Tennessee lawmakers approve bill allowing counselors to deny services to LGBT patients

Gov. Bill Haslam

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III has warned lawmakers in his state that they risk losing billions of dollars in federal funding if they move ahead with legislation restricting transgender students ‘ access to appropriate bathroom facilities. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has already warned that the state could lose about $3 billion in federal dollars over the proposed legislation.

But while everybody’s attention was focused on the possibility of an anti-trans bathroom bill, lawmakers went ahead and passed legislation allowing counselors and therapists to deny services to LGBT people based on the mental health professionals’ “sincerely-held principals,” according to the Times Free Press.

State Sen. Jack Johnson, who sponsored this piece of shit bill, said it would be the same as allowing a lawyer to refuse to write a will for a client charged with first-degree murder.

The American Counseling Association as well as a large number of individual counselors and therapists have come out strongly against Jackson’s bill, saying that allowing their own personal beliefs to interfere with helping a patient in need goes against everything they are trained to do.

And by the way, Tennessee lawmakers also recently approved a bill designating the Holy Bible as the official book of their state. That legislation is also awaiting action by Gov. Haslam.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Bell’s HB 4105 resurrected as an amendment, to be voted on as soon as tomorrow

Bell-Cecil

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

Texas state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, intends to attach an amendment similar to his previous bill barring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples to a bill protecting clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages during a House floor vote on Thursday, May 21.

Bell filed HB 4105, also known as “The Preservation and Sovereignty of Marriage Act,”  ahead of an anticipated summer Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality. It would have withheld pay from county clerks issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. After its defeat last week, Bell told reporters he wasn’t giving up on it.

Though an amendment must be considered germane to a bill, Equality Texas reports that Bell intends to attach HB 4105 to SB 2065, which passed the Senate last week on a 21-10 vote with all Republicans and one Democrat voting for it.

While HB 4105 died before it could get a vote, it garnered  support from the majority of the House HOP caucus.

During the debate over SB 2065, the ACLU, Equality Texas and Texas Freedom Network advocated for language that a clergy member may only refuse to officiate marriages that violate their conscience “in that official capacity.” Despite their efforts Estes refused in both the State Affairs Committee hearing and on the Senate floor to add the language.

Without the four words, opponents argued, faith leaders may be able to refuse to perform same-sex marriage if they serve in a secular capacity, such as justice of the peace or county clerk.

Proponents, including numerous conservative faith leaders, argued the bill was necessary to protect their right to deny performing a same-sex marriage.

—  James Russell

Bill would bar reparative therapy for Texas youth; garners national praise

Celia-Israel

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin.

Bill filing season has ended in the Texas Legislature, and the sausage making has begun. The March 13 issue of Dallas Voice includes a list of bills that had been filed as of 5 p.m. Thursday, March 12.

Friday, March 13, was the last day for your favorite cattle callers to crack their whips. And a few of ‘em filed some doozies; some good, most predictably bad.

Among the good bills is HB 3495 filed by Rep. Celia Israel, an out lesbian and Democratic lawmaker from Austin, that would ban the harmful and discredited practice of reparative therapy on minors.

Similar bills have gained steam in other states and already California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. have  enacted laws protecting LGBT youth from the discredited practice.

Numerous national groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and National Center for Lesbian Rights, lauded the move in a statement.

“No child should be subjected to this extremely harmful and discredited so-called therapy,” said Human Rights Campaign National Field Director Marty Rouse. “These harmful practices are based on the false claim that being LGBT is a mental illness that should be cured, using fear and shame to tell young people that the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of who they are. Psychological abuse has no place in therapy, no matter the intention.”

“We commend Representative Israel on making the lives of LGBT children a priority, as well all the local organizers who have worked tirelessly to get this bill introduced and ensure all Texans have the opportunity to grow up in a safe community where they are loved for exactly who they are,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Staff Attorney and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Samantha Ames.

