In NYC, gay groups are fighting Wal-Mart

A while back we told you how the anti-gay Wal-Mart plans to take over Dallas by building 12 new stores here. Little did we know at the time that the man who’s taking “credit” for bringing the new Wal-Mart stores to Dallas, former Mayor Tom Leppert, would show his stripes as a back-stabbing homophobe only days later. Anyhow, we just wanted to note that in New York City, LGBT groups are taking stands against allowing Wal-Mart to come into the city — due to the group’s anti-gay employment practices. Change.org reports:

Last week, Change.org writer Lauren Kelley noted that the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City issued a statement opposing the construction of a WalMart in the Big Apple. Their reasons for opposing WalMart? Pretty straightforward, really: the company receives a dismal grade when it comes to workplace equality, the company’s CEO supported efforts in Arkansas to ban LGBT people from adopting children, and last year, more than 100 WalMart stores announced that they would carry a book championing ex-gay therapy.

Yuck, indeed. Now this week comes word that another heavyweight organization is lending their voice in the effort to keep WalMart out of New York City. That group? The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement this week knocking WalMart’s record on LGBT equality.

“With the expansion of Wal-Mart stores comes the expansion of antiquated employment policies that provide little to no protections for, and at times even hostility toward, their LGBT employees,” the Task Force said in a statement.

—  John Wright

Virgin America gives DFW another perfect HRC score, but don’t expect to get hitched in-flight

Virgin America touched down at DFW International Airport on Wednesday — quite literally as you can see in the below video — and begins offering flights from here to Los Angeles as well as the airline’s base of operations, San Francisco.

The “low-fares, high-frills” carrier brings with it a perfect score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies according to their LGBT-related employment practices. According to HRC’s Buying for Equality guide released Wednesday, Virgin America’s arrival makes it the seventh airline at DFW with a perfect score, joining American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines and US Airways.

So it’s great to have another LGBT-friendly option, especially when flying to our Mecca of San Francisco. However, if after reading this recent report from MSNBC, you made plans to get gay-married on a Virgin America flight out of DFW, you might want to double-check with the airline first. According to the initial report, which was largely based Twitter updates, a Virgin America pilot veered intentionally into Canadian airspace so he could come back into the cabin and perform a same-sex wedding. Really? That’s awesome! But is it true? Well, maybe. Yahoo’s The Lookout reports:

When contacted by CBS, a Virgin America representative appeared to know nothing about a gay marriage ceremony being conducted on one of its flights — and denied that any flight had deliberately veered into Canadian airspace, for that or any other reason.

“I did briefly get a hold of the pilot for the flight, and there was no ‘diversion’ — this was part of the normal flight path,” the spokesperson said. “He actually was unaware of the reported celebration in the cabin (so reports that a pilot performed it are definitely not correct). That flight’s normal flight path (VX 28 SFO-JFK) does cross the Canadian border for a few minutes. I have not had reports from anyone else onboard however, so other than that I cannot confirm anything.”

What’s more, the Canadian Globe and Mail points out that such a ceremony, in order to be legal, would have to have a Canadian official presiding — and the couple would need to register the marriage in advance with Canadian authorities.

Another mild curiosity: In all of the articles written about the incident, we could not find a single mention of the couple’s names, nor have they appeared to come forward to reveal their identities.

The Lookout contacted Virgin America seeking clarification on the question of whether the story might be a hoax, but our calls and e-mails were not immediately returned.

Of course, Virgin would have good reason to keep the heartwarming account in play, regardless of its accuracy: Corporations have long been courting gay consumers — especially since gay couples are often two-income households without children, with sizable disposable incomes to spend on things like travel.

—  John Wright

Election 2010 • Fitzsimmons looks forward to completing digital courts project

Gay district clerk wins 2nd term; Parker is 1st openly LGBT person elected judge, county’s first gay African-American elected official

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Judge Tonya Parker
Judge Tonya Parker

Two of three openly gay candidates in Dallas County won their races. Among them was District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons who was reelected to a second term in office.

He said sexual orientation did not figure into the races in Dallas County.

But now that the election is behind him, Fitzsimmons said his priority is completing his digital courts project. Filing paperwork electronically has already saved his office $1.3 million, he said, while opening new job opportunities in IT work at the county.

During the upcoming term, he expects his office with its electronic filing to become a model for the state.

“In four years we’ll be the envy of Texas,” he said.

In his first term in office, Fitzsimmons updated his employment policies to reflect non-discrimination. He was the first at the county level to do that and he said he has no tolerance for any sort of discrimination in his department.

He said that voters knew what they were getting when they elected him and expected him to carry out that policy. “Employees who can’t accept the diversity of Dallas County have no business in government,” he said.

But while sexual orientation was not a factor in the general election and hasn’t been a issue in his department, one candidate tried to make it the focus of the Republican primary. A candidate recruited by County Commissioner Ken Mayfield said that there were “moral issues in the race,” Fitzsimmons said.

That candidate was defeated in the primary and Mayfield was turned out of office in the general election after 16 years in the Commissioners Court.

While he heard from several sources that his eventual opponent had planned to use the issue, she never ran much of a campaign, Fitzsimmons said.

“Basically, she just got on the ballot,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said that mostly he works with attorneys and litigants but a quirk in Texas law allows counties to open passport offices. Those offices come under his jurisdiction. There are already three in the county and he’d like to add one in North Oak Cliff. He said that a vast number of passport applications in Dallas are from Hispanic residents but the office would also serve Oak Cliff’s large LGBT population.

“The outgoing commissioner wasn’t interested,” he said. “I’m excited to work with the new commissioner.”

Elba Garcia, who was elected on Tuesday, will represent the area.

Fitzsimmons was impressed by the lack of focus on the sexual orientation of the candidates through the election.

“Voters elected me and Tonya Parker to do a job,” he said.

On election night, Fitzsimmons watched returns from Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park with several other elected officials. Among them were County Tax Assessor John Ames who was not up for re-election and County Clerk John Warren who was. Warren also won re-election, but Fitzsimmons garnered more votes.

Parker, who was elected to serve in the 116th Judicial District Court, watched returns from the W Hotel.

Sexual orientation was not an issue in her race either. While never denying her sexual orientation, Parker preferred not to be interviewed by Dallas Voice during the campaign and stuck to issues throughout.

The Dallas Association of Young Lawyers named her an Outstanding Young Lawyer. Texas Monthly Magazine listed her as a Texas Rising Star four times over the past few years. She served on the board of directors of both the Dallas Bar Association and the J. L. Turner Legal Association.

Pete Schulte
Pete Schulte

Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore called her one of the most eminently qualified new candidates running in this election cycle.

Parker won by a 5-point margin.

After the election, Parker left for vacation and was unavailable to comment.

Peter Schulte challenged Dan Branch for his seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Schulte blamed his defeat on the national mood. No Democrats won in challenged state House races in Dallas County and only one out of three prevailed in Tarrant County.

While his sexual orientation was not a campaign issue, Schulte had been in the news as the attorney for one of the men in the same-sex divorce case.

In that case, Judge Tena Callahan ruled that she had jurisdiction to grant a divorce to the Dallas couple who had married while living in Massachusetts.Attorney General Greg Abbott challenged the ruling and an appeals court overturned Callahan’s ruling.

Although additional counsel was retained for the appeal, Schulte continued to appear with his client. While avoiding local media, he made an appearance on Good Morning America and The Daily Show.

Schulte doesn’t believe his connection to the case affected the outcome, nor did it negatively affect Callahan. She won her re-election with about 52 percent of the vote.

Abbott, however, lost in both Dallas County and by a larger margin in Travis where a similar case involving a lesbian couple was heard.

Fitzsimmons said that he doesn’t believe sexual orientation matters to a majority of Dallas voters — competence does. He hopes he and Parker will encourage others in the LGBT community to run for office in the future.

He said that opportunities are especially good for women thinking of running. In Dallas County, six of the top 10 vote getters in contested races were women, including Parker.

Of the remaining four, Fitzsimmons made the list as did Stonewall Democrats member Carl Ginsberg.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Target refuses to make nice with the gays

Expect to see more protests like the one above in West Hollywood.

Just hours after we posted this story from the Associated Press about conservatives pressuring Target not to make a donation in support of LGBT equality, the Human Rights Campaign announced Monday afternoon that the company has decided it will take “no corrective actions to repair the harm that it caused by contributing $150,000 to an organization supporting a vehemently anti-gay candidate closely associated with a Christian rock band that advocates death and violence to gay people.”

In a press release, HRC said the company’s decision came after two weeks of discussions and two tentative agreements.

“All fair-minded Americans will now rightly question Target’s commitment to equality. If their initial contribution was a slap in the face, their refusal to make it right is a punch in the gut and that’s not something that we will soon forget,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “However, with full marriage equality hanging in the balance in Minnesota, regardless of Target, it’s important that we as a community send a message that we will work tirelessly to elect pro-equality candidates.”

HRC goes on to say that it will devote $150,000 of its own resources to help elect pro-equality candidates in Minnesota. HRC is still awaiting a response from Best Buy, which also contributed money to MN Forward, the group supporting anti-gay Republican Tim Emmer in the governor’s race.

“Target and Best Buy have — and no doubt will continue to have — model employment policies for LGBT people. We will continue to support those efforts. But before they can regain that exalted status among their consumers, they need to make things right in Minnesota,” said Solmonese. “The nation’s LGBT community has shown these two companies enormous customer loyalty. Now it’s time for that faithfulness to be returned.”

Going back to the AP story, it sounds like Target was ultimately more faithful to the almighty dollar:

Conservatives are watching to see whether Target bends to the pressure, said Kelly O’Keefe, a brand expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

“They’re likely to raise the ire of a different constituency of customers and get themselves in a never-ending cycle of alienating people,” he said. “A better thing is for them to swear off any future investment in elections.”

The full HRC press release is after the jump.

UPDATE: For your further viewing pleasure, check out this inspiring in-store flash mob protest:

—  John Wright