Sheriff Valdez resting at home after being released from hospital

Lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is out of the hospital and resting at home after being admitted with back pain and a high fever on Sunday.

“Sheriff Valdez is now resting at home. She was released earlier today,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Carmen Castro told Instant Tea in an email Wednesday afternoon. “Doctors recommended for her to take it easy. The severe back pain was as a result of a combination of past injuries. She is always on the go as I’m sure you know.”

Valdez is seeking a third four-year term in the Nov. 6 election. She faces Republican Kirk Launius. Early voting begins Monday.

—  John Wright

Gay Dallas officials address election challenges, shift in attitude toward gay candidates at forum

From left, Dallas police LGBT Liaison Laura Martin, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and former Dallas Councilman John Loza speak about being out officials at a Dallas Pride forum Wednesday, June 20. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

A couple of Dallas’ out officials discussed the challenges and benefits of running as an out candidate and serving as an open officeholder Wednesday at the third event in the city’s “Honor, Educate and Celebrate” Pride series.

Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez, former Councilman John Loza and Dallas police LGBT Liaison Laura Martin, who stepped in last minute for the absent 116th Civil District Court Judge Tonya Parker, were panelists. A group of about 30 sat comfortably in couches in a casual setting at the United Black Ellument Cultural Center and asked questions about campaigns and the importance of out officials.

Valdez touched on the challenges of running as an openly gay candidate. In her first election in 2004, she worried constantly that she would be outed. When her opponent eventually outed her, she said she handled it with care and focused on her experience.

In a story about self-worth, Valdez explained that she received international calls when she first won. When a Collin County woman sitting next to her on a plane recognized her, she began to tell Valdez how she and her family including her gay son watched with pride when Valdez won on election night.

At the end of the flight, she told Valdez that she was her son’s hero and her election validated her son. Valdez said her position shouldn’t validate the LGBT community, but further instill in them a sense of confidence in being who they are.

“We do not need this kind of validation to be who we are,” she said. “We just need to be who we are.”

—  Dallasvoice


CELEBRATING PROGRESS  | Trial lawyer Lisa Blue Baron, center, was the keynote speaker at the recent Landmark Dinner, benefiting Lambda Legal and marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas declaring the Texas sodomy law unconstitutional. The event, held at the W Hotel Dallas, raised more than $120,000, a record for Lambda Legal’s Southwest Regional Office in Dallas. Also during the dinner, American Airlines was presented with the Corporate Equality Award, Jackson Walker was presented with the Law Firm Equality Award and Dr. Mark Parker and Eric Johnson were presented with the Persons of Style Award. Pictured with Baron are Lambda Legal Leadership Committee member Brian Bleeker and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Lupe Valdez, Joel Burns, Annise Parker featured in doc on openly LGBT elected officials

Director Cindy L. Abel

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and Houston Mayor Annise Parker (you might as well call them the Texas Trio) are among those whose stories will be included in a new feature-length documentary about openly LGBT elected officials. Cindy L. Abel, director of Breaking Through, will visit Dallas on Aug. 17, according to a note we received from publicist Cathy Renna:

“She will be in town to interview two officials who will be featured in the film: Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the first and only female, Latina, and openly LGBT sheriff in Texas; and Ft. Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who became an overnight Internet and media sensation earlier this year after a speech before City Council, during which he spoke in support of the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign and shared that he considered suicide after being bullied in high school. The speech led to Burns’ invitation to the White House for an anti-bullying summit this past spring.”

According to the Breaking Through website, the film will focus on “confronting the demons of an openly-LGBT campaign, told by the people who ran and won”:

In this feature-length documentary, openly LGBT elected officials tell their stories of self-doubt and triumph, revealing a deeply personal, rarely-seen side of politicians and gay people.

While each of them had unique barriers to overcome they also had similar feelings of fear, shame and doubt when coming out and later deciding to run for office.

