Will Facebook add a gender-neutral option?

An online petition has sparked the question of whether Facebook should add a third gender option for gender-variant individuals. You can go to the petition site to sign.

On Google+, users get the option to hide their gender and have the site refer to them as the neutral ‘their’ as opposed to using male or female pronouns. On Facebook, you’ve got two options: innie or outie. If we can have gender-neutral bathrooms, why not gender-neutral Facebook pronouns?

Some have expressed a desire to have multiple gender options available to them, such as pangender, genderless and androgynous, among others. While trying to cover every label in the gender spectrum is a valiant effort, due to the fluidity and ever-changing nature of gender, it seems near impossible to cover every possible gender identity option.

Having a neutral option seems the simplest option available for those whose gender falls under “none of the above” — or perhaps “all of the above.”

—  admin

COVER STORY: Black, trans, man

Carter Brown

Carter Brown knew from personal experience that African-American transmen are among the most invisible and most under-served people in the LGBT community. So he founded a new organization in hopes of filling in the gaps

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Transitioning is never an easy process for anyone, but African-American female-to-male trans people face some special challenges, according to transman Carter Brown.

“Our lives, the path we feel we have to take is a challenge. We are voluntarily accepting the role of Public Enemy No. 1: The black man is the most feared man in America,” Brown said. “When we transition from female to male, we are accepting all the challenges that black men in this country face, from society, from our families and from ourselves. It’s a lot to bear.”

And Brown noticed early on in his own transition process that black transmen, in many instances, had to face those challenges alone. That’s why he decided to launch an organization focusing primarily on helping others like himself.

That’s when Black Transmen was born.

Brown said that, having been born biologically female, he knew from a young age that he was different. As a teenager, he came out as a lesbian and “found a place in the community as a butch lesbian.”

But still, something was missing: “I still didn’t feel complete,” he said.

Then one day, when he was 24, Brown was watching TV and saw a talk show that included a transman as a guest.

“It just turned a light on for me,” he said. “Finally the pieces started to fall into place.”

So he started going to the library, using the computers there to look for information and resources that could help in his quest to transition. He found some resources and made connections with other transmen in Yahoo groups. But few of those resources addressed the special challenges of black transmen, and few of those new friends were transmen of color. They couldn’t relate, Brown said, to the special challenges black transmen face.

“I couldn’t find people who were like me. That’s why I decided to start this organization, to reach people like me and move us forward.”

Brown said he started out by creating a page on Facebook, and he was amazed at how many people were drawn to it. The more comprehensive organization grew out of that Facebook page, and today, Brown said, Black Transmen has about 300 members nationwide and is led by a three-member board consisting of Brown and two other transmen that he chose not to name out of respect for their privacy.

Brown said he and the organization’s other leaders have worked to create a structure with programs and outreach designed to address the needs of transmen in general as well as the specific challenges that transmen of color face.

One of the greatest challenges for black transmen, Brown said, is financial, adding that “a majority of black transmen fall into the lower financial class,” and finding money for a therapist and for medications is difficult. So one of the organization’s first goals was to find a way to address that need.

So Brown and the other group leaders began compiling a list of therapists to whom they could refer newcomers, and they established the FTM Fund. Through this program, he said, transmen can earn financial assistance to help pay for medications and other costs by putting in volunteer hours.

Careers

Black Transmen also works to help transmen pull themselves out of that lower end of the financial spectrum with a program offering advice on developing their careers.

“A lot of guys feel that they are male, but they haven’t actually walked in the world as a man,” Brown said. “We have to be socialized as men, to learn how to speak as men, wear professional clothing, even how to shake hands.”

Looking again to his own experience, Brown said that when he was first beginning his transition, he communicated online with a group of other transmen, all of whom were caucasion. He said those men, as they transitioned, often found themselves with new opportunities for advancement in their careers.

“But for me, it was the opposite. As a black man, I saw my opportunities decrease,” he said.

The group also offers advice on if, when and how to come out as a transman on the job, something that Brown knows from personal experience can be problematic.

