LEGE UPDATE: Trans marriage ban all but dead; major anti-bullying bill clears Senate committee

Daniel Williams

The zombie-like resurrection of an anti-transgender marriage bill, movement by bullying bills and uncertainty about the fate of Texas’ HIV medication assistance program made for an uncertain week during this, the 19th week of the Texas Legislature’s 20-week regular session.

Last Friday, May 13, dawned with a decided pall hanging upon the Capitol. The previous evening the House had rushed to meet the midnight deadline for House bills to receive the first of their two required floor votes. Hundreds of bills, good and bad, simple and complex, failed to be heard before the deadline, and memories of the preceding night’s massacre still stung the raw, sleep-deprived nerves of elected officials and staffers alike. Bleary-eyed House members stumbled to their desks aware that another midnight deadline loomed before them: Every bill that passed in Thursday’s flurry of activity had to pass again Friday.

House Bill 1386, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s teen suicide prevention bill, had slid in just 20 minutes before Thursday’s midnight deadline. Coleman, D-Houston, began crafting the bill after the suicide of Asher Brown, a 12-year-old Houston-area boy who took his own life after enduring years of anti-gay torment at the hands of school bullies.  The bill allows school districts to work with other state and local agencies to provide counseling and resources to at-risk youth, but does not require any action from schools. When the House brought up the bill for a vote Coleman removed portions that duplicated language in House Bill 1492, the anti-bullying compromise bill drafted by the House Public Education Committee that passed the House the week before. After Coleman reassured his colleagues that HB 1386 did not require school districts to take any action but merely permitted them to work to prevent suicide if they choose to, it passed 107-to-29.

Over in the Senate, LGBT activists were waiting with baited breath. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-TheWoodlands, the author of Senate Bill 723, the infamous anti-trans marriage bill, had once again placed it on the Senate’s fast-track “intent calendar.” The bill would effectively ban opposite-sex marriage for anyone who has changed their legally recognized sex. As the day progressed the Senate took up bill after bill, but SB 723 remained on the table, untouched. Finally, the Senate adjourned without taking up the bill.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: El Paso teen arrested in brutal beating outside gay nightclub

The Old Plantation in downtown El Paso.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A 16-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault in connection with a brutal beating last weekend outside the Old Plantation gay nightclub in downtown El Paso, the El Paso Times reports today. Police say they believe the attack was gang related and aren’t treating the incident as a hate crime, even though family members and LGBT activists insist the victim, 22-year-old Lionel Martinez, was targeted only because he was outside a gay venue. Martinez, who’s straight but had been to the Old Plantation with friends, remains in critical condition and has not regained consciousness since the attack last Friday night or Saturday morning. The FBI reportedly is investigating the incident as a possible civil rights violation, and more arrests are expected. A total of six people were involved in the attack, and a security guard says there’s been an upswing of gang activity around the nightclub. But just because something is gang related doesn’t mean it’s not a hate crime. In fact, it’s quite common for gang initiations to include bashing a queer, and here’s a story about another hate crime that occurred just a week before.

2. The Ugandan Parliament has adjourned without taking up an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that includes a death penalty provision, the Associated Press reports. The bill was slated to be considered today, but the speaker of the parliament says there isn’t enough time to debate the bill before the session ends next week.

3. A new poll shows that a majority of Minnesotans oppose a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The Minnesota Senate voted to place such an amendment on the 2012 ballot this week, and the House is expected to follow suit. But the poll shows that 55 percent oppose the amendment, while only 39 percent support it. Just seven years ago, a poll found that 58 percent of Minnesotans supported a ban on same-sex marriage.

—  John Wright

Sooner or later, county commissioners will get tired of hearing about transgender protections

Rafael_McDonnell
Rafael McDonnell

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell sends along word that three people from the LGBT community are tentatively scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

This will be the fourth consecutive week in which LGBT activists have spoken during public comments, calling on the Commissioners Court to add gender identity to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. And McDonnell said based on his conversations with commissioners, the advocacy is helping.

McDonnell said he ran into County Judge Clay Jenkins at an event last week, and Jenkins told him that public comments from the LGBT community are influencing the conversation. On Friday, McDonnell met with Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, who told him she’s received 60 letters in support of adding transgender protections.

“She urged us to keep up contacting Commissioners [Maurine] Dickey and [John Wiley] Price and share our stories and explain why it’s important,” McDonnell said. “She [Garcia] clearly supports it.”

