Joe Solmonese, Eric Alva, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Marlee Matlin, Caroline Rhea, Taylor Dayne, Chet Flake and the late Bud Knight are among those who will be honored or will speak at The Black Tie Dinner on Saturday.
Solmonese fears 2012 setback
LAST NIGHT | Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese speaks at a previous Black Tie Dinner in Dallas. Solmonese will be leaving HRC next March, making this weekend’s event the last Black Tie Dinner he will attend as president of the national LGBT advocacy organization.
Outgoing HRC president says community must fight for Obama
Joe Solmonese admits he’s “very concerned” about President Barack Obama’s prospects for re-election.
But Solmonese says he’s equally concerned about how the LGBT community — and his successor at the Human Rights Campaign — would respond if Obama loses.
Solmonese will step down as president of HRC after seven years in March. On Saturday, Nov. 12, he’ll make his final appearance as the group’s president at the Black Tie Dinner, of which HRC is the national beneficiary.
In an interview last month with Dallas Voice, Solmonese focused largely on the importance of 2012 elections, saying that depending on their outcome, major advances during his tenure could be all but erased.
“I don’t think that he’s going to lose,” Solmonese said at one point, attempting to clarify his assessment of Obama’s chances. “I think that if everybody does what they need to do, I think there is just as good a chance that Barack Obama will be re-elected, but I’m as concerned that he could lose.”
Solmonese said Republicans already have a majority in the House, Democrats have only a slim majority in the Senate, and “everything about these  elections points to us having real challenges.”
“I think that if everybody who has gained from the Obama administration does everything they need to do over the course of the next year, he’ll get re-elected,” Solmonese said. “But I would be lying if I said I’m not very concerned about the prospects of him getting re-elected.”
Solmonese said the message he wants to send to the LGBT community is that Obama has done more for us than any other president, and that the movement has seen more gains under the current administration than at any other time in its history.
“If we care about continuing with the forward motion that we’ve experienced, then we as a community need to do everything possible to re-elect Barack Obama,” Solmonese said. “And we can talk about and debate and press the administration on his ability to do more, and him coming out for marriage, or anything else that we want to talk about, but now is the time to sort of decouple that from all of the work we need to put into getting him re-elected. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to a choice, and the choice isn’t even hard for me: It’s Barack Obama or any of these other people who are running against him.”
Despite his concerns about Obama’s chances, Solmonese said he has no misgivings about leaving HRC seven months prior to Election Day. He said he made a commitment to give the organization six months notice, and his contract expires in March.
He said announcing his resignation at the end of August allowed HRC to begin the transition process, which will be completed when his successor takes over, midway through the Republican primary. Solmonese also said he’ll continue to be involved with the organization through next year, assisting with its efforts around the November election.
“I’m a lot more concerned about what happens the morning after the elections,” Solmonese said. “I’m a lot more concerned about this organization and its leader being in the best possible position to navigate those waters, and either we are contemplating a second term with Obama and a continuation of our agenda and perhaps a decidedly different Congress, or we’re contemplating President Mitt Romney and all of the implications that means for our community, and I want whoever is in this seat leading this organization contemplating where we go from there, to have had some time under their belt to figure that out.”
Asked whether that means he believes Romney will be the Republican nominee, Solmonese clarified that anyone claims to know definitively “doesn’t’ know what they’re talking about” — but he added that he thinks the former Massachusetts governor is the “odds-on favorite.”
And while Romney may appear less anti-gay than some other GOP presidential hopefuls, Solmonese said called him “someone you have to be careful of” because “he’s essentially beholden to no issue.”
“He adopts a position that works best for the political predicament he finds himself in,” said Solmonese, a Massachusetts native who’s watched Romney’s political career closely. “So, while he was seemingly pro-gay as he attempted to unseat Ted Kennedy, and his rhetoric isn’t harsh and he doesn’t have the same sort of narrative that a Rick Santorum has, he’s effectively said that he doesn’t believe in the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and that he would support the federal marriage amendment. But what we don’t know, just like we didn’t really anticipate with [President] George [W.] Bush, is how beholden he is going to feel to the hard right once he becomes president.”
It was Bush, of course, whose administration was pushing a federal marriage amendment when Solmonese joined HRC in 2005.
The marriage amendment, Solmonese said, represents the worst possible thing that could happen to the LGBT community, because it would enshrine discrimination into the Constitution.
