Denton County sheriff candidate cancels meeting with Equality Texas

Tracy Murphree

Tracy Murphree

Tracy Murphree, the Republican candidate for Denton County sheriff who grabbed headlines late last week with a Facebook post implying he would use violence against transgender women in public restrooms, has cancelled a planned meeting with representatives of Equality Texas and Denton County couple who have a transgender child.

The meeting had been set for Thursday morning. But, according to a statement released today (Friday, April 29), Murphree sent a message Wednesday evening saying, “I won’t be at the meeting tomorrow. I feel I have made my position clear that I am not targeting transgenders but concerned about predators taking advantage of the policies. I really have nothing else to add.”

In a post to his Facebook page on Friday, April 22, referring to laws like the one recently passed in North Carolina that prevent transgender individuals from using appropriate public restroom facilities, Murphree wrote: “This whole bathroom thing is craziness I have never seen. All I can say is this. If my little girl is in a public women’s restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into that bathroom, he will then identify as John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to. Your identity does not trump my little girl’s safety.”

Many people saw Murphree’s post, which has since been removed from public view, as a threat of violence against transgender women in public restrooms. Denton County residents Adam and Amber Briggle, parents of an 8-year old transgender child, publicly expressed their concern with Murphree’s statements. Murphree later issued an apology of sorts — saying he understood people’s anger over his statements and that he had been referring to pedophiles and other sexual predators, not trans women — and agreed to meet with the Briggles and Equality Texas representatives.

After Murphree cancelled the meeting, Equality Texas board Chair Steve Rudner issued a statement, telling the candidate, “What you’ve not done is allow yourself the chance to listen.”

In the written statement, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization said: “At Equality Texas we believe it is inappropriate and unacceptable for any law enforcement official to make inflammatory statements that condone violence against any member their community. No Texan should ever have to live in fear of violence because of their gender identity or gender expression, especially from someone that has taken an oath to serve and protect them from harm.

“Equality Texas will continue to work with the Briggle family, local organizations, and Denton County area residents to end falsehoods about the LGBT community that do nothing to serve and protect victims and potential victims of violence. We believe ending sexual violence begins by treating all people, including those who are transgender, with fairness and respect.”

Murphree, who defeated Republican incumbent Sheriff William Travis in the March primary, is widely expected to win his general election race against Libertarian Randy Butler. Following Murphree’s post on April 22, Butler posted a statement on his Facebook page pointing out that in most cases in which a child is molested, the culprit is a family member,r family friend or clergy member, not a stranger.

Butler went on to say: This issue isn’t about protecting the children though. It’s about the same problem us humans have always struggled with — bigotry and hatred towards those we don’t understand. … We are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of our children, but we are also responsible for the well-being and safety of our fellow humans.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Equality Texas premieres hate crime video at Dallas Police HQ

DPD

Michael Dominguez, from left, Burke Burnett, Councilman Adam Medrano, D.A. Susan Hawk, Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith and Equality Texas board chair Steve Rudner at Dallas Police Headquarters to introduce a new hate crime video.

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith introduced a new video in a press conference at Dallas Police headquarters this morning (Monday, April 11) to mark the beginning of National Crime Victims Rights week. The five-minute video focuses on last fall’s rash of attacks on gay men in Oak Lawn.

Survivor Michael Dominguez and Burke Burnett, who was attacked in a hate crime in Paris, Texas in 2011, are featured in the video and were on hand to talk about the group SOS created to help area crime victims.

Smith said the first murder of a trans person in the U.S. this year took place in Austin. Another was killed this weekend in Houston. He pointed to campaign rhetoric and discussions going on in state legislatures related to anti-LGBT discrimination laws as contributing to the violence.

Referring to the video, Dallas City Councilman Adam Medrano said, “They haven’t caught anybody. That bothers me.” But he pointed out positive steps that have been taken including the creation of SOS, the increase of people participating in Volunteers on Patrol in Oak Lawn from 5 to 25.

“We work best when we work together,” Sheriff Lupe Valdez said. “No one deserves to be a victim. A beating, abuse is never acceptable.”

“The DA’s office will not accept violence against any group whatsoever,” District Attorney Susan Hawk said. “If we believe we can prove a hate crime, we will prosecute.”

Michael Dominguez said he’s seen the community work with police over the last six months and said the city functions better when groups work together. Dominguez has been the most vocal of SOS members.

“I refuse to let this happen in the city where I chose to live,” Dominguez said. “No one should live in fear.”

Maj. Max Geron of the DPD credited an increase in patrols with a decrease in the violence. He said the unreported attacks are concerning.

“Give us an opportunity to hear what you have to say and investigate the crime,” he said.

OAK LAWN HATE CRIMES (with bug, lower 3rd supers) from RED MEDIA GROUP on Vimeo.

—  David Taffet

Responses to Pastor Jeffress comparison of gays to Nazis on Fox News

Moline.Rabbi

Rabbi Jack Moline

Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance made up of representatives of 75 faith traditions, recently sent a letter to Robert Jeffress, the anti-LGBT bigot heading First Baptist Church objecting to the pastor’s comparison of LGBT people to Nazis.

“The honest disagreements that people of faith in this country have about public policy issues are hardly the beginning of a path towards genocide,” he wrote.

Using Jeffress’ logic, if today’s Christians are Germany’s Jews, then everyone else — including the Jewish community — are Nazi sympathizers.

Here’s the letter Moline sent to Jeffress followed by other comments I’ve received:

Dr. Robert Jeffress
First Baptist Church Dallas
1707 San Jacinto
Dallas, TX 75201

June 12, 2015

Pastor Jeffress,

Religious persecution is a significant problem around the world. Many people live in fear for their lives because of their faith, Christians included. You and I and everyone should do more to remedy the situation.

However, your recent comments on Fox News comparing your experience as a conservative Christian to Jews living in Nazi Germany show disrespect to the victims of the Holocaust, and do a disservice to the critically important cause of ending real religious persecution. The honest disagreements that people of faith in this country have about public policy issues are hardly the beginning of a path towards genocide.

Let’s understand the full import of what you are saying.  If Christians (as you define them) are the Jews of pre-Holocaust Europe, then the rest of us are the Nazis and their sympathizers. It serves your rhetorical purpose to demonize those with whom you disagree, but it shows that you lack a true understanding of what the term “Nazi” means or the history that led to their crimes. And in the practice of hyperbole, you reduce the progress and expansiveness of American values of inclusiveness and equal rights to a plot to steal the rightful dominance of people who are most like you.

You have a reputation for complaining that other faith traditions are evil, false and cultic. That is your right and, as strongly as I disagree with you, I will defend your right to be wrong. Ironically, the provisions of the Constitution, which extend that right to you, have been dismissed by you in the name of religious exclusivity. You owe the American people an apology. We are a nation that celebrates diverse beliefs and views and we are undeserving of the allegation you have made.

Someone once told me, “The first person to use ‘Nazi’ always loses the argument.”  You have proven her point.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Jack Moline
Executive Director
Interfaith Alliance

Other comments:

“Jeffress’ prejudice is only equaled by his ignorance and hatred.”

— Rabbi Stephen Fisch
Congregation Beth El Binah

“I make this comment as a member of the Jewish community, but I think it would be said by any logical member of the human community: Gays were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Someone who works hard to deprive the LGBT community of equality doesn’t get to analogize himself to the victims of the Holocaust, but rather, to the perpetrators.”

— Steve Rudner
President of Equality Texas Foundation Board but speaking as a member of the Jewish community

“So much irony in this statement. He is absolutely correct that it took the Nazis time to marginalize and ‘other’ Jewish people. Just as it has taken decades of conflating homosexuality and transgender identity with pedophilia…decades of insinuating that LGBT people are ‘other’ and ‘not like us’…decades of reframing this as a debate about whether one group of people is as human as the rest of us, and therefore as deserving of equal protection under the law. Jeffress and his predecessors have had to marginalize LGBT people over time, and they’ve done a damn good job of it. Unfortunately for them, America has woken up and started to change its mind en masse. They don’t like that, so they’re doing the classic rhetorical flip from aggressor to victim.”

— Jessica Jackson Shortall
Managing director. Texas Competes

—  David Taffet

Henry’s Majestic gets onboard with marriage equality

IMG_0154Henry’s Majestic, the fabulous eatery on upper McKinney Avenue, is a supporter of marriage equality and is putting its money on the line to prove it. In recognition and support of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in the marriage equality cases Tuesday, 20 percent of all lunch sales (11 a.m.–4 p.m.) on April 28 — from wraps, pictured, to pasta and everything else — will be donated to Equality Texas, and specialty cocktails from Willa Vodka will be raised in support of LGBT rights. Cheers!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Putting a price on equality

Screen shot 2015-03-25 at 12.53.24 PM

A new report released today (Wednesday, March 25) by Equality Means Business, a coalition of major employers in Florida, claims that anti-LGBT policies and laws costs employers in the state more than $362 million a year.

The report includes interviews with a number of top executives from national companies based in Florida and it links business leaders’ concerns over the state’s ability to compete with hard dollar losses in productivity and employee turnover, according to a statement from Equality Florida.

Other key findings include:

• Business executives cite Florida’s reputation as being hostile to diversity among their chief challenges in attracting and retaining talent.

• More than 60 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees and more than 80 percent of transgender employees in Florida report having experienced discrimination in the workplace.

• Top executives recognize that the top talent among the Millenials generation values diversity and inclusion, making nondiscrimination protections a must-have.

Many of the business executives intervewed said they believe their businesses actually suffered because of Florida’s reputation for being hostile to LGBTs and others. And most of those participating said they see non-discrimination protections as non-negotiable, common sense practices critical to attracting and attaining the best and the brightest employees.

Nadine Smith, co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, which convened the Equality Means Business coalition, said the report shows that it is “clearly in the state’s interest to provide equal protection for all employees.”

There is a new, similar organization getting off the ground here in the Lone Star State, called Texas Competes, a “partnership of business leaders committed to a Texas that is economically vibrant and welcoming of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The purpose of Texas Competes is to prove that “fair treatment for gay and transgender people isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for businesses, too.”

That’s a very important lesson that the Texas Legislature needs to learn, considering all the truly nasty anti-LGBT bills lawmakers are currently considering in Austin.

—  Tammye Nash

Equality Texas celebrates couple’s wedding, urges 5th Circuit to lift stay

Goodfriend and Bryant.2

Suzanne Bryant, left, and Sarah Goodfriend with their Texas marriage license

Equality Texas has issued a statement on the marriage this morning in Travis County of Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, congratulating the couple, but noting that the Travis County Clerk issued the license only under court order, and that other same-sex couples are not able to get licenses in Travis County — or elsewhere in Texas — without a similar court order.

Equality Texas also called on the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the stay put on U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia’s February 2014 ruling striking down Texas’ ban on marriage equality. If the Fifth Circuit lifts the stay, that would clear the way for same-sex couples across Texas to begin getting their marriage licenses and having weddings.

Equality Texas’ statement read: “While we join with Sarah, Suzanne, and their children in celebration of their wedding, we recognize that other couples are still denied the freedom to marry the person they love. We urge the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to quickly issue a ruling affirming the freedom to marry for all loving couples in Texas.”

—  Tammye Nash

TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Paxton asks Texas Supreme Court to stay, overturn Herman’s ruling

Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) that his office has intervened in the Travis County probate case following Judge Guy Herman’s ruling that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional.

Paxton, representing the state, has asked the Texas Supreme Court to stay Herman’s ruling and to overturn it.

In a written statement issued by his office, Paxton said: “Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment defining the union as between one man and one woman. The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

Paxton — referred to, by the way, as “General Paxton” in the statement released by his office — failed to note that Herman is the second judge in Texas to declare the marriage ban unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did so a year ago, in Feburary 2014. That case is currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Paxton’s statement was issued about an hour and a half after Equality Texas issued a statement calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples — something DeBeauvoir has said she will not do until she gets clarification from the federal courts.

But because Herman is a probate judge, his ruling will be appealed through the Texas state courts, not through the federal court system, as Garcia’s ruling.

 

—  Tammye Nash

TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Equality Texas calls on DeBeauvoir to start issuing marriage licenses

Dana DeBeauvoir

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir

A day after a Travis County probate judge issued a ruling striking down Texas’ ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, Equality Texas today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

But according to a spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, the county clerk will not issue those marriage licenses until she gets the go-ahead from the federal courts.

DeBeauvoir had previously said she was ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples as soon as the courts would allow. After Judge Guy Herman issued his ruling Tuesday, DeBeauvoir said she needed to meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do [in terms of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples]. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.”

Chuck-Smith

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith

But Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said today that Herman’s ruling makes marriage equality the law in Travis County. “The law in Travis County now allows for marriage equality. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history,” Smith said.

The written statement issued by Equality Texas also noted: “Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.”

The spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, who identified herself as Angela Vallejo, said today that “nothing has changed” since the county clerk’s statement yesterday. “We have to wait for the federal courts” to settle the question, she said. “As soon as they approve it, I am sure we will begin issuing the licenses.”

Getting a license in Travis County

If — or rather, let’s say when — DeBeauvoir’s office begins issuing licenses to same-sex couples, here are a few rules you need to know:

• The Travis County Clerk’s Office is located at 5501 Airport Blvd. in Austin.

• The cost to get a marriage license is $81 if you pay cash, $84 if you pay with a credit card. Checks are not accepted.

• Both parties have to present a valid ID; both parties have to know their Social Security numbers, and both parties must be at least 18 years old. (Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian with them to give permission.)

• Marriage licenses expire 90 days after they are issued.

• Those obtaining marriage licenses have to wait 72 hours to get married, unless they have a waiver from the court.

The status of marriage equality in the courts

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer, and after her death, her siblings attempted to step in to claim her estate.

According to the Equality Texas statement issued today, Herman’s ruling finds “that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Contrary to [DeBeauvoir’s] position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County,” the statement declares.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it.” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Herman’s ruling yesterday came a year, to the month, after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in federal court that the Texas same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution. Garcia declined plaintiffs’ request late last year to lift the stay on that order and allow same-sex marriages to begin in Texas. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on that case and two others — one from Louisiana and one from Mississippi — on Jan. 9, and could rule in that case any day. Plaintiffs in the Texas case last week asked the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay allow gay and lesbian couples to begin marrying in Texas right away.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on four marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and to issue a ruling in June. The court is widely expected, as this time, to strike down all same-sex marriage bans in the U.S.

 

 

—  Tammye Nash

Join the discussion, join the battle to end discrimination

Marriage equality efforts are getting the lion’s share of the headlines these days: Texans wait on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on marriage equality in The Lone Star State (and Louisiana and Mississippi), and the nation waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the question once and for all.

But as the LGBT community makes great strides toward marriage equality, hundreds of thousands of LGBT people in the U.S. daily face the very real threat of discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and more.

Today (Monday, Jan. 26), LGBT equality groups nationwide began holding public awareness events, including launching an online discussion using #discriminationexists, to shine a light on the fact that so many hardworking people still do not have basic legal protections from discrimination.

(You can follow the discussion at DiscriminationExists.org.)

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 4.55.51 PM

Here in North Texas, and across the state, community leaders took the chance today to speak out against discrimination, issuing a call to action to LGBTs and their supporters in all areas and in all walks of life to join the fight for real equality,

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas: “The Texas I believe in is a land of opportunity and freedom, where people who work hard and meet their responsibilities have a chance to get ahead. Clear protections from discrimination would help ensure that all Texans, including those who are gay or transgender, have a fair opportunity to earn a living, meet their obligations, provide for themselves and their families and build a better life. Changing the law won’t end all unfair treatment overnight. But it provides one more tool to ensure that all Texans are treated fairly and equally.”

Cece Cox, chief executive officer at Resource Center: “Discrimination exists against LGBTQ people at many levels. We have no statewide protections in areas like employment and public accommodations, and even in those few cities where protections exist, some state lawmakers want to see those protections removed. Texans overwhelmingly support fairness and equal opportunity for all people.”

Lou Weaver, trans outreach specialist for Texas Wins: “We have been talking about same-sex marriage for a long time in the U.S. We need to also think about basic rights for everyone: ‘Can I get a job? Can I find a place to live?’ Transgender people are still facing discrimination at high rates, and we need to take an honest look at our policies. We need access to basic fairness and equality in order to survive. That is what this is about, living our lives and having access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”

The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School: “Faith leaders of every background believe that everyone is created with God-given dignity. Our faith calls upon us to speak out for everyone’s dignity and security in the work they do, and for full access to housing. No one in our country should live in fear of losing their job or being denied fair housing just because of who they are.”

Todd Whitley, board chair for Hope for Peace & Justice: “It is hard to imagine any person being able to enjoy a sense of peace on their job or entering a public accommodation if that person has no assurance they won’t legally be discriminated against because of who they are. Sadly, this is exactly the reality for gay and transgender people in our state, -a grave injustice that must be resolved so that we can all enjoy the same opportunities without fear of legalized discrimination.”

A recent poll found that 9 of out 10 voters think that a federal law is already in place protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Unfortunate, that is not true. There is no federal nondiscrimination law, and here in Texas, there is no state law either. We remain vulnerable in so many areas.

But Equality Texas officials say their organization is working to change that, partnering with business leaders, faith leaders and community members to put the necessary protections in place.

Toward that end, Equality Texas is holding three advocacy days, beginning Feb. 17 with Faith Advocacy Day in Austin. More than 225 faith leaders and members of clergy and 65 first responders in Texas have signed on to publicly demonstrate their support for nondiscrimination already.

Visit EqualityTexas.org to find out what you can do to help.

—  Tammye Nash

PHOTOS: Lines form to get into 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

The lines formed early to get into the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals building to hear oral arguments on three same-sex marriage cases this morning. Erin Moore is outside the courthouse and took these pictures:

lines

Reporters asking questions as spectators line up to get a seat in the overflow rooms at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans (Erin Moore/Dallas Voice)

 

Chuck Smith

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith outside the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Erin Moore/Dallas Voice)

Omar Narvaez

Lambda Legal’s community educator Omar Narvaez waiting to get into the 5th Circuit courtroom. (Erin Moore/Dallas Voice)

 

—  David Taffet