Sacrificial goats must keep fighting

The right wing scapegoats LGBTs, sacrificing our rights on their altar of power. The goats have to keep fighting back if we want equality

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

Land of the free and home of the brave? Maybe not. Just look at all the issues being flogged both in the legislature and in the press. All are to try to stifle the freedom of LGBT people.

• DOMA: The cynically named “Defense of Marriage Act” which has nothing to do with defending marriage and everything to do with denying rights to LGBT couples.

Worse, even though the president said it is unconstitutional, the GOP, lead by House Speaker John Boehner, wants to spend $500,000 of our dollars to defend a bill the Department of Justice sees as indefensible.

• Special Rights for Gays: This is a catch phrase being used again and again by the right wing to somehow try to justify discrimination in just about any way possible.

For example in many states if you are a landlord, you are not allowed to deny someone the right to rent an apartment — but only if they are listed as a protected class. That’s how the law works in this screwy society.

So, if I am a member of a racial minority, a woman or disabled, I can seek legal recourse against the landlord. Because LGBT people are not included in that list in most states, we have no recourse.

In the eyes of the right wing, granting us the same rights as any other minority is “special rights.” Worse still is the fact that we are denied rights in our relationships that other Americans get simply because they are straight.

• Hate Crimes: The right fights tooth and nail to keep LGBT people from being included in hate crimes legislation wherever it is proposed. Just as bad, some have even tried to dissect us and include gays and lesbians while leaving transgender folks out.

To add LGBT people to the list of victims of hate crimes apparently denies the far right their freedom to hate whoever they want.

• Ex-Gay Therapy: This discredited practice still gets funding and support from fundamentalist churches and right-wing organizations that are actively working to “cure” gays and lesbians. Our lives have been compared to the problem with “second-hand smoke” and devalued by rhetoric from the right.

They spread the lie that our sexual orientation is a choice, and therefore something we can change at will.

This list could go on and on, but the point is that for some reason the conservatives are spending huge piles of cash to actively deny us the rights and privileges they enjoy. Why do they spend so much of their time and energy working to take away rights from us?

Politically, it is an easy talking point. The right has found that anti-LGBT rhetoric can whip a crowd into a frenzy faster than talking about real issues. In the world of media image, nothing is as valued by the right as a cheering crowd and a sound bite on TV or radio.

Economically, LGBT issues can make a quick buck for the right wing. Whether it is raising funds to “defeat the gay agenda” or funds to “rescue the poor sinners from the gay lifestyle,” donations flow when the anti-LGBT rhetoric rings out.

And psychologically, it’s an easy hot button. The whole existence of LGBT people makes many heterosexuals nervous. I am not a psychologist, but I would lay odds that for many there are insecurities around their own sexual orientation that drives this.

The mere fact that the “gay panic” defense works in the judicial system as an excuse for assault and murder points to this as an underlying problem.

But I suspect the real reason the right has seized on LGBT rights as their favorite topic is more troubling: It’s what I call the “bogie man” factor.

Fear is a very good motivator. Just look at how we Americans cheerfully gave up our privacy rights after 9/11. We were afraid and we were told giving up our privacy would get us security.

The results are still very much open for debate.

Meanwhile politicians, pundits and clergy have found their available list of “bogie men” dwindling. Back in the 1950s, communists were the enemy and the cause of every ill under the sun. In the ’60s “hippies” were looked on as the root cause of problems.

In the last decade, “terrorists” became the main thing to fear, though it was a thinly disguised version of xenophobia and racism.

Now, one of the only things to fear is us, the LGBTS. We have become the bogie man for the current crop of fear mongers. We are being pointed to as the root of many of societies ills — and that is scapegoating, plain and simple.

Scapegoats are an easy way to explain complex problems, and in a world of 20-second sound bites, they are all too tempting for politicians, pundits and clergy to ignore.

Well, it’s time we goats stopped behaving like sheep and started butting our heads up against the people who would deny us our rights. If we do not continue to push back, we will continue to have our rights sacrificed on the alter of politics. And this goat is not ready for that.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Boehner defends House hearing on ‘defending marriage’; civil unions in Delaware

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A U.S. House subcommittee is holding a hearing this morning on “defending marriage.” Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday defended the hearing as a “legitimate” use of government resources. Those scheduled to testify include anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage.

2. The Delaware House on Thursday voted 26-15 to approve a measure that would legalize civil unions. The bill, which already cleared the Senate, now goes to Gov. Jack Markell, who has said he will sign it. Delaware would be the eighth state to allow civil unions or domestic partnerships.

3. Today is the Day of Silence.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Maryland marriage bill dead for the year

An Associated Press article posted online by The Washington Post is saying that the decision in the Maryland House of Delegates today send to send the Civil Marriage Protection Act back to the House Judiciary Committee has effectively killed the legislation for this year.