And although the threat of the amendment may seem like a distant memory to some, Solmonese warned that it could easily resurface. Which is why, he said, the 2012 elections are the biggest challenge HRC faces going forward.
“I think the elections loom largest because what the elections really represent to me is the potential for us to really stop, potential derail and ultimately set back a lot of the progress that we’ve made,” Solmonese said. “What also concerns me then is that the community be braced for that, and we understand that we’ve been in these places before, and the measure of who we are and how we’ll be defined, is how we react in those moments, the degree to which we stay in the fight and make sure we continue to press forward regardless of the outcome of the election.”
Solmonese said he fears the progress of the last several years may lead to complacency. And he said based on his experience, when the LGBT community suffers setbacks, instead of regrouping and uniting, people have a tendency to lose their way and point fingers.
“If we lose, if the outcome is negative, if we go from the march toward marriage equality and the repeal of DOMA and the positive direction that we’ve been in, to a president and a Congress who decide they’re so troubled by all the success we’re having with marriage they want to take up the fight again to pass the federal marriage amendment — well, boy, we’ve come full circle from where we were back in 2005, the last time that happened,” he said.
“And you can react to that in one of two ways. You can say this is the inevitable ebb and flow of social change, so pull up your boot straps and let’s get going and turn that around again — and understand that that sort of energy that the other side has around something like that is a reaction to their own fear of the progress we’ve made — or you can become very dispirited and depressed and disenfranchised and decide that it’s our own doing, it’s our own lack of progress, it’s our own failing. And that would be the worst possible thing that we could do.”
Caroline Rhea: From the hip
From her role as Noleta Nethercott on Del Shores’ campy queer Texas-based sitcom Sordid Lives to taking over Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show, Caroline Rhea has long has a strong connection to the gay community. This week, she breaks new ground again, becoming the first professional comedienne to serve as soup-to-nuts emcee for the Black Tie Dinner.
Rhea took a moment this week to discuss her involvement with the LGBT community, her Texas ties and her new (like her, Canadian) reality TV show.
Dallas Voice:You’ve always seemed to be close to the LGBT community. Where does that stem from? Rhea: I am not a direct member of the LGBT community, but I have had a BLT. In the Venn diagram of life, there is a lot of crossover between gay men and female comedians. It’s a mutual lovefest.
How different is it to do a gay event like Black Tie vs. a comedy show on the road? The audience is much better looking.
For special events like this, do you bring your family? Not if it involves bringing a toddler on a plane.
What in you is fulfilled to do an event such as Black Tie Dinner? I want to support the LGBT community in all that they do.
If you were to rank all you do — acting, hosting, voiceovers, comedy, etc. — how do you rank your priorities? Motherhood first. Then comedy, and working with people that I like.
You have hosted a new reality competition series in your native Canada, Cake Walk: Wedding Cake Edition. How did you enjoy that? Did you get to taste the goods? Believe it or not, I didn’t taste the cakes.
Will there be a same-sex couple on the show? I hope so.
How do you think that would fly with the show’s audience? Same-sex marriage has been legal for years in Canada. It would be another beautiful wedding.
Having now worked with Del Shores on the Logo series Sordid Lives, how do you perceive Texas in general? Dallas in particular? Any misconceptions you had that were proven wrong? My dad’s family was from Texas and my father looked like J.R. Ewing. I am not a fan of your toll roads and every time I am on the George Bush Turnpike I feel like I am going backwards.
—Arnold Wayne Jones
Taylor Dayne can’t stop the music
More than 20 years after she packed the gay bar dance floors with her debut hits, the songstress is still going strong, and says her performance at Black Tie is a ‘win-win’ for her and her fans
Helping out LGBT people is nothing new for singer Taylor Dayne.
She can’t quite recall when she knew she was a hit with the gay community: Over the course of her 23-year career in pop music, she’s played venues of all sizes, but she did notice early on how a certain fan base seemed to keep showing up.
“It’s kinda hard to remember, but I would perform very specific shows and then some gay clubs and it dawned on me,” she said.
With an explosive debut, thanks to her platinum selling 1988 debut Tell It To My Heart and the more sophisticated follow-up Can’t Fight Fate a year later, Dayne became a quick force to be reckoned with on the charts.
But her pop hits were just as big on the dance floor, and Dayne was resonating across the queer landscape.
“I’ve had wonderful relationship with gay and lesbian fans for years. I’m so glad to be doing Black Tie because I have a great core of fan base here,” she said. “It’ll be a good show with lots of fun and for a good cause. It’s a win-win.”
Dayne’s performed at gay bars and Pride events in Boston, Chicago and the Delaware Pride Festival. But appreciation of her work in the community was clearly evident in 2010 when she was asked to record “Facing a Miracle” as the anthem for the Gay Games.
“That was quite an honor and then they asked me to perform at the games,” she said. “It was very emotional for me. The roar of the crowd was great.”
Even after two decades, Dayne remains just as committed to music as she was in 1988. She’s embraces her sort of “elder” status in pop music and instead of seeing the likes of Nikki Minaj and Katy Perry as rivals, she enjoys what they are bringing to the landscape of music now.
“I love listening to all the new stuff going on. There is some great talent out there. It’s nice to know I was some inspiration to them, the way ladies like Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar were for me. The cycle goes on,” Dayne said.
But they still push her to keep in the game. She admitted, “I’m pretty competitive that way.”
This year, Dayne released the single, “Floor on Fire,” which made it to the Billboard Dance/Club Charts Top 10.
At 49, Dayne doesn’t show signs of slowing. Along with a rumored second greatest hits album, she recently wrapped up filming the indie movie Telling of the Shoes and she’s a single mother to 9-year-old twins. Juggling it all is a mix of emotions, but her confidence pushes her through.
“I can say I’m a great singer, so when it comes to decisions, I’m fine about recording and performing,” she said. “But I would say I work really hard at acting. It’s nerve-wracking but it’s also amazing. But I’m not a novice at any of this.”
With her children, she doesn’t make any pretenses about the difficulty of being both a musician and a mom — as long as she instills the proper principles in them.
“We don’t try to get wrapped up in small time crap,” she said. “At the end of day it’s about having a good heart and they have great heart.”
It’s likely she’ll show the same at Black Tie.
BLACK TIE DETAILS
The 30th annual DFW Black Tie Dinner will be held Saturday night, Nov. 12, at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. The event is already sold out.
Special guests at this year’s dinner include Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin as keynote speaker and Emmy Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Media Award winner. Singer Taylor Dayne will perform.
Chet Flake and his late partner, Bud Knight, will be honored as recipients of the Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and gay military veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the Iraq war and an advocate for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” will received the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.
Dinner organizers this year decided, for the first time, to bring in an emcee for the evening, choosing popular comedian Caroline Rhea.
This year also marks the final time that Joe Solmonese will attend the dinner as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the national beneficiary of Black Tie, which each year receives about half the proceeds of the event. Solmonese has resigned as head of HRC, effective next March.
Seventeen local HIV/AIDS and LGBT organizations have also been designated as beneficiaries.
Black Tie Dinner includes a silent auction, a live luxury auction and an after-party at the hotel.
The North Carolina General Assembly adjourned Wednesday after a three-day session during which lawmakers’ main accomplishment was to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage in the state. The adjournment came one day after out lesbian LaWana Mayfield won the Democratic primary in her bid for a seat on the Charlotte, N.C., City Council.
The anti-gay-marriage amendment had been “knocking around the hallways of the Legislative Building for eight years,” according to a report at Chron.com, which also noted that Republican lawmakers “took criticism from all fronts” for spending time on the marriage amendment while accomplishing little on more pressing items on the legislative agenda.
“Democrats, gay rights advocates and dozens of business leaders slammed the GOP leadership for holding votes on the measure without public comment and putting the elimination of the rights of gays and lesbians on next May’s ballot,” Chron.com reported. And Democratic House Minority Leader Joe Hackney called the three-day session “one of the biggest wastes ever to hit the North Carolina Legislature.”
Alvin McEwen, writing for The Huffington Post, pointed out that polls show “a majority of folks in North Carolina” oppose the amendment, a fact, he said, that the people and organizations pushing the amendment chose to ignore. McEwen is blogmaster for Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, a blog that carries the tag line, “Lies in the name of God are still lies.”
Meanwhile, LaWana Mayfield pulled in 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for a Charlotte City Council seat, beating out opponents Warren Turner, who got 34 percent of the vote and Svend Deal, who finished third with 15 percent, according to On Top Magazine.
On Top reports that Mayfield, a community organizer, is heavily favored to best Republican candidate Ed Toney in the Nov. 8 general election because the two are running in a majority black district that traditionally favors Democratic candidates. If Mayfield does win, she will be Charlotte’s first openly LGBT councilmember.
1. The Texas Legislature begins a special session today to try to reach an agreement on a school finance plan that currently contains $4 billion in cuts, including the first reductions in per-pupil spending since the Great Depression for a state that already ranks 44th in school spending. The special session became necessary after a heroic 75-minute filibuster of the cuts on Sunday night by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis is an LGBT ally who was succeeded on the Fort Worth City Council by Joel Burns, whom she had appointed to the city’s Plan Commission. Although the focus of the special session is school spending, other issues are likely to come up, including a proposed ban on so-called sanctuary cities that’s backed by Gov. Rick Perry. There could also be anti-LGBT legislation, such as Sen. Tommy Williams’ bill aimed at barring transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex.
2. State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, a longtime anti-gay leader and one of the the architects of Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was honored by the House on Monday as he prepares to retire from the Legislature. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Chisum called the marriage amendment his toughest battle in 22 years. Really? Getting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in Texas was your toughest battle in 22 years? Chisum, who’s stepping aside because his district was combined with that of another Republican incumbent, says he plans to run for railroad commissioner.
1. Time is running out on the anti-bullying bill that has become Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s state legislative session. The Texas Senate must pass HB 1942 today if it is to become law this year, according to an action alert from Equality Texas this morning. The group is urging people to contact their senators immediately and urge them to bring the bill to the floor. For contact info and talking points, go here.
2. After six hours of debate, the Minnesota House voted 70-62 Saturday to place a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot. Four Republicans voted against the amendment, and one of them was State Rep. John Kriesel, a veteran who lost both of his legs in the Iraq war. Watch Kriesel’s speech on the House floor below.
3. Several major corporations, including Dallas-based AT&T, have issued statements saying they don’t support a Tennessee bill aimed at stripping LGBT protections in Nashville and banning future civil rights laws for gay and transgender people. The corporations were accused of supporting the bill, which passed last week, because they have representatives on the board of the Tennessee chamber of commerce, which backed the measure. But some have issued statements clarifying their positions in response to a campaign by AMERICAblog. Below is AT&T’s statement. To sign a petition calling on the other corporations to withdraw their support for the bill, go here.
“AT&T does not support any laws or efforts that are discriminatory. AT&T does support the principals of ensuring that state and local laws are consistent, which is the stated purpose of HB 600/SB 632. However, the bill has become implicated in efforts to erode the rights of the gay community, which we do not support. AT&T has a long history and longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and its policies address diversity in areas including race, creed, religion, sex, and particularly sexual orientation.”
RALEIGH, N.C. — The chatter over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state constitution rose Tuesday as thousands of conservative Christians rallied to urge the Legislature to vote on it now that its Republican leaders are open to the idea after Democrats blocked it for years.
State Capitol Police estimated about 3,500 people participated in the marriage amendment rally behind the Legislative Building and organized by the Forsyth County-based Return America group. Visitors carried placards, American and Christian flags and listened to local ministers and nationally known speakers in conservative Christian circles argue voters are restless to cast yes or no votes for the amendment.
North Carolina is the only Southeastern state that hasn’t approved an amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman. Thirty states have voted to allow that restriction in their state constitutions.
“It’s time. It’s time, North Carolina, it’s time,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told a cheering crowd on the Halifax Mall. “It’s time to protect from those in Washington and those activist judges who are willing to aid those who want to redefine and ultimate destroy marriage.”
Earlier Tuesday, several ministers and a rabbi explained their opposition to the amendment in a separate news conference. They said passing the amendment would make gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people second-class citizens by siding with the religious views of what they call a minority of citizens and deny them the ability to love whom they choose.
“This extreme legislation will only cause needless pain and suffering,” said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory. “At a time when legislators should be chopping away at unemployment rates and searching for ways to build a budget that would befriend the poor and marginalized, legislators are choosing to advance this divisive social agenda.”
North Carolina state law already identifies a valid marriage as one “created by the consent of a male and female person.” However, supporters of the ban contend an amendment would better protect traditional marriage from court challenges by same-sex couples married legally in five states and the District of Columbia.
About a dozen lawmakers were introduced at the rally, including two key House Republicans who said the question would be heard in the Legislature in 2011.
“It will get done this year,” House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, told the crowd.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said later he also expected the amendment to be considered soon, either in the current session or in an extra session later that would examine proposed constitutional amendments.
Return America’s recent biennial rallies had fallen on the deaf ears of Democrats who led the General Assembly in one or both chambers for more than a century. They wouldn’t consider Republican-penned amendments and were allied with gay rights groups that argue an amendment would emboss discrimination permanently into state law.
That changed when the GOP won both chambers in the Legislature last fall. Three-fifths of the members in the House and Senate would have to approve the amendment in order for it to be on the November 2012 ballot, the date for a pair of bills that have been introduced. Some Democrats would be needed in the House to meet the three-fifths threshold. Some have co-sponsored previous measures.
A simple majority would be required in the statewide referendum.
The Senate version of the constitutional amendment also could deny same-sex partners other benefits such as visitation rights in hospitals and health insurance, according to Ian Palmquist of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina.
Amendment opponents could be helped by changing attitudes about homosexuality. Supporters point to surveys showing more than 70 percent like the amendment, but a 2009 Elon University Poll showed about half of North Carolina adults oppose one. And a February Elon poll showed more than half of North Carolina residents now support some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples.
The rally came three days after thousands of people attended the first “OutRaleigh” festival, which celebrated the area’s gay and lesbian community. Another North Carolina-based group called Faith in America is paying for billboards and newspaper ads in Raleigh calling on an end to religious bigotry, and ultimately a gay marriage amendment.
“This issue is so ’80s,” said Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, the second openly gay lawmaker elected in North Carolina history. “It’s really an extreme, extreme position.” Brandon said he’s a Christian and believes some churches can confuse the values of the Christian faith and Jesus.
“Jesus was a compassionate person, and he would not have a rally outside right now,” he said.
But rally participants who traveled to Raleigh from across the state said they believed they had the right answer to the well-known Christian motto and question, “What would Jesus do?”
“I think he would want us to stand up for what’s right,” said Cindy Sartain, 54, of Concord, who came to the rally with members of her Baptist church in Kannapolis.
Rich Wells, 44, of Garner, an engineer who took a vacation day to attend the rally, said he’s encouraged by the Legislature’s interest in the bill, but “ultimately we just pray and leave the results to God.”
A federal appeals court has denied a request to allow same-sex marriages to resume in California while the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 is decided. Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly reports:
In a brief order issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request to vacate its earlier stay order, which is keeping Proposition 8 in effect during the appeal of the Perry v. Brown challenge to the marriage amendment.
The order, from the three judges hearing the appeal:
“Having considered all of the factors set forth in Nken v. Holder, 129 S. Ct. 1749, 1756 (2009), and all of the facts and circumstances surrounding Plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the stay pending appeal, as well as the standard for vacatur set forth in Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 472 F.3d 1097, 1101 (9th Cir. 2006), we deny Plaintiffs’ motion at this time.”
The plaintiffs had made the request of the Ninth Circuit to lift the stay shortly after the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer be defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. The lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote, “The conclusion of the United States that heightened scrutiny applies to classifications based on sexual orientation is unquestionably correct. Proposition 8 cannot survive the requirements of heightened scrutiny because its invidious discrimination against gay men and lesbians could not conceivably further an important government interest. Indeed, proponents have made no serious attempt to defend Proposition 8 under that exacting standard.”
The ongoing consideration by the California Supreme Court of the certified question sent to it by the Ninth Circuit in the Perry case, which is delaying final resolution of the case by the Ninth Circuit, was an additional reason why the plaintiffs had requested that the stay be lifted. The California Supreme Court is considering whether the proponents of Proposition 8 have any “particularized interest” in the case or any legal right under California law to defend the proposition in court.
INDIANAPOLIS — Several hundred people gathered Monday at the Indiana Statehouse to rally against a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions.
The “Equality for All Hoosiers” rally Monday came two days before a Senate committee meeting that will take up the issue. The Republican-controlled House already has approved the proposal, and the Republican-led Senate also is expected to pass it.
But those at the rally said the amendment would write discrimination into Indiana’s constitution. They’re urging lawmakers to vote against the proposal and voters to pay attention to those votes during the next election cycle.
If the General Assembly approves the proposed amendment this year, it would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 to be on the ballot in 2014.
If case you missed it, former House Republican Majority Leader Tom “the Hammer” DeLay was convicted Wednesday on felony charges of money laundering for illegally funneling corporate dollars into Texas state legislative races in 2002.
DeLay, who represented a Houston-area House district from 1984 to 2005, faces up to life in prison but says he will appeal the verdict.
DeLay had a decidedly anti-gay voting record in Congress, receiving the worst possible score of zero from the Human Rights Campaign in each of his last two sessions. A year before his indictment and resignation, DeLay spoke on the House floor in support of a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage:
“This nation knows that if you destroy marriage as the definition of one man and one woman, creating children so that we can transfer our values to those children and they can be raised in an ideal home, this country will go down,” DeLay said.
“So believe me, everybody in this country’s going to know how you voted today,” he said, his anger mounting with every word. “They’re going to know how you stood on the fundamental protection of marriage and the definition of marriage. And we will take it from here and we will come back, and we will come back, and we will come back. We will never give up. We will protect marriage in this country.”
Given DeLay’s record on gay rights, perhaps there’s some poetic justice to the fact that the district attorney who obtained the conviction, Rosemary Lehmberg, is an out and proud lesbian. Lehmberg, a Democrat, was elected to replace Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who initiated DeLay’s prosecution, after Earle retired in 2008. Before that, Lehmberg served as Earle’s first assistant for 10 years in the office that’s home to the state’s Public Integrity Unity, which is charged with investigating corruption in government.
Of course, DeLay’s prosecution had no more to do with Lehmberg’s sexual orientation than it did with her party affiliation, and none of the stories we’ve seen about his conviction even mention it.
Which is why we thought we would.
“I think that I serve as an individual who demonstrates that sexual orientation is not particularly relevant, except to your personal life, and therefore a lot of the homophobia and bias is unwarranted — the fear that people have,” Lehmberg told us following her election in 2008.
Rep. Joe Straus is shown alongside Rep. Senfronia Thompson after being elected speaker in 2009.
If Rep. Joe Straus is ousted as speaker of the Texas House, it’s safe to say it will not be a good thing for the LGBT community. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, confirmed the obvious yesterday when he told us the statewide gay-rights group is sincerely hoping Straus can hang on to his post.
One of Straus’ challengers, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, is among the biggest homophobes in the Texas Legislature. Chisum was the primary author of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he’s also been behind efforts to outlaw gay foster and adoptive parents.
Another candidate for speaker, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, who entered the race this week, doesn’t appear to be much better than Chisum on LGBT issues. Paxton was a co-author of the marriage amendment and voted in favor of a ban on gay foster parents in 2005.
Straus, meanwhile, voted in favor of the marriage amendment — not to do so might have been political suicide — but he did not sign on as an author. He also voted against the gay foster parent ban, which was actually killed by socially moderate Republicans like himself. Straus attends a gay-affirming synagogue that performs same-sex marriages in San Antonio. Read more about all that here.
But if you really want to know why we should be pulling for Straus to remain speaker, all you have to do is consider who’s behind the effort to oust him. It’s a who’s who of nutjobs, and they’ve all signed an open letter posted on the website of Empower Texans. Prominent signatories include people like Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Plano-based Liberty Institute; Richard Ford, president of the Heritage Alliance; and Cathie Adams, founder of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum. Any of those names ring a bell? The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that if these groups are successful in ousting Straus, we’ll be at much greater risk of anti-gay legislation in the 2011 session. And with a two-thirds Republican majority in the House, our best and only defense may be distractions like redistricting and the budget shortfall.
According to its website, Empower Texans is conducting its anti-Straus campaign under the guise of fiscal conservatism. But since Straus is pretty darn fiscally conservative, we suspect there are other motives. Surely these right-wing groups don’t like the fact that Straus was elected speaker two years ago thanks to support from Democrats, which he continues to enjoy. They also don’t like the fact that he’s socially moderate — on abortion, immigration and yes, gay rights.
The speaker of the House is arguably the most powerful position in state government, and right now, Joe Straus may be the LGBT community’s best friend in the Texas Legislature. That being said, we aren’t sure there’s much the the community can do at this point to help Straus hang on to the post, except maybe pray.