LEGE UPDATE: State ENDA pending; another pro-LGBT bill advances

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Two state House bills that would end anti-LGBT job discrimination were left pending in committee Wednesday, but Equality Texas is hopeful the measures will make it out of committee by next week.

Testimonies were given in favor HB 238 by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and HB 1146 by Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

Daniel Williams, Equality Texas field organizer, said he was confident the bills would make it out of the committee by next week, as it is common for committees vote on a bill a week after its hearing. The Senate version is still pending in committee.

Williams urged advocates to contact members of the House committee and ask them to advance the bill. Members are: Chairman John Davis, R-Houston, Vice Chairman Hubert Vo, D-Houston, Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, Jason Isaac, R-Drippings Springs, Jim Murphy, R-Houston, Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Paul Workman, R-Austin.

Earlier this week, LGBT state Rep. Mary Gonzalez’s HB 2403, which would protect same-sex minors in intimate relationships under the “Romeo and Juliet” defense, was voted out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version was voted out of committee earlier this month.

Anti-gay HB 1568 also passed out of committee earlier this week. The bill by Republican Drew Springer of Muenster originally aimed to cut state funding for school districts that offered domestic partner benefits and was withdrawn from consideration by the committee last week.

But Williams said a committee substitute bill was passed. The substitute would allow the Texas attorney general to defund and decertify school districts that offer domestic partner benefits without an appeals process. Williams said the substitute bill is “much worse than the first one.”

“As the bill progresses through the system we’ll have a better understanding of how to kill it,” he said, adding that people should contact their lawmakers now to tell them they oppose the bill.

Two pro-equality bills have hearings scheduled for Monday, April 29. HB 201, which would allow same-sex parents to sign an adopted child’s supplementary birth certificate, will be heard by the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

And HB 1701, which would remove the state’s “homosexual conduct” law found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 from the Texas Penal Code, will have a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version has already passed out of committee.

Equality Texas is trying to get HB 1696 a hearing before the deadline on May 6.

“We’re very much on a deadline,” Williams said.

The bill authored by Democrat Jessica Farrar of Houston would remove language form public school curriculum that condemns homosexuality.

He’s urging advocates to contact House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, at 512-463-0684 and tell him to give HB 1696 a hearing.

—  Dallasvoice

WATCH: Why is Texas’ ‘homosexual conduct’ law still on the books?

I went on WFAA-TV’s Inside Texas Politics this week to talk about Texas’ “homosexual conduct” law, which remains on the books despite being declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court 10 years ago. Watch my commentary at the 8:30 mark in the video below.

—  John Wright

Forgotten heroes?

A look at the history of Lawrence v. Texas shows why the two men who fought the sodomy law, both now deceased, deserve our respect

Lawrence198

HERO | John Lawrence was an unlikely activist, prompted to action after being arrested.

Former Houston residents John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, both now deceased, couldn’t possibly have realized 13 years ago that one of the most mortifying events of their lives would wind up changing the course of history for an entire society of people.

The two gay men, who arguably were the unlikeliest pair of gay advocates to ever play high-profile roles in the U.S. LGBT rights movement, turned out to be the catalysts for striking down centuries of oppressive American law and establishing same-sex relations as a basic civil right. Prior to the filing of a landmark LGBT rights lawsuit on their behalf, the men had no involvement with gay rights organizations.

In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 1973 Texas Homosexual Conduct Law in its review of Lawrence v. Texas, effectively striking down the 14 remaining state sodomy laws that prohibited sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. In doing so the high court reversed its 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which had upheld Georgia’s sodomy law.

In rendering the decision the justices wrote that gay men and lesbians were entitled to privacy, and that states had no right to restrict their personal sexual lives, a startling contrast from the ruling in the Georgia lawsuit that maintained there was no fundamental right to homosexual relations.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, a dissenting voice in the court’s 6-3 vote, acknowledged that the Lawrence decision by the high court supported a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

It was a remarkable turn of events sparked by unremarkable men who apparently had never entertained any ideas of gay activism prior to their arrest in Lawrence’s Houston-area apartment in 1998 when a sheriff’s deputy entered the apartment to investigate a false crime report.

The deputy claimed he saw the pair engaged in a sex act rather than the disturbance that was reported, and he arrested them on deviant sex charges.

Despite the horror of being humiliated, arrested, taken out of the apartment virtually undressed and then jailed, the case had a relatively quick initial disposition. Lawrence and Garner paid fines of $125 and court costs of $141.25 for the Class C misdemeanors while pleading no contest.

Robert R. Eubanks — the also now-deceased boyfriend of Lawrence who had, in a fit of jealously, called 911 with the false crime report — spent two weeks in jail as punishment for his part in the fiasco.

It was there the story could have taken a much different turn than it did. But Lawrence and Garner ultimately decided on a course of action that the law enforcement authorities who arrested them probably never dreamed might occur.

The two gay men resisted oppression by following the advice of Lambda Legal attorneys who wanted to wage a legal battle against the antiquated, discriminatory law, which was rarely enforced.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

At that point Lawrence and Garner became to the LGBT community what Rosa Parks represented to the nation’s African-American community in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala., when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her civil disobedience against the city regulation sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and it became a major symbolic force in propelling the civil rights movement forward.

The success of the Lawrence case had a similar impact on the nation’s LGBT community, and the gains have been monumental during the past eight years.

Although Parks was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as secretary at the time, she was just a seamstress in a local department store. She lost her job over the incident and eventually moved to Detroit to find similar work.

It would be years later before Parks was honored for her bravery and became known as the “first lady of the civil rights movement” and the “mother of the freedom movement.” Parks lived another 50 years and received many honors during that time.

The parallel between Lawrence, a white man, and Garner, a black man, and Parks is their socio-economic status and ordinariness at the times they made decisions that would have such far-reaching effects upon their communities.

Lawrence, who was 68 when he died on Nov. 20, 2011, was a medical technologist until his retirement in 2009. His death from a heart condition apparently went unnoticed for at least a month by the media, legal advocates and the LGBT community — until his Houston lawyer, Mitchell Katine, reportedly tried to invite him to a commemorative event for the court ruling.

Garner was 39 when he died Sept. 11, 2006 of meningitis. He had been unemployed at the time of his historic arrest in 1998. But he had worked at a number of different types of jobs, and he had a criminal record that included two convictions for assault in 1995 and 2000.

Both Lawrence and Garner were “quiet, passive” men who preferred to avoid public scrutiny, according to Katine. Lawrence reportedly was intimidated because he was still closeted to so many, but his outrage over being taken to jail in his underwear motivated him to push forward as one of the faces of the legal challenge.

The pair, who had been occasional sex partners but never lovers, lived out their lives separately. Lawrence lived with a partner at the time of his death, and Garner was being cared for by his brother when he died.

Eubanks, who introduced Lawrence and Garner to each other and put everything in motion by making the false 911 call, was beaten to death in 2000. The case was never solved.

It probably was more by design on the part of Lawrence and Garner that their contributions to the LGBT rights movement have largely gone uncelebrated during the past eight years, but it might be a good time to pay them more respect.

After all, they could have easily just paid the fines and walked back into the obscurity of their lives rather than stepping into the glare of public scrutiny and the pages of history. If that had happened, we might still be where we were when they were first arrested.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has reported on LGBT issues for three decades. Contact him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  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

Rep. Farrar: GOP’s ‘silence is deafening’ on removing ‘homosexual conduct’ law from books

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Mother Jones magazine has an excellent piece up today about efforts to remove Texas’ unconstitutional “homosexual conduct” law from the books.

Unlike other recent stories about the issue, the Mother Jones article notes that the Texas GOP platform opposes the legalization of sodomy. The story also points out that Republican Gov. Rick Perry voiced support for the “homosexual conduct” law in 2002 — “I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books,” he said — and again in his new book Fed Up.

If you’ll remember, GOP State Rep. Wayne Christian recently told an Austin newspaper that the Legislature simply doesn’t have time to deal with the issue this session. But the Mother Jones story notes that when it comes to removing other unconstitutional laws from the books, that hasn’t been a issue:

“Texas has actually done a pretty good job revising its laws and cleaning stuff up,” explains Charles Spain, a Houston municipal court judge and former chairman of the LGBT law section for the State Bar of Texas. In 2009, the legislature passed an omnibus bill formally repealing more than three-dozen bills that had been ruled unconstitutional by the courts. But the homosexuality statute was pointedly not included in that package.

As good as all this stuff is, the best part of the MJ article is the below quote from State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the author of one of the bills to remove the “homosexual conduct” law from the books. Farrar acknowledges that even though the bills have had committee hearings, they’re unlikely to go any further because of the GOP supermajority in the House.

“Their silence is deafening,” Farrar says of House Republicans. “It’s killing us. It’s just as bad as if they were vocal.”

—  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

What’s Brewing: Bexar County Democrats vote to put anti-gay Chairman Dan Ramos on trial

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

Dan Ramos

1. A group of Bexar County Democrats voted Tuesday night to put party Chairman Dan Ramos on trial for rules violations, according to the San Antonio Express-News. But Ramos, who recently compared gay Democrats to “termites” and “the fuckin’ Nazi Party,” remained defiant and says he’s seeking a restraining order against the group to prevent it from conducting business. The group voted 72-1 to proceed with a trial to remove Ramos under Roberts Rules of Order. Across town, where a much smaller group of Ramos’ supporters met, gay-rights protesters gathered outside. One Ramos supporter was so upset by the protesters that she was placed in handcuffs after the manager of the restaurant where they met called police.

2. Speaking of crazies, a while back whacko preacher Cindy Jacob of Red Oak, Texas, claimed that the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” was causing bird deaths in Arkansas. On Tuesday, Jacob followed up by declaring that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as well as the situation in the Middle East, can all be attributed to DADT repeal and our decision to disrupt the laws of God. “Everything that I said has happened,” Jacobs says in the video above.

3. During a committee hearing Tuesday on a bill that would remove Texas’ unconstitutional “homosexual conduct” law from the books, a Republican lawmaker objected to a provision that would amend a portion of the Health and Safety Code that says homosexual conduct is not an “acceptable lifestyle.” “I can understand removing the language that it’s a criminal offense, but is this not going a step too far?” asked Rep. Jose Aliveda of Beeville. We’ll have more on the committee hearing shortly.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: LGBT advocates to address commissioners; hearings on 4 pro-equality bills

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Several members of the LGBT communiity are expected to call on the Dallas County Commissioners Court to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy during public comments at the court’s regular meeting this morning. The Commissioners Court added sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy two weeks ago. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St. Watch for coverage later today on Instant Tea.

2. Four pro-equality bills are scheduled for hearings in Texas House committees today. HB 604 and HB 2156 are identical measures to repeal the state’s “homosexual conduct” law. HB 2227 would add gender identity and expression to Texas’ hate crimes law, and HB 1909 would remove discriminatory provisions from the state’s age of consent (Romeo and Juliet) laws. Representatives from Equality Texas will testify in favor of all four bills. For more, visit Equality Texas’ Legislative Information Center. You can also watch the proceedings live on the Legislature’s website.

3. Local activist Mark Reed-Walkup, who filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish his same-sex wedding announcement, provided this update about the case on Facebook on Monday: “We received a registered letter today from the Fair Housing Office of the City of Dallas. Our discrimination case against the Dallas Morning News is now officially under review which means they believe our complaint has merit and they will be setting up interviews with us soon.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Texas clings to ‘homosexual conduct’ law as gay marriage goes mainstream

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Mainstream media outlets around Texas finally noticed this weekend that eight years after it was declared unconstitutional, Texas’ “homosexual conduct” law is still on the books. And guess what, it’s going to remain on the books: “In this particular session, I’d be hesitant to do any changing,” said Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, adding that the law probably “better reflects the views of a lot of citizens” as it is. Read our previous post here.

2. In El Paso, where police recently threatened to enforce the homosexual conduct law, conservatives are fed up with the city’s progressive tilt: What some might call the council’s “progressive” agenda, Pastor Tom Brown calls “radical leftist.” Brown is part of a group that recruited a slate of four candidates — including his wife, Sonia Brown — to run for the City Council. The immediate cause of the group’s creation was its opposition to health benefits for the gay and unmarried partners of city employees. But Brown said it also is concerned with what he sees as government “intrusion.” “We’re getting into where government is conducting our private lives,” Brown said.

3. Meanwhile, in other parts of the U.S., same-sex marriage is no longer such a divisive political issue, according to The Boston Globe. And even one Southern Baptist leader says it’s time to prepare for defeat: “I think it’s clear that something like same-sex marriage is going to become normalized, legalized, and recognized in the culture,’’ said evangelical leader Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in radio remarks after Obama announced he would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. “It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that.’’

—  John Wright