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.)

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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:

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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

UPDATE: Defined benefit retirement plans must also recognize same-sex marriages

David-Henderson

David Mack Henderson

In the Dec. 5 issue of Dallas Voice, we reported on the discovery by Resource Center Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell and Fairness Fort Worth President David Mack Henderson that the Internal Revenue Service requires that defined contribution retirement plans — such as 401(a), 401(k) and 125 cafeteria plans —  recognize same-sex spouses of plan members if the couple were married in a jurisdiction that legally recognizes such marriages — even if the couple lives in a state that bans marriage equality.

Henderson has since discovered that defined benefit plans must also recognize same-sex spouses:

“From Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals of the Same Sex Who Are Married Under State Law:
Q17. What are some examples of the consequences of these rules for qualified retirement plans?
A17. The following are some examples of the consequences of these rules:
Plan A, a qualified defined benefit plan, is maintained by Employer X, which operates only in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages. Nonetheless, Plan A must treat a participant who is married to a spouse of the same sex under the laws of a different jurisdiction as married for purposes of applying the qualification requirements that relate to spouses.”

A defined benefit pension plan is a type of pension plan in which an employer/sponsor promises a specified monthly benefit on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee’s earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending directly on individual investment returns. A defined contribution plan, on the other hand, does not promise a specific amount of benefits at retirement. In these plans, the employee or the employer (or both) contribute to the employee’s individual account under the plan, sometimes at a set rate.

You can also find information on the Equality Texas website.

—  Tammye Nash

2014 Black Tie Dinner: The Night in Photos

The Sheraton Dallas hotel was wall-to-wall Saturday night for the 33rd annual Black Tie Dinner, which raised funds for local beneficiaries and the Human Rights Campaign.

The event featured the presentation of the Kuchling Humanitarian Award to Mike Anglin, the Black Tie Media Award to Dale Hansen and the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award to attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, along with special appearances by NBA star Jason Collins and the Prop 8 plaintiffs.

Comedienne Dana Goldberg emcees the evening, which also featured entertainment by Alex Newell and Steve Grand.

Dallas Voice photographer Cassie Quinn captured the evening in photos:

—  Tammye Nash

ONGOING: Burton, Willis, others respond to anti-LGBT mailer

The candidates for the open state Senate district 10, a swing district covering a portion of Tarrant County, have responded to an anti-LGBT mailer released by the mysterious group known as the “National Family Council.” I initially posted the responses from late Monday in ongoing updates here. But given both candidates have different takes on it, and other groups have since responded, I feel they warrant reposting. First, here are the mailers in question:

AFC Side 2AFC Side 1

Luke Macias, spokesperson for Republican Konni Burton, of Colleyville: “Our campaign is not affiliated with the group that sent this mail piece in any way. Throughout the campaign we have made it clear that the most important issues facing the people of SD 10 are securing the border, providing quality public education, and prioritizing transportation in our budget. We are unaware of who sent the mailer, as the group claiming credit has no website, no telephone number, and only a mailing address. We don’t plan for third-party mailers sent from Virginia to be a distraction in the final week of this race. Our campaign will continue to advocate for the issues the voters of SD 10 care about.”

Democrat Libby Willis, of Fort Worth, in a statement: “It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that Konni Burton would resort to desperate, hateful attacks from out-of-state groups. That might be why the Star-Telegram said ‘it is not clear how well she would or could represent the diverse population of the district.’ I am proud to have the support of the Texas Equity PAC because in the Texas Senate, it will be my priority to work for every Texan.”

Other groups responded as well.

Texas Equity PAC president Eric Johnson, of Dallas, said: “An out-of-state, anonymous PAC has attacked because of our support. In these remaining days leading up to Election Day, real Texans and real Texas values will stand up for what’s right. They will support equality and shun extremism. The Texas Equity PAC supports Libby Willis because she supports not only LGBT Texans, but all Texans.”

The PAC mistakenly calls out Equality Texas for its support of Willis. Equality Texas does not endorse candidates. Texas Equity PAC does however–including Sarah Davis, a Republican state representative from Houston.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement: “These kinds of hateful campaign tactics represent politics at its worst,” Miller said. “To smear a candidate because she supports equality for everyone is shameful and out of step with Texas voters who are leaving that kind of bigotry in the past.”

Texas Freedom Network is “a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who support religious freedom, individual liberties and public education” based in Austin.

 

—  James Russell

Abbott a no-show at petition drop

AG delivery2Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Texas governor, was a no-show Monday when Equality Texas dropped off nearly 5,200 petitions demanding Gov. Rick Perry and Abbott drop their defense of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Despite the plans prearranged last week in which a staff member would meet us in the lobby and take possession of the petitions, the Attorney General’s office said they would only accept the petitions if they were mailed via an acceptable ground carrier,” wrote Chuck Smith in an e-mail.

Instead of giving up, the group headed to the nearby UPS store and mailed them. They’re expected to arrive today.

The action comes after the Feb.26 ruling earlier this year finding Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Despite growing support for same-sex marriage both in Texas and nationwide, Abbott and Perry appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit of Appeals.

Abbott filed that appeal Monday, arguing that Texas was within its constitutional right to ban same-sex marriage.”Because same-sex relationships do not naturally produce children, recognizing same-sex marriage does not further these goals to the same extent that recognizing opposite-sex marriage does,” the brief reads. “That is enough to supply a rational basis for Texas’s marriage laws.”

Birds of a feather stick together.

—  James Russell

Marriage equality and estate planning for LGBTs

Lorie Burch

Lorie Burch

Estate planning attorney Lorie Burch and family law attorney Jaime Dugan are teaming up to present a seminar on how recent legal trends and court decisions regarding marriage equality can impact LGBT couples, and the best way to start planning for the future. The seminar will be held Wednesday, July 23, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Frisco Public LiIbrary, 6101 Frisco Square Blvd., Sye. 3000.