Legislative observers expressed concern a bill condoning the practice would be filed at the last minute after the June 2014 Texas Republican Party convention voted to include a plank, submitted by Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams of Dallas, embracing conversion therapy.

Then-Texas Republican Party chair Steve Munisteri told Texas Public Radio he disagreed with the language. “And I just make the point for anybody that thinks that may be the possibility: Do they think they can take a straight person to a psychiatrist and turn them gay?”

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Bill reaffirms same-sex marriage ban, would only allow state to issue marriage licenses

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Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

A bill filed today by a freshman West Texas Republican legislator would only allow the Texas Secretary of State to issue marriage licenses to opposite sex couples.

SB 673, known as The Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, centralizes the process of obtaining marriage licenses to a single Texas entity, the Secretary of State, according to a statement released by the legislator’s office.

“This will ensure uniformity and prevent noncompliant individuals within a county from issuing marriage licenses that do not conform to state law,” he said, citing a Travis County judge’s decision yesterday, Thursday, Feb 19, allowing the county officials to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant.

In his statement Perry also cited the need to restrict marriages to a man and a woman per Texas law.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature banned recognition of same-sex marriage. Voters in 2005 voted to enshrine marriage discrimination in the state constitution.

“Almost a decade ago the definition of marriage was democratically defined by a super-majority of Texans,” said Sen. Perry. “Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution. SB 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

A companion bill, HB 1745, was filed in the House by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

—  James Russell

Taffet on the Road from Austin: Day 1 of the 84th Legislature

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Pete Schulte

Dallas Voice’s intrepid reporter David Taffet is on the road today, traveling aboard a bus with friends, family and supporters of state Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrats serving District 100. They are all in Austin for the first day of the 84th Legislature and the inauguration of new and returning lawmakers and state officials.

Mechanical problems with the bus before the group ever left Dallas put them a bit behind schedule, but they got there just in time for the swearing-in.

Schulte to run for sheriff

Also on that bus is Dallas attorney Pete Schulte who, David reports, has just announced that he will be running for Dallas County sheriff in 2016, as long as incumbent Sheriff Lupe Valdez retires, as she has said she will do.

Taffet says that the Texas Capitol is packed today, with lines of people waiting to get in at all four main entrances. And according to reports in the Houston Chronicle that most reporters are being turned away, David may be one of the few reporters inside for the swearing-in ceremonies.

Secretary of State speaks

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, acted as emcee of the opening day ceremonies. Berry, from India, is married to a native Texan and their two sons were born in Ethiopia., She spoke about the diversity of the 150 representatives elected by their constituents to be their voice in Austin, mentioning every part of the state — but Dallas.

Villareal declines oath

Temporary House officers were then appointed, after which state senators were sworn in and the House took roll call by district number. Rep. Mike Villareal, from District 123, declined the oath of office to run for mayor of San Antonio, but the rest of the House members took their oaths of office.

Here are a few photos from Johnson’s group, watching the opening day ceremonies from a committee room below the floor of the House.

photo2web photo3.web photoweb

—  Tammye Nash

5 GetEQUAL TX activists arrested in ENDA protest at Texas Capitol

Kirven

Cd Kirven

Cd Kirven of Dallas was among five GetEQUAL members arrested at the Texas Capitol this morning, according to KEYE, the CBS affiliate in Austin.

The five held a sit-in at the offices Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville and Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury and refused to leave. The protest was in support of SB 237, statewide employment nondiscrimination legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to categories protected under the law.

According to GetEQUAL state organizer Michael Diviesti, after the bill was heard in the Economic Development Committee in April, the group threatened action if it was not moved to the Senate floor by May 1.

“This is a follow-up to that promise,” he said.

According to Diviesti, the other four arrested were Coby Ozias from Corpus Christi, Tiffani Bishop from Austin and two women from San Antonio whose names he could not confirm. He said Ozias, who is trans, would have a different name on the court docket.

They are awaiting a bail hearing.

“If all five got the maximum, we’re about $450 short,” he said.