Jenkins also supports adding gender identity to the policy, but three votes are needed for passage.

Price told Instant Tea last week that he remains undecided on the issue but said public comments from transgender woman Maeve O’Connor had done more to possibly sway him than anything else. Dickey, meanwhile, hasn’t returned a phone call seeking comment.

Dickey announced last week that she won’t seek re-election in 2012, which could make her more comfortable voting in favor of transgender protections. Two years ago, when Republicans still held a majority on the Commissioners Court, Dickey broke ranks and provided the decisive vote in support of ending a ban on condom distribution.

McDonnell said those slated to speak this week are Omar Narvaez of Stonewall Democrats and Lambda Legal, Travis Gasper of Stonewall Young Democrats; and Rebecca Solomon of Bank of America.

It’s too late to sign up to speak at this Tuesday’s meeting, but below is contact info for all five commissioners:

—  John Wright

Maryland lawmakers get cold feet on marriage

Del. Sam Arora

Despite supporters’ high hopes, Maryland delegates send bill back to committee; marriage equality faces promise, threats in other states

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The road to marriage equality in Maryland had never been a short or smooth one, but supporters of allowing same-sex couples to marry could see the altar this time: passing the House and sending the bill to a governor who said he would sign it.

But supporters never had a clear majority, and some who had said they would back it got cold feet in the days leading up to the House vote.

On March 11, instead of voting for the bill, the House unanimously voted to send it back to committee. Even some LGBT activists conceded it was the thing to do.

The Maryland vote reduced to two the number of states that could possibly see marriage equality move through the state legislature this year: Rhode Island and New York.

Iowa could lose existing marriage equality rights through actions in the legislature this year, and six states that already have statutes that prevent same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses — Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — could add constitutional amendments to protect the bans from legal challenges.

An attempt to do so in Wyoming died in committee in February.

Equality Maryland, the state’s leading LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement that, although they are “disappointed” the bill didn’t pass, sending it back to committee was “a strategic step that will allow us to fight and win in the future.”

Board member David Lublin explained to Maryland Politics Watch (Maryland-Politics.Blogspot.com) that, if the bill failed in a vote on the merits, it would have been harder later to convert the delegates who had already voted no in public.

And a coalition of groups including Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and Gill Action released a joint statement after the vote, saying, “Over the past several days it has become clear that additional time to continue the marriage conversation in the state will better position the Civil Marriage Protection Act for success.”

The full Senate had passed its version of the bill on a vote of 25 to 22 Feb. 24.  Action then moved to the House, where the Judiciary Committee had voted 12-10 on March 4 to send the bill to the floor, even though committee chair Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Democrat, who cast the deciding vote to do so, indicated he would not support marriage equality on the floor.

Support for the bill had already grown shakier. Committee member Sam Arora, a Democrat and an original co-sponsor, had said March 3 he would vote against it on the floor, and he only wanted to send it to the full House so voters could have their say in a likely referendum.

The state constitution allows voters to submit new laws to a referendum if they can collect the 55,736 signatures necessary to do so.

And Democratic Delegates Tiffany Alston and Jill Carter — both co-sponsors — were no-shows at the first scheduled committee vote.

Alston said she wanted more time to weigh her decision based on diverse feedback from constituents and others. Carter said she was just trying to draw attention to other legislation.

Alston eventually voted against sending the bill to the floor, but Carter voted in favor of doing so.

Sponsor Melvin Stukes, a Democrat who was not on the Judiciary committee, announced at the end of February that he was withdrawing his sponsorship. He said he had come to realize that the bill would grant full marriage equality instead of civil unions.

Three days before the full House vote, the bill was still “probably one to two short” of the 71 votes needed for passage, said Democratic Delegate Heather Mizeur in an interview March 8, adding, “There is still a large block of undecided who will go to the floor undecided.”

Democrats hold a 98 to 43 majority in the chamber.

Even Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he would sign the bill, appeared to shift towards the idea of a voter referendum — something equality advocates have shunned.

O’Malley told reporters March 3, “We should let the people decide,” according to the Baltimore Sun. After the bill was recommitted, he told the Associated Press, “I would have hoped that we could have resolved this issue and then let the people decide.”

The full House vote came after nearly four hours of debate on March 9 and 11. Debate centered around religious beliefs regarding homosexuality, whether the LGBT community’s political movement for equal rights could be compared to that of African-Americans, and whether same-sex marriage would negatively impact children.

Delegate Mizeur, in one of the most personal speeches during debate, spoke of reconciling her deep Catholic faith with being a lesbian. She said that, if the bill failed, it would not stop her and her wife from loving each other, but the lack of legal protections would “make it really, really difficult for us in the worst, most challenging times.”

Committee Chair Vallario asked, “Where would Martin Luther King be on this issue?”

“I don’t know,” he said, but the introduced a motion to recommit the bill to his Judiciary Committee. The House unanimously approved.

One other bill remaining in that committee seeks to ask voters to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Spokespeople for both the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Don Dwyer, a Republican, and Vallario could not say whether that bill would receive a vote before the session ends April 11.

In the remaining states, the Rhode Island House and Senate Judiciary Committees have held hearings on marriage equality bills in recent weeks, but neither chamber has yet scheduled a vote.

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will urge the legislature to take up marriage equality this session. He met with LGBT advocates March 9 to discuss the matter.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

YFT plans new lobby effort

YFT
SPEAKING UP | Members of Youth First Texas gather in Sen. Florence Shapiro’s office on Monday, March 7, as part of Equality Texas’ Lobby Day efforts. The teens visited lawmakers to tell their personal stories of bullying and harassment in order to get support of anti-bullying measures now being considered by the Legislature. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Teens tell lawmakers personal stories of bullying, suicide attempts

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Ten teens from Youth First Texas went to Austin to talk to legislators about anti-bullying legislation on March 7. They joined about 350 LGBT activists and allies from around the state who came for Equality Texas lobby day.

Equality Texas executive director Dennis Coleman talked to the group about coming back to Austin later in the session to testify before committees that will hear testimony about the proposed laws.

As they rehearsed their stories, trying to pare them down to one minute each, the teens realized that they wouldn’t be able to speak to every representative and senator personally. But because they believed their personal stories could make a difference in the way lawmakers vote, the teens began brainstorming on how to get their stories out.

They came up with the idea of recording their stories to DVD to send to each senator and representative. The teens planned to start the project as soon as they returned to Dallas.

The group’s first stop in the Capitol on Monday was the office of Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, who represents the district in which three of the teens live.

YFT member Giancarlo Mossi, one of the three living in Shapiro’s district, began telling the group’s story to two legislative aides. He said he was regularly called a faggot at Plano Senior High School, and other students threw things at him on the bus.

Reporting it didn’t make a difference and the harassment continued through graduation, Mossi said.

Pierce Magnus is still in school. He walks with a cane and said he has always been treated differently. At best, other students give him the coldshoulder, something that’s been going on since middle school. At one point, he tried to kill himself.

After his suicide attempt failed, Magnus said, he was put in an institution and is now on medication. He blames the suicide attempt on bullying and harassment by other students and the indifference with which the school staff reacted.

“That’s a terrible way to go through high school,” Magnus said.

Alice Nightingale said that her high school teachers know how she’s treated and don’t do anything about it.

“I stood up for myself once and got suspended,” she said. “It seems like we try and just do more harm.”

Magnus and Nightingale also live in Shapiro’s district.

The students were lobbying lawmakers to vote for Asher’s Law, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s anti-bullying bill that he renamed this week and reintroduced into the Texas House of Representatives. Sen.

Wendy Davis of Fort Worth introduced anti-bullying legislation in the Senate that will be heard in Shapiro’s education committee.

Mossi said that passing Asher’s Law was crucial.

“I try to let people know they’re not alone,” he said. “But I’m not in high school anymore.”

Magnus said that YFT is a safe space, but “Passing this law will make schools a safe space, too.”

Sen. John Carona’s office was the group’s next stop. Carona represents Richardson, the Park Cities, parts of Garland and most of North Dallas. Other YFT members explained their experiences to Carona’s staff.

Elliott Puckett said that when he was attacked in the bathroom at his high school, the principal told him he brought it on himself.

“I’ve been through so much bullying,” said YFT member William Morvant, “I almost became one of those statistics.”

He tried killing himself three times, he said.

“I’ll be graduating from school soon,” Morvant said. “But I don’t want others going through this.”

Morvant was among those who had also spoken at a Dallas Independent School District meeting before their new anti-bullying policy was adopted.

