Texas Senate hears testimony on bill to ban anti-LGBT job discrimination

Leticia Van de Putte

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

For the first time in history, Texas senators considered a bill this morning that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the Lone Star State.

The Senate Economic Development Committee heard testimony on SB 237, filed by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said he and six other people testified about the personal impact and and positive effect on economic development the bill would have. Among the speakers were gay former state Rep. Glen Maxey and retired Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who was the first Purple Heart recipient in the Iraq War.

Smith said Alva gave a “very compelling testimony” that spoke about his experience and support for the bill.

In addition, Craig Briscoe, vice president of human resources for Dell Inc., sent in a written testimony in support of the bill (read it here).

Jonathan Saenz with anti-gay Texas Values and three business organizations submitted written opposition but did not testify in person, Smith said.

Smith said overall he was impressed with the hearing and thought it went well. Concerns about an increase in lawsuits were brought up, but Smith said the bill doesn’t change the procedure for discrimination complaints. Instead, it adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of protected categories and complaints would be investigated like those based on race or religion.

Smith said Equality Texas and other advocates for the bill will work with lawmakers to dispel myths that businesses would be at a higher risk for lawsuits if the legislation is passed. He hopes to have enough votes to get the bill out of committee.

The committee’s seven members are: Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, Vice Chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Watch today’s committee hearing here.

—  Dallasvoice

Putting the final touches on Black Tie

Co-chairs hoping for banner year as fundraiser marks its 30th year

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com
With two weeks left to go before the annual Black Tie Dinner, organizers are busy putting the finishing touches on what BTD Co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis said this week will be one of the most outstanding events in the dinner’s 30-year history.

“We have a particularly good line up for the dinner this year,” Arnold said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have Marlee Matlin as our keynote speaker this year. And we have an emcee — Caroline Rhea — this year for the first time. I am sure our patrons will be glad they don’t have to listen to me and Chris all night!”

Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of television’s Modern Family will be on hand to accept the 2011 Media Award, and singer Taylor Dayne will provide entertainment.

Gay Marine veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the war in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award, and partners Chet Flake and the late Bud Knight will receive the Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

Arnold noted that tables at the dinner sold out in August, “before we even announced that Marlee Matlin would be our guest speaker. We were just ecstatic when we sold out that early. I think that is the earliest date we’ve ever sold out,” Arnold said.

But the co-chairs also pointed out that there is a waiting list available for regular and VIP individual tickets that might become available at the last minute. “Anyone who still wants to buy a ticket can go online to our website, BlackTie.org, and get on the waiting list. Or if you want to talk to someone directly, email Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org,” Kouvelis said.

Arnold added, “We will also accept cash donations from folks who want to support the organization but can’t attend the dinner.”

“Thirty years is a huge milestone, no doubt. But we had a huge retrospective for our 25th anniversary, bringing in past board members and honorees from out of town and looking back at the history of Black Tie, and that wasn’t that long ago,” Arnold said. “So we chose to focus on having a celebration, on looking ahead to 30 more great years. That’s why we chose ‘Shine’ as our theme this year, because we want to shine a light into the future.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Black Tie Dinner sells out

Individual tickets may still be available from beneficiaries

Last year’s Black Tie Dinner chairs Nan Faith Arnold and Ron Guillard

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

All tables for the 30th Black Tie Dinner — scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 12 — have been sold, Black Tie officials announced this week.

A wait list has started should any tables become available, and some tickets may still be available through individuals and beneficiary organizations that have paid for tables but not sold all of the seats.

“We are really thrilled to be more than two months out and already at capacity,” Black Tie Dinner Co-Chair Nan Arnold said this week. “It appears that all of the sponsors, supporters and volunteers — and the [members of the ] board of directors — are more excited than ever. We have an incredible line-up for the evening.”

Stand-up comedian and actress Caroline Rhea will be the emcee for the evening. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin is the keynote speaker, and Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson will accept the Media Award.

Eric Alva, a gay man who was the first American soldier to be injured in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award. Local activists Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the Ray Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

This year, 18 local organizations and the Human Rights Campaign will benefit from the dinner. Each local beneficiary must have a minimum of five affiliated tables, sell at least 25 raffle tickets and provide at least 50 volunteer hours.

The raffle is for a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe.

Since it was founded in 1982, Black Tie Dinner has grown into the largest annual seated dinner in the Southwest and is the largest LGBT fundraiser in the United States.

Black Tie Dinner takes place at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Dallas on Nov. 12. Tickets are $300 per seat. Anyone interested in individual tickets should contact Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Marlee Matlin to keynote Black Tie Dinner

Eric Alva and Marlee Matlin

Decorated veteran Eric Alva tapped as Birch Award winner; special entertainment still to be announced

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis this week rounded out their 2011 “dream team” with the announcement that award-winning actress Marlee Matlin will be keynote speaker at the November fundraising event, and that decorated Iraq War veteran Eric Alva will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.

“We are so thrilled to have both of them with us this year,” said Arnold. “This gives us a real ‘dream team’” of honorees and speakers this year.

Black Tie officials announced earlier this year that local activist Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the 2011 Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and that Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson will receive the Media Award.

Comedian and Sordid Lives: The Series star Caroline Rhea will be emcee for the event.

Arnold and Kouvelis also hinted that more big announcements are yet to come, thanks to the involvement of dinner sponsor Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort of Shreveport.

“Diamond Jacks has stepped up from their previous Silver Sponsor level to become a Diamond Level sponsor, and that has been a huge deal for us,” Arnold said. “It lets us do even more than before.

“They have been super to work with,” she continued. “Diamond Jack’s played a huge role in helping us secure Marlee Matlin as our speaker, and they are playing a huge role in helping us bring in some other very special entertainment. We hope to be making that announcement soon.”

Matlin in 1986 became the youngest woman — and the only deaf person — ever to receive the Academy Award for best actress when she won the award at age 21 for her role in Children of a Lesser God. She also won a Golden Globe award for that role.

She went on to a successful career in both movies and television, including a role as Bette Porter’s partner, Jodi Lerner, in 29 episodes of Showtime’s lesbian drama The L Word, from 2007 to 2009.

Matlin has also been active in a number of charitable organizations, including Easter Seals, where she was named an honorary board member; the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, VSA arts and the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.

She was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to the Corporation for National Service and served as chair of National Volunteer Week.
Arnold described Matlin as a vocal supporter of LGBT rights.

Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Alva, a San Antonio native, was the first American serviceman injured in the Iraq War, losing his right leg when he stepped on a land mine while leading a supply unit in March 2003.

In 2007, Alva came out publicly as a gay man and has been working with the Human Rights Campaign since then to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which has kept lesbians and gay men from serving openly.

Although Congress voted last December to repeal DADT, the policy has remained in effect while military leaders conducted training to prepare the military for open service by lesbians and gays. The president and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certified repeal last month, and repeal takes effect, finally, on Sept. 20 — less than a month before Alva will accept the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award in Dallas.

“This is such an exciting time for him,” Kouvelis said of Alva. “He has been working tirelessly since he left the service and came out to get DADT repealed. Now it’s finally happening.

“We are just so thrilled with what he has done for our community, and so thrilled that he will be accepting this award. He is a real hero,” Kouvelis added.

Arnold added that when DADT repeal legislation last December, Alva was “standing there, right behind him, looking over the president’s shoulder as he signed it.” She also said that Alva, who is featured in the current issue of GQ Magazine, was a special guest a previous Black Tie Dinner.

“It is so wonderful to have him back with us, especially at such an exciting time,” Arnold said.

The Black Tie co-chairs this week also offered a preview of some of the items that will be included in the luxury auction at the dinner this year. Auction items include an eight-day trip to Rome and Malta, a complete bathroom remodel, a Scotland wedding package and a Puerto Vallarta vacation.

In addition, raffle tickets are still available, for $100 each, for a chance to win a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe, donated by Park Place Motorcars of Dallas. Raffle tickets are available online and from Black Tie board members and beneficiaries.

Sponsorships are still available, but only for a short time more, and table captain table sales are ongoing.

For information on becoming a table captain, email mlemons@blacktie.org. For information on becoming a Black Tie Dinner sponsor, email mmcquown@blacktie.org.

—  John Wright

Wounded gay Texas Marine: Amos ‘spit on me,’ and I wish Obama would ‘fire his ass on the spot’

Eric Alva

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay wounded veteran from San Antonio, today responded to Marine Commandant Gen. James F Amos’ comments on Tuesday suggesting that repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” would lead to casualties.  Alva became the first casualty of the Iraq war in 2003 when his leg was blown off by a land mine. From The Advocate:

“He pretty much spit on me, my Purple Heart, and my 13 years of service,” Alva said of Amos Wednesday as the House of Representatives prepared to vote on a stand-alone repeal bill — one sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy, a fellow Iraq War veteran who lost his reelection bid in November. “I would definitely ask Amos for a meeting to explain his comments, and I’d bring my Purple Heart with me.”

Responding to questions from reporters at the Pentagon, Amos, who was appointed to the position by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June but is at odds with the White House on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Tuesday: “Mistakes and inattention or distractions costs Marines lives. … I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” (Read Stars and Stripes coverage of the remarks here.)

Alva, 39, called Amos’s behavior insubordinate and reminiscent of the conduct of another four-star general: Stanley A. McChrystal, who resigned under pressure in June after Rolling Stone published remarks attributed to Gen. McChrystal and his aides critical of senior administration officials.

“I wish Obama would invite [Amos] to the White House and fire his ass on the spot,” Alva told The Advocate.

—  John Wright

GLBT History Month’s 1st icon is gay ex-Marine from Texas who lost leg in Iraq war

For the fifth consecutive year, the Equality Forum presents GLBT icons for each day of October, to mark GLBT History Month. And this year’s first icon is Texas’ own Eric Alva of San Antonio, who was the first casualty of the Iraq war. Alva, a Marine staff sergeant, lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine three hours into the ground invasion in 2003. But it wasn’t until after Alva returned home — and had been visited by President George W. Bush in the hospital and appeared on “Oprah” — that he came out as gay and become a spokesman for the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” From our story on Alva in April 2007:

He says it wasn’t until one night last fall that it came to him. He had always wanted to help people, but wasn’t sure how.

“I would always talk about it, but it was more words just coming out of my mouth because I never did anything about it,” he says.

After Alva’s partner, whom he met after returning from Iraq, pleaded with him to do something before his notoriety wore off, Alva decided to e-mail HRC.

“I said, ‘I don’t know how I may help you, but the story is I am a gay Marine,’” Alva recalls.

A few days later, HRC returned his call. Then, after U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., announced plans to reintroduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they called again.

“They called and said, “‘Eric, we need you now,’” Alva says. “I knew that what I was about to do was a huge sacrifice on my part. But I needed to tell people that this is the way the country should be.”

Of course, more than three years later, “don’t ask don’t tell” remains in place. So perhaps it’s fitting that Alva is the first icon of this year’s GLBT History Month. We haven’t heard much from him lately, but according to the Equality Federation, he’s working on his master’s degree in social work.

—  John Wright