LGBT Democrats meet to strategize for the future

Texas Stonewall Democrats assess 2010 ‘ass-whipping’ at the polls during weekend meeting}

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From Staff Reports

editor@dallasvoice.com

Members of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus from all across the state met in Austin on March 5-6 to assess the “ass-whipping” Democrats took at the polls last November and to develop messaging and other strategies for winning in 2012, according to caucus president Dan Graney.

Keynote speakers were openly bisexual Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and national transgender activist Mara Keisling.

Sinema warned Texas Democrats that “Arizona is coming to a state near you,” calling her home state the breeding ground for the anti-immigrant, anti-choice, anti-worker’s rights and anti-children’s health care measures currently being proposed in many state legislatures, including Texas.

Sinema called the spreading efforts an attempt by the Tea Party to “mainstream hatred in this country,” adding that “Tea Party” is just another name for Republicans.

Sinema said Democrats must build coalitions to stop such legislation, and encouraged LGBT Democrats to reach out to even unlikely allies to get — and give — support.

“After all, LGBT people make up only 4 percent of the electorate and you need 50 percent plus one to win,” Sinema said, who stayed after her speech to autograph copies of her book, “Unite And Conquer: Building Coalitions That Win — And Last.”

Keisling, mixing healthy dose of humor in with her experience and expertise, urged LGBT Democrats to move outside their “issue silos” and talk about racism, immigration and other progressive issues. She jokingly referred to former President George W. Bush and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as her “prior husbands” and referred to the Tea Party as a reincarnation of the John Birch Society.

Keisling expressed little hope for the advancement of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act over the next two years, saying that the measure is dead for now thanks to the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Other guest speakers at the conference included Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie, Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

Villarreal led a plenary session that included an analysis of the November 2010 election and small group sessions to develop messaging for the 2012 election. A second plenary session, led by TSDC Vice President Erin Moore and Rio Grande Valley Chapter President Eli Olivarez, focused on winning strategies for the 2012 election.

Awards were presented to Houston LGBT activist Brad Pritchett,  Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. The conference also included a TSDC executive board meeting and workshops on a variety of topics, such as building a bigger club and youth involvement and use of social media.

Many who attended the conference stayed to participate in Equality Texas Lobby Day on Monday, March 7.

A total of 70 LGBT Democrats and straight allies from across the state registered for the conference. There was representation at the conference from all nine active chapters statewide, including many young people, as well as from Galveston and Tyler.

For more information about the conference, go online to  TexasStonewalldemocrats.org

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—  Kevin Thomas

DART guts transgender policy

Closed-door session leads to proposal that could take protections from gay and lesbian employees and offer none to transgender employees

By John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

LGBT advocates expressed outrage this week after learning that Dallas Area Rapid Transit had effectively gutted a months-old proposal to add transgender protections to the agency’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Following a 30-minute closed-door session to discuss the new policy on Tuesday, June 15, DART’s Board of Directors hastily approved an amendment stating that the agency won’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no state or federal employment protections for LGBT people, the amendment could allow DART to discriminate against workers based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT legal experts said the amendment would not only nullify the addition to the policy of gender identity, but it would also rescind DART’s protections for sexual orientation, enacted in 1995.

Cece Cox, associate executive director at Resource Center Dallas, said she felt the LGBT community’s “trust has been shattered.”

“Without answers from DART, we are left to speculate that DART does not care about equity for LGBT people and even perhaps that this was deliberately sabotaged,” Cox said in a statement released Thursday. “We have not seen action like this since ExxonMobil rescinded employment protections at their merger in the most crass display of disregard for their LGBT employees in recent corporate history. A final vote has not taken place. DART has time to do the right thing. If it does not, DART should be prepared for outrage from the LGBTA community.”

The DART Board of Directors is scheduled to take a final vote on the new policy Tuesday, June 22. The proposal to add gender identity to the policy came about in response to allegations that the agency discriminated against a transgender bus driver.

RCD spokesman Rafael McDonnell said the nature of the LGBT community’s presence at next Tuesday’s meeting likely will depend on what happens in the meantime.

“The question is going to be, are they going to change the language?” McDonnell said Thursday. “Do they get that the language is bad? And if so, what are they doing about it? I think that will reflect the tone of what we do on Tuesday.”

By noon Thursday, DART officials gave no indication they planned to revisit the amendment, which was caught by Dallas Voice after the agency forwarded a draft of the policy to the newspaper on Wednesday afternoon.

In response to questions about the amendment, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons insisted that the agency’s intent is to add gender identity to the policy and become more inclusive.

But Lyons couldn’t explain the reason for the amendment, and he denied requests for an interview with the agency’s attorneys.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said he felt the community had been “royally screwed” by DART.

“It’s exactly the opposite of what they promised they were doing,” Upton said. “After all the work that’s gone into this, if this is what comes out of it, then we got nothing. They can say that’s not what they intended, but that’s what it says.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice