Join the discussion, join the battle to end discrimination

Marriage equality efforts are getting the lion’s share of the headlines these days: Texans wait on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on marriage equality in The Lone Star State (and Louisiana and Mississippi), and the nation waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the question once and for all.

But as the LGBT community makes great strides toward marriage equality, hundreds of thousands of LGBT people in the U.S. daily face the very real threat of discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and more.

Today (Monday, Jan. 26), LGBT equality groups nationwide began holding public awareness events, including launching an online discussion using #discriminationexists, to shine a light on the fact that so many hardworking people still do not have basic legal protections from discrimination.

(You can follow the discussion at DiscriminationExists.org.)

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Here in North Texas, and across the state, community leaders took the chance today to speak out against discrimination, issuing a call to action to LGBTs and their supporters in all areas and in all walks of life to join the fight for real equality,

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas: “The Texas I believe in is a land of opportunity and freedom, where people who work hard and meet their responsibilities have a chance to get ahead. Clear protections from discrimination would help ensure that all Texans, including those who are gay or transgender, have a fair opportunity to earn a living, meet their obligations, provide for themselves and their families and build a better life. Changing the law won’t end all unfair treatment overnight. But it provides one more tool to ensure that all Texans are treated fairly and equally.”

Cece Cox, chief executive officer at Resource Center: “Discrimination exists against LGBTQ people at many levels. We have no statewide protections in areas like employment and public accommodations, and even in those few cities where protections exist, some state lawmakers want to see those protections removed. Texans overwhelmingly support fairness and equal opportunity for all people.”

Lou Weaver, trans outreach specialist for Texas Wins: “We have been talking about same-sex marriage for a long time in the U.S. We need to also think about basic rights for everyone: ‘Can I get a job? Can I find a place to live?’ Transgender people are still facing discrimination at high rates, and we need to take an honest look at our policies. We need access to basic fairness and equality in order to survive. That is what this is about, living our lives and having access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”

The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School: “Faith leaders of every background believe that everyone is created with God-given dignity. Our faith calls upon us to speak out for everyone’s dignity and security in the work they do, and for full access to housing. No one in our country should live in fear of losing their job or being denied fair housing just because of who they are.”

Todd Whitley, board chair for Hope for Peace & Justice: “It is hard to imagine any person being able to enjoy a sense of peace on their job or entering a public accommodation if that person has no assurance they won’t legally be discriminated against because of who they are. Sadly, this is exactly the reality for gay and transgender people in our state, -a grave injustice that must be resolved so that we can all enjoy the same opportunities without fear of legalized discrimination.”

A recent poll found that 9 of out 10 voters think that a federal law is already in place protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Unfortunate, that is not true. There is no federal nondiscrimination law, and here in Texas, there is no state law either. We remain vulnerable in so many areas.

But Equality Texas officials say their organization is working to change that, partnering with business leaders, faith leaders and community members to put the necessary protections in place.

Toward that end, Equality Texas is holding three advocacy days, beginning Feb. 17 with Faith Advocacy Day in Austin. More than 225 faith leaders and members of clergy and 65 first responders in Texas have signed on to publicly demonstrate their support for nondiscrimination already.

Visit EqualityTexas.org to find out what you can do to help.

—  Tammye Nash

Hundreds march in support of Dallas equality resolution (photos, video)

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GetEQUAL TX and Hope for Peace and Justice rallied at City Hall on Saturday to demand an equality resolution be placed on the Dallas City Council’s agenda. Love is Stronger was the theme for the protest.

More than 100 people gathered at 6 p.m. on City Hall Plaza. Several people, including straight allies, spoke before the group marched across Downtown to Razzle Dazzle Dallas, which took place at Main Street Garden and opened at 7 p.m.

Before leaving City Hall Plaza, GetEQUAL TX regional coordinator Daniel Cates drew a line with chalk on the ground and compared it to William Travis drawing a line in the sand at the Alamo.

Cates said Mayor Mike Rawlings had gone too far in calling the equality resolution a waste of time and asked everyone to cross the line with him.

The march headed from City Hall west to Griffin Street, then north to Main Street, before traveling the final four blocks to Main Street Garden.

Along the route, people in cars honked and waved. People in restaurants ran out to take pictures and some along the route joined the march.

No protesters or detractors made themselves known along the route. One group of 10 street preachers reading from the Bible on Main at Akard Street stood silently as the procession passed.

Inside the park, the rally continued on the main stage. Several speakers, including Midway Hills Christian Church Senior minister the Rev. Arthur Stewart and Congregation Beth El Binah Rabbi Steve Fisch, addressed the crowd.

More photos and video below.

—  David Taffet

Amnesty International holds candlelight vigil in Arlington for Matthew Shepard

A candlelight vigil will be held outside of Theatre Arlington from 10:20 to 11 p.m. on Friday evening, June 1 after the 8 p.m. performance of the play, The Laramie Project.

The play chronicles the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was killed because he was gay. The purpose of the vigil is to remember Shepard and others like him who are bullied or killed because they are different or perceived to be different, and to shed some light on how we can be more pro-active in a way that makes incidents like Matthew’s death much less likely.

The vigil is being spearheaded by the leader of Tarrant County’s Amnesty International group, Ellen Kaner. Other speakers include Rev. David Howard (Minister of the Unity Church of Arlington), Len Ellis (Board Member of the Dallas Peace Center), Mary Jo Kaska (Director of Programming for Hope for Peace and Justice) and Rev. Rachel Ciupek-Reed, Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Bedford. Anyone is welcome to attend the vigil, whether attending the play that evening or not.

Theatre Arlington is at 305 W. Main St. in Arlington just east of the intersection with West Street.

Tickets for the play are available on Theatre Arlington’s website. There are also performances Saturday, June 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 3 at 2 p.m.

—  David Taffet

Mary Jo Kaska joins Hope 4 Peace and Justice

Mary Jo Kaska

Mary Jo Kaska is the new director of programming for Hope 4 Peace and Justice. Kaska is described as a passionate advocate with impressive credentials in ministry, social justice, intercultural travel and education.

Kaska expects to complete her doctorate in biblical interpretation at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in December. She holds a master’s in religious education from Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans, and a bachelor’s in religious studies from Loyola University of New Orleans, where she graduated summa cum laude.

Kaska has been honored with the Nokia Research Award from the Texas Christian University Institute on Women and Gender in 2007, and recognized as the Nolan Catholic High School Teacher of the Year in 1993-94.

The Rev. Michael Piazza, who moved to Atlanta earlier this year, remains president of H4PJ, the organization that was created by Cathedral of Hope in 2004. Kaska will be the local program director. Before he left, Piazza said he expected the organization’s events to continue to be Dallas-based.

“Hope for Peace & Justice was founded to be a prophetic voice for inclusion, justice, and peace, so it is fitting to have a Hebrew scholar who is familiar with the tradition of the ancient prophets as its new program director,” Piazza said in a press release.

—  David Taffet