Donations: Glass half empty or half full?

A recent study shows that donations from individuals dropped in ’09, ’10. But numbers may be up for ’11

Geffen.David

David Geffen

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

How well the LGBT groups are doing financially may well depend on whether one sees a glass as “half empty” or “half full,” but a report, released Tuesday, Dec. 6, by an independent think tank, certainly provides some facts to ponder.

Fewer than 3 percent of LGBT adults make contributions to national LGBT organizations, and the number of individuals giving to LGBT groups dropped 12 percent between 2009 and 2010, a trend that has been in play for the past five years.

The nation’s 40 largest and most important LGBT groups increased their combined revenue (cash and in-kind) by 1 percent between 2009 and 2010 from $163 million to $164 million, and they spent all but $4.6 million of that.

But the top 10 anti-gay groups spent “almost three times as much” as the 40 “major” pro-LGBT groups in 2010.

On average, national LGBT groups spend about 79 percent of their revenue on programs, 10 percent on management and administration, and 11 percent on fundraising.

While there are many harsh realities there, the Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank devoted to studying how best to marshal the LGBT movement’s resources to “speed advancement of equality for LGBT people,” thinks the movement may be at a “turning point” financially.

“While [LGBT organizations] continued to cut expenses in 2010, organizations saw a slight increase in 2010 revenue, and are projecting expense budget increases for 2011,” said MAP in its 2011 National LGBT Movement Report.

“This,” said MAP, “suggests the LGBT movement may be at a turning point, or at least stabilizing, after seeing large drops in expenses and revenue over the last three years, mostly related to the economic downturn.”

MAP concluded that the “downward trend” in expenditures by the groups, a trend “precipitated by the economic downturn, may be at or nearing an end.”

The evidence, it said, is the fact that national LGBT groups’ projected expense budgets are 13 percent higher this year than last while their debt is smaller.

The report also reflects what economists and politicos have been discussing for a long time about the trend of wealth accumulating among corporations and a few individuals.

The average LGBT group, said MAP, receives 45 percent of its revenue from its 10 largest contributors. At the same time, organizations are increasingly getting their revenue from “corporations, bequests, in-kind contributions, fundraising events and other sources of income.”

“Of particular concern,” said the MAP report, “contributions from individual donors dropped sharply (a 14 percent drop, or $9.3 million) between 2009 and 2010. This revenue drop was mostly offset by revenue increases from corporations (41 percent increase, or $1.8 million), bequests (30 percent increase, or $1.6 million), fundraising events (6 percent increase, or $1.1 million) and other income (126 percent increase, or $3.2 million).”

MAP made its analysis using financial data from 40 LGBT groups, 27 of which had annual budgets of more than $1 million, and 13 additional organizations whose missions are considered “critical” to the LGBT movement.

The groups included such well-known national organizations as the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, as well as state groups, including MassEquality, the Empire State Pride Agenda and Equality California.

MAP Executive Director Ineke Mushovic said MAP used audited financial data for each group. Where an organization, such as the Human Rights Campaign, has a tax-deductible entity 501(c)(3), a non-tax-deductible entity 501(c)(4), and/or a political action committee, MAP combined the data and showed it all under one group name.

Mushovic said MAP agreed with participants not to release financial data on individual groups.

But Mushovic said the top 10 groups, in terms of revenue, are Equality California; the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; the Human Rights Campaign; Lambda Legal; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Out & Equal; the Point Foundation; Senior Action in a Gay Environment and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

MAP said the 40 LGBT groups represent 71 percent of all money spent by LGBT advocacy groups. It calculated this by analyzing 990 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service by LGBT groups reporting more than $25,000 in revenue.

The five-year-old MAP organization issued a report last August showing that the LGBT movement is making progress but is being dramatically outspent by its opponents. That report, too, noted that only 3.4 percent of LGBT people made a contribution to national LGBT groups in 2009.

The 2010 report noted that while 550 LGBT non-profit groups collected a total of $574 million in contributions during 2009, most of that money  ($299 million or 52 percent) went to providing health services and community center programs. About $192 million (33 percent) was spent on advocacy, and about $35 million (6 percent) on legal challenges.

Arts and recreation accounted for about $36 million (6 percent). Only $13 million (2 percent) is spent on public education.

The current study was funded by 14 foundations that provide funding to LGBT groups, including the foundations started by well-known gay philanthropists such as David Bohnett, David Geffen, Tim Gill, Jim Hormel and Jon Stryker.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Pride 2011 • Making business better for LGBT Dallas

The North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce works to improve the business climate for its members

Vedda.Tony
Tony Vedda

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Pride Guide Dedication

The 2012 Pride Guide was dedicated to the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce in recognition of the chamber’s work to advance equality and make things better for the community. And chamber President and CEO Tony Vedda said this week that the chamber has planned an even busier year ahead.

In October, the Out & Equal conference comes to Dallas. The chamber was instrumental in bringing that convention to the city, the largest LGBT group that Dallas has ever hosted.

Vedda said he hopes that more LGBT groups — both large and small — continue choosing Dallas for their meetings. He said he’d like to see  Creating Change return and for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund hold candidate training classes here. The next GALA choruses festival will be in Denver but Vedda’s hoping Dallas will snag the one after that.

Vedda said that a variety of smaller groups that have never been to Dallas hold annual conventions, specifically mentioning the Gay and

Lesbian Medical Association and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association as groups he’d like to see come to Dallas for their annual conventions.

And, of course, he hopes the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber will schedule an annual meeting in Dallas sometime in the next few years.

Vedda said that Dallas has an advantage in bringing groups to the city because of the good working relationship the chamber and the LGBT community in general have with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and with other city institutions.

“We have the same goal as any chamber,” Vedda said. “We help our members become bigger and more profitable. That helps us do good work in the community.”

He said that when an LGBT businessperson tells him that they don’t need the chamber, he tells them that the chamber needs them. A strong LGBT business community helps provide good role models and supports the vast array of non-profit organizations as well as chamber projects, he said, adding that in many ways, the chamber is a big, professional “It Gets Better” organization.

The organization’s newest project is its LEAP scholarships.

“We love our acronyms,” Vedda said, “And LEAP stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy Program.”

Students who self-identify as LGBT, members of LGBT families or allies who advocate for the LGBT community are eligible. The first scholarships will be awarded in December for the spring semester. Applications will be accepted through Oct. 15 and are available online at GLBTLEAP.org.

Winners will be announced Dec. 8 at the Holly Jolly Ball, which is also the chamber’s major fundraising event for LEAP. Tickets will be $75, with silent and live auctions raising money for scholarships and other LEAP projects.

Vedda said he expects applications for the 2012-13 school year to be available online soon after the first awards are made.

LEAP is also planning an LGBT leadership institute. Former participants in Leadership Lambda have been advising the chamber on what worked in the past. Vedda said he wants participants to leave with a good understanding of LBGT history and accomplishments.

“The goal is to develop more ‘best and brightest’ for the non-profit sector of our community,” he said.

Those who go on to attend Leadership  programs in Plano, Dallas or Fort Worth will be better representatives of the LGBT community, he said.

Working with the National GLBT Chamber, the North Texas chamber is offering a designation of LGBT-certified supplier, Vedda said.

“We’re working to make sure opportunities are given to our community like other minority groups,” he said.

The chamber holds two monthly general networking programs and maintains three closed networking groups.

“Those groups have closed millions of dollars in new business for members,” Vedda said.

Several fun events are coming up as well.

A Cedar Springs Road progressive mixer will be structured like a progressive dinner. The evening starts at Tan Bar on one end of the block and works its way up the street, stopping at several chamber members before ending at Axiom Sushi.

The annual chamber dinner will be held in March. A community marketing conference will be held that month as well.

Vedda said he hopes each of these events and everything the chamber does helps Dallas’ LGBT businesses grow and prosper. He said a strong LGBT business community supports equality and the non-profit groups throughout the community that make it get better for everyone.

For more information, go online to GLBTChamber.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The 6 best responses to Perry’s day of prayer

LGBT Texans Against Hate

Riki Miller, Zombie McZee and Britney Miranda.

The first organized response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response” was Friday night’s LGBT Texans Against Hate rally. Despite temperatures that had barely come down from the triple digits, Houstonians thronged to Tranquility Park in downtown. Beyond commenting on the temperature, the common theme of most of the speakers was that the American Family Association and Gov. Rick Perry’s rally is not representative of Houston and was not welcomed.

Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said: “I kinda think Rick Perry chose the wrong city!”

He continued “They are the bigots, we are not … we are Houston.”

“I guess we should take comfort in the fact that, except for some of his staffers, [Gov. Perry] couldn’t find enough homegrown bigotry in the state of Texas to put on the event himself,” said Mike Craig, co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. “He had to bus them in from Tupulo, Miss., and Colorado Springs, Colo.” Craig was referring to American Family Association (based in Tupulo) and Focus on the Family (based in Colorado Springs), both co-sponsors of “The Response.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, provided the closing address. He criticized Gov. Perry for using divisive religious rhetoric for political gain. “Being here today I’m proud that we are fighting back against a narrow, theocratic view of the world that we live in and of our country that says that people are not welcomed — that says that people are bad because of who they are. That is not America,” said Coleman. “That is what is dividing our city, our state and our country.”

— Daniel Williams

 

Non-LGBT groups

A billboard truck paid for by the Freedom from Religion Foundation sits outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday during ‘The Response.’
Han Will and Katherine Godby from First Congregational Church of Fort Worth.

Houston’s Kirby Drive winds past the front entry to Reliant Stadium. At one point, just past the stadium, the road makes a slight curve. The main gate to the stadium’s parking lot is here, and the combination of Kirby Drive’s curve and the thoroughfare-like entrance gate creates a three-way intersection centered around a small concrete traffic island. On Saturday, this intersection became a carousel of non-LGBT groups protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, dubbed “The Response.”

Each corner was claimed by a different group that feels “The Response” violated values it holds dear. On one corner, the American Atheists — who objected to the response as state promotion of religion. On the next corner, the Freedom From Religion Foundation which, due to its strategic location, was positioned to yell at idling cars waiting for entrance to the stadium. On the last corner, a group of Lyndon LaRouche supporters, who toted a 6-foot poster of President Barack Obama portrayed as Hitler. Finally, cordoned on the concrete island by crowd-control fencing: Westboro Baptist Church. Positioned at the axis of discontent, WBC managed to draw the ire of all the other groups, and every attendee to “The Response” who drove by.

The most fervent shouting matches were between the Atheists and Westboro Baptist Church. Small cadres of Athiests would hurl taunts like “Your imaginary friend doesn’t scare me.” Which would cause the protesters from WBC to launch into another round of what seemed to be their favorite song: “God Hates America,” set to the tune of “God Bless America.”

Dan Barker, co-president of Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Trapped behind the Atheists, in a small strip of grass between the sidewalk and a steep embankment, the people of First Congregational Church of Fort Worth seemed a little lost. Han Will, who drove to Houston with the church Friday night, is a petite grandmotherly lady who would look more at home serving homemade cookies than holding a protest sign, but her determination to have her message of a loving and caring Christianity was undaunted. “We think that God is Love. Some other Christians seem to distort that, but we say that hate speech is not the Gospel.”

Katherine Godby, also from First Congregational Church added, “Obviously we support prayer, but fighting for social justice is another form of prayer.” Godby’s statement was cut off by one of the protesters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation across the street yelling, “Nothing fails like prayer, it’s a waste of time, it’s delusional.”

Lyndon LaRouche supporters.

The group from the Freedom From Religion Foundation traveled from Madison, Wisc., to protest “The Response.” They rented a billboard truck that circled Reliant Stadium the entire day. The truck’s sign read, “Beware prayer by pious politicians. Get off your knees and get to work.” FFRF also hired an airplane to fly above the stadium trailing a banner reading, “Gov: Keep Church/State Separate.”

The parking kiosk collecting $15 from each car entering Reliant’s mostly empty parking lot slowed traffic sufficiently enough that the minivans and trucks waiting to enter the lot routinely were idled in front of the FFRF’s corner. Occasionally one of “The Response” attendees would roll down their window to offer a “God loves you” or “I’ll pray for you.” This would set off a furious rant from the FFRF’ers about God being a delusion and prayer a waste of time, leading to some very hurried rolling up of car windows.

On the corner farthest from the stadium the Lyndon LaRouche supporters and their Obama-as-Hitler poster remained largely unengaged from the other assembled rabble. One of the LaRouche supporters, who refused to be identified, said that the group was there because “it’s all the same thing, Obama, Perry, they’re all trying to take over and take away your decisions.” He added, “We have to stand up to politicians who lie to us, one’s a Muslim, the other’s a Baptist, but that won’t matter when the jackboot comes down. … The fight between the Democrats and Republicans is just a distraction from the real fight against the government taking over our lives.”

In the center of it all: Westboro Baptist Church, who spent most of the morning singing parodies of songs by Lady Gaga and Madonna (and, of course, “God Hates America”) and showing off their skill for holding four protest signs at once. Whether by their own design, or the machinations of the traffic cops, WBC’s concrete island station was positioned so that the only way to speak with them was to stand in the street. “God hates America, It’s too late for prayer!” howled one woman when asked why the group was protesting “The Response.” This reporter was then firmly told by police to get out of the street.

— Daniel Williams

 

GetEQUAL’s mock funeral procession

A block from the merry-go-round of the American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and Westboro Baptist Church, a more somber, if no less energetic, response to “The Response” was taking place. Organized by GetEQUAL, the event sought to give voice to people killed by the violent rhetoric of transphobia and homophobia.

The training camp for the Houston Texans sits opposite Kirby Drive from Reliant Arena, its driveway intersecting with Kirby directly in front of the main entrance. Saturdays during the summer the camp plays host to a children’s football camp. At 8 a.m. Saturday, when parents dropped their kids off at camp, a small group of a few dozen GetEQUAL activists graced the main entrance. By the time parents returned to pick their kids up in the early afternoon there were hundreds of protestors.

GetEQUAL staged several mock funerals throughout the day to represent the more than 13,000 people killed in America because of anti-LGBT bias since 1980. The funerals were complete with coffins and a New Orleans-style street band. Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, says that the band was not originally planned to be part of the protest. “They were a local group who had come to Reliant to protest ‘The Response,’” said Cates. “When they saw what we were doing, they wanted to help.”

Between funerals the GetEQUAL protestors chanted and sang. Their rousing rendition of the civil rights era classic “We Shall Overcome” drew attendees of “The Response” out of the stadium to look down from the third floor mezzanine. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Pray away the hate” rang out all day, crescendo-ing as more and more protestors arrived. At one point the chant spontaneously morphed into “Show me what hypocrisy looks like” and the assembled protestors turned to point at Reliant Stadium and chant, “This is what hypocrisy looks like.”

Protesters braved temperatures that approached but never quite breached the triple-digit mark. GetEQUAL’s prime spot at the Reliant Stadium entrance also placed them in the shadow of the leviathan structure. As the afternoon wore on, many protestors who had stationed themselves at the stadium’s parking lot entrances relocated to the relative cool provided by Reliant’s shade, swelling the crowd at the entrance to what Cates called “comfortably thousands of protesters.”

Watch video from the protest below.

— Daniel Williams

 

LGBT Trailblazers Luncheon

A member of Westboro Baptist Church protests outside the LGBT Trailblazers luncheon in Houston on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Noel Freeman)

On Saturday, while Gov. Rick Perry was throwing his prayer rally “The Response” inside Reliant Stadium and GetEQUAL was staging mock funerals at the front gate, the Harris County Democratic Party sat down to a quite luncheon honoring LGBT Trailblazers. The highlight of the luncheon was the videotaped acceptance speech by Houston Mayor Annise Parker (WATCH IT BELOW). In 2009 Parker became the first out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city after years of community service as an activist, city council member and city controller.

Parker was unable to accept her award in person due to previously scheduled city business. Via pre-recorded message she thanked the luncheon’s co-chairs, Robert Shipman and Brad Pritchett, and the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, who took the lead in organizing the event.

Parker’s son, Jonon Tyler, accepted the award on behalf of his mother. Tyler talked about the thrill of riding with Mayor Parker in the 2010 Dallas Pride Parade, about how the crowd seemed to swell with hope and pride at seeing her. “When we see Mayor Annise Parker, we see the best in ourselves,” said Tyler. “We’ve only seen the beginning; the best is yet to come.”

Also honored as LGBT Trailblazers were Judge Steven Kirkland, City Councilwoman Sue Lovell, Judge Phyllis Frye and Linda Morales. Judge John Paul Barnich received a posthumous award.

Judge Kirkland was the first out LGBT judge elected in Texas (previous out judges had all been appointed). He was self-deprecating in accepting his award. “I’d like to tell you that my ego is not so large that I believe that the over 650,000 people who voted for me went down the ballot and selected my name out and said, ‘I’m voting for Steve Kirland because he’s the best guy there,’” said Kirkland. “I got elected in 2008 because people in Harris County were voting for Democrats and they were doing that for a lot of reasons. One would be President Obama … the other would be president Bush.”

Lovell, who leaves the council this year due to term limits, warned the crowd about the need to remain supportive of out LGBT elected officials, and the dangers of in-fighting. “We must remember that the victories that we want to achieve do not come at the expense of our community,” said Lovell. “That energy, that intelligence, that organization must be taken and focused outward, to the people who are really against us.”

A small contingent from Westboro Baptist Church camped out in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the Trailblazers Luncheon took place. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, commented on the irony of WBC’s protest during his introduction of Frye.

“Thirty-four years ago, in 1977, Anita Bryant was in this very hotel speaking to the State Bar Association,” said Weaver. “Phyllis was outside of this hotel that day, protesting. My how times have changed! Today Phyllis is on the inside, and the forces of bigotry are on the outside.”

Frye, whom the program described as “an Eagle Scout, a former member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, a US Army veteran, a licensed attorney, a father, and a married, lesbian wife for 38 years,” pointed out that she didn’t protest Anita Bryant on her own. Her wife Trish was by her side.

“It was so scary because we didn’t know what would happen,” said Trish Frye. “We didn’t know if they would start throwing things or arresting people, because sometimes that happened.”

Linda Morales, who in 1990 filed a lawsuit that paved the way for the eventual Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision striking down Texas’ sodomy law, spoke of the need for coalition building between the Hispanic and LGBT communities.

Mistress of Ceremonies Fiona Dawson eulogized the late Barnich in her presentation of his posthumous award. Dawson shared that when Judge Barnich was appointed to the Houston municipal bench he was asked during his confirmation hearing how a gay judge’s courtroom would differ from a straight one’s. Barnich, recalled Dawson, coyly replied that he would “upgrade the courtroom’s sound system in order to play showtunes.”

The final award of the evening was presented to “LGBT families for being everyday Trailblazers.” Luncheon co-chair Shipman said that “30 years ago the fight for equality was on the streets of [Houston’s historically gay neighborhood] Montrose. Today the fight is in the suburbs and it’s these families with two moms or two dads who are fighting it.”

Dawson closed the luncheon with a rousing plea for greater community involvement. “When our country is not permitting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we have a responsibility to speak up,” she said. “If all people cared about LGBT issues, they simply would not be issues.”

— Daniel Williams

 

Interfaith prayer service

Saturday, less than 4 miles from Reliant Stadium and Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, “The Response,” a prayer service of a very different nature took place. First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston hosted an “Inclusive Interfaith Prayer Service” that featured an Imam, a Rabbi, a Buddhist Monk and even a Baptist Minister. A moment of silence was set aside to recognize those in attendance who didn’t believe in a higher power, and respect their beliefs.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell, senior pastor of First UUC, opened the service by contrasting it with “The Response,” but said that the inclusive interfaith service was not about being critical of people of other faiths: “We come today not to tear down, but to lift up.”

“I come from a particular religious tradition that I cherish, but other hearts are here with hopes and dreams as true and pure as mine,” O’Connell continued, referencing the hymn “A Song of Peace.”

The service continued with a performance by the Bayou City Performing Arts Quartet (made up of members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston and Bayou City Women’s Chorus) and an opening prayer by the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, a Baptist minister.

“The Language of Peace,” an instrumental trio that includes cello, keyboard and an Indian instrument known as a “tanpura,” then performed an improvisational piece accompanied by chanting in Hindi.

Chanting was a common element in many of the rituals and prayers performed by the diverse collection of religious leaders. From Rabbi Samantha Kahn’s recitation of a Shabbat morning prayer, to Imam Kemal Civelek’s chanting of the names of God, the service centered on quiet moments of contemplation and meditation. During the “Bathing of the Baby Buddha” ritual performed by the Rev. Seido of the St. Nichiren Buddhist Temple, his rhythmic, breathy chanting filled the air as those assembled ladled water over a statue of a standing infant Buddha.

The Rev. Ellen Cooper Davis of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church spoke about her previous life as a circus performer and her current life as a minister. “Actually, the circus was good preparation for working for a church,” said Davis.

“There’s a circus in town right now, but it’s not the kind i want. … It’s the kind that they use to lure the poor people in with bread, the kind the Roman satirists wrote about ages ago,” Cooper Davis said. “They said it’s just there to distract the people so that they would be content with their bread and their circus and would not realize that the Roman empire was oppressing them. So that they would be content with just a few hours of entertainment and not realize that they were living in an empire. The kind of empire that took people who asked hard questions about how we ought to live and nailed them up onto a cross.”

The Rev. Adam Robinson, who organized the service, closed by saying: “This service is about a place at the table for everyone, those [people at “The Response”] are my people. You’re looking an an Evangelical boy here who, after many years, was ordained — then outed — and my place at the table was taken away.

“We’ve got the people out there who are united with hate groups and we don’t want to be united with them,” Robinson said. “We have to watch that — we have to watch our desire to separate ourselves from people we disagree with. It’s a fine line, but if we don’t watch that line carefully pretty soon it’s not OK to be a Unitarian, and then it’s not OK to be a Muslim or a Jew, then it’s not OK to be a progressive Christian, and then there’s only one kind of Christian people are allowed to be.”

— Daniel Williams

 

Dallas’ response

Protesters gather outside Dallas City Hall on Saturday during Rick Perry’s day of prayer in Houston.

About 25 people gathered at Dallas City Hall on Saturday to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response,” the day of prayer and fasting that was under way in Houston at the same time.

Transgender activists Pamela Curry and Kelli Ann Busey were among the protesters in Dallas, while others were from church groups or were individuals who said they believe in separation of church and state.

Among those at Dallas City Hall was Transforming Words, a Bible study group from Garland that represented several churches. “We’re here to love on ‘em and give ‘em some water,” a representative from Transforming Words said. The representative said the group didn’t necessarily support the protest but, “the AFA said some really horrible things.” He said the group particularly disliked some of the statements from AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer.

A few of the protest signs referred to anti-gay hate messages of the AFA, such as “The AFA=Anti-Gay” using the Human Rights Campaign equal sign logo, and “The AFA is anti gay. Fed up. Fight to save America from hate groups. No H8 in TX. Represent all Texans.”

Most of the signs, however, referred to separation of church and state or were specifically anti-Perry: “Blatant exclusion has no place in political office,” “Political office is not your pulpit” “Rick Perry for ex-governor” were among the messages.

Using the Bible to fight religious bigotry, one sign read, “Jesus opposes prayer rallies Matthew 6:5-14 NIV,” referring to the passage that translates as, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”

— David Taffet

—  John Wright

Gay-rights foes try to play the victim

Anti-LGBT groups now claim they’re the ones being bullied

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — As the gay-rights movement advances, there is increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it is the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully, pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay people, and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people: that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

• Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

• After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

• In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, New York City, contends he has received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage.

“We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance. … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign — of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

• Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters.

One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest.

The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries which depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King & Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients; I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King & Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views, … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate, a gay-oriented newsmagazine.

“Incidents of rage against ‘haters,’ verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other `zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics, such as Wendy Kaminer, have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech but comes into play only when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights, which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” said George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. He suggested that those who hold cultural power, in academia, the media and elsewhere, inevitably are going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates, such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile — it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. “I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

—  John Wright

Task Force: Perry’s Day of Prayer ‘a profoundly harmful act’ that ‘demeans our common humanity’

Last Wednesday we called attention to the fact that only one LGBT group had issued a statement condemning Gov. Rick Perry’s Day of Prayer, funded by the gay-hating American Family Association. We also said we had reached out to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force but received no response. However, a spokeswoman for NGLTF says she never received our email because it was caught by her spam filter. In any case, the Task Force has now joined the handful of other LGBT groups that have issued statements since then. Here’s the statement that was sent over today from the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director for NGLTF:

“A designated hate group is the primary backer of Gov. Rick Perry’s so-called Day of Prayer. How exactly does this help heal our nation? It does nothing to foster a much-needed sense of community, peace and well-being. What it does do is fuel discord and division at a time when many people are hurting. The AFA has taken extreme positions that make our families more vulnerable to violence, bigotry and economic distress. This is not an act of love; it is a profoundly harmful act. This event as planned demeans our common humanity and makes a mockery of the principles of fairness and faith.”

—  John Wright

New York may be next to legalize gay marriage

Evan Wolfson

Rhode Island considering civil unions; efforts under way in 6 states to ban gay marriage

DANA RUDOLPH | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The openly gay sponsor of a marriage equality bill in Rhode Island said last week he would push for a civil unions bill instead, setting off a slew of criticism from LGBT groups.

Six states are considering legislation that would ask voters to amend their state constitutions to ban recognition of any legal relationships for same-sex couples. And all this was on the heels of a dramatic loss for a marriage equality bill in Maryland in March.

Has the state legislative fight for marriage equality lost momentum?

Not according to Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry group.

“Both Rhode Island and Maryland are very much still in play,” said Wolfson. “. . . The fact that we don’t win it exactly on the day we want . . . doesn’t change the overall momentum that is strongly in our direction.”

The “highest priority” right now, said Wolfson, is New York. He said he is “very hopeful” a marriage bill that is expected to pass the New York State Assembly, which is under Democratic control, will also pass the Senate, where Republicans hold a 32-to-26 majority.

Wolfson acknowledges the Senate may be more difficult. While a marriage equality bill passed the Assembly three times in the past four years, an attempt to pass it in the Senate in 2009 failed by 14 votes.

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who opposes marriage equality, has nevertheless said he would let a marriage equality bill come to the floor.

And several recent polls show that a majority of voters in the state support marriage equality. A Siena College poll April 11 showed that 58 percent of New Yorkers support it, with 36 percent opposed. An April 14 Quinnipiac poll showed 56 percent support, with 38 percent opposed, and a New York Times estimated projection on the same date also showed 58 percent support.

Additionally, two dozen New York business leaders, including Lloyd C. Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and John Mack, chairman of the board of Morgan Stanley, on April 28 issued an open letter arguing that legalizing marriage for same-sex couples would help the state attract talent and remain competitive.

“Winning New York would really be transformative,” said Wolfson, “because New York has enormous cultural and political leadership in the United States and in the world.”

Freedom to Marry and several other LGBT advocacy groups — the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, the League of Women Voters, the Log Cabin Republicans and Marriage Equality New York — have formed the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition, which is coordinating efforts to lobby for the marriage equality bill this session, which adjourns in June.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has expressed strong support for passing such a bill this year, has asked members of his staff to work with the coalition.

In Rhode Island, openly gay Democratic House Speaker Gordon Fox, a sponsor of that state’s marriage bill, said in a statement April 27 that “there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate,” and that he will not move forward with a vote in the House.

But the Providence Journal newspaper also reported that Fox said he did not have the votes to pass the bill even in the House, where Democrats hold 65 seats to Republicans’ 10.

Fox instead introduced a bill for civil unions on Tuesday, May 3, and said he is “optimistic” that the bill could pass both chambers this session.
But Fox’s decision has not gone over well with LGBT groups.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which supports full marriage, held a rally at the State House to protest Fox’s decision to drop the marriage equality bill. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and others, issued statements criticizing Fox’s decision and calling it “completely unacceptable.”

“Nothing short of marriage is equality for Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian citizens and their children,” said Karen Loewy, a GLAD senior staff attorney. “More to the point, civil unions tell gay people and their kids that they are second-class citizens and that their families matter less than other families.”

Wolfson called Fox’s decision a “miscalculation.” He noted that polls show a majority of support among voters, that Rhode Island already recognizes marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere, and that nearby Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont all began with civil unions and have moved to full equality.

Similar to Rhode Island, marriage equality supporters never had a clear majority in Maryland either, even with the support of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. The bill passed the Senate in Maryland, but on March 11, the House voted unanimously to send the bill back to committee.

But in Maryland, several LGBT groups, including Equality Maryland, the leading state organization behind the bill, expressed approval for the move.
Wolfson noted, however, that Maryland was “within a couple of votes” of passage. With “a little more time to make the case and organize,” he thinks achieving equality could happen in early 2012.

Meanwhile, three states have enacted civil union laws this year — Delaware, Hawaii and Illinois. Wolfson said that, while civil unions are not the true goal, they still “sometimes can be a stepping stone.”

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal, agreed, saying that civil unions “are an important step forward” in states where same-sex couples have no benefits or protections. She added that Lambda is “often very involved,” as it was in Illinois, in drafting such legislation.

But Lambda also brought a suit before the New Jersey state Supreme Court claiming the state’s civil union law did not provide full equality. The court last June refused to hear the case, saying it must first go through the trial court process.

Taylor said she could not say whether Lambda would be filing any further cases to contest civil unions, noting that it is important in each state to first “develop a record of the ways in which it harms people to deny them equal access to marriage.”

Six states — Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington — also have active legislation that would ask voters to amend the state constitutions to ban marriage, and in some cases, recognition of any legal relationships, such as civil unions for same-sex couples.

New Mexico and Wyoming both considered but did not pass such bills this year. Wyoming also rejected a bill that sought to prevent the state from recognizing marriages and civil unions of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions.

Washington state has seen a mish-mash of marriage-related bills. The state already allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners and, on Feb. 14, bills were introduced in both chambers of the legislature for marriage equality.

On April 5, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, signed a bill to recognize legal relationships of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions as domestic partnerships. But there is also a bill in the House that would ask voters to ban marriage for same-sex couples under the state constitution.

Democrats have a majority in both chambers.

The situation in New Hampshire is also mixed. A House committee voted March 3 to table a bill that would repeal the state’s existing marriage equality law, thus postponing further consideration until January 2012.

But opponents of marriage equality have said they will also introduce a bill next year seeking to ask voters in November 2012 to approve amending the state constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

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

In NYC, gay groups are fighting Wal-Mart

A while back we told you how the anti-gay Wal-Mart plans to take over Dallas by building 12 new stores here. Little did we know at the time that the man who’s taking “credit” for bringing the new Wal-Mart stores to Dallas, former Mayor Tom Leppert, would show his stripes as a back-stabbing homophobe only days later. Anyhow, we just wanted to note that in New York City, LGBT groups are taking stands against allowing Wal-Mart to come into the city — due to the group’s anti-gay employment practices. Change.org reports:

Last week, Change.org writer Lauren Kelley noted that the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City issued a statement opposing the construction of a WalMart in the Big Apple. Their reasons for opposing WalMart? Pretty straightforward, really: the company receives a dismal grade when it comes to workplace equality, the company’s CEO supported efforts in Arkansas to ban LGBT people from adopting children, and last year, more than 100 WalMart stores announced that they would carry a book championing ex-gay therapy.

Yuck, indeed. Now this week comes word that another heavyweight organization is lending their voice in the effort to keep WalMart out of New York City. That group? The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement this week knocking WalMart’s record on LGBT equality.

“With the expansion of Wal-Mart stores comes the expansion of antiquated employment policies that provide little to no protections for, and at times even hostility toward, their LGBT employees,” the Task Force said in a statement.

—  John Wright

Target changes giving policy that led to boycott

Target has changed its corporate donation policy more than six months after LGBT groups criticized the company for donating $150,000 to Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who said he thought someone who said it was OK to kill gay people was a nice guy.

The new policy involves a committee of senior executives overseeing donations to parties and candidates.

Since the donation was made, Human Rights Campaign tried to negotiate a comparable donation to LGBT groups, but the company broke off talks. Many members of the LGBT community stopped shopping at Target and HRC deducted 15 points from Target’s Corporate Equality Index score.

The LGBT Creating Change conference was held just blocks from Target’s Minneapolis headquarters this month. Creating Change organizers approached Target about sponsoring the conference, but the company declined. However, employees from Target corporate headquarters volunteered at the conference.

Best Buy, which is also based in Minneapolis and also made a large donation to the PAC supporting Emmer, the anti-gay Republican running for Minnesota governor, was a sponsor of Creating Change.

Target says its has supported Twin Cities Pride in the past and plans to continue doing so. The company also says it will contribute to gay Pride celebrations in San Francisco and Chicago.

Ironically, the political donation may have backfired for the candidate as well.  The money Target gave to Emmer may have energized enough people in the LGBT community to vote for Mark Dayton, the Democrat who won the election by a slim margin.

—  David Taffet

HRC goes on strike, threatens to spam our Inbox until it has 32 new members from Texas

We’re joking, of course, but that is kinda what President Joe Solmonese implies in a mass e-mail this morning. Here’s an excerpt:

We have staff on the ground around the country and plans to deploy even more. We’re bolstering state groups, even as we fight against hostile federal bills and amendments. But to make it work, we need 2,011 new members like you – that works out to just 32 more from Texas – to join HRC in the next week. Once you do, we’ll stop sending reminders and get back to the work of securing equality.

Solmonese goes on to reiterate his warning that if you don’t join, you’ll continue to receive these e-mails:

Be part of the civil rights battle of our day. Fight for marriage. Join now — and we won’t send you any more emails for the remainder of our membership drive.

On a serious note, the e-mail comes under the subject line “The next Prop 8,” and it notes that lawmakers in New Hampshire are set to try to repeal same-sex marriage. It also says “hateful groups” are trying to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Iowa and West Virginia. There are now 20 state legislatures with anti-LGBT majorities, Solmonese says, which is twice as many as are under pro-equality leadership.

And if that isn’t reason enough to join HRC, check out the USB car charger above that’s offered with a new membership, which can be had for as little as $35.

If journalism ethics didn’t discourage us from supporting individual LGBT groups, Instant Tea would be tempted. Then again, we’d stop receiving these fun e-mails. But seriously, maybe you should join so that HRC will start working again. Full e-mail after the jump.

—  John Wright