After their morning lobbying session, the group walked across the Capitol lawn toward First United Methodist Church on Lavaca Street, where Equality Texas provided lunch.

They returned to speak to more legislators in the afternoon and stayed through Tuesday for a second day of lobbying.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Activists gather from across Texas to lobby for anti-bullying legislation and more

David and Amy Truong (standing, center) lobbied with 350 LGBT activists and allies from across the state in Austin

About 350 people gathered to lobby for anti-bullying legislation among other bills that would benefit the LGBT community. Among those at lobby day were David and Amy Truong, parents of Asher Brown who committed suicide in September, and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns.

The day was organized by Equality Texas along with 58 partner organizations from across the state. From Dallas Youth First Texas, Resource Center Dallas, Hope for Peace and Justice and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce were among the participating organizations.

Not all of the partners were specifically LGBT groups. Atticus Circle is a group founded in 2004 as a place for straight allies to organize for LGBT family rights.

First United Methodist Church on Lavaca Street across from the Capitol hosted Equality Texas for breakfast, a lobby day training session and lunch.

At a press conference on the Capitol steps, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston announced that he refiled his anti-bullying bill as Asher’s Law. State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio spoke about his Freedom from Workplace Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The Truongs spoke about stopping bullying. Amy Truong said that no parent should go to work in the morning and come home to find police tape around their house. Along with Burns, they met legislators who are key to moving the bills through the House and Senate.

—  David Taffet

Saudi arrested near Lubbock planned to blow up former president, Dallas resident George Bush

FBI agents today arrested Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old Saudi national studying chemical engineering at South Plains College near Lubbock, charging him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, according to reports on MSNBC.com. Reports says one of Aldawsari’s primary targets may have been former president and current Dallasite George W. Bush.

Bush, who earned the wrath of many LGBT activists with his adamantly anti-gay stance that included support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, now lives in Preston Hollow.

MSNBC reports that Aldwasari came to the U.S. to attend Texas Tech after getting a scholarship to the school, then trasnfered to South Plains. FBI agents have reportedly found his journal in which he wrote about specifically seeking a scholarship because it would help him get into this country more easily and because it would provide him with funds to carry out his jihad.

MSNBC.com says FBI agents found out about Aldawsari’s plot after being alerted by Carolina Biological Supply of Burlington, N.C., from whom Aldawsari tried to buy a chemical that has legitimate uses but can also be used to create an explosive called trinitrophenol. Agents then conducted covert searches of his apartment where they found chemicals and other items to create explosive devices. They also searched his computer and e-mails, finding e-mails he sent listing his potential targets. Those targets included the homes of three U.S. military troops who had served at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and reservoir dams in Colorado and California.

—  admin

Don’t let story of David Kato’s murder die

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

A few months ago when I wrote about the draconian anti-homosexual laws being passed in Uganda, I had an ominous feeling that it would be the beginning of a very real nightmare for LGBT people in that African country.

Unfortunately, that is coming to pass.

LGBT activist David Kato was murdered, not by a sniper from a distance, but by an individual who brutally beat him to death with a hammer.

A Ugandan publication had published his photo and that of other LGBT activists on the front page; above the picture were the words “Hang Them.”

Already, the authorities in Uganda are trying to cloud the issue with talk of “thieves and gangs.” But to call his death anything but the hate crime it was is ludicrous.

Beating someone to death with a hammer is up close and personal and comes from a hate-filled rage.

Much of that rage has been fueled by clergy in Uganda. One man in particular — Martin Ssempa, a man with the dubious title of “reverend.”

If you don’t think you know him, you most likely do. Ssempa was the speaker in the YouTube video that went viral last year. In that clip he is describing how gay men “eat the pooh-pooh.”

Though to us it might have seemed comical and worthy of ridicule, in Uganda, Ssempa’s words are taken seriously.

Ssempa is a well-known preacher in Uganda, and he has a lot of well-funded U.S. ties. You see, anti-gay evangelists who can’t find an audience for their hate here in this country have fanned out to proselytize in countries where their message might have more traction.

Rick Warren, the author of “A Purpose Driven Life,” was one of Ssempa’s supporters. Though he now distances himself from the Uganda situation, funds from Warren’s church helped fuel this mess. U.S. evangelicals and the ex-gay movement are big players in Ssempa’s push.

