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

How will texting-while-driving ban affect Grindr? Johnson says it could lead to racial profiling

Eric Johnson

In case you missed it, the Texas House on Thursday passed a bill that would ban texting while driving and make it punishable by a fine of up to $200. The bill was amended so that it would not prohibit reading text messages, just typing them. And motorists would even be allowed to type messages so long as they’re at stop signs or red lights.

Naturally our first question was — how will this affect Grindr? — because we all know it’s during those long road trips when the gay mobile app is at its most useful. But seriously, this proposal, which now goes to the Senate, does sound a little difficult to enforce. For example, how does the officer know whether you’re typing a message or just reading one?

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, apparently shares these concerns (but not the one about Grindr). Johnson sent out a press release today announcing that he voted against the proposed ban:

“HB 243 is crafted in a way that will be very difficult for police to fairly enforce.  It is almost impossible to distinguish between a driver writing or sending a text message, which is prohibited in the bill, and a driver reading a text message, dialing a phone number, or reading a Google map, all of which remain permissible under HB 243,” said Rep. Johnson. “HB 243 essentially gives police the ability to pull over any driver they see with a cell phone in his or her hand.  This legislation in its current form is not fair to Texas drivers, especially in a state with a well-documented history of racial profiling.”

—  John Wright

Super anti-bullying rally set

Long before the spate of bullying-related suicides that made headlines last fall, an organization called The Bully Suicide Project was working to shed light on the issue.

Now, the program hopes to capitalize on the excitement surrounding Super Bowl XLV to make that light even brighter.

Bully Suicide Project co-founder Dr. Audrey Newsome is working with the city of Dallas and the Dallas All Sports Association to stage what Newsome described as “the first major anti-bullying rally in Dallas.”

The “Super Day of Service, Super Day of Hope” rally will be held Friday, Feb. 4, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at City Hall Plaza.

That is the Friday before Super Bowl XLV will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, and Newsome said organizers are hoping to use the excitement surrounding the NFL championship game to draw attention — and participants — to the rally.

“We already have 28 schools and four professional athletes that have confirmed they are participating in the rally,” in addition to state Rep. Eric Johnson, Newsome said, and more are confirming their participation daily.

Newsome said the two professional athletes whose names she can release at this time are Kansas City Chiefs safety Reshard Langford and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver David Tyree.

“We really wanted to get some of the professional athletes to participate in this because most of them have really been silent on the issue of bullying so far,” Newsome said. “We want to get people out there to think about this issue, and what better way to do that than to use the excitement of the Super Bowl.”

Founded in 2009 by Newsome and Beaux Wellborn as a joint project of Campus Harmony and Youth First Texas, the Bully Suicide Project aims to combat bullying of all kinds and to offer support to those who were being bullied.

Bully Suicide Project started with the release in December 2009 of a series of public service announcements with photos by Tracy Nanthavongsa that featured people of all ages making their own statement about bullying and how it affected them. (See photos from the PSAs only at DallasVoice.com)

A month or so later, in January 2010, Bully Suicide Project released a video PSA on YouTube and organizers began working with local schools to provide education and awareness on bullying and on creating safe spaces for those targeted by bullies.

Last August, Bully Suicide Project launched its fall awareness campaign, again featuring photos by Nanthavongsa and special make-up by Melissa Whitaker.

The theme for the fall campaign was “Real Students With Real Stats,” and each model was a high school or middle school student in North Texas that has survived bullying. The photos were graphic, intended to drive home the real life effects of bullying by showing the physical signs.

—Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Resource Center dedicates ‘Hell Freezes Over’ Fred Phelps Memorial Icemaker

RCD executive director Cece Cox
Councilmember Pauline Medrano

Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano and Brent Rubin from State Rep. Eric Johnson’s office were on hand Friday morning to dedicate the Fred Phelps Memorial Icemaker. Members of Congregation Beth El Binah joined Resource Center staff to cut the ribbon and scoop the first buckets of ice.

The money for the icemaker was collected during the Phelps clan’s July visit to Dallas. They picketed Congregation Beth El Binah at Resource Center Dallas and other Jewish groups around the city.

The fundraiser was dubbed “Hell Freezes Over” and $11,000 was collected. The previous known record for a Phelps event was about $10,000 in New York City.

“Inspiration comes from the strangest sources,” said Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas. “Without the inspiration of the visitors from Topeka, we would never have been here today to dedicate our new icemaker.”

“Eric’s very impressed by what you’ve done in regard to Fred Phelps’ visit,” said Rubin. “How you’ve gone one step beyond and made good come from a crummy situation.”

“There are lessons to be learned from this,” said Medrano. “Everybody can make a difference in the midst of bad news.”

During a city budget crisis, she said she was delighted to be at the Resource Center celebrating the agency getting money from other sources. She thanked Phelps for helping the city take care of people with AIDS.

Josh Manes represented Beth El Binah. He was happy to see the government representatives celebrating at the Center.

“I remember a time when the city would have supported Phelps,” he said.

The plaque on the ice machine reads: “This machine is dedicated to the participants of ‘Hell Freezes

Over.’ Thank you for showing how the power of caring and compassion can triumph over hate. August 6, 2010.”

In one of their silliest choices of protest sites, the Phelps clan began their day of nonsense at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. The museum marked record attendance that day as a result of the Phelps publicity.

Phelps was invited to attend the dedication ceremony by e-mail. He did not respond to the gracious invitation.

—  David Taffet

Business Briefs • 07.23.10

Karim Harati-Zadeh opened a second Spectrum Chiropractic & Acupuncture location at 1300A W. Arkansas Lane in Arlington. His first office is on Lemmon Avenue in Oak Lawn.

Derrick Dawson passed his Texas real estate salesperson licensure exam and has joined Texas Pride Realty in Carrollton.