He said when he began his transition, he was fired from his job. And at another job, when he came out as a transman, he was “harassed until I finally had to quit.”

Now, he said, he stays quiet about his trans status at work.

“What I found was that I was back in the closet,” Brown said. “The people at work see me as the man I am. But I can only get so close to someone without them knowing that I am trans. And being in the closet is a hard way to live. You have to find a balance.”

Health

Providing resources to help transmen stay healthy is another primary goal for Black Transmen as an organization, Brown said. The organization works to provide resources to help transmen find the doctors, therapists and surgeons they need, and is looking now for outside funding that will allow the group to help individuals with the costs of those services.

But Black Transmen is also actively involved in HIV/AIDS and STD education and awareness, he continued, and in August will participate in the Hip Hop Summit for HIV.

“A lot of transmen are not being tested for HIV and AIDS,” Brown said. “A lot of them are not educated on how the disease is contracted and how to avoid being infected.

“A lot of guys still sleep with cis-gendered men and have unprotected sex. But they are ashamed of that, and because they are ashamed they don’t protect themselves,” he continued. “One of the things we try to do is get guys to understand there is no reason to be ashamed of who you sleep with. We try to give them a place to go where they can be comfortable talking about these things.”

And there are other health concerns that black transmen face that their white counterparts don’t, Brown added.

“For instance, African-Americans in general are more prone to have high blood pressure. We want to address those issues as well,” he said.

Black Transmen also works to help transmen balance their mental health needs as well, offering peer menoring, either online or through a 24-hour telephone hotline.

“Our goal is to provide an overall support system that will help transmen have a healthy transition and a healthy life,” Brown said.

Culture

Perhaps the most difficult challenges for black transmen, Brown said, is dealing with some of the “culturally specific issues we face not as transmen but as black men in general.

“In the African-American community, because I am a man, they expect certain things of me. They expect me to be very aggressive, to not care about getting an education, to not care about the arts,” Brown said. “Too often, we feed into those negative stereotypes people have of black men, things like sagging your pants, being a womanizer. If you don’t do these things, then you’re seen as weak.”

And then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where black men are expected to be heavily involved in the churches that play such a big role in the African-American community — something that can be problematic for transmen who are often shunned by religious communities.

“And the African-American community depends on men to care not just for themselves and their immediate family, but for their extended families, too,” Brown said. “That can be a very heavy burden, and some of the [transmen] just are not prepared to carry that burden. We are here to help them with that.”

Although his journey has not always been an easy one, and there are still challenges he has to overcome, Brown said it has been worth the trip.

“I feel free,” he said. “I feel like now that I am no longer consumed with my transition, now I can focus on being who I am, on being a comfortable and confident man. And I want to help others like me reach that same place.

“That’s what this organization is about, helping black transmen be free within themselves, letting them see other guys who have been where they are and who can say, ‘I understand. I’m here to help,’” Brown continued. “This is a safe space, where guys can come and find encouragement, where they can find family that understands and has no judgment.”

Around the edges of the circular logo for Black Transman are the words, “One is not born a man, he becomes one.”

And that, Brown said, is the organization’s goal: to help transmen become the best men they can be.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “We are men. We are unique, exceptional men. And we are there for each other.”

—  John Wright

UN passes historic resolution in support of LGBT equality

FRANK JORDANS  |  Associated Press

GENEVA—  The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by some African and Muslim countries.

The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing “grave concern” about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.

But activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and they credited the Obama administration’s push for gay rights at home and abroad.

“This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.

Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.

Backers included the U.S., the European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn’t vote and Libya was suspended from the rights body earlier.

The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

More important, activists said, it also established a formal U.N. process to document human rights abuses against gays, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in 76 countries worldwide, while harassment and discrimination are common in many more.

“Today’s resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long,” said John Fisher of the gay rights advocacy group ARC International.

The White House in a statement strongly backed the declaration.

“This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights — and entitled to the same protections — as all human beings.”

The resolution calls for a panel discussion next spring with “constructive, informed and transparent dialogue on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against” gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The prospect of having their laws scrutinized in this way went too far for many of the council’s 47-member states.

“We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation,” said Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Nigeria claimed the proposal went against the wishes of most Africans. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania called the resolution “an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.”

Boris Dittrich of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch said it was important for the U.S. and Western Europe to persuade South Africa to take the lead on the resolution so that other non-Western countries would be less able to claim the West was imposing its values.

At the same time, he noted that the U.N. has no enforcement mechanism to back up the resolution. “It’s up to civil society to name and shame those governments that continue abuses,” Dittrich said.

The Obama administration has been pushing for gay rights both domestically and internationally.

In March, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. In addition, Congress recently repealed the ban on gays openly serving in the military, and the Obama administration said it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the U.S. law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The vote in Geneva came at a momentous time for the gay rights debate in the U.S. Activists across the political spectrum were on edge Friday as New York legislators considered a bill that would make the state the sixth — and by far the biggest — to allow same-sex marriage.

Asked what good the U.N. resolution would do for gays and lesbians in countries that opposed the resolution, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer said it was a signal “that there are many people in the international community who stand with them and who support them, and that change will come.”

“It’s a historic method of tyranny to make you feel that you are alone,” he said. “One of the things that this resolution does for people everywhere, particularly LGBT people everywhere, is remind them that they are not alone.”

 

—  John Wright

WATCH: Storm, the genderless baby

The Stockers have just had their third child, Storm, a beautiful, healthy, bouncing baby. They’re keeping the child’s sex a secret from the world so that Storm may grow to develop his or her own identity without the social expectations of masculinity or femininity. The family has two other sons, Jazz and Kio, whom they have given complete freedom with identity. Jazz loves his long hair and his sparkly dresses, and Kio adores purple.

After receiving media attention and outrage the couple has declined further interviews. The response they’ve gotten from the public and the media has been mixed. Some are convinced that they’re setting their child up for bullying and a lack of self-identity. Without the direction from his/her parents on how he/she should act and dress, how can Storm grow up like a normal child?

From a transgentleman’s point of view, I am completely and totally supportive. A lot of transfolk have expressed that their gender identity was such a struggle to find because of social pressures placed on them for being a boy or girl. If they hadn’t had those gender stereotypes placed on them, maybe they would have been able to discover their true identity earlier. If we weren’t judged and reprimanded for expressing masculinity or femininity regardless of our sex, then maybe our gender identity wouldn’t be so hard to find.

I applaud this family for what they’re doing with Storm. If the world weren’t so focused on “boys do this, girls do this” then maybe we wouldn’t have so much gender dysphoria in our society. We would learn to develop our own sense of identity without the expectations placed on what’s between our legs. I know that I, personally, wouldn’t have gone through so much confusion and inner chaos when I was younger if I hadn’t been raised with the idea that I would be rejected if I didn’t act and dress a certain way.

I can see the validity in the negative responses to the genderless baby. It’s true that the baby might be teased and Storm might have trouble with his or her identity without the structure of gender stereotypes. However, studies have shown that children raised in unconventional ways have developed into strong, confident people. Some hold the view that the parents are being selfish by using their child as an “experiment,” with one commenter comparing Storm to a lab rat.

There hasn’t been a study on raising genderless children. I can only speculate, from someone whose life has been a mass of doubt and uncertainty because of gender, that Storm will grow and develop into whomever Storm wants to be — without the constraint of gender roles.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjLGVdZHm2Q

—  admin

Unconstitutional ‘homosexual conduct’ law to remain on Texas books for another 2 years

In his legislative column on Friday, Daniel Williams mentioned that midnight today is the deadline for House committees to vote on bills that originated in the House. Which means that, assuming they aren’t voted out of committee today, several pro-equality bills will die. As Williams details on his own blog today, those bills include measures that would remove Texas’ unconstitutional “homosexual conduct” law from the books, add gender identity/expression to the state’s hate crimes law, and prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and insurance.

With a Republican supermajority in the House, no one really expected any of these bills to pass going into the session. So the fact that some of them even received committee hearings is a victory. And the good news is, a few anti-gay measures are slated to die along them, including one that would make it easier for the attorney general to block same-sex divorces, and the House version of a bill that would effectively bar transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex. (It should be noted that the Senate version of the transgender marriage ban is still alive.)

