Ken Mehlman inspiring? Not to me

Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

Why honor a man who spent years not just hiding in the closet, but working with those who oppressed his LGBT brothers and sisters?

In a move that has stunned a lot of folks, Out Magazine has named Ken Mehlman one of its 100 most inspiring people of the year. I was stunned not just by Mehlman’s inclusion in the Out 100 list, but the use of the word “inspiring” to describe him.

Let me explain.

Ken Mehlman was campaign manager for the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. You remember him?

He was the president who threatened to veto the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in existing hate crimes laws. And he was the president who supported the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, a heinous law that — luckily — failed to pass.

Then, from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Mehlman served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. During that time, he supported the Republican Platform, which included opposition to same-sex marriage.

Well, maybe that’s water under the bridge. But I have to say, I do not find Mr. Mehlman in any way inspiring.

What is inspirational about a man hiding in the closet, actively working against LGBT rights on perhaps the largest scale imaginable?

What is inspirational about a man who served as the guiding force of a Republican Party that stepped up its use of anti-gay rhetoric and propaganda to motivate the most conservative of its members?

What is inspirational about a man who, when he finally decided to come out at 43, assembled a team of strategists to make his coming out as painless as possible?

Now to be fair, since he has opened his closet door, Mehlman has gone on record as supporting many LGBT causes. He even lent his support to the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Good for him. But Out Magazine’s criteria for their selection is “the extraordinary power of the individual to inspire and motivate by example.”

What kind of example has Mehlman set?

From what I can tell, his example is this:

• Stay in the closet as long as you can, and do anything necessary, even if it means supporting people who actively work to discriminate and inflict suffering on the LGBT community.
• Do anything necessary to gain power and wealth and influence for your own gain, then once you are well situated, carefully come out while offering support to the same people you helped oppress.

• Come out once there is little danger of your actions hurting your own personal wealth or celebrity status.

• Lastly, make a grand show of your compassion and support for LGBT causes with sufficient effort and cash to buy your way into prominence as a gay icon.
Harsh words? You betcha.

Here is the deal: I understand just how difficult it is to come out, every LGBT person does. We have not reached a time when coming out is simple and non-traumatic.

I also understand how everyone comes out at their own pace. For me it was a process that took several years, starting when I was 18 and continuing until I was 20.

During that time I was conflicted and confused and sometimes hid my orientation. But I never actively tried to oppress my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Still, giving Ken the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t realize he was gay until 2010. Whatever his story, I have sympathy for him in his personal struggle, but absolutely no sympathy for his active participation in the oppression of LGBT people and the encouragement of homophobic smear campaigns which stepped up the level of hatred and discrimination in our country.

Maybe I need to take a page from the fundamentalists’ creed, and “love the sinner, hate the sin?” The problem with that is I would still be “hating,” and that’s not going to help anyone.
I don’t hate Ken Mehlman; I just find him a very sad person who may or may not be trying to atone for his past behaviors. That is a very human struggle and one we all face at one time or another. To do that with grace and humility might be something truly inspiring.

For that, I will wait and see.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

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

—  Michael Stephens

UPDATE: 1 of 3 men convicted in hate crime murder of James Byrd Jr. has been executed

UPDATE: The Beaumont Enterprise reports that the execution of white supremacist and convicted hate crime murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer has been carried out. The execution was scheduled for 6 p.m., and Brewer was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m.

Lawrence Russell Brewer will die tonight in the execution chamber on death row in Huntsville, and I just can’t bring myself to feel sorry for him. Not even a little.

Lawrence Russell Brewer

Brewer is one of two men sentenced to die after being convicted of the June 7, 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in my hometown of Jasper, Texas. John William King also faces the death penalty, but he continues to appeal his sentence. A third man, Shawn Berry, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Most of you, I am sure, have heard of James Byrd Jr., and how King, Brewer and Berry offered him a ride one night, then beat him up, chained him by his ankles to the bumper of a pickup truck and dragged him down a back road until his body hit a culvert and was torn apart. A pathologist testified that Byrd was alive when he hit the culvert.

King, Brewer and Berry were arrested within a couple of days. The story that came out in the weeks and months afterward was that Brewer and King met in prison where they both joined a white supremacist group, a splinter of the KKK called the Confederate Knights of America. King had lived in Jasper, and when the two men got out of prison, they went back to Jasper, where King and Berry became friends.

Evidence also indicated that the men — at least, King and Brewer — were intent on starting a race war. So they set out to commit as horrific a crime as possible, expecting that to be the spark that set off a blaze of racial hatred. Luckily, that didn’t happen, although not for lack of trying by outsiders on both sides — the KKK and the Black Panthers — who flocked to Jasper during King’s trial there. Brewer’s trial was moved to Bryan.

—  admin

Applause: Stage pink

Queer highlights from the upcoming theater season

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Anticipation should be strong for the upcoming theater season in general. Ambitious shows like Giant, The Tempest, West Side Story and Hairspray all dot the stage horizon.
But we also like to see some of our own up there. As we look over the upcoming offerings from local theater companies, we always ask, “Where’s the gay?”  In addition to Uptown Players’ first  Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, here are some of the others.

……………………….

Fall

Although the Dallas Opera canceled the opera she was set to star in, lesbian soprano Patricia Racette will still perform at a TDO gala. (Photo Devon Cass)

Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik gave an indie music flair to the musical adaptation of the 1891 play Spring Awakening. Set in 19th century Germany, Awakening follows a group of youths as they discover more about themselves and their rapidly developing sexuality.

The original Frank Wedekind play was controversial in its day, depicting abortion, homosexuality, rape and suicide. Now the show just has an added rock ‘n’ roll score. Along with Sheik’s musical perspective, Steven Slater wrote the book and lyrics in this updated version which debuted in 2006 on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Musical. Terry Martin directs.

WaterTower Theater, 15650 Addison Road., Addison. Sept. 30–Oct. 23. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

It’s almost un-Texan if you’re gay and not familiar with Del Shores’ tales of Southern discomfort.  Southern Baptist Sissies and Sordid Lives are pretty much part of the queer vernacular in these parts, but Shores got his start way back in 1987.

How will those northern folks take to Shores work (And by north, we mean past Central Expressway past LBJ)? Jeni Helms directs Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will for McKinney Repertory Theatre this fall. As the family patriarch suffers a stroke, the Turnover family gathers as they wait for his death. This family may just put the fun in dysfunctional.

McKinney Performing Arts Center, 111 N. Tennessee St., McKinney. Sept. 30–Oct. 7. McKinneyRep.org.

WingSpan Theatre Co. will produce one of the greater comedies of theater-dom this fall: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Nancy Sherrard sparring over the gay wit’s price bon mots as Lady Bracknell.

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Oct. 6–22. WingSpanTheatre.com.

Although A Catered Affair might sound a bit like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it has the added flair of Harvey Fierstein’s wit. That’s because he wrote the book for the show alongside John Bucchino’s music and lyrics. The play is based on the Gore Vidal-penned 1956 film The Catered Affair starring Bette Davis.

When Jane and Ralph decide to get married, Jane’s mom Agnes wants to put on an elaborate spectacle of a wedding. The truth is, she can’t afford it and Jane isn’t all too thrilled about a huge affair. As in most cases, the wedding planning is more about the mom than the daughter and Agnes soon realizes the fact. Jane’s Uncle Winston — the proverbial gay uncle — is left off the guest list and is rightfully pissed. But as most gay characters, he rallies to be the voice of reason and support.

Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street, Ste.168. Oct. 13–Nov. 12. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette was going to be featured in the production of Katya Kabanová but unfortunately the show was canceled by the Dallas Opera. But fear not. Dallas will still get to bask in the greatness that is her voice as Racette will perform An Evening with Patricia Racette, a cabaret show with classics from the Great American Songbook for a patron recital.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Nov. 9. DallasOpera.org

………………………….

Spring

Nancy Sherrard will star as Lady Bracknell in WIngSpan Theater Co.’s fall production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ perhaps the greatest comedy ever written by theaterdom’s gayest wit.

Kevin Moriarty directs Next Fall for the Dallas Theater Center next spring. Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, the play centers on Luke and Adam, a couple with some unusual issues. What’s new about that in gay couplehood? Not much, but when Adam’s an absolute atheist and Luke’s a devout Christian, the two have been doing their best to make it work.
The comedy played on Broadway in 2010, garnering Tony and Drama Desk nominations. And now Dallas gets to see how, as DTC puts it, “relationships can be a beautiful mess.”
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. April 13–May 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Perhaps the most surprising queer offering this next season is Theatre Arlington’s production of The Laramie Project. The show usually creates quite a stir — at least it did in Tyler, thanks to Trinity Wheeler — so how will this suburban audience handle it? Doesn’t matter. Props to T.A. for taking Moises Kaufman’s play about the tragic bashing and death of Matthew Shepard to its community.

Theatre Arlington, 305 W. Main St., Arlington. May 18–June 3. TheatreArlington.org.

Usually the question with MBS Productions is “what’s not gay?” Founder Mark-Brian Sonna has consistently delivered tales of gay woe and love that are sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, but always a laugh.

This season is no different. Playwright Alejandro de la Costa brings back drag queen Lovely Uranus in The Importance of Being Lovely. The last time we saw Uranus, Sonna wore the stilettos and pink wig in last season’s Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp.  This time around, Uranus graduates to leading lady status as the show is all about her as audiences follow her through the changes she makes in her make-up, wigs and men.

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. July 16–Aug. 11, 2012. MBSProductions.net.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Remembering Fred Martinez: ‘Two Spirits’ tells story of a murdered Navajo boy

‘Two Spirit’ — Fred Martinez

There’s been some talk here on Instant Tea this week about the documentary Out in America and whether or not KLRU, the PBS channel in Austin, would air it during Gay Pride Month. I am proud of the LGBTs in Austin — especially Meghan Stabler — for speaking out and getting KLRU to add the film to its Jun line-up.

But it seems that there is another important documentary that may have gotten a bit overlooked in the meantime. It’s called Two Spirits, and it weaves the story of a 16-year-old Navajo boy, Fred Martinez, who was murdered because of his feminine ways, and the history of many Native American tribes who considered what we now call LGBT people to be  gifted individuals who had an honored place in society. They called them “two spirits.” You can watch a trailer for the film below.

—  admin

FBI investigates El Paso attack as hate crime

The FBI is now investigating last weekend’s brutal attack outside a popular gay nightclub in El Paso as a hate crime, the El Paso Times reports today:

As of Monday afternoon, the case is being investigated by FBI agents as a “civil rights violation,” said Special Agent Michael Martinez, a spokesman for the FBI in El Paso.

The attack took place either late Friday night or early Saturday morning, Martinez said. On Saturday, El Paso police said the man had been waiting for a ride outside the Old Plantation Night Club, 301 S. Ochoa, when a verbal confrontation began between the victim and six men.

Police said that the verbal confrontation became physical and that the six men allegedly began punching and kicking the victim. The group allegedly also used a bat to strike the victim.

The victim’s sister told a local TV station Monday that she believes the attack was a hate crime because the suspects were yelling gay slurs, even though she said her brother is not gay. However, El Paso police said they didn’t have enough information to classify the incident as a hate crime — in part because they’d been unable to interview the victim because he was still unconscious.

The federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed Congress in 2009, grants the FBI authority to intervene in local hate crimes cases, including those motivated by actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Today’s El Paso Times story follows criticism from LGBT advocates, who say the local media has been largely ignoring the case.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Debating discrimination in Montana, West Virginia and the United Kingdom

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A Montana House committee approved a bill Monday that would ban cities from enacting ordinances to protect LGBT people from discrimination. The bill, which cleared the committee by a 13-7 vote, would overturn existing LGBT protections in Bozeman and Missoula. The same House committee also blocked a proposal to ban anti-LGBT discrimination statewide, after a 14-6 vote against the measure. But really, what else would you expect in a state where the GOP platform calls for criminalizing gay sex and where tea party leaders like to joke about Matthew Shepard’s murder?

2. A gay coal miner who filed a discrimination lawsuit against his former employer is leading the push for statewide LGBT protections in West Virginia. Sam Hall, who filed a lawsuit against Massey Energy Co. last year, spoke at a rally Monday at the Capitol in support of anti-discrimination bills, as onlookers chanted, “stand with Sam.” Watch video of the rally above.

3. Across the pond, the United Kingdom’s Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating whether gay-only hotels violate anti-discrimination laws. The EHRC, which recently found a Christian-owned hotel guilty of violating the laws for refusing to rent a room to a same-sex couple, says it must establish an “objective balance.” Owners of gay-only hotels fear that if they’re forced to rent to heterosexual couples, it could put them out of business.

—  John Wright

On the road to Tyler with the Turtle Creek Chorale

Gay men’s chorus went to East Texas prepared for protest, but instead found a warm welcome

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

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NEW IN TOWN | Members of the Turtle Creek Chorale get off the bus in Tyler for their concert at First Presbyterian Church. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

TYLER — After their trip to Spain last summer, Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Jonathan Palant invited me to join them on their next trip. With expenses approved, I was ready. Little did I know that the group’s next tour would be a bus trip to Tyler.

On Saturday, Dec. 11, I accompanied the chorale members as they traveled to East Texas for an out-of-town tryout of their upcoming holiday concert.  One chorale member on the bus assured me, “It’s just like Spain — except nothing like it at all.”

Controversy surrounded the Tyler trip since the church that was originally to host the concert rescinded the invitation. That happened after several large donors threatened to pull their support, causing Marvin Methodist Church to inform the chorale they were no longer welcome to perform there.

But nearby First Presbyterian Church stepped in and welcomed the group to perform a concert as part of that church’s December music and fine arts series.

On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 11, the Chorale left from Cathedral of Hope at 2:30 p.m. in two buses. Several members drove separately.

The group started off for Tyler with at least a little nervousness. Demonstrators had protested the performance of The Laramie Project in Tyler over the summer.

The play about Matthew Shepard recalled a similar incident that occurred in Tyler in 1993 when Nicholas West was kidnapped and murdered in Bergfeld Park. On World AIDS Day this year, a plaque was unveiled in the park memorializing West’s death. That mere placing of a marker to remember a murder also stirred controversy in this East Texas city.

And the demonstrators had threatened to return to protest Saturday night’s chorale performance. Singers said that threat was on their minds as they drove to East Texas that afternoon. In its 31-year history, the chorale has never been protested.

When the buses pulled up to the church right off of Broadway, Tyler’s main street, only church staff greeted the chorale. No protesters in sight.

Chorale members retrieved their garment bags from under the buses, filed into the church, laid their concert attire down over the pews and quickly gathered at the pulpit to begin blocking and rehearsing.

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GETTING READY | The Turtle Creek Chorale rehearses at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler before their performance there Saturday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Several songs got full run-throughs. The singers’ entrance and exit from the pulpit-turned-stage was quickly improvised. Small groups like Encore, soloists, a drum group and a tambourine quartet figured out how they would make their way from various positions among the chorus to front and off-center on the main floor.

Betelehemu, a Nigerian Christmas song, required foot motion and hand gestures during the performance. A few members weren’t coordinating their motions. Palant suggested those singers only do the hand gestures. A second run-through of the song went smoother.

At 6 p.m., the church served dinner in the Fellowship Hall. By 6:50 p.m., most of the singers were upstairs in the classrooms, changing into their tuxedos.

I checked the sidewalks around the church. Still no protesters.

The pews were already filling up.

At 7:10 p.m., everyone met in the chapel behind the main sanctuary. Don Jones, who signs every concert for the hearing-impaired, rehearsed the group’s signing of Silent Night.

Then Palant reviewed what he called stage etiquette.

“Jackets unbuttoned,” he said.

Someone joked that was because Palant could no longer button his.

“Never applaud our own singers,” Palant said. “Smile.”

Don’t wipe tears. Emotion is good. Wiping is distracting. Place hands down when jazz hands aren’t required.

For the chorale, no gesture, no motion, no entrance on stage goes unrehearsed.

Before leaving the chapel, everyone joined hands for a pre-performance chorale ritual: Palant said the Jewish prayer of thanks that marks special occasions called Shehechianu.

He said the prayer was a favorite of his in his own tradition and it became a chorale tradition in his second season. Members embraced it and several explained its beauty to me.

Palant told the singers that this concert was an example of “the power of harmony to tear down walls.”

Some audience members had arriving early because of a mix-up in the newspaper. The Patriot Singers and Chorale of UT Tyler were scheduled at 6 p.m. the following night. The newspaper switched the Dallas group and UT’s appearances.

When told who tonight’s performers were, one couple left. Another several shrugged and decide to stay anyway.

By 7:30 p.m., the sanctuary was standing room only. Although no protesters showed up outside the church, the audience was as aware of the controversy as the chorale.

Cecily Luft is a board member of the church. She said that two weeks earlier, the chapel where the chorale was now gathered was the site of a World AIDS Day service and the dedication ceremony for the Nicholas West plaque.

Rabbi Neal Katz from Tyler’s Congregation Beth El and the Rev. Stuart Baskin, First Presbyterian’s pastor, conducted the service, said Luft. Sheriff Lupe Valdez also spoke at the event in the church.

Luft said that when Music Director Donald Duncan told the board about what happened at the Methodist church down the street, they unanimously voted to invite the chorale to perform there.

“Gay” never entered the discussion, she said.

“This is the most gay-friendly church in Tyler,” Luft said. “It just was never an issue.”

Then she boasted, “And we have the best acoustics in Tyler.”

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READY TO TAKE THE STAGE | Turtle Creek Chorale members dressed for performance wait to begin their concert at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The acoustics were magnificent in the church and the chorale sounded best from the choir loft or balcony at the rear of the church.

After the chorale filed into the sanctuary and sang its first number, Deck the Halls, Duncan welcomed the group to Tyler.

“Despite the controversy surrounding your venue, we are very glad you are here,” he said. “As you can see by the crowd, a whole lot of people in Tyler are welcoming you, too, and you are welcome back anytime.”

His remarks were interrupted by applause several times.

Later in the concert, Palant introduced several people, including the group Tyler Area Gays, which filled several rows and had done much of the publicity for the event. Loud applause from the crowd greeted Tyler’s gay group.

Duncan acknowledged NPR reporter Wade Goodwin, who was there working on a piece about the chorale for Public Radio.

The audience took Palant’s jokes in good humor, including calling Tyler “the bastion of liberalism,” although his question, “Are there any Latin scholars here?” met silence followed by uneasy laughter.

Throughout the show, the applause was warm, but Betelehemu brought a number of audience members to their feet. If any of the swaying on stage was not coordinated, no one noticed.

After the concert, CD sales were brisk.

One audience member filing out of the church made a point of saying, “We’re Methodists and we loved it,” indicating that not everyone at Marvin Methodist agreed with that church’s decision to uninvite the