Eric Johnson has formed a new law firm with John Helms and Manuel Diaz at 6060 N. Central Expressway.

Turtle Creek Consignment & Estate Sales, a gay-owned, Web-based business, recently opened their warehouse showroom to the public. Located at 3737 Atwell Street, behind the Home Depot on Lemmon Avenue, they specialize in new and pre-owned luxury home furnishings, home décor, collectibles, fine art, vintage home accessories vintage jewelry, crystal, glass and pottery. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lula B’s moved from its Lower Greenville Avenue location to 2639 Main St. in Deep Ellum. Their second store is on Riverfront (Industrial) Boulevard and features 80 vendors selling funky, kitschy and collectible, vintage and pimpadelic items.

—  Kevin Thomas

Rep. Johnson to host small business summit

State Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson is hosting a small business summit at the University of Texas at Dallas, Callier Center at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

“It’s a summit for small businesses in District 100,” said Andrew Smith, an intern in Johnson’s local office. The district includes parts of Oak Lawn.

He said groups such as the Southern Dallas Development Corp. and Plan Fund would attend.

“They will discuss funds available to small business and how to access those funds,” Smith said.

Johnson will be there to answer questions after the groups make their presentations.

The event takes place in the Glorig Auditorium, 1966 Inwood Road, across the street from St. Paul Hospital.

—  David Taffet

How to lose an election and still win it

Rep. Van Taylor
Rep. Van Taylor

Van Taylor won the Republican nomination for the Texas House of Representatives District 66 seat in Plano by appealing to Tea Party supporters. He faces no opposition in the November election.

Incumbent Brian McCall resigned to become chancellor of the Texas State University System.

Taylor defeated Mabrie Jackson in the April 13 runoff. But a special election was called for May 8 to fill McCall’s seat for the rest of the current term. Taylor and Jackson both entered the special election.

After losing to Taylor in the runoff, Jackson withdrew from the special election, and Taylor was declared the winner by Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade.

However, Jackson withdrew after the deadline, and the election could not be called off.

The election was held and Jackson received more votes than Taylor.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Longtime LGBT ally Terri Hodge sentenced to 1 year in jail for tax fraud

Former Texas State Rep. and longtime LGBT ally Terri Hodge has been sentenced to one year in prison in connection with the Dallas City Hall corruption case, The Dallas Morning News reports. Hodge pleaded guilty in February to tax fraud. She faced up to three years in prison and now must report to jail by June 22. Here’s what she said in court today:

“As a public official, my actions have cast a bad light on many other elected official. What I’ve done has contributed to some people’s distrust of the political system. All I can say is I am truly sorry for my mistakes.”

Hodge was replaced in the Legislature by State Rep. Eric Johnson, who was sworn in last week.

—  John Wright

Eric Johnson becomes District 100 representative

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson was certified winner of the District 100 race and becomes representative as soon as he is sworn in.

In the March primary, Johnson received 75 percent of the vote against incumbent Terri Hodge. He faces no opponent in November and will serve next term.

However, Hodge resigned from her seat, leaving a vacancy. Gov. Rick Perry declared a May special election and Johnson filed for the seat.

As of this week’s filing deadline, Johnson was the only on to file for the seat. Because there was no opponent, Dallas County election administrator Bruce Sherbet declared Johnson the winner. According to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, this can only be done in special elections and is done to save local governments money.

Although the legislature is not scheduled to meet the for the rest of this session, his appointment gives him seniority dating from the 2008 session. Also, he begins constituent services upon his taking office.

—  David Taffet

Watch Instant Tea for election coverage

Vote 2010 Logo.colorWe’ll be live-blogging tonight’s primary election results right here on Instant Tea, so don’t forget to check back when polls close at 7 p.m. Here are some of the races we’ll be watching closely:

1. Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, who chairs the Commissioners Court, faces an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination. Foster is being challenged by Highland Park attorney Clay Jenkins and Dallas Schools President Larry Duncan. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held April 6. Foster is the first openly gay incumbent previously endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas to not receive the group’s backing in a bid for re-election. Stonewall, which endorsed Foster in 2006, is backing Duncan this year. Jenkins also has his share of LGBT supporters, including openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons.

2. Foster and Fitzsimmons are two of four openly LGBT candidates on the ballot in Dallas County. Fitzsimmons should easily fend off a challenge from perennial candidate Johnny Gomez. Meanwhile, former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem John Loza is one of four Democrats in the primary for County Criminal Court No. 5, where a runoff is also likely. Loza and Tony Parker are vying to become the first openly LGBT candidates elected to the judiciary in Dallas County. Parker, who’s running for the 116th Civil District Court seat, doesn’t have an opponent in the primary.

3. Former Houston Mayor Bill White is the heavy favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. White’s most formidable challenger is hair care products tycoon Farouk Shami. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas has endorsed White. In the GOP primary, the question is whether incumbent Gov. Rick Perry will avoid a runoff against either U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Tea Party activist Debra Medina.

4. Rob Schlein, the openly gay president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, is running for precinct chair in his Far North Dallas neighborhood against Homer Adams, the husband of Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Cathie Adams. Cathie Adams, former president of the Texas Eagle Forum, has been one of the leading anti-gay voices in North Texas over the last few decades.

5. State Rep. Terri Hodge, a longtime LGBT ally in the House, pleaded guilty to a felony charge in February in connection with the Dallas City Hall corruption case, and is no longer eligible to hold public office. However, Hodge’s name still appears on the ballot, and if she receives more votes than the other candidate in District 100, Eric Johnson, the Democratic nominee will be decided by precinct chairs in the district. Another embattled Democrat, Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes, faces three primary challengers amid an ongoing criminal investigation of his office.

—  John Wright