According to the article, supporters chose to send the bill back to committee rather than take a final vote because they did not believe they had the 71 votes necessary to pass the measure. House Speaker Michael Busch said supporters will try again next year.

Marriage equality opponents, of course, claimed the outcome as a victory.

—  admin

Texas House committees and pro-LGBT bills

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Legislative Queery

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has finally announced the committee assignments for the 82nd Texas House. As I predicted last month the partisan breakdown of the committee chairs roughly reflects the distribution of party control in the House with 11 Democratic chairs and 25 Republicans (not including the four select and joint committee chairs, all Republicans).

House committees that queer Texans will want to watch very carefully:

Public Education — Will get the anti-bullying bills. Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, scheduled the hearing for HB 1323 (last session’s anti-bullying bill) very late last session, but he did schedule a hearing and the committee eventually voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the whole House. Unfortunately, time ran out last session (more info on HB 1323 is here). Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, whose HB 224 is expected to be the water bearer for anti-bullying bills, is on the committee this session.

Public Health – Will get HB 405, which would allow same-sex parents to get accurate birth certificates for their children. Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Austin, was visibly moved by testimony last session on this bill. Let’s hope that causes her to schedule it for an early hearing.

Criminal Jurisprudence – Will get HB 604, the repeal of Texas’s unconstitutional sodomy law and HB 172, the study of the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Act. Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has a solid record of voting in the best interest of queer Texans, but repealing the unconstitutional sodomy law, however common-sense, is going to be a hard sell. Plus, with virulent homophobes Wayne Christian, Bill Zedler and Will Hartnett on the committee, it seems unlikely that common sense will beat out bigotry. The Hate Crimes study has a better chance. It made it out of committee last session, but it’s hard to predict what will happen this session.

Insurance – Will get HB 208 prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, hasn’t let this bill through in past sessions, and I’d be shocked if he lets it through this session. Smithee takes every chance he can get to hurt queer Texans. He’s not likely to pass this chance up, either.

State Affairs – Will get HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This bill, or a version of it, has been filed every session for over a decade, and it never gets a hearing. While new Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is an immense improvement over old Chairman Burt Solomons, it’s unlikely that this bill will go anywhere.

Now that we have committees, bills are going to start moving left and right. The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature is finally getting going!

—  admin

Oklahoma lawmakers spar over how conservative to be

After sweeping into power in November’s election, state’s ultra-conservative Republicans take aim at moderate House leader

Sean Murphy  |  editor@dallasvoice.com

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Republicans in control of the Oklahoma House opened two days of meetings to set their 2011 agenda this week, their incoming leader was taking shots from the chamber’s ultra-conservative wing because he has put the state’s struggling economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues.

KrisSteele
Oklahoma State Rep. Kris Steele

Members of the House GOP meet Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6-7. in Bartlesville, and Kris Steele, who will be formally elected as House Speaker next month, believes the Legislature next year should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

More-conservative Republicans want legislators to tighten access to abortion, relax regulations on firearms and attempt to restrict immigration.

“There’s going to be some fireworks within the caucus,” said state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who acknowledged some of his GOP colleagues have privately questioned whether Steele is too liberal to lead the House.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

Steele, a soft-spoken minister from Shawnee, said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February.

This week’s meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by Oklahomans wanting action on social issues. But moderate House Republicans fear an inordinate amount of attention on social issues will create a House divided and divert attention from the budget and a struggling Oklahoma economy.

“I’m seeing people every day who are concerned because they don’t have a job or health insurance,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician in far northeast Oklahoma. “They could care less about right-to-carry [firearms]), abortion, gays. They’re worried about their health care and putting food on the table.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, agrees.

“I would ask my ultra-conservative friends — do they understand that we are in the bottom of median family income, that we lead the nation in incarceration of female prisoners, that some of our nonviolent, criminal statutes are some of the most oppressive in the nation?” he asked. “We have serious issues in the state that are challenging us, especially when the budget situation is as bleak as it’s been in the history of this state.”

For his part, Steele says he’s never wavered on his commitment to expanding gun rights, restricting abortion or targeting illegal immigration. He said he supports a measure to allow for open carrying of firearms that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed last year, and that he will not thwart legislative attempts to further restrict abortion or address illegal immigration.

“Just because I’d like to pursue initiatives to create a business-friendly environment in Oklahoma and give us the opportunity to foster job creation and job opportunities for Oklahomans does not mean I’m any less committed to my stance on pro-life issues or Second Amendment rights or states’ rights or any of those things,” Steele said. “I think we can take a balanced approach and pursue an agenda that ultimately accommodates both arenas.”

Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she agrees with Steele that the state’s budget and fostering a good business environment should be the top priority for lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol in February.

“We’ve got to focus on getting Oklahoma’s economy back on track, creating the very best business climate possible,” Fallin said. “We’ll certainly consider the other ideas that the Legislature has, and that’s not to take away from their ideas, but just says these are the important priorities I believe will get Oklahoma back on track.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas