Bill White says LGBT vote ‘absolutely critical’

Democratic challenger says he expects ‘a very close election’ as he works to unseat incumbent Perry

John Wright  | Dallas Voice wright@dallasvoice.com

OPPOSITE SIDES  |  Democrat Bill White, above, has courted LGBT votes in his bid for Texas governor, including making appearances at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings (above). Republican Gov. Rick Perry (below) has courted anti-gay conservatives, suggesting that same-sex marriage hurts job growth.
OPPOSITE SIDES | Democrat Bill White, above, has courted LGBT votes in his bid for Texas governor, including making appearances at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings (above). Republican Gov. Rick Perry (below) has courted anti-gay conservatives, suggesting that same-sex marriage hurts job growth.

A strong turnout from LGBT voters is “absolutely critical” to his chances of unseating Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Democrat Bill White told Dallas Voice this week.

In an exclusive interview, White said he expects “a very close election” and that gay voters in Texas shouldn’t stay away from the polls because they may be frustrated with a perceived lack of progress on LGBT issues in Washington.

White declined a request for a phone interview but agreed to answer questions via e-mail.

“It’s absolutely critical. This will be a very close election,” White said when asked about the importance of the gay vote. “I’m proud of my support in the community and so grateful to all the volunteers who have been raising funds, making phone calls, and knocking on doors to spread the word about the choice we have for the future of our state. This is no time to stay home. Whatever is going on nationally, we have major issues facing our state and need a leader to take them on.”

White, the former Houston mayor, is widely considered a strong LGBT ally, and he appeared in Dallas’ gay Pride parade in September.

White had a gay brother who died several years ago and has said he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was championed by Perry.

However, White hasn’t made LGBT issues a major part of his gubernatorial campaign, presumably in part because they might be used by Perry to energize right-wing voters.

Some Democrats seeking statewide office, including Barbara Ann Radnofsky and Hank Gilbert, have published policy statements in support of LGBT equality on their websites.

“Actions speak louder than words, and I have a track record of inclusive leadership,” White said in response to a question about why he hasn’t focused on LGBT issues. “That’s why I’ve received a rare endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign. Rick Perry wants to divide Texans — it’s what we’ve seen from him for decades. He’d rather divide for his personal political purposes than bring people together to get things done. Major corporations in our state, like Shell Oil for example, know that being inclusive makes them more competitive. But Perry recently made some comment saying that Texas’ job growth was somehow tied to the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. What? It just shows you how clueless a professional politician is.”

White was referring to Perry’s comment during a campaign stop in Temple in August, when the incumbent said: “There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas. We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

Dallas Voice also asked White whether, as governor, he would support or sign bullying legislation that provides specific protections for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas public schools.

Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from the Houston suburbs, committed suicide in September after his parents say he was bullied relentlessly at school. Asher’s suicide was one of several across the country in recent months by teens who were gay or perceived to be gay.

“Asher Brown’s suicide is a heartbreaking tragedy,” White responded. “I’ll support policies that prohibit school and workplace discrimination and harassment of any kind, and I’ll work hard to build an atmosphere of respect in Texas.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

While Todd Staples worries about gay divorce, cotton, hay, sweet potatoes, peanuts decline

Todd Staples
Todd Staples

Hank Gilbert, the Democrat who’s challenging Republican incumbent Todd Staples in the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, is publicly questioning Staples’ involvement in a same-sex divorce case in Dallas. In a statement posted on his campaign Web site yesterday, Gilbert said:

“I can’t for the life of me figure out what this has to do with agriculture. The last time I checked, marriage and divorce played absolutely no role whatsoever in the price of cotton, sorghum, or corn. One would think Todd Staples would focus his energies on actually improving agriculture in Texas, but instead, he’s focused on yet again bashing the LGBT community and their families in an effort to shore up his erosion in his right wing base. I’m sick and tired of politicians masking their terrible job performance by using our citizens as a punching bag.”

Gilbert, who’s from Whitehouse, issued a comprehensive policy statement on LGBT issues, called “Equality for All,” when he planned to run for governor. He switched to the agriculture commissioner race after Bill White declared for governor. Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman in the primary. While “Equality for All” stops short of explicitly endorsing same-sex marriage, it comes pretty darn close. It proposes repealing Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and allowing civil unions that give gay and lesbian couples the same privileges and protections as heterosexual couples. Gilbert’s policy statement, which was later adopted by gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami, also proposed legislation banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, insurance and public education.

Staples’ office hasn’t returned phone calls seeking comment about his involvement in the same-sex divorce case. Staples, from Palestine, and State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, filed a brief opposing the divorce with the help of the right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute. Staples’ involvement in the case presumably stems from the fact that he co-sponsored Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage when he served as a state senator.

Yesterday I suggested that right-wing politicians in Texas are showing signs of backing away from gay-bashing, because they’re afraid it may come back to haunt them. I also called for pro-LGBT politicians to go on the offensive. Perhaps Gilbert was listening:

“I’m not sure what benefit Todd Staples will get aligning himself with a right-wing think tank that sued the state of Alaska to stop an investigation into former Governor Sarah Palin’s abuse of power, but one thing is clear: Texas agriculture doesn’t benefit from this at all. While Todd Staples worries about gay marriage, Texas food security is at stake. When Texas produces less crops, that means we have to import them from other states or even other countries. Staples needs to be doing something about shrinking agricultural production and what that means for food safety, not filing briefs in a bunch of lawsuits that don’t involve him or his department. Finally, there’s the basic issue of human decency. It’s time Todd Staples stop bashing LGBT Texans. Todd’s already been a critical player in denying equality to LGBT Texans, why continue to demonize them?”

—  John Wright

Bill White to address Stonewall Dems tonight, when group also votes on 2010 endorsements

Hank Gilbert, who's running for agriculture commissioner, supports full equality for LGBT people, including same-sex marriage.

Hank Gilbert, who’s running for agriculture commissioner, says he supports full equality for LGBT people. Gilbert, who faces Kinky Friedman in the March 2 primary, received a unanimous recommendation from Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ endorsement committee over the weekend.

As we mentioned last week, former Houston mayor Bill White, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, will speak tonight at Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ regular monthly meeting. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Ojeda’s, 4617 Maple Ave.

Also tonight, Stonewall’s general membership will vote on whether to ratify a long list of endorsement recommendations for the March 2 primary. Political Director Omar Narvaez told me yesterday that Stonewall’s endorsement committee screened a total of 92 candidates during about 20 hours of interviews over the weekend at Resource Center Dallas. Narvaez said a full list of endorsement recommendations won’t be availalbe until tonight, but they include White for governor, Ronnie Earle for lieutenant governor and Hank Gilbert for agriculture commissioner. In local races, the committee is recommending that the group get behind Larry Duncan for county judge and Dr. Elba Garcia for District 4 county commissioner, among many others. After the jump, more images from this weekend’s candidate screenings.

—  John Wright