Equality Texas PAC endorses Austin lesbian in HD 50 special election

Celia Israel

Celia Israel

The Texas Equity PAC, a division of Equality Texas, has endorsed Austin lesbian Celia Israel, who’s vying to replace former state Rep. Mark Strama in District 50.

Strama resigned over the summer, and several candidates have lined up for the special election on Nov. 5 to replace him, including a gay Republican.

“While we are sad to see our longtime ally Rep. Mark Strama leave this seat, we have every confidence that Celia Israel is the best choice to continue his legacy as a fierce advocate for the LGBT community,” a release announcing the endorsement reads in part.

Israel was also recently endorsed by the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

—  Dallasvoice

Anti-bullying bill clears Texas House

HB 1942, the anti-bullying bill by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, cleared the Texas House today on its third and final reading, by a vote of 94-41. According to Equality Texas, which now lists Patrick’s bill as its top priority in this year’s session, no Democrats voted against the measure, which now proceeds to the Senate. From Equality Texas blog:

The Texas House of Representatives today passed anti-bullying legislation supported by Equality Texas on a final vote of 94 to 41. HB 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) is the collaborative product of Rep. Patrick and members of the House Committee on Public Education, including Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin), Rep. Mark Shelton (R-Fort Worth), Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), and Committee Chair Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands). The House had tentatively approved HB 1942 on Tuesday night on a 102 – 34 vote.

HB 1942 is the single best opportunity this session for the Texas Legislature to address the problem of bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment in Texas schools.

HB 1942:

• For the first time, includes the definition of bullying in Chaper 37 (Discipline) of the Texas Education Code,

• Updates the definition of bullying to include that through electronic means (cyberbullying),

• For the first time, provides for the transfer of the student who engages in bullying. Currently, only the target of bullying may be transferred.

• Allows staff development to include training on preventing, identifying, responding to, and reporting incidents of bullying.

• Mandates that each board of trustees of each school district adopt a policy, including any necessary procedures, to address the prevention, investigation and reporting of incidents of bullying.

Upon final passage by the House, HB 1942 must now begin the process in the Texas Senate. The bill must be secure a Senate sponsor, secure a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Education, be passed out of committee, and then be passed by the full Senate.

We must not let up in our efforts to secure passage of this bill into law.

Watch for Advocacy Campaigns upcoming to secure the support of your Texas State Senator.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills advance; Senate to consider trans marriage ban Monday

Daniel Williams

Anti-bullying bills were voted out of committee in both the House and Senate this week, the 14th of Texas’ 20-week regular legislative session held in odd-numbered years.

Back on April 5 House Public Education Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, appointed a subcommittee on bullying. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who has filed anti-bullying legislation for the last two sessions, chaired the subcommittee.

On Tuesday, Strama’s subcommittee presented a compromise designed to appease conservatives on the Public Education committee. The bullying subcommittee recommended amending House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, to include the least controversial elements of other anti-bullying bills and to add the authors of the other bills as co-authors on HB 1942. The newly formed compromise bill requires that anti-bullying materials be included in school health classes and updates the education code to recognize the existence of cyberbullying. Unlike Strama’s original anti-bullying bill, House Bill 224, the compromise only allows administrators to address cyberbullying if it happens on school grounds or at school events. The compromise bill would also allow for the transfer of bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred).

The subcommittee avoided any recognition of LGBT students in its compromise. The bill neither prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination (as legislation filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, would do) nor requires school districts to report if homophobia or transphobia motivated an incident of bullying (as legislation filed by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would do).

—  admin

Equality Texas lauds House committee’s decision to advance bipartisan anti-bullying bill

Rep. Diane Patrick

The Texas House Committee on Public Education voted 10-1 today to advance a bipartisan anti-bullying bill, authored by Republican Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington. The bill, a committee substitute for Patrick’s HB 1942, doesn’t specifically protect LGBT youth but incorporates much of the language from another anti-bullying bill by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. For example, Patrick’s bill would update the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying, and it would allow the bully, instead of just the victim, to be transferred to another classroom or campus. Strama’s bill had the backing of Equality Texas, which now plans to support Patrick’s bill. The text of the committee’s substitute for Patrick’s bill wasn’t immediately available on the Legislature’s website, but Equality Texas provides details of the measure in a press release below.

—  John Wright

Removal of sexual orientation doesn’t stop bigots — or the ACLU — from opposing anti-bullying bill

Jonathan Saenz

The removal of sexual orientation from an anti-bullying bill didn’t stop anti-gay groups from opposing the measure during a Texas House committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affiars for the Plano-based Liberty Institute, told the House public education committee that even though sexual orientation and other enumerated categories were removed from Rep. Mark Strama’s HB 224, Saenz fears the categories will be restored to the measure at some point.

“It is about the gay rights, the homosexual community, the transgender community, and an effort to create special categories and special rights in our law that don’t currently exist, and really carve off protections for some groups and not others,” Saenz told the committee. “It’s not about bullying, and it’s not about solving this problem. It’s about creating new classes of people and giving special protections to some categories and not others.”

Strama said during the hearing that he has no plans to restore the enumerated categories to the bill.

“We took all those classes out so we wouldn’t have to have this discusssion,” said Strama, D-Austin. “It’s not my intention to put any of that list back in the bill. At this point I’d like to keep it the way it is if we can get this bill moving through the process.”

Representatives from Equality Texas, which supports the bill and testified in favor of it on Tuesday, have said the enumerated categories were removed to improve the bill’s chances of passage and de-politicize the issue.

Also testifying against Strama’s bill were both the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum and the normally pro-equality American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU representatives say Strama’s bill, which would allow school officials to crack down on cyberbullying that occurs off campus, creates concerns about free speech and parental rights.

The bill was left pending in the education committee. To watch video of the committee hearing, go here.

—  John Wright

References to sexual orientation, gender identity to be removed from TX anti-bullying bills

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

Specific references to LGBT youth will be removed from two anti-bullying bills backed by Equality Texas to improve their chances of passage and de-politicize the issue, Instant Tea has learned.

One of the bills, House Bill 224 by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said Monday that a substitute for HB 224 will be introduced during the hearing that removes all enumerated categories — including sexual orientation — from a provision requiring school districts to report incidents of bullying to the state.

Instead, the substitute bill will direct the Texas education commissioner to specify what types of bullying must be reported. Smith said enumerated categories will also be removed from a companion bill in the Senate, SB 242 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis’ bill as originally drafted included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“If they were all there it likely wouldn’t pass,” Smith said, referring to the enumerated categories. “At the end of the day, the reporting part is not important compared to the rest of the guts of the bill.”

HB 224 and SB 242 would establish uniform definitions for bullying and cyberbullying in the state education code, and require districts to create training programs for students, parents, staff and volunteers. The bills would also allow officials to transfer bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims.

Strama’s HB 224 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the House public education committee. It’s one of three bills backed by Equality Texas scheduled for committee hearings Tuesday.

HB 172, by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, would launch a study on the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 is scheduled for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the House criminal jurisprudence committee.

HB 130, by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would incorporate an anti-bullying hotline into the state’s existing Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline. HB 130 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. in the House human services committee. 

Smith said it’s unlikely that any of the bills will be voted on Tuesday. You can watch committee hearings live on the Legislature’s website. For more information on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda, go here. To register for the group’s lobby day on Monday, March 7, go here.

UPDATE: The full text of the substitute bill is here. Smith also had this to say on Facebook:

“I would have preferred a headline like, ‘House Public Ed Committee to hear landmark anti-bullying bill that will protect every child based upon any actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or belief.’ That’s what’s IN the bill and EVERY child will be protected. The enumerated references were removed from reporting guidelines, not who is covered by the bill.”

—  John Wright

Texas House committees and pro-LGBT bills

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Legislative Queery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—  admin

Joel Burns, Laura Bush join Equality Texas’ call for anti-bullying legislation

I was already planning to head to Austin on Monday to talk with Executive Director Dennis Coleman and Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith at Equality Texas about the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature. Then Chuck told me that Equality Texas would be holding a press conference that same morning, and although he did not at first tell me what the press conference was about, I figured I had gotten lucky and could kill two birds with one stone.

Laura Bush

Then this afternoon, I got a press release in my e-mail inbox with a title that linked gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Republican former First Lady Laura Bush and Equality Texas, and my interest level concerning this press conference went even higher.

Here’s what’s going on:

Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Rep. Mark Strama of Austin have already prefiled bills aimed at protecting children from bullying at school, and a scientific poll commissioned by Equality Texas shows that 80 percent of Texans support anti-bullying legislation. So Equality Texas is having a press conference Monday to talk about the problem of bullying, the results of the poll and what this legislation can do to address the problem.

Burns, who made headlines around the country in October with his emotional “It Gets Better” speech at a Fort Worth City Council meeting, will be there at the press conference to offer his perspective. And although the former first lady won’t be there in person, she is sending along a written statement expressing her support for the legislation.

I wish Mrs. Bush were going to be there in person, but having her written support is certainly better than nothing. And while some folks were disappointed that the campaign to get her to participate in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade fell through this year, I’d much rather have her speaking out against bullying than riding in a convertible down Cedar Springs.

The press conference is being held at 10 a.m. Monday in the Speaker’s Committee Room in the Texas Capitol.

—  admin

Facebook backs Texas anti-bullying bill

The Star-Telegram reports that Facebook has endorsed an anti-bullying measure filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The bill would require school districts to provide training for employees and educate students and parents about bullying and cyberbullying. It would also require school officials to immediately notify parents about incidents of bullying, and grant districts the authority to transfer bullies and victims:

“Facebook supports the bill and we are encouraged to see the Texas legislature take steps to keep our schools places where students can feel safe,” Corey Owens, a lobbyist for Facebook, wrote in a letter to Strama. “As a company with a significant presence in Texas – including employees who send their children to Texas public schools – we are committed to building an online platform that is safe for users of all ages.”

Strama’s bill, HB 224, would require school districts in Texas to track the number of incidents of bullying based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. However, Strama’s bill doesn’t include gender identity/expression, meaning it’s unlikely to receive the backing of Equality Texas, at least in its current form.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that’s nearly identical to Strama’s in the Senate. But unlike Strama’s, Davis’ SB 245 does include gender identity/expression in the tracking requirement. Davis’ bill was inspired by and has the backing of Joel Burns, who replaced Davis on the Fort Worth City Council and has since become famous for his “It Gets Better” speech:

“I have focused the message on the responsibility of adults to end bullying by creating a culture of respect,” Burns said. “The reporting tools in Sen. Davis’ bill will give us the data we need to prioritize resources and understand how we can do better educating and supporting children to learn and be a success.”

The Star-Telegram explains the difference between the two bills as follows:

Strama’s and Davis’ bills differ in one area drawing the attention of some gay rights activists. Both bills require districts to annually report how many bullying incidents they faced, including how many incidents were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Davis said she included “gender identity and expression” to her list of categories to make sure districts looked at bullying situations that arose due to “a perception of someone’s sexuality rather than the reality.” Strama said that phrase might be added to his bill as well.

Davis is correct in the sense that “gender identity/expression” includes some students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian. But these students are already covered because the bill clearly states, “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” The real difference between the bills — and the Star-Telegram should know this — is that Davis’ bill includes transgender students, whereas Strama’s bill does not.



—  John Wright

Sen. Wendy Davis, who brought us Joel Burns, now brings us a fully inclusive anti-bullying bill

State Sen. Wendy Davis

Sounds like State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has introduced a fully inclusive anti-bullying bill. If you’ll recall, State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, filed an anti-bullying bill in the House that includes sexual orientation but NOT gender identity/expression. In response to Strama’s as-yet-still-unexplained omission, Equality Texas told us they were working to get a fully inclusive anti-bullying bill introduced on the Senate side. The text of Davis’ SB 245, filed earlier today, wasn’t immediately available on the Legislature’s website, but here’s what Equality Texas said on Twitter just now:

“SB245 filed today by Sen.Wendy Davis relating to bullying & cyberbullying is the #1 priority in @EqualityTexas 2011 Legislative Agenda.”

It’s safe to say that if Equality Texas is calling the bill its No. 1 priority, it includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Davis, of course, is a former Fort Worth city councilwoman who handpicked the openly gay Joel Burns as her successor when she stepped down to run for Senate. Yes, that’s Joel Burns of “It Gets Better” fame.

More to come.

—  John Wright