Ssempa has wrapped his hate in the banner of AIDS activism. But don’t be fooled. His brand of activism led him to burn cases of condoms “in Jesus’ name” and to sponsor gatherings with U.S. speakers like Scott Lively, who blames homosexuals for the Nazi Holocaust.

Other U.S. interlopers include Don Schmierer, who is on the board of Exodus International and who spoke at a conference in Kampala in March, 2009, where he endorsed the anti-homosexual laws that caused such an international stir.

Now as David Kato is being laid to rest the controversy continues.

A pastor speaking at his funeral lashed out at homosexuality, prompting a strong reaction from Kato’s friends. Scuffles broke out before the event was over.

Things turned so ugly that villagers refused to bury his body, and it was up to his friends to carry the coffin to the grave and complete the burial themselves.
And all this just adds fuel to the fires in Uganda.

It is unfortunate that those fires have been stoked by citizens of the U.S. who traveled to Uganda to inflame passions there. Worse, this crime is going to fall from the front pages as events in Egypt take center stage in news from Africa. Besides, the story is somewhat old news, and falls well outside the attention span of U.S. news audiences.

That’s why it is up to the LGBT media to keep this urgent human rights story alive.

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

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Russian gay leader Alekseev coming to Dallas

Nikolai Alekseev

According to information I received this morning Russian LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev is coming to the U.S. at the end of February for a short tour that will include a stop in Dallas. He will be in Dallas March 3-4, but speaking venues have not yet been finalized.

Alekseev is probably best known to Americans as the man who organized Moscow’s first gay Pride parade, which city officials then banned that year and each subsequent year, threatening organizers and marchers with arrest when they persist in marching anyway. Alekseev himself has been arrested several times, including once last year when he was taken from an airport as he was leaving for a visit to Switzerland and held for three days. He was released after a flood of international protests against what his supporters called a kidnapping.

One of his primary opponents in his activism has been Moscow’s rabidly homophobic former mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who once called gay Pride marches “satanic.” Since Russian President Dmitri Medvedev fired Luzhkov last year, Alekseev and other activists hope that they will be able to hold a Pride march this year without threat of violence or arrest. Moscow’s gay Pride march this year is scheduled for May 28.

Alekseev has also been instrumental in organizing LGBT activists around Russia and in other countries, and has used the European court system to fight back against anti-gay oppression. Last year, Alekseev won the battle when the European Court issued a sweeping ruling in his favor.

Alekseev’s U.S. tour was organized by the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, and he will be accompanied by GLN’s Andy Thayer. Supporters hope the tour will raise Alekseev’s profile here in the U.S. and bring more international scrutiny to the plight of LGBT Russians, thereby providing even more protection for them by increasing international scrutiny on the way Russia treats its LGBT citizens and activists.

Watch Dallas Voice for an interview with Alekseev at the end of February.

—  admin

GetEQUAL to hold ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ protest outside Sen. Hutchison’s Dallas office next week

GetEQUAL board member Mark Reed of Dallas, far right, is shown chained to the White House fence prior to his arrest in May.

GetEQUAL board member Mark Reed of Dallas sends along word that the Texas chapter of the national LGBT direct action group will hold a “don’t ask, don’t tell” protest outside GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office next Tuesday, Dec. 21. As we reported this past Tuesday, Hutchison says she plans to vote against the standalone bill to repeal DADT because it “could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness — especially during a time of war.” The bill, which passed the House today, is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate sometime next week.

The protest will be from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday outside Hutchison’s office at 10440 N. Central Expressway, Suite 1160 in Dallas. From the Facebook event page:

Tired of being relegated to second-class citizenship, Texan LGBT activists say “Enough is enough!” It’s time for Texans to fight back against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s hate-filled votes in Congress and tell her to vote YES on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Closeted Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) military servicemembers are forbidden to stand up and demand repeal for themselves, so we must be their voice…. Join us in a state wide rally as Veterans, allies and LGBT community members show our support to repeal this law.

Join GetEQUAL Texas in front of Kay Bailey’s Dallas office for a grassroots protest. Please consider scheduling an appointment to discuss DADT with Kay’s staffers during our around the protest time.

Not in Dallas? Check the GetEQUAL TX Facebook page for other participating Texas cities.

***GetEQUAL Texas is a local chapter of the national organization, committed to fearlessly and urgently pushing for LGBT equality throughout the Lone Star State.***

—  John Wright