Kirven was arrested for a similar protest in Washington D.C. when she participated in a similar demonstration in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Watch video from the protest below.

—  David Taffet

Openly bi Arizona legislator Kyrsten Sinema announces bid for Congress

One night just about four years ago, I was in the Rose Room at Station 4, waiting to participate in what was then an unprecedented event in Dallas — a debate of sorts between official representatives from the campaigns of then-senators and Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

While I was standing around waiting for organizers to tell me it was time to start, a vivacious young woman with short blond hair walked up and introduced herself to me as Kyrsten. It was kind of loud in the Rose Room then and so I couldn’t clearly hear what she was telling me. I did hear her say that she was from Arizona, and that she was backing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. I thought she was an Obama campaign staffer.

Before long, though, I found out that Kyrsten was actually Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, that state’s first legislator who was an out and proud member of the LGBT community.

I was impressed with the young woman’s personality and her passion. So since then, I have kind of kept up with Sinema through news stories about her on the Internet. I read with interest the news reports two years ago with Sinema was elected to the Arizona State Senate. I was actually quite pleased today when I read that Sinema has announced she is resigning from the state Senate to run from Congress representing Arizona’s newly drafted 9th District.

Don’t take that as an endorsement of Sinema’s campaign for Congress. I just mean that I believe our community has a better chance of making progress toward full equality when there are members of our community holding elected office, and we can’t have LGBT elected if we don’t have LGBT candidates. And from what I hear, Sinema is a strong candidate.

According to the Phoenix New Times, Sinema is the only Democrat to have officially declared a candidacy in District 9, although another state senator, David Schapira has formed an exploratory committee for a possible congressional run, and Arizona Democratic Party Chair Andrei Cherny is also rumored to be considering joining the race.

As the New Times also pointed out, in Arizona, members of Congress aren’t required to live in the district they represent. And Sinema actually lives in District 6. She chose to run for District 9, however, because it is more progressive than her home district, which leans toward the Republican side.

And speaking of Republicans, the New Times said Congressman Ben Quayle (yes, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle), who lives in District 9, is likely to run instead in District 6 where he would face Congressman David Schweikert in the Republican Primary.

Turning back to the Democrats, Sinema, in announcing her candidacy on her Facebook page, said: “I’ve decided to run for Congress because we need to wake up Washington! I will fight for the forgotten middle class and stand up to a system that is rigged against them.”

You can watch her video announcing her candidacy below.

—  admin

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

Iconic LGBT activist Ray Hill files for Texas House seat

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

Long time Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill filed paperwork this week to run for the 147th Texas House seat against incumbent Garnet Coleman, D – Houston. The iconic (and iconoclastic) Hill said that he and Coleman agree on many issues but that he had “some issues  that aren’t on the table in Austin.”

Specifically Hill has concerns with the legislature’s approach to criminal justice issues. “The Texas legislature is a serial world class red-necking competition,” says Hill. “What they are doing on criminal justice is wrong and it doesn’t work… we need a serious rethink.”

Coleman has a strong history of supporting LGBT legislation. For the last three sessions he has attempted to pass anti-bullying legislation that would require school districts to report instances of bullying using an enumerated list of motivating characteristics that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, he has also filed legislation to remove the the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas penal code (a law that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), to equalize age of consent laws in Texas and to add gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crime law. In the 82nd legislature earlier this year Coleman authored seven pieces of legislation designed to create greater equality for LGBT people, including the first ever filing of legislation to standardize change of gender marker procedures for the transgender community and the first effort to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition against marriage equality.

Hill recognizes Coleman’s historic contributions, “The incumbent and I agree on a lot of issues,” says Hill, “but we don’t tell young gay people ‘if you work real hard and go to school and do your best you can grow up to have straight friends in Austin who like you.’ No, we tell them ‘if you work hard they can grow up to be Mayor of Houston, or City Supervisor of San Francisco.’”