As they share how they broke through barriers, we experience the conflict between the barrage of anti-gay messages and the desire to live open and fulfilled lives. They broke through internally – by daring to believe something different than what they were told about LGBT people – and then externally as they pursued and achieved the future they envision. As they show it is possible to be authentic and achieve their dreams – even in the rough and tough world of politics – they give hope to those who are struggling.

Watch a trailer for the documentary featuring Burns and Parker below.

—  John Wright


PIONEERING PAIR | Carlos Vasquez became only the second openly gay elected official in Tarrant County history when he joined the Fort Worth school board in 2008. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns was the first. (Andrea Grimes/Dallas Voice)

Carlos Vasquez, Texas’ only openly gay school board member, takes on the establishment in Fort Worth

ANDREA GRIMES | Contributing Writer

“In Fort Worth, we have a very strong downtown.”

When Fort Worth ISD trustee Carlos Vasquez says this, he’s not talking about the manicured sidewalks of Commerce Street or plentiful parking for night-lifers. He’s talking about a political establishment that doesn’t take kindly to challenges. Elected in 2008 to the district’s board of trustees, Vasquez has been a voice of dissent in a city that has notoriously favored those who fall in line, no questions asked.

“I have been a very strong supporter of students and employees, and not the establishment,” Vasquez told Dallas Voice over coffee last month. His record — and many, many critical editorials and opinion pieces from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — certainly paints a picture of a trustee who feels little obligation to the status quo.

Vasquez unseated an incumbent to win North Fort Worth’s District 1 with 64 percent of the vote. He loudly, and sometimes passionately, criticized former Superintendent Melody Johnson, who resigned under pressure in May. He has questioned the safety of gas drilling close to schools. He has advocated bringing in a new legal firm to take over the district’s delinquent tax collections.

Vasquez also happens to be the only openly gay school board member in the state. It’s a significant distinction, but he’s gone largely unrecognized by the LGBT community in Texas — perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

But even in a very red city in a very red county, Vasquez says his sexuality has been the least of his problems. Instead, he’s been criticized by the Star-Telegram for accusing school board President Ray Dickerson of bowing to big business in gas drilling matters, and of resorting to “antics” with regard to hiring that new legal firm.

He even says he once got a call from former Mayor Mike Moncrief telling him to “cool it” with the criticism. But Vasquez believes that the “Fort Worth way is not always the right way, and the Fort Worth way many, many times excludes people.”

One of Vasquez’s colleagues in the Tejano Democrats of North Texas, community activist Jodi Perry, calls Vasquez the “padrino,” or “godfather,” of education in Fort Worth.

Whether it’s keeping gas drilling away from schools or advocating for anti-bullying measures, Perry says Vasquez has never been a “one-issue person.” Constituents “don’t see him as a gay trustee,” she says, but as “Carlos, the champion for children.”

Inclusion is one of Vasquez’s passions, and as a 16-year veteran of the school district, where he’s worked as both a teacher and a principal, he’s made LGBT equality a staple of his tenure so far. Somehow, he has found time in between all his so-called “antics,” to help found an LGBT employees’ organization as well as help institute anti-bullying policies that include prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, first for employees and, as of the last week in June, for students.

Elected just a few months after Councilman Burns, who made national news with his “It Gets Better” speech, Vasquez became the second openly gay public elected official to serve in Tarrant County. Burns, elected in December 2007, and Vasquez, elected in May 2008, have not yet worked closely together despite their shared interest in LGBT advocacy.

Vasquez says he’s “surprised that we’ve gotten away with having as many gay rights as we have for students, teachers, employees,” because of the conservative, Republican base in Fort Worth. But he believes that community building comes from inclusion. That’s a philosophy he’s been building on since childhood.

Growing up in a socioeconomically blighted area of Brownsville in South Texas, Vasquez found a way to bridge the gap between being a popular guy and a friend to kids on the margins. A student council member, yearbook editor and senior class favorite, Vasquez admits to growing up in a “pretty rough” neighborhood. Even so, he says, he’s lived both “a good life and a hard life” that helps him identify with many different groups of people. In fact, his intersectional identity as a Latino man, a gay man and a lifelong educator helps him “go from 99-cent tacos to fifty-dollar steaks and still be the same kind of guy.”

Still, he says, his critics have often asked him to pick one identity over the others — something he’s not willing to do. “I have many different identities,” says Vasquez, and while others may see those as being in conflict with each other, he believes they give him perspective.

Most recently, some members of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Fort Worth have criticized Vasquez’s support of interim Superintendent Walter Dansby, who is black. Vasquez believes Dansby’s 37 years with the district, despite the fact that he’s yet to take his superintendent certification test, means he’s the best man for the job, regardless of race. He was most recently the deputy superintendent. LULAC supporters have said they prefer Sylvia Reyna, the school district’s chief of administration, who is certified as a superintendent but who has only been with the district a year.

“We have to move beyond race,” says Vasquez, and “beyond diversity.” Most importantly, he believes, Fort Worth ISD needs “somebody who has ownership of our district.” He believes Dansby has that, and if it makes him unpopular with some in the Latino community, he says he doesn’t mind, because he’s being honest.

In keeping with his reputation for speaking his mind, Vasquez says that in-fighting in minority communities holds everyone back. In fact, he says, “I think I’ve had more bullying behavior in our own [LGBT] community than I’ve had outside.” He remembers a time when he first came to North Texas 20 years ago when he’d head to a gay bar and find that “everyone was white and pretty and skinny.”

Today, he says, “I see a lot of different faces.” He says that comes from “better communication.” To that end, says Vasquez, he’s willing to take the lead. “If you’re not going to say ‘hi’ to me, I’ll say ‘hi’ to you.”

If his go-getter attitude ruffles some feathers, Vasquez doesn’t mind.

“I feel pretty good, even though the Star-Telegram and downtown establishment aren’t happy, the community at large is.” Vasquez says he gets a lot of “praise” and “kudos” from his constituents, and “ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.”

—  John Wright

Mayor Rawlings joins 5 other council members at 1st-ever LGBT Pride Month Reception

Mayor Mike Rawlings speaks during Monday’s LGBT Pride Month Reception at City Hall.

About 50 people attended Dallas’ first-ever official LGBT Pride Month Reception at City Hall on Monday afternoon.

Mayor Mike Rawlings was among six council members who appeared at the event, organized by Councilwoman Delia Jasso and her LGBT task force.

Standing before a Pride flag draped from the wall of the Flag Room on the sixth floor, Rawlings spoke briefly at the start of the reception and drew cheers when he pledged to have “open doors” to the community.

“I met many of you during the campaign,” Rawlings said. “Some of you were supporting me, others were not. But I’ll tell you this: I knew that this was a fabulous community that I wanted to partner with when I became mayor. Thank you for what you have done for this city.”

Prior to the reception, Rawlings told Instant Tea he has no hard feelings about the fact that both Stonewall Democrats and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance endorsed his opponents in the election — with DGLA even issuing a rare warning against him.

“Not at all,” Rawlings said. “We must all have a spirit of understanding. I don’t have anything like that [hard feelings].”

Rawlings didn’t specifically mention the LGBT community during his inauguration address at the Meyerson Symphony Center earlier in the day. But at the Pride reception, he told attendees that the community fits with the major themes he outlined in the speech: becoming a city of diversity, opportunity and excellence.

“As far as I’m concerned, you are right on with my plan, and I want to be right on with yours, and so we will continue to talk, and I am just pleased that we are here to honor gay and lesbian Pride Month in the city of Dallas,” Rawlings said.

—  John Wright

In case you hadn’t noticed, Texas is now down to just 3 openly gay city council members

A Victory Fund spokesman called Chris Hightower’s defeat in Arlington ‘heartbreaking.’

As we mentioned in our big election roundup from Saturday night, three gay city council candidates lost runoffs in Texas — Randi Shade in Austin, Elena Guajardo in San Antonio, and Chris Hightower in Arlington.

Shade was the only incumbent of the three, and her departure from office will leave Texas, the second-largest state in the nation, with just three openly LGBT city council members — Joel Burns in Fort Worth, Sue Lovell in Houston, and Scott Sherman in Pearland.

Openly gay Kemp City Councilman Jerry Hazelip didn’t seek re-election this year. And the two gay council candidates in Dallas, James Nowlin and Casie Pierce, lost their races May 14.

Of course, Texas still has plenty of LGBT appointed and elected officials (view the full list here), including high-profile ones like Mayor Annise Parker in Houston and Sheriff Lupe Valdez in Dallas — but nevertheless the lack of gay council members is cause for concern, according to Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Dison said the Victory Fund, which endorsed both Hightower and Shade, doesn’t keep a running total of the number of gay city council members in each state. But he noted that Texas is one of the few big states that lack an out legislator, and city councils are often a stepping stone to higher office.

“Chris Hightower’s loss was heartbreaking, both because he came so close and because he was subject to some pretty awful anti-gay politicking,” Dison told Instant Tea today. “My understanding is Shade’s loss had nothing to do with her sexual orientation.

“Municipal offices like those are very important because that’s often where future state legislators get their start, and Texas really needs an openly LGBT voice in the Capitol.

“We hope our progress is constant, but sometimes the challenges seem to bunch up and we’ve got to redouble our efforts,” Dison said. “We’ve seen a lot of success in Texas and I think we’ll continue to see good people decide to run from both parties.”

Really? Both parties? A gay Republican candidate in Texas? Now that would be something.

—  John Wright

LOCAL BRIEFS: HRC and LULAC hold Cinco de Mayo

The Human Rights Campaign will partner with the local LGBT chapter of LULAC — The Dallas Rainbow Council to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.

The annual Salsa Cocktails event —featuring dancers, food and high-energy music — takes place at Havana, 4006 Cedar Springs Road, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 5.

“We have already confirmed Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez as one of our speakers,” said Kimberly Williams, HRC event coordinator. “Our dance group will also offer free salsa dance lessons for our guests.”

HRC and LULAC will talk about recent national and local successes. The public is invited to attend. The event is free, although a $20 donation to HRC at the door will get two free cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

“Both HRC and LULAC will have information about membership and ways to get active,” said Jesse Garcia, president of LULAC 4871. “We have great projects coming up this summer. We invite community members ready to get involved to come learn about opportunities to further equality.”

—  John Wright

Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, on why she’s going to the Log Cabin Republicans Convention

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

The Log Cabin Republicans will hold their National Convention in Dallas this coming weekend, and we’ll have a full story in Friday’s print edition. But because the convention actually begins Thursday, we figured we’d go ahead and post the full program sent out by the group earlier this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the program is a scheduled appearance by gay Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is of course a Democrat.

Valdez, who’ll be one of the featured speakers at a Saturday luncheon, contacted us this week to explain her decision to accept the invitation from Log Cabin (not that we necessarily felt it warranted an explanation). Here’s what she said: 

“We have more things in common than we have differences, but it seems like in politics we constantly dwell on our differences,” Valdez said. “If we continue to dwell on our differences, all we’re going to do is fight. If we try to work on our common issues, we’ll be able to accomplish some things.”

On that note, below is the full program. For more information or to register, go here.

—  John Wright

Oak Cliff Mardi Gras attracts a wide cross-section of the community

Despite cold temperatures and strong wind hundreds of runners participated in Dash for the Beads as Mardi Gras weekend in Oak Cliff began Saturday, March 5. Runners included groups from Oak Cliff elementary schools, “traditional” families and many members of the LGBT community.

—  David Taffet