is one of only 18 states that lack an openly LGBT legislator. And, according to the Victory Fund, no state has passed same-sex relationship recognition without one. In other words, we need a seat at the table in Austin.

After the jump, read an excerpt about Gonzalez from our recent story. You can also read about her on the Victory Fund page, but it looks like you’ll have to go to Gonzalez’s campaign website to make a contribution. You can also follow Gonzalez’s campaign on Facebook.

—  John Wright

Tom Brown Ministries named anti-gay hate group as El Paso pastor files appeal of recall ruling

Pastor Tom Brown

Just as El Paso pastor Tom Brown filed an appeal this week to the Texas Supreme Court, his Tom Brown Ministries was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Brown filed an appeal Wednesday of a court’s ruling rejecting his effort to recall El Paso Mayor John Cook and two other council members over their support of domestic partner benefits for unmarried city employees.

This was just as the Southern Poverty Law Center was issuing its annual list of anti-gay hate groups. The 27 groups, up from 17 last year, includes Tom Brown Ministries.

Brown’s group is the second anti-gay group in Texas to be declared a hate group by the SPLC after the San Antonio-based Bethesda Christian Institute.

The El Paso City Council approved DP benefits in 2009, but were overturned in a ballot measure led by Brown’s El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values in 2010.

City Council voted to restore DP benefits last year, prompting Brown to begin a recall effort. While a county judge ruled in Brown’s favor after the recall was challenged in court by El Paso Mayor John Cook, the appeals court overturned the decision in February.

While Brown may have filed with the Texas Supreme Court, an attorney for Cook previously said the odds of the court taking the case are slim.

—  Dallasvoice

VICTORY: Appeals court blocks recall of El Paso officials who voted in favor of DP benefits

Friday's ruling was a major setback for anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown, who may also face criminal charges.

In a victory for supporters of LGBT equality, a Texas appeals court has rejected an effort to recall El Paso Mayor John Cook and two other council members over their support of domestic partner benefits for unmarried city employees.

Texas’ 8th Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on Friday that recall organizers, led by anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown, broke the law in gathering petition signatures for the recall election, which had been scheduled for this spring.

After the El Paso City Council first approved DP benefits for gay and straight city workers in 2009, Brown spearheaded a ballot measure that overturned them in 2010. Last year, after the City Council voted to restore DP benefits, Brown’s group launched its recall effort, which was challenged in court by Cook. A county judge initially ruled against Cook, but the appeals court overturned that decision.

The El Paso chapter of PFLAG issued a statement Friday saying: “It is with jubilation that the recall election, supported by Christian bigots, has finally reached the finish line. The judges clearly saw that this attempt was purely done out of hatred, disguised as the word of God.”

Brown and others may also face criminal charges based on the appeals court’s ruling, which found that his Word of Life Church violated a statute prohibiting corporate political contributions to recall elections. The court also found that Brown’s group, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, illegally raised money in support of the recall when it wasn’t registered as a political action committee.

Brown said recall organizers will appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, but an attorney for Mayor Cook believes it’s highly unlikely the high court would take the case. Cook, who cast the deciding vote in favor of restoring DP benefits last year, reportedly has spent $225,000 on his lawsuit seeking to block the recall. The mayor said he now plans to seek monetary damages against Brown’s group.

—  John Wright