When asked why the community would be better served by him than Coleman, a 20 year legislative veteran, Hill replies “I understand how government works. A freshman legislator can’t do anything more than irritate, but that’s about all any member of the minority party can do. On that level the incumbent and I are on the same level… I think we need somebody obnoxious [in the legislature] who’s going to purposefully rub the cat hair the wrong direction.”

Since being elected to the legislature for the first time in 1992 Coleman has been unopposed in 5 of his 9 primary reelection bids. No primary challenger to Coleman has pulled more than 21% of the vote.

—  admin

Texas: A not-so-great state

As Perry eyes the presidency and Dewhurst makes a bid for the Senate, let’s look at the story the numbers really tell

Phyllis Guest | Taking NoteGuest.Phyllis.2

It seems that while David Dewhurst is running for the U.S. Senate, Rick Perry — otherwise known as Gov. Goodhair — is planning to run for president. I wonder what numbers they will use to show how well they have run Texas.

Could they cite $16 million? That’s the sum Perry distributed from our state’s Emerging Technology Fund to his campaign contributors.

Or maybe it is $4.1 billion. That’s the best estimate of the fees and taxes our state collects for dedicated purposes — but diverts to other uses.

Then again, it could be $28 billion. That’s the last published number for the state’s budget deficit, although Perry denied any deficit during his last campaign.

But let’s not get bogged down with dollar amounts. Let’s consider some of the state’s other numbers.

There’s the fact that Texas ranks worst in at least three key measures:

We are the most illiterate, with more than 10 percent of our state’s population unable to read a word. LIFT — Literacy Instruction for Texas — recently reported that half of Dallas residents cannot read a newspaper.

We also have the lowest percentage of persons covered by health insurance and the highest number of teenage repeat pregnancies.

Not to mention that 12,000 children have spent at least three years in the state welfare system, waiting for a foster parent. That’s the number reported in the Texas-loving Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has agreed to put several amendments to the Texas Constitution before the voters. HJR 63, HJR 109 plus SJR 4, SJR 16, and SJR 50 all appear to either authorize the shifting of discretionary funds or the issuance of bonds to cover expenses.

Duh. As if we did not know that bonds represent debt, and that we will be paying interest on those bonds long after Dewhurst and Perry leave office.

Further, this spring, the Lege decided that all voters — except, I believe, the elderly — must show proof of citizenship to obtain a state ID or to get or renew a driver’s license. As they did not provide any funds for the issuance of those ID cards or for updating computer systems to accommodate the new requirement, it seems those IDs will be far from free.

Also far from free is Perry’s travel. The Lege decided that the governor does not have to report what he and his entourage spend on travel, which is convenient for him because we taxpayers foot the bill for his security — even when he is making obviously political trips. Or taking along his wife and his golf clubs.

And surely neither Rick Perry nor David Dewhurst will mention the fact that a big portion of our state’s money comes from the federal government. One report I saw stated that our state received $17 billion in stimulus money, although the gov and his lieutenant berated the Democratic president for providing the stimulus.

And the gov turned down $6 billion in education funds, then accepted the funds but did not use them to educate Texans.

The whole thing — Dewhurst’s campaign and Perry’s possible campaign, the 2012-2013 budget, the recent biannual session of the Texas Legislature — seems like something Mark Twain might have written at his tongue-in-cheek best.

We have huge problems in public school education, higher education, health care, air pollution and water resources, to mention just a few of our more notable failures.

Yet our elected officials are defunding public education and thus punishing children, parents, and teachers. They are limiting women’s health care so drastically that our own Parkland Hospital will be unable to provide appropriate care to 30,000 women.

They are seeking a Medicaid “pilot program” that will pave the way for privatized medical services, which will erode health care for all but the wealthiest among us. They are fighting tooth and nail to keep the EPA from dealing with our polluted environment. They are doing absolutely nothing to ensure that Texas continues to have plenty of safe drinking water.

They are most certainly not creating good jobs.

So David Dewhurst and his wife Tricia prayed together and apparently learned that he should run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat. Now Rick Perry is planning a huge prayer rally Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

God help us.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas