LEGE UPDATE: Senate flirts with trans marriage ban; LGBT youth removed from suicide bill

Daniel Williams

An attack on opposite-sex marriage, movement on anti-bullying bills and the removal of protections for LGBT teens from a suicide prevention bill marked this, the 15th week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session.

On Friday morning , April 15, urgent alerts went out from state and national transgender advocacy groups asking Texans to call Democratic members of the Senate and urge them to oppose Senate Bill 723. The bill would remove a court-ordered “change of sex” from the list of identifying documents which Texans can use to obtain a marriage license, potentially voiding all opposite-sex marriages in Texas where one partner has changed their legally recognized sex.

The alert was caused by the placement of SB 723 on the Senate’s “intent calendar” for Monday, April 18.

Senate rules require bills to be considered in the order they are filed, but the Senate hardly ever follows that rule. Instead they file a bill at the front of the line (the “blocker bill”) and everyone agrees not to vote on it. In order for the Senate to consider a bill filed after the blocker bill they must vote to “set aside” the Senate rules and take the bill “out of order.” Senate Rule 22.02 says that setting aside the rules requires a two-thirds majority of the members present. The intent calendar is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up out of order that day. The Senate creates an intent calendar each week, and any bill not taken up on Monday rolls over to Tuesday and then to Wednesday. They then start a new intent calendar the following week.

There are 31 Senators: 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans. In order for a bill to receive the required two-thirds (or 20) votes it needs, at least one of the Democrats must support it. Thus the urgency of the alert.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Texas A&M Senate backs anti-gay measure; pastors come out for Leppert

How do the “Pastors for Leppert” feel about his appearances at gay Pride?

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1.  The Texas A&M Student Senate wants to cut funding in half for the school’s gay resource center, and divert the money to a “center for traditional and family values.” According to GLBT Aggies President Camden Breeding, the Student Senate voted Wednesday night to support a state budget amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for traditional and family values. The measure approved by the Student Senate, which you can read here, opposes any increase in student fees to pay for the new “traditional and family values” center, but says existing revenue should be evenly divided between the two centers. The Student Senate also agreed to advocate on behalf of Christian’s amendment as it moves through the Legislature. Well, it’s no wonder that Texas A&M is consistently ranked among the nation’s most homophobic schools. And it seems as though the notion that young people are less bigoted than their parents doesn’t necessarily hold true in Texas.

2. A bill to prohibit transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex is yet to come up for a vote in the Texas Senate, but it could come up today, according to Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery. Williams also reports that State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has agreed to remove enumerated categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, from Asher’s Law, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in Texas public schools.

3. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert continues to veer sharply to the right as he seeks the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. A new website called Pastors for Leppert features endorsements from conservative religious leaders, including the virulently anti-gay Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills advance; Senate to consider trans marriage ban Monday

Daniel Williams

Anti-bullying bills were voted out of committee in both the House and Senate this week, the 14th of Texas’ 20-week regular legislative session held in odd-numbered years.

Back on April 5 House Public Education Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, appointed a subcommittee on bullying. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who has filed anti-bullying legislation for the last two sessions, chaired the subcommittee.

On Tuesday, Strama’s subcommittee presented a compromise designed to appease conservatives on the Public Education committee. The bullying subcommittee recommended amending House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, to include the least controversial elements of other anti-bullying bills and to add the authors of the other bills as co-authors on HB 1942. The newly formed compromise bill requires that anti-bullying materials be included in school health classes and updates the education code to recognize the existence of cyberbullying. Unlike Strama’s original anti-bullying bill, House Bill 224, the compromise only allows administrators to address cyberbullying if it happens on school grounds or at school events. The compromise bill would also allow for the transfer of bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred).

The subcommittee avoided any recognition of LGBT students in its compromise. The bill neither prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination (as legislation filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, would do) nor requires school districts to report if homophobia or transphobia motivated an incident of bullying (as legislation filed by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would do).

—  admin

Why Rafael Anchia didn’t vote against Wayne Christian’s anti-gay budget amendment

Rep. Rafael Anchia

By now you’re probably aware of the anti-gay Texas House budget amendment authored by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, which would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount, dollar for dollar, on centers promoting “family and traditional values.”

Like seemingly most things these days, Christian’s amendment has led to a petition at Change.org, which now has 146 signatures, calling for the Texas Senate and/or Gov. Rick Perry to reject it:

“This proposal does nothing to enhance the educational experience of Texas university students,” writes Mindy Townsend of Kansas, who started the petition. “It only serves to further marginalize LGBT people. Society is built to support straight people. We need LGBT resource centers to help fill in the gaps.”

We’ve got a message in to Christian’s office seeking further explanation of the amendment, such as how it jibes with teabagger principles of reduced spending and local control.

But for now, we wanted to note that Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is listed as “present, not voting” in the House voting record for the amendment. Anchia’s vote, or lack thereof, prompted Instant Tea contributor Daniel Williams to write on his Legislative Queery blog that Anchia, a staunch LGBT ally, had “cowardly refuse[d] to take a stand on this issue.”

—  John Wright

House panel hears bills to remove ‘homosexual conduct’ law, add trans hate crimes protections

Daniel Williams

By DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Four bills that would improve the lives of LGBT Texans were heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. The Committee is responsible for making recommendations to the state House of Representatives on bills that effect the Texas Penal Code. The first step in that process is to hold a public hearing. Any member of the public may testify for, or against, a bill during the hearing.

The first bill, House Bill 1909 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, amends the state’s law against “indecency with a child” to provide LGBT teens with the same protections as straight teens. Currently, the law contains a provisions that allows consensual sexual contact between a person under the age of 17 and a person who is no more than three years older. Dubbed the “Romeo and Juliet” rule, the exception recognizes that teenagers engage in sexual behavior with their boyfriends/girlfriends and that prosecuting “heavy petting” by high school sweethearts serves no purpose.

However, there’s a catch! When the Romeo and Juliet rule was created in 1973, “homosexual conduct” was still an enforceable crime in Texas. The authors of the exception were very careful that it only apply to couples “of the opposite sex.” Coleman’s bill removes the opposite sex requirement to give “Juliet & Juliet” the same protections as their straight contemporaries. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, testified in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.

Next, the committee heard House Bill 2227, also by Coleman. Texas law allows prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s bias against people with specific attributes, including “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.” HB 2227 would add “gender identity and expression” to that list.

—  admin

Texas House budget includes anti-gay measure, leaves out needed funds for AIDS drug program

Rep. Garnet Coleman

The Texas House approved a budget Sunday that includes massive cuts to public education, Medicaid and, well, just about everything else. The House budget, which now goes to the Senate, would trim $23 billion from current state and federal spending over the next two years. Democrats in the House, who are outnumbered 2-to-1, say the cuts will have disastrous effects on key services.

As we noted the other day, the House budget includes an amendment that would require public colleges and universities in Texas with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount, dollar for dollar, on centers promoting “traditional and family values.” The amdendment from Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, passed by a margin of 110-24.

The House budget does not include any additional money for the Texas HIV Medication Program, which will need $19.2 million more over the next two years to meet increased demand. The HIV Medication Program provides life-sustaining medication to 14,000 low-income people with HIV/AIDS. Last week, a Senate budget panel recommended providing the additional money. The Senate’s version of the budget is expected to include $10 billion more than the House, and the two measures will then have to be reconciled. As one lawmaker put it, “Thank God for the Senate.”

After the jump is the reaction to the budget of Democratic State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who called the budget “shameful.” Incidentally, Coleman proposed an amendment to the budget that would have required school districts to report incidents of harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment failed by a vote of 97-49.

Writes Coleman of the final House budget: “I voted ‘no’ on this bill because in my 20 years as a state legislator, I’ve never seen a budget so devastating to children and seniors. All we’ve done today is move around the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks.”

—  John Wright

Texas House OKs measure requiring schools with LGBT resource centers to spend equal amount on centers for ‘family and traditional values’

Wayne Christian

Public colleges and universities in Texas with LGBT resource centers would have to spend an equal amount on centers promoting “family and traditional values,” under a budget amendment approved by the House late Friday.

The amendment from State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, passed by a vote of 110-24. From The Dallas Morning News:

While many members in the chamber cracked jokes and guffawed, the amendment’s author, Rep. Wayne Christian, said the University of Texas, Texas A&M and “some other schools” have centers promoting “alternative sexual practices.”

“I’m not treading on their rights to that, to teach alternative sexual behavior,” said Christian, R-Center. But he said they must match it, dollar for dollar, with advocating heterosexual, “traditional values.”

Meanwhile, the House defeated a proposed budget amendment that would have required school districts to report incidents of harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment from Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, was defeated by a vote of 97-49.

—  John Wright

Right-wing lawmaker says Legislature doesn’t have time to remove sodomy ban from books

Wayne Christian

The Austin American-Statesman has a story today about legislation aimed at removing Texas’ unconstitutional sodomy ban from the books. (It makes you wonder, why doesn’t The Dallas Morning News report on stuff like this?)

Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, which outlawed gay sex, was struck down as unconstitutional eight years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the statute remains on the books, and those who want to remove it say its continued presence “creates a climate favorable to bullying, gay-bashing and hate crimes,” according to the Statesman.

Take, for example, the incident a few years back at Chico’s Tacos in El Paso, in which two gay men were threatened with sodomy charges for kissing in public. No, we’re not kidding.

Democratic State Reps. Jessica Farrar and Garnet Coleman have introduced identical bills that would remove 21.06 from the books, but the bills are almost guaranteed to go nowhere in the Republican-monopolized Legislature.

Why? Well, the real reason is that many conservative lawmakers believe sodomy should still be a crime. The Statesman fails to point out that the state GOP platform calls for the recriminalization of sodomy. But naturally these right-wing lawmakers are too chicken shit to come out and say this, so they’ve come up with another excuse: We simply don’t have enough time!

From the Statesman:

As of January, Republicans hold 101 of the 150 seats in the Texas House , a supermajority that allows them to easily control legislation. Last session, the House was almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

The GOP domination is also reflected in the Criminal Jurisprudence committee, which would be the first to vote on Farrar’s or Coleman’s bill . A Democrat chairs the committee, but Republicans — including Wayne Christian, the most recent president of the Texas Conservative Coalition — outnumber them two-to-one.

Christian said he had not looked at the bills in detail, but that the time it would take them to go through committee probably would not be worth the outcome — especially in a session where lawmakers are wrestling with major issues like redistricting and filling a multi-billion-dollar budget hole.

So there you have it, folks. Christian doesn’t believe gays should be allowed to fill each other’s holes, so he’s claiming the Legislature is too busy filling the budget hole. Or, to phrase it another way, Christian is preoccupied with filling his own hole.

Funny how the Texas Legislature always seems to find time to TAKE AWAY people’s civil rights.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Press conference in Austin with Asher Brown’s parents

Asher Brown’s parents, David and Amy Truong, are working to make sure other children in Texas are protected from bullying.

At the Capitol building in Austin on Monday, March 7, they joined Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman to speak about bullying and then met privately with several key senators and representatives. Garnet Coleman announced that he renamed his bill Asher’s Law with the Truongs’ permission.

Asher’s bill would mandate the development of “a comprehensive suicide prevention program for implementation in public junior, middle and high schools,” provide training for teachers, counselors, nurses administrators and other staff who regularly interact with students and mandate a report to the legislature on implementation of the program.

About 350 people from around the state including a large number of straight allies lobbied legislators throughout the day.

Sorry for some of the shaky photography. I was photographing with one hand and video recording with the other.

—  David Taffet

Activists gather from across Texas to lobby for anti-bullying legislation and more

David and Amy Truong (standing, center) lobbied with 350 LGBT activists and allies from across the state in Austin

About 350 people gathered to lobby for anti-bullying legislation among other bills that would benefit the LGBT community. Among those at lobby day were David and Amy Truong, parents of Asher Brown who committed suicide in September, and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns.

The day was organized by Equality Texas along with 58 partner organizations from across the state. From Dallas Youth First Texas, Resource Center Dallas, Hope for Peace and Justice and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce were among the participating organizations.

Not all of the partners were specifically LGBT groups. Atticus Circle is a group founded in 2004 as a place for straight allies to organize for LGBT family rights.

First United Methodist Church on Lavaca Street across from the Capitol hosted Equality Texas for breakfast, a lobby day training session and lunch.

At a press conference on the Capitol steps, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston announced that he refiled his anti-bullying bill as Asher’s Law. State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio spoke about his Freedom from Workplace Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The Truongs spoke about stopping bullying. Amy Truong said that no parent should go to work in the morning and come home to find police tape around their house. Along with Burns, they met legislators who are key to moving the bills through the House and Senate.

—  David Taffet