Of course, there is always a risk that these or other anti-LGBT measures will be tacked on to other bills as amendments, but here’s hoping the Legislature is too busy from here on out with the budget and redistricting.

Speaking of the budget, last week we reported that the Senate’s version includes $19.2 million requested by the Texas HIV Medication Program to serve 3,000 anticipated new clients over the next two years. The House version of the budget left out this money, meaning low-income people with HIV/AIDS could be denied life-sustaining drugs. It’s now be up to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the issue. On that note, the Campaign to End AIDS will hold a rally Friday at the Texas Capitol. For more info or to RSVP for the rally, contact Michelle Anderson at heavenly_gates_777@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

COVER STORY: Need to know

FAMILY TIES | Gregg Spradlin came to Dallas to help his daughter, Jamy Spradlin, recover from her gender reassignment surgery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Trans women talk about how to come out, when, and to whom

RELATED STORY: Femme X provides service to people learning to be women

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Perhaps one of the greatest fears that transgender people face is losing the love and support of family and friends when they “come out” about their gender identity. For transwoman Jamy Spradlin, honesty has definitely been the best policy.

“I don’t usually lie to people,” she said. “Covering lies is difficult.”

That policy has paid off for her.

Jamy said her father, Gregg Spradlin, who lives in Illinois, came to recently Dallas to be with her through her gender reassignment surgery.

Gregg didn’t think that was out of the ordinary. One of his children was having surgery. He’s retired and free to travel, so of course he was there for her.

Gregg said he was glad to help Jamy through her recuperation, but the best part for him was that they got to spend two weeks together.

“My relationship with Dad is closer than it’s ever been,” Jamy said.

And Gregg agreed, saying that’s because Jamy has been honest with him about who she is.

Although she has been honest with her father about her gender identity, Jamy is careful about telling others that she is transgender.

“I wait to tell people, let them get to know me,” Jamy said. “If they have their own preconceived notion about what transgender is, they’ll know me first.”

But there are no set rules about who to tell or when. In fact, Spradlin broke her own rule about waiting when she went to buy her first bra.

Jamy said she went to Victoria’s Secret where she found a saleswoman she was comfortable with and confided in. She said she had to be honest with the saleswoman and tell her that she had no idea how to measure herself for a bra or figure out what size she needed, because asking the saleswoman for that kind of help without any further explanation would be confusing: How could a woman Jamy’s age not know anything about bra size?

But Jamy also knew that other transgender women have been thrown out of stores for no reason other than who they are. So she was relieved when her saleswoman smiled, told her to come to the back and promised to get her fixed up.

Of course, that saleswoman was smart. She gained a loyal customer.

In the workplace

Dee Boydston is facing a different type of coming out situation: She was married 20 years and has a 19-year-oldc son, and recently passed a milestone in her life when she decided to live fulltime as a woman.

While her marriage is over, Boydston said, her son is completely accepting of her intent to transition.

Boydston works from home for a Fortune 500 company so transitioning on the job has not been a problem — until now.

“I’m at a point that I don’t want to flip back and forth,” she said.

Boydston communicates with other employees primarily by phone. She regularly talks to a company recruiter in Plano who recently suggested they get together for lunch.

And Boydston heads a team of employees who also work from their homes. The group will be getting together soon for a team meeting for the first time.

Both the recruiter and her team assume she’s a man.

So Boydston took her first step at work. Before they met, she told the recruiter, “I have to tell you something.”

She said the recruiter was totally accepting and their lunch meeting went fine. She’s hoping for the same acceptance from her team.

Marla Compton, who heads the transgender group GEAR at Resource Center Dallas, works for one of the largest banks. She said that the major banks tend to be transgender-friendly.

“But just because the company is transgender-friendly doesn’t mean the HR person is,” Compton said.

After applying for one job, Compton said the HR person was showing her around the office and introducing her to people she would be working with.

“Then I told her I was transgender and I never heard from her again,” Compton said.

But Compton thinks it’s important to be honest with employers so that everything from insurance to social security is filed correctly.

Dating and relationships

Dating and relationships present even more coming out challenges.

Compton said that while coming out is a personal choice, “I always tell the other person right off the bat.”

She said she has heard stories of people going out. Then the relationship begins to get physical and the other person finds out in the bedroom.

“That can be very dangerous,” Compton said. “I know of a person who kept it from a spouse for years — it was a very nasty situation.”

Spradlin’s advice is to be careful about where to come out. She said that many people meet in bars and come out where people are drinking. That might not be the best setting.

“Do it in a safe place,” she said. “A public setting but not when you’re in a position where you can be attacked.”

Compton asks herself if she feels safe and comfortable with the other person.

“That’s going to have a bearing on my choice,” she said.

But if she’s dating someone, she said she has to reveal her past. The other person will quickly realize something is missing when your past is left as a blank slate.

They’ll ask, “Why don’t you have graduation pictures? Childhood pictures?” Compton said. “If it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we have nothing to hide.”

Her best advice is to use common sense.

“There are men out there who are attracted to women who are pre-op,” Compton said. “So it’s case by case.”

But she described situations when she was in a club and could have gone home with somebody but didn’t.

“I was glad I didn’t,” she said. “Trust your instincts. Sometimes we overlook the warning signs.”

She said she doesn’t date someone — or go home with anyone — she’s not comfortable telling about her gender identity.

“If it’s someone who cares about you, your gender identity won’t matter,” Compton said.

Her experience with coming out to others is that it doesn’t faze some. She’s found others attracted to her more.

“Some admire what we have to go through,” she said.

The best therapy

Blair High, as CEO of a Plano-based corporation, was a bond trader responsible for billion dollar portfolios who had played football in school.

Today, High volunteers on the help line at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday nights, giving information on transgender issues.

“The best therapy for anyone is to be yourself,” she said.

High said that sometimes coming out can be as bad as suppressing. “Some people call [who are] thinking of killing themselves,” she said. “They can’t stand it anymore.”

High recommends they come to a meeting and meet other trans people. She said sometimes they will come and just cry for the first 30 minutes they’re there.

Often, the calls High takes are from men who are married with children. She tells them to come out to their wives. She said that they should tell the spouse that they’re having these feelings and would like to go to some therapy.

High, who has been married for 18 years, said that’s what she did with her wife.

“It was not an easy thing,” she said. “It’s still an issue.”

High said when she told her wife that she was having these feelings and wanted to go to therapy, her wife thought that was great.

“As time went by and things were the same, it wasn’t so great,” she said.

But they remain together.

“We love each other,” she said. “We care about each other.”

Trans woman Pam Curry said she “gave up trying to hide years ago.”

She said she got advice from John Thomas, the first executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, who told her to “Be true to your cause.”

Curry said she stopped worrying about it and stopped trying to be perfect.

Because she’s so open about her gender identity, Compton said she gets lots of questions. She said she’ll answer most but is surprised when she’s asked graphic sexual questions, especially by someone she’s just met.

Those are people she puts at arms length, she said.

“But I’m proud to be a transsexual,” Compton said. “I’ll never hide from it.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: Dallas County adds trans protections

LGBT advocates who attended Tuesday’s Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting gather on the steps of the administration building after the vote.

After listening to more than 30 minutes of public comments in favor of the proposal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 along party lines Tuesday to add transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

About a dozen people from the LGBT community addressed the Commissioners Court prior to the vote, which came five weeks after the court voted unanimously to add sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 workers. Despite rumors over the last few days, no one spoke against the proposal.

Commissioner John Wiley Price provided the third and decisive vote in favor of transgender protections, joining fellow Democrats County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia. Republican Commissioners Maurine Dickey and Mike Cantrell voted against the transgender protections. (Watch video of the court’s discussion below.)

LGBT advocates who attended Tuesday’s meeting erupted in applause after the dramatic vote, and they gathered on the steps of the county administration building for an impromptu celebration moments later.

“The community’s participation is what made this happen — the letters, the phone calls, the people who showed up here,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who coordinated the community’s advocacy on the issue. “The fact that this was done in five weeks is what really surprises me. Five weeks is the blink of an eye in government time.”

—  John Wright

Commissioners to vote on trans protections Tuesday; LGBT community urged to attend

Clay Jenkins

In an unexpected but welcome development for LGBT advocates, the Dallas County Commissioners Court is slated to vote next week on whether to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

Item 23 on the Commissioners Court’s formal agenda for its regular meeting Tuesday is a Court Order that would add “transgender, gender identity and gender expression” to the nondiscrimination policy.

In March, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to add sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy, but left out transgender protections for the county’s 7,000 workers. Since then, LGBT advocates have called on commissioners to go back and make the policy fully inclusive — speaking at the court’s meetings and flooding them with emails and letters.

In response, County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s Office about the impact of adding transgender protections to the policy. Jenkins said Friday afternoon he’s “confident” the amendment will pass on Tuesday.

“I got a verbal back from the DA today that they could sign off that this was not going to be unduly burdensome on the taxpayers or anything, so we’re taking a swing at it,” Jenkins said. “I feel good that it’s the right thing to do and that the majority of the court will support it. “

Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the addition of sexual orientation to the policy, both support adding transgender protections. However, they’ve been struggling to find the third vote needed to get the amendment passed.

—  John Wright

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

DA says commissioners don’t have to operate ‘in a fish bowl’ — even if what they say sounds fishy

County Judge Clay Jenkins says he was not aware that sexual orientation didn’t include transgender people.

A while back we filed a request, under the Texas Public Information Act, seeking any and all records related to the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s decision to add sexual orientation — but not gender identity/expression — to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who spearheaded the amendment, have said they thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, based on advice they received from the county’s Human Resources department. But frankly we’re a little skeptical of this claim. Since Jenkins and Garcia told us this, one critical fact has emerged: They are one vote short of the majority needed to add gender identity/expression to the policy, which leads us to wonder whether that’s why it was left out in the first place.

After all, gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons has said he shared his department’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes transgender employees, with Jenkins prior to the court’s vote to add sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression to the countywide policy. And during Jenkins’ campaign last year, he told us how as a civil rights attorney in private practice, he once represented a transgender person who won a lawsuit against a popular restaurant chain. As the plaintiff’s attorney in that case, wouldn’t Jenkins have become familiar with the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity/expression? And as for Garcia, she was on the Dallas City Council in 2002 when the council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes “gender identity” — albeit under the definition of sexual orientation.

To be sure, this can be a confusing distinction, especially to those who aren’t members of the LGBT community, and even to many who are. So if Jenkins and Garcia truly thought sexual orientation included gender identity/expression, it would be forgivable. What would be less forgivable, in that case, is their failure to consult with stakeholders, and namely people in the LGBT community, prior to voting on the sexual orientation-only amendment.

In light of all this, we filed our records request, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting answers anytime soon, if ever. In a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office dated today, Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Michele Tapia maintains that the county shouldn’t be required to release the records we requested. Tapia argues that the county can legally withhold the records because they “constitute inter- or intra-agency communications that consist of advice, recommendations, and opinions reflecting the policymaking processes of a governmental body” that “would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency.” To download a copy of Tapia’s letter, click here.

“The disclosure of these documents would chill and discourage candid discussion on improvements from staff at all levels. Further, disclosure would serve to dampen open discussion and actions to improve processes and necessary corrective actions or improvement measures,” Tapia writes. “It would be impossible to have any frank discussion of legal or policy matters in writing if all such writings were to be subjected to public scrutiny. … It has been argued, and with merit, that the efficiency of a government agency would be greatly hampered if, with respect to legal and policy matters, all government agencies were forced to operate in a fish bowl.”

Abbott’s office now has 45 days to render a decision on the county’s request about whether it can withhold the records. Of course, in the meantime, this whole thing would probably just go away if the Commissioners Court simply went back and added “gender identity/expression” to the policy.

—  John Wright