GetEQUAL TX activists released on bail, promise more actions

Sit-in2

Cd Kirven as she was escorted out of the Capitol

Cd Kirven and four other GetEQUAL TX activists were released on $1,500 bail each on Wednesday. They were charged with class-B misdemeanors.

The five held sit-ins in state Senate offices to protest Senate bill SB 237 not being moved to the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation is a statewide LGBT employment nondiscrimination law.

“We have three weeks to push hard,” Kirven said.

GetEQUAL TX had threatened action if the bill was not moved to the Senate floor by May 1. Kirven said additional actions are planned.

While they were being arrested, Kirven said she was talking to officers about the lack of workplace protection for LGBT people.

“No wonder you’re doing this,” she said her arresting officer told her.

Kirven said a vote from just one of four Republican Senators targeted is needed to move the bill to the floor.

A preliminary hearing for the arrested activists is set for May 15, but defense attorney Dax Garvin left the country this morning for several weeks. His associate Makenna Hatter said the first hearing is always reset in Travis County so the case will probably be rescheduled for the end of the month.

Garvin also represents Dallas marriage-equality demonstrators Major and Beau Jiminez.

Kirven said GetEQUAL plans polling place demonstrations on May 11 when municipal elections are held throughout the state to let the public know about the lack of workplace protections. She said other actions are planned in and around the Capitol through the session until the bill moves to the floor of both houses for a vote.

Class-B misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 180 days. The court may also impose a maximum of two years of probation or three years of community supervision with an extension.

Kirven said she’s not sure if the charges against the group will stick. The Texas Capitol is considered public park land.

“You can’t criminally trespass on public land,” she said.

In 2010, Kirven was arrested in former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C., demonstrating for the federal ENDA bill. After serving six months probation, charges were dismissed.

After posting bail in Austin on Wednesday night, Kirven returned to Dallas and got home about 3 a.m.

“They haven’t seen the last of us,” Kirven said.

—  David Taffet

LEGE UPDATE: State ENDA pending; another pro-LGBT bill advances

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Two state House bills that would end anti-LGBT job discrimination were left pending in committee Wednesday, but Equality Texas is hopeful the measures will make it out of committee by next week.

Testimonies were given in favor HB 238 by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and HB 1146 by Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

Daniel Williams, Equality Texas field organizer, said he was confident the bills would make it out of the committee by next week, as it is common for committees vote on a bill a week after its hearing. The Senate version is still pending in committee.

Williams urged advocates to contact members of the House committee and ask them to advance the bill. Members are: Chairman John Davis, R-Houston, Vice Chairman Hubert Vo, D-Houston, Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, Jason Isaac, R-Drippings Springs, Jim Murphy, R-Houston, Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Paul Workman, R-Austin.

Earlier this week, LGBT state Rep. Mary Gonzalez’s HB 2403, which would protect same-sex minors in intimate relationships under the “Romeo and Juliet” defense, was voted out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version was voted out of committee earlier this month.

Anti-gay HB 1568 also passed out of committee earlier this week. The bill by Republican Drew Springer of Muenster originally aimed to cut state funding for school districts that offered domestic partner benefits and was withdrawn from consideration by the committee last week.

But Williams said a committee substitute bill was passed. The substitute would allow the Texas attorney general to defund and decertify school districts that offer domestic partner benefits without an appeals process. Williams said the substitute bill is “much worse than the first one.”

“As the bill progresses through the system we’ll have a better understanding of how to kill it,” he said, adding that people should contact their lawmakers now to tell them they oppose the bill.

Two pro-equality bills have hearings scheduled for Monday, April 29. HB 201, which would allow same-sex parents to sign an adopted child’s supplementary birth certificate, will be heard by the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

And HB 1701, which would remove the state’s “homosexual conduct” law found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 from the Texas Penal Code, will have a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version has already passed out of committee.

Equality Texas is trying to get HB 1696 a hearing before the deadline on May 6.

“We’re very much on a deadline,” Williams said.

The bill authored by Democrat Jessica Farrar of Houston would remove language form public school curriculum that condemns homosexuality.

He’s urging advocates to contact House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, at 512-463-0684 and tell him to give HB 1696 a hearing.

—  Dallasvoice

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.

—  Dallasvoice

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

Eric Johnson files duplicate bill to ban anti-LGBT job discrimination in Texas

Rep. Eric Johnson

Rep. Eric Johnson

A second LGBT-inclusive employment nondiscrimination bill (HB 1146) has been filed in the Texas House of Representatives — this one authored by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.

“Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible, but in Texas, it’s perfectly legal,” Johnson said in a statement. “It’s time for that to change.”

Johnson, whose district includes Oak Lawn, cited a 2010 Equality Texas poll that found 75 percent of Texas voters support prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing.

Johnson’s bill is identical to one filed earlier (HB 238) by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso.

Johnson’s openly gay chief of staff, Juan Ayala, said there are strategic advantages to having two bills. A second bill could be assigned to a different committee. Villarreal’s bill was referred to Economic & Small Business Development. Johnson’s bill, filed Monday, has not been referred to committee yet.

Ayala said one committee might give the bill a fairer hearing or one committee opposed to the bill could simply not schedule a hearing and let it die. With two bills, there’s a better chance one of will reach the floor.

Should either bill emerge from committee, Ayala said he expects the two to be merged into one.

Ayala described the mood of the Legislature this session as “less hostile, perhaps more open” compared to last session and said he thinks the bill has a chance.

Also, some of the anti-gay language was removed from the Texas Republican Party platform last year, possibly giving some Republicans cover to vote for nondiscrimination.

In the last session, Republicans held a 102-48 supermajority in the House, allowing them to pass anything without Democratic input. This session, Republicans still have an overwhelming 95-55 majority, but Democrats are not shut out of the legislative process.

—  David Taffet

Study finds Texas ENDA would protect more than 400,000 LGBT workers

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

If the Texas Legislature passes a bill to ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the upcoming session filed by state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, the law would protect more than 400,000 workers, a new study finds.

The Williams Institute, a prominent LGBT think tank at UCLA, estimated that 431,095 LGBT workers live in Texas, according to U.S. Census data.

Research found adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected categories would have a minimal impact on state agencies and the budget, estimating that the changes would result in 203 more complaints a year. The number of additional complaints came from applying the national average of 4.7 complaints alleging discrimination in the workplace for every 10,000 LGBT workers to Texas’ number of LGBT workers.

The institute focused on research from 2008 that found 37 percent of gay and lesbian respondents to a survey had experienced workplace harassment and 12 percent were fired because of their sexual orientation. A 2010 survey of transgender people revealed that 78 percent experienced mistreatment at work.

“Data from other states show that the LGBT population files discrimination complaints at a rate similar to other protected groups, such as, women and people of color filing on the basis of sex or race,” co-author Christy Mallory, Reid Rasmussen Fellow of Law & Policy, said in a release. “However, the absolute number of complaints we expect to see from LGBT people is very low, because the LGBT population is small compared to other protected populations.”

The cost of reviewing and investigating the complaints by administrators would be low, costing $267,500–$334,400 in the first year and $248,600–$310,800 each subsequent year.

“We expect that enforcing these additional complaints will only cost the state approximately $300,000 in the first year; and the expenses will drop in the following years,” said co-author M.V. Lee Badgett, Williams Institute research director. “Although there is some administrative cost associated with enforcing these laws, they can also have positive effects on businesses and the state.”

 

—  Dallasvoice

Villarreal again files Texas ENDA. Now where’s that City Council resolution?

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, has again filed a bill that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas.

“An overwhelming majority of Texans believe that everyone should be judged on their capabilities and job performance,” Villarreal said in a press release sent out Monday by Equality Texas announcing the introduction of HB 238. “Hardworking, high-performing employees should not be fired just because they are gay or transgender.”

According to a 2010 Equality Texas poll, more than 70 percent of Texas voters support banning employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Villarreal has carried identical legislation in previous sessions, but the bill has never made it out of committee. Frankly, given a solid Republican majority in the House, its chances aren’t a whole hell of a lot better in 2013 — despite those poll numbers as well as an unprecedented recent endorsement from GOP Dallas Sen. John Carona.

And that’s extremely unfortunate, because the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is also unlikely to pass the new Congress, meaning at least two more years during which LGBT Texans can be legally fired. Just. For. Being. LGBT.

“Most people incorrectly assume that it is already against the law to fire someone solely because they are gay or transgender,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in the group’s release. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that there is no statewide law in Texas to prohibit someone from being unfairly fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance. HB 238 would help protect hardworking Texans from being unfairly fired.”

Three cities in Texas — Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth — prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, those city ordinances are widely regarded as toothless because they lack the force of state or federal law.

A few years ago, Fort Worth passed a resolution in support of a statewide ban on anti-LGBT job discrimination. The Dallas City Council has failed to do so — despite the fact that Mayor Mike Rawlings is purported to have been working on this issue — costing the city points in the Human Rights Campaign’s recent Municipal Equality Index.

—  John Wright

Study shows high rate of discrimination against transgender people in Texas

Mara Keisling

Transgender Texans generally face even higher levels of discrimination than transgender people nationwide, according to a state-level breakout from a national study conducted last year.

Equality Texas and the Transgender Education Network of Texas released the state-level figures Tuesday from the study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality. The full national study is available online, and results from the Texas study are below. The national study included 266 Texas respondents.

In Texas, transgender people faced higher rates of harassment and assault in school. Nationally, 78 percent reported being harassed, but in Texas 85 percent faced harassment. Physical assault was also higher in the state at 46 percent compared to 35 percent nationally. Sexual assault in school was comparable at 12 percent nationally and 9 percent in Texas.

Texas doesn’t have LGBT-inclusive employment nondiscrimination or anti-bullying laws. The state’s hate crimes law covers gays and lesbians but not transgender people.

Equality Texas called the rates of workplace discrimination in the state “alarming.” Chuck Smith, Equality Texas interim executive director, said the report graphically demonstrates the discrimination faced by transgender Texans.

“In our state, where the right of self-determination is so valued, it is unconscionable that anyone would be denied the ability to earn a living, to live where they choose or to be educated,” Smith said. “Equality Texas calls on the members of the Texas Legislature to join us in working to ensure that all Texans are given the ability to live as their authentic selves.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said some states have made a lot of progress toward ensuring safety, jobs and homes for transgender people. But she said “this research points out persistent gaps in the fair and equal treatment of transgender people.”

According to the report:

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Anti-gay Congressman Louie Gohmert calls ENDA part of Obama’s ‘war on religion’

Louie Gohmert

Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert told a conservative radio show Tuesday that he thinks ENDA is a continuation of the Obama administration’s “war on religion.”

Gohmert spoke with Today’s Issues host Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president, saying the federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is “a part of this administration’s ongoing war on religion, on particularly Judeo-Christian values,” Right Wing Watch reports. FRC has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A Senate committee began a hearing on ENDA on Tuesday.

Gohmert went on to criticize religious groups that accept homosexuality and also said that ENDA’s passage would require Christian schools to hire LGBT people, a misguided theory as religious institutions would be exempt from the bill. He said it would be “kind of tough to teach biblical principles in Romans 1 in a school if you are of the persuasion of being homosexual.”

From the video:

Perkins: Today, in the Senate they are having a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act…. What this would do is give special employment benefits and protections based upon their sexual behavior and orientation. What do you see as the outcome of this? I mean, are you concerned increasingly that this is a way to essentially punish religious freedom in the business environment, in the business sector?

Gohmert: It continues to be part of this administration’s ongoing war on religion, on particularly Judeo-Christian values. But of course this is one that even is extremely contrary to the Muslim religion as well. I mean, Islam, Judaism, although there are plenty of people in Judaism and Christianity who think despite the plumbing that God created, that as the Iowa Supreme Court said, there is no biological evidence of a preference for a man and a woman being married as opposed to a man and a man.

Watch the clip below.

—  Dallasvoice

BREAKING: ExxonMobil shareholders again reject LGBT employment protections (with photos)

ExxonMobil shareholders have again voted down a proposal to add gay and transgender employees to the Irving-based corporation’s nondiscrimination policy.

Meeting at the Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas Arts District, the ExxonMobil shareholders voted 80 percent to 20 percent Wednesday morning against a resolution asking the corporation to amend “its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to substantially implement the policy.”

The proposal has been introduced each year since Mobil and Exxon merged in 1999. The highest level of support came in 2008 at nearly 40 percent.

“It’s disappointing, but this isn’t the end of the issue for us,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who has lobbied the company on the issue. “We’re going to continue to reach out and engage them. … I think the White House needs to go back and revisit this executive order.”

The proposed executive order would require contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies if they do business with the federal government, which Exxon does. However, President Barack Obama’s administration indicated earlier this year that he doesn’t plan to sign the proposed order anytime soon.

Mobil was one of the first companies in the world to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy and offer benefits to the same-sex partners of gay employees. But ExxonMobil rescinded those policies after the merger.

Outside the meeting, dozens of protesters lined Flora Street in front of the Meyerson on Wednesday. About 50 people with organizations including Code Pink, United Steel Workers and Occupy Dallas joined GetEQUAL protesters to shout for equality and ending discrimination, while a handful of protesters parodied the CEOs that make the choices and profit from ExxonMobil.

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, who helped organized the protest, said he wouldn’t be surprised by the vote regardless of the result.

“The people that are against it seem very against it. The people who are for it really done a good job of pushing it this year,” he said. “We’ve got a better shot than in the past.”

As for Exxon not voting in favor of adding the protections in the past, Cates said the company had not learned to change and be more inclusive, which would ultimately hurt business.

“They clinging to antiquated business practices,” he said. “It’s a matter of really learning that this is good for business.”

This year, the resolution was initiated by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who wants the company to not only amend the nondiscrimination policy, but also to begin offering health benefits to the spouses of employees married in the Empire State.

The comptroller controls the state’s pension funds. As of May 18, New York’s pension fund held more than 16 million shares of ExxonMobil worth more than $1 billion.

ExxonMobil has called the measure unnecessary. It says the company is a “meritocracy” for its 82,000 workers worldwide, and that it already prohibits all forms of discrimination.

This is also the first year ExxonMobil appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission to have the shareholder resolution thrown out. The company based its claim on a nondiscrimination statement in its Corporate Careers publication.

The SEC refused to allow ExxonMobil to throw out the resolution, saying the publication doesn’t have the weight of a corporate nondiscrimination policy.

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil maintains the lowest possible rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, with a minus-25.

In response to Wednesday’s vote, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement noting that as of 2012, 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their EEO policy and 50 percent include gender identity.

“The shareholder resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to ExxonMobil’s EEO policy was a non-binding referendum and the company still has the chance to do the right thing,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “As perhaps the largest corporation in the country, ExxonMobil has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen; sadly they have fallen far short. The company has resisted offering basic employment protections for their LGBT workers for years and it’s time they treat all of their employees like the valuable assets they are.”

—  John Wright