Responding to “The Response”

From partisan to apolitical, from atheistic to interfaith — groups from around the state are speaking out against Gov. Perry’s Houston prayer meeting

Rick Perry

Daniel Williams  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

HOUSTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has partnered with the American Family Association to present a day of prayer and fasting they have dubbed “The Response” on Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Organizers are calling the event “a call to prayer for a nation in crises.”

But opponents have a different take. They are calling the event everything from a political maneuver pandering to the right wing intended to kick off Perry’s 2012 presidential bid to an unconstitutional confluence of church and state.

And those opponents from around the state have been hard at work in recent weeks, planning their own response to the Perry prayer meeting.

Perry’s choice to partner with the American Family Association, which is paying for the Saturday event, quickly raised eyebrows in the LGBT community, where AFA is considered one of the country’s leading anti-gay groups. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified AFA as an anti-gay hate group.

AFA’s contention that homosexuality is sinful according to the Bible is not enough, in and of itself, to put AFA on the SPLC hate group list.

But the AFA’s “propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling” was more than enough to earn a place on the list.

To bring attention to their concerns over “The Response,” opponents have planned a variety of events in Houston and around the state: from partisan to apolitical, from atheist to interfaith.

Each event, organizers say, strives to stand in contrast to what they see as the blurring of church/state separation and the promotion of hate against LGBT people fostered by “The Response.”

Houston GLBT Caucus

For Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, “The Response” is just the latest in a long line of anti-LGBT events the caucus has encountered.

The caucus is spearheading an event highlighting the LGBT community’s response at 7 p.m, Friday, Aug. 5. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and longtime LGBT ally in the Texas Legislature, will deliver the keynote address for the event at Tranquility Park at 400 Rusk St., in downtown Houston.

The Friday night LGBT event is being staged just one block from the site of a 1977 rally the caucus held to oppose Anita Bryant, who at the time was one of the most visible and most vocal foes of LGBT equality.

Fresh off her successful campaign to repeal a Dade County, Fla., ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Bryant brought her “Save The Children” campaign to Houston. And the GLBT Caucus responded.

“The caucus has always stood up against the forces of hate. Look at our response in ’77,” said Freeman.

The caucus organized a massive counter-protest when Bryant came to town. And among those participating was a 22-year-old student and activist named Annise Parker.

Parker later became as the caucus’ eighth president before beginning her political career. She now serves as Houston’s mayor, becoming the first out LGBT mayor of a major American city when she was elected in 2009.

Freeman says responding to Perry’s rally is a duty for LGBT activists, a continuation of the caucus’ legacy of fighting hate and fostering young leadership.

“We have to support our community and say that hate is not acceptable in any capacity,” he said.

(left to right) The Rev. Adam Robinson, Daniel Scott Cates, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman
(left to right) The Rev. Adam Robinson, Daniel Scott Cates, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman

GetEQUAL

Dallasite Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, is heading to Houston on Friday to participate in the caucus’ rally. But the main reason for his trip is a protest planned by GetEQUAL outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday as “The Response” takes place inside.

Cates said the national attention paid to the fact that Perry is partnering with a hate group to stage “The Response” has helped galvanize activism in Texas.

“For a while we’ve been pretty quiet. I think that with events like this and events like the [June 2009] Rainbow Lounge [raid in Fort Worth], people are waking up,” Cates said.

“What’s interesting about the reaction to ‘The Response’ is that it’s been statewide,” he continued. “You’re seeing all these cities — Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas — all these different cities coming together.”

GetEqual’s protest will be at the corner of Kirby Drive and McNee Road, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Michael Divesti with GetEQUAL said that the protesters will remain at Reliant Stadium throughout the day. He urged participants to bring water and drink it often to fight the heat.

“We don’t want anyone getting heat stroke out there,” Divesti said.

GetEQUAL is partnering with the American Atheists for the protest, but GetEQUAL leaders stressed that the event is not anti-prayer.

“We’re not at all anti-prayer or anti-religion,” said Cates. “We’re anti-the-state-getting-involved-in-religion.

“I pray; my faith is very important to me,” he added.

CNN reported last month that Perry may not even speak at the rally, although it was his idea to stage the event. The possibility doesn’t surprise Divesti, who believes “The Response” has always been more about political pandering than sincere prayer.

“Perry was a Democrat until he figured out he would be more popular as a Republican. He was Methodist until he figured out he would be more popular as an evangelical,” Divesti said. “He believed in state’s rights until he figured out he would be more popular as a DOMA supporter. So now that his support of the AFA is proving unpopular on the national stage, is anyone surprised he’s scrambling to distance himself?”

FW First Congregational Church

Also planning to protest outside of Reliant Stadium on Saturday is a group from Fort Worth’s First Congregational Church.

Marvin Van, who is organizing the group, said he expects 15 to 20 people to make the trek to Houston on Friday night to participate in an interfaith service at Mount Ararat Baptist Church before spending Saturday at Reliant Stadium.

Van said that as representatives of a mainstream Christian church, his group is in a unique position to respond to “The Response.”

“We are very specifically protesting the misuse of the gospel to promote hate speech,” Van said.

“We know we’re not going to convince the governor or the AFA. That’s not why we’re going. We’re going for that gay or lesbian teenager or that Muslim teenager who thinks Christianity is only about hate,” he said.

FIGHTING HATE  |  In 1977, Anita Bryant brought her “Save the Children” campaign to Houston and the LGBT community responded.
FIGHTING HATE | In 1977, Anita Bryant brought her “Save the Children” campaign to Houston and the LGBT community responded.

Harris County Democratic Party

While Cates, Divesti and the people of First Congregational Church are protesting at Reliant Stadium Saturday, the Harris County Democratic Party will hold its fourth “Trailblazers Luncheon” downtown at the Hyatt Regency Hotel — ironically, the same hotel that was the venue for Anita Bryant’s 1977 event.

The traditional luncheon is the Harris County party’s way of highlighting contributions by members of historically oppressed communities. Previous luncheons have honored women, African-Americans and Latinos. According to the event’s co-chairs, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman, the party had already planned to honor members of the LGBT community at this year’s luncheon before learning of “The Response.”

“We hadn’t decided on a date for the event yet. But when Perry’s event was announced, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to counter-program,” Pritchett said.

Shipman added, “I think the tag line of the luncheon says it best: ‘A Celebration of Diversity.’ We’re focusing on the positive.”

Pritchett said while he sees parallels between Saturday’s “Response” and Anita Bryant’s 1977 “Save the Children” event in Houston, he believes Perry’s rally is worse.

“We should feel even more attacked because it’s our own governor bringing a hate group here,” he said. “He was elected to represent all Texans, but instead decided to align himself with the most extreme fringe.”

Pritchett also said he isn’t surprised Perry has refused so far to confirm whether he will speak at “The Response” event on Saturday, because the governor has “seen a negative push-back from his association with the AFA. He doesn’t know how that’s going to affect him when he’s trying to court moderate voters in a presidential election.”

Tickets for the Trailblazer’s Luncheon are available at the door and on-line at HCDP.org. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m.

First UU Church of Houston

Another — uniquely apropos — response to “The Response” is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday: an interfaith prayer service.

The Rev. Adam Robinson of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, who is organizing the event, said that it’s sometimes difficult for people of faith to oppose events like “The Response” for fear of appearing anti-prayer.

“It’s hard for faith leaders to take a stand and not make it look like they oppose praying to God to make the country better,” Robinson acknowledged. But, he said, he felt he had a responsibility to do something.
“I despise that our governor has aligned himself with a hate group. I feel called to provide people with an alternative,” Robinson said.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston is located at 5200 Fannin St.

The aftermath?

Dennis Coleman, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas, said he believes “The Response” has already backfired on Perry.

“There’s been a galvanization of the community around the state,” Coleman said. “Texans are taken aback by the people our governor has aligned himself with.”

But Coleman said he suspects Perry’s attempt to distance himself from the prayer meeting has more to do with fears of low turnout at the event rather than concerns over being associated with a hate group.

“I think he’s backpeddling because his event’s a flop, not because of the association with the AFA,” Coleman said. “The AFA is controversial, but Perry is controversial. He wants this to be a success. He doesn’t want 7,500 people in a 75,000 seat arena. But I think that’s what he’s going to get.”

Coleman is traveling to Houston to speak at the GLBT Caucus’ Friday night rally and to present the keynote address at the Trailblazer’s Luncheon on Saturday. The legacy of “The Response” remains to be determined and will depend largely on whether Perry decides to finally announce his much-hinted-at presidential bid.

But for those organizing the responses to “The Response,” the event has created a unique flash-point, a moment in time to focus and unite the people of Texas in opposition to hate.

“We’ve had so many victories lately — in local government, in the state legislatures and nationally,” Coleman said. “But it’s sometimes hard for people to find a single, concrete issue that they can wrap their hands around and participate in.

“Gov. Perry, by aligning himself with the AFA and other hate groups, has provided that moment, and LGBT Texans and their allies have responded unanimously: ‘There is no room for hate in our state.’”

……………………………..

Texans responds to ‘The Response’

• The Houston GLBT Caucus will hold a rally Friday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m., at Tranquility Park, 400 Rusk St. in downtown Houston. State Rep. Garnet Coleman will be keynote speaker.

• GetEQUAL will hold a day-long protest outside Reliant Stadium, at the corner of Kirby Drive and McNee Road, beginning at 8 p.m. and lasting as long as “The Response.” Participants are urged to bring plenty of water.

• Members of Fort Worth First Congregational Church, 4201 Trail Lake Drive, will be leaving for Houston on Friday night and will be holding a rally outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday. Call the church at 817-923-2990 for details.

• The Harris County Democratic Party will hold its fourth annual “Trailblazers Luncheon” Saturday at Houston’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Tickets for the Trailblazer’s Luncheon are available at the door and on-line at HCDP.org. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m. Go online for more information.

• First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, led by the Rev. Adam Robinson, will hold an interfaith prayer service Saturday at 2 p.m. to offer a faith-based alternative to “The Response.” The church is located at 5200 Fannin St. For more information call the church at  713-526-5200.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Tom Leppert has raised $1.1 million in the month since he threw you under the bus

Tom Leppert

Hard to believe, but it’s been well over a month since Tom Leppert stepped down as Dallas mayor and sent out his infamous anti-gay Tweet, before announcing that he’s running for U.S. Senate.

Later, of course, we discovered that the Tweet wasn’t the half of it: Leppert came out on his campaign website against both same-sex marriage and civil unions. (In other words, he believes your relationship is shit.)

Leppert announced today that he’s raised $1.1 million during the first month of his Senate campaign, in addition to a personal investment of $1.6 million. When campaign finance reports come out, it’ll be interesting to see how much of Leppert’s money thus far has come from anti-gay groups. Regardless, he has a ways to go: According to The Hill, observers say candidates will have to spend upward of $20 million to be competitive in the Republican Primary.

The Hill also says Leppert’s campaign “will be built around his time in the mayor’s office.”

Except, of course, for the part where he hired an openly gay chief of staff and appeared in two gay Pride parades.

 

—  John Wright

In NYC, gay groups are fighting Wal-Mart

A while back we told you how the anti-gay Wal-Mart plans to take over Dallas by building 12 new stores here. Little did we know at the time that the man who’s taking “credit” for bringing the new Wal-Mart stores to Dallas, former Mayor Tom Leppert, would show his stripes as a back-stabbing homophobe only days later. Anyhow, we just wanted to note that in New York City, LGBT groups are taking stands against allowing Wal-Mart to come into the city — due to the group’s anti-gay employment practices. Change.org reports:

Last week, Change.org writer Lauren Kelley noted that the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City issued a statement opposing the construction of a WalMart in the Big Apple. Their reasons for opposing WalMart? Pretty straightforward, really: the company receives a dismal grade when it comes to workplace equality, the company’s CEO supported efforts in Arkansas to ban LGBT people from adopting children, and last year, more than 100 WalMart stores announced that they would carry a book championing ex-gay therapy.

Yuck, indeed. Now this week comes word that another heavyweight organization is lending their voice in the effort to keep WalMart out of New York City. That group? The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement this week knocking WalMart’s record on LGBT equality.

“With the expansion of Wal-Mart stores comes the expansion of antiquated employment policies that provide little to no protections for, and at times even hostility toward, their LGBT employees,” the Task Force said in a statement.

—  John Wright

Removal of sexual orientation doesn’t stop bigots — or the ACLU — from opposing anti-bullying bill

Jonathan Saenz

The removal of sexual orientation from an anti-bullying bill didn’t stop anti-gay groups from opposing the measure during a Texas House committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affiars for the Plano-based Liberty Institute, told the House public education committee that even though sexual orientation and other enumerated categories were removed from Rep. Mark Strama’s HB 224, Saenz fears the categories will be restored to the measure at some point.

“It is about the gay rights, the homosexual community, the transgender community, and an effort to create special categories and special rights in our law that don’t currently exist, and really carve off protections for some groups and not others,” Saenz told the committee. “It’s not about bullying, and it’s not about solving this problem. It’s about creating new classes of people and giving special protections to some categories and not others.”

Strama said during the hearing that he has no plans to restore the enumerated categories to the bill.

“We took all those classes out so we wouldn’t have to have this discusssion,” said Strama, D-Austin. “It’s not my intention to put any of that list back in the bill. At this point I’d like to keep it the way it is if we can get this bill moving through the process.”

Representatives from Equality Texas, which supports the bill and testified in favor of it on Tuesday, have said the enumerated categories were removed to improve the bill’s chances of passage and de-politicize the issue.

Also testifying against Strama’s bill were both the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum and the normally pro-equality American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU representatives say Strama’s bill, which would allow school officials to crack down on cyberbullying that occurs off campus, creates concerns about free speech and parental rights.

The bill was left pending in the education committee. To watch video of the committee hearing, go here.

—  John Wright

Hunt, Kunkle to visit LGBT groups next week

Former DPD Chief David Kunkle

The Dallas LGBT community will have a chance to get up close and personal with one announced candidate for mayor — and another possible candidate for mayor — next week.

Local activist Jesse Garcia sends along word that former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, who says he’s running, will visit Stonewall Democrats of Dallas on Tuesday — a day after filing begins for city elections.

And City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who’s considering a run for mayor but hasn’t announced a decision, will visit LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council on Thursday.

Here’s Garcia’s note:

The Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meets Tuesday, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m., at Ojeda’s Restaurant, 4617 Maple Ave. Dallas, TX 75219. Guest speaker is Dallas Mayoral Candidate David Kunkle, former Dallas Police Chief. For more information, visit www.stonewalldemocratsofdallas.org. Meeting is open to the public. Voter registration will be available at the meeting.

LULAC 4871 Dallas Rainbow Council meets Thursday, Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m., at Havana’s, 4006 Cedar Springs Rd., Dallas, TX 75219. Guest speaker is Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt. For more information, visit www.lulac4871.org. Meeting is open to the public. Voter registration will be available at the meeting.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Chick-fil-A downplays anti-gay sponsorship; Gates on DADT repeal; Lady Gaga

1. Chick-fil-A is attempting to downplay its sponsorship of two upcoming events hosted by the anti-gay Pennsylvania Family Institute, releasing a statement Thursday on Facebook saying a “local operator” had simply agreed to provide greasy-ass food. In the meantime, however, LGBT blogs have uncovered several additional connections between the company and anti-gay groups. Fool me once …

2. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon is moving fast to end “don’t ask don’t tell,” with military leaders expected to begin training troops on the change “in a very few weeks.” The troop training is part of a three-step process outlined by Gates on Wednesday in his first public comments about DADT since President Barack Obama signed the bill repealing the policy.

3. Lady Gaga unveils Polaroid sunglasses that take photos, video (video above).

—  John Wright

Ex-gay treatment for vultures? Gay groups protest forced separation of gay avian couple

Griffon Vulture

Gay groups in Germany are upset that officials at the Allwetter Zoo in Munster, Germany, have separated two male vultures who had set up nest-keeping together and were obviously a couple.

The two Griffon vultures, Guido and Detlef, have been a couple since March, according to U.K. news site The Register. They build a nest together, defended it from the other vultures, and spent most of their time together grooming each other.

But zoo curator Dirk Wewers apparently believed Detlef and Guido’s relationship was what I call situational homosexuality, like men in prison who have sex with other men because no women are available. Wewers said: “A suitable female was missing and in such a case vultures look for companionship from the next best thing, even if it is a male. Detlef looked for a bird of the opposite sex but settled with Guido.”

So the zoo decided to give the two other options by breaking up their happy home and sending Guido to a zoo in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where he would have access to female Griffon vultures. Meanwhile, Detlef, back in Munster, has been set up with a mail-order bride from the Czech Republic.

According to reports, Detlef’s “ex-gay therapy” appears to be working. But over in Ostrava, Guido is having none of it. Reports are he won’t have anything to do with the female vultures.

Both male vultures are 14 years old, which means both are still relative youngsters, since their lifespan in the wild is estimated at 50 to 70 years old. The oldest known Griffon vulture — or Great Vulture — in captivity died at the age of 118.

According to Wikipedia, Griffon vultures are on the brink of dying out, although there have been resurgent populations in some areas of Europe. In Germany, Griffon vultures in the wild died out in the mid-18th century, but, “Some 200 vagrant birds, probably from the Pyrenees, were sighted in 2006, and several dozen of the vagrants sighted in Belgium the following year crossed into Germany in search for food.”

So, OK — the idea of creating breeding pairs and replenishing the Griffon vulture population has merit. But still, it just doesn’t seem right to me to separate what was obviously a loving couple for the sake of making some baby vultures. I am sure there are plenty of other hetero male Griffon vultures available more than willing to take care of the breeding needs.

Either way, it gives new meaning to the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” huh?

—  admin

LGBT groups call on DeMint to apologize for repeating old insult

S.C. Republican rubbed ‘salt in the wound’ when he repeated comments from 2004 saying gays shouldn’t be teachers, Carey says

MEG KINNARD  |  Associated Press

Jim DeMint

Jim DeMint

COLUMBIA, S.C. — National gay and women’s rights groups on Tuesday, Oct. 5, called on U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint to apologize for referencing his own six-year-old comments that gays and lesbians and some unmarried pregnant women should not be teaching in the state’s public schools.

“It is salt in the wound in our community,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It’s irresponsible for Sen. DeMint to reassert this position in this day and age. I would ask him to apologize.”

Carey was reacting to DeMint’s remarks at an Oct. 1 appearance at a Spartanburg rally, where the Republican referenced the public backlash and quiet support that followed his 2004 comments that gays and lesbians and unmarried pregnant women with live-in boyfriends should not be teaching in the state’s public schools.

“No one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down,” DeMint said at the Greater Freedom Rally, according to a published report in the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg. “They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom of religion.”

DeMint first addressed the issue in October 2004 during a televised debate with state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum weeks before the election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C. The candidates were questioned about a state Republican Party platform item saying gays should not teach in public schools.

“I don’t think they should,” DeMint said then, adding that government should not endorse particular behaviors.

“We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values.”

Tenenbaum replied by calling that stance “un-American.”

Gay groups demanded an apology from DeMint, then a third-term congressman. During an interview with the Aiken Standard newspaper two days after the debate, DeMint expanded the list of people whom he thought should not teach in public schools.

“I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third grade children,” said DeMint, who apologized a day later for that particular remark. “I just think the moral decisions are different with a teacher.”

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said the comments underscore the importance of the coming midterm elections.

“Sen. DeMint is a bigot and a sexist and he doesn’t belong in the U.S. Senate,” O’Neill said. “Being conservative is one thing. Being hate-filled is different. Jim DeMint is hate.”

On Tuesday, a DeMint spokesman said the Republican senator on Oct. 1 was merely making a point about attacks on people who speak out on morality issues.

“Senator DeMint believes that hiring decisions at local schools are a local school board issue, not a federal issue,” spokesman Wesley Denton said. “He was making a point about how the media attacks people for holding a moral opinion.”

One of DeMint’s general election opponents said DeMint, who has spent months campaigning for tea party-leaning candidates in other states in the run-up to the Nov. 2 elections, is referencing the comments to cater to far right-leaning voters.

“I consider his remarks as outrageous and out of step with the majority thinking in this state,” said Tom Clements, an anti-nuclear activist and Green Party candidate. “Everything he says is very much calculated to appeal to a certain audience. … He’s feeling his oats right now, and he thinks he can get away with saying outrageous things that he thinks will resonate with the public.”

An adviser to Democratic nominee Alvin Greene would not weigh in on DeMint’s comments, and instead reiterated Greene’s commitment to rejuvenating the state’s education system, in part through an affiliation with the Department of Homeland Security.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘The same-sex marriage fight is just as much a transgender fight as it is (an LGB) fight’

Phyllis Randolph Frye

Phyllis Randolph Frye, the well-known transgender attorney from Houston whose clients include trans widow Nikki Araguz, sent out an e-mail Sunday slamming national gay-rights groups for ignoring the issue of “‘tranny’ same-sex marriage” in Texas.

Referencing an op-ed that appeared in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle about the Araguz case, Frye notes that in the six weeks since the story broke, few people have gotten behind her client’s legal fight. Nikki Araguz is seeking to receive death benefits for her husband, Thomas Araguz III, a Wharton firefighter who was killed in the line of duty early last month. But Thomas Araguz’s family has sued to deny Nikki Araguz those benefits, arguing that their marriage was void because she was born a man, since Texas’ prohibits same-sex marriage.

“Why is it that the Prop 8, same-sex marriage fight in CA and the DOMA same-sex marriage fight in the Northeast are BOTH so well funded by lesbian and gay groups and lesbian and gay individuals, but the same-sex marriage fight in Texas has been thus far supported ONLY by a small number of mostly transgenders plus three LGBT-allied churches, mostly in Houston, all in Texas?” Frye wrote.

“Where is the same national support given for the L and G same-sex marriage struggles?” she added. “Has it remained nonexistent for over six weeks now because this Texas fight is insignificantly and merely a ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fight, so who nationally gives a shit? Then are we a National LGBT-inclusive community, but NOT when it comes to financing the ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fights? From here, it seems to me — still —  that the national L and G groups and the big bucks L and G attitudes haven’t really changed very much. FOLKS, IT IS TIME YOU FIGURED IT OUT THAT THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE FIGHT IS JUST AS MUCH A TRANSGENDER FIGHT AS IT IS A LESBIAN, GAY AND BISEXUAL FIGHT.”

—  John Wright