The seminar is free and open to the public. If you have any questions, call Lorie Burch’s office at 972-385–0558.

Equality Texas will present a similar seminar Aug. 2, beginning at 2 p.m., at Resource Center’s John Thomas LGBT Community Center, 2701 Reagan St. Reserve your seat today with an RSVP to Amy Ford at AEFord@ft.newyorklife.com.

—  Tammye Nash

Houston pastor pleas for right to discriminate … against Jews

Cohen.Ellen

Houston Councilwoman Ellen Cohen

Pastor Becky Riggle of Grace Community Church in Houston stood before Houston City Council this week to give her opinion on HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

Pastor Riggle thinks it’s OK to discriminate, as long as you’re doing it in the name of religion. Let’s be clear, when Pastor Riggle suggests a need for a religious exemption, she’s not just talking about discriminating against gays, lesbians and transgenders.

City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen asked the good pastor if it was OK to discriminate against her since she’s Jewish. Cohen had to ask several times and Pastor Riggle said yes, but that’s not the issue.

The good pastor didn’t explain why it wasn’t the issue since the ordinance protects people from discrimination based on a list of categories, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion among them.

Bigots like Riggle weren’t the majority of people who came to City Hall and the proceedings weren’t as contentious as those in San Antonio last year.

Equality Texas Field Organizer Daniel Williams was at Houston City Hall.

“Fortunately Pastor Riggle does not represent the vast majority of Houston clergy,” Williams said. “In public testimony supportive clergy have outnumbered those in opposition two to one and more than 70 faith leaders in Houston have signed a letter in support of the HERO.”

The vast majority of clergy understand that all forms of discrimination are wrong. They understand they could be the next target. Perfect example: Pastor Riggle thinks she has the right to discriminate against Councilwoman Cohen because the councilwoman is Jewish.

A vote on HERO is delayed two weeks and in the mean time, I think good Houstonians should demonstrate to the pastor just what discrimination looks like. The checker at the supermarket should tell her he’s not going to ring up her groceries. The dry cleaner should refuse to take her clothes. The waitress at her favorite restaurant should refuse her service. Each should explain they’re religion requires them to refuse service to bigots.

Here’s the video of the good pastor’s ugly comments:

—  David Taffet

EQTX to honor law firm, San Antonio Council at Spirit of Texas Brunch

Council Members

The law firm handling Texas’ fight for marriage equality and the councilmembers who voted in favor of the San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance will be honored by Equality Texas next month.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP will receive the Vanguard Award at the organization’s Spirit of Texas Brunch. The award is given annually to an “exemplary business who has demonstrated a commitment to LGBT equality in the state of Texas through fair employee policy and community advocacy.”

The firm is representing one of three Texas marriage cases in which an Austin lesbian couple and a Plano gay couple for the freedom to marry. In February, the firm’s arguments in favor of a temporary injunction to allow the Plano couple to marry resulted in a federal judge in San Antonio ruling the state marriage amendment unconstitutional. That ruling is being appealed by the state.

“Not only does Akin Gump have a stellar pro-equality record with regard to their employment policies, but they have pledged the firm’s resources to take the marriage case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Equality Texas wrote in a press release.

The organization will also recognize the Advocate Award Winners, which are the San Antonio City Councilmembers who voted in favor of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance last year: Ron Nirenberg, Rey Saldana, Rebecca Viagran, Mayor Julian Castro, Diego Bernal, Ray Lopez, Cris Medina, and Shirley Gonzales. The ordinace passed with only three no votes coming from Elisa Chan, Carlton Soules and Ivy Taylor.

The Advocate Award is given to “outstanding public servants whose high ideals include a dedication to equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans. This award will be given on an annual basis to a public figure or figures with a steadfast reputation for supporting issues of equality for all Texans.”

Equality Texas’ eighth annual Spirit of Texas Brunch is 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 1, at The Historic Pearl Stable, 307 Pearl Parkway in San Antonio. For tickets, go here.

—  Dallasvoice

Equality Texas calls on police, public to help solve lesbian couple’s death

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A sketch of the man who police believe was the last person to be seen with the women.

Statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas is calling on the Department of Justice and local police to solve the deaths of a lesbian couple found dead in Port Bolivar over the weekend.

Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, both 24, were found Friday morning near the trash bin of a convenience store. Police have since released a sketch of the man who was last seen with the women.

Police believe the women were killed somewhere else before being moved to the trash bin. They were in Galveston County last week celebrating Mardi Gras before family members lost contact with them. Autopsy reports this week revealed that Cosby died of blunt force trauma and Jackson was shot to death.

“Equality Texas is deeply saddened by this murder, and our hearts and prayers are with Ms. Cosby’s and Ms. Jackson’s family and friends during this difficult time,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in a statement. “For many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community this is a stark reminder that nearly a third of Texas’ hate crimes are motivated by bias against sexual orientation.  A report issued last year by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 73.1 percent of all anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were people of color.

“I have faith that the Galveston County Sheriff’s department is working hard to bring closure to this senseless tragedy and will work with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Department of Justice to fully investigate,” Smith added.

GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven has set up a reward fund to encourage people to come forward with information. All money collected will go to Galveston County Crime Stoppers. Donations can be online here or checks and money orders can be mailed to Captain Cook with the Galveston County Crime Stoppers at 601 54th St. Galveston, TX 77551.

Investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying the man in the sketch and locating the couple’s silver 2006 Kia Sorrento with paper tags. Anyone with information about the case should contact the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 866-248-8477.

—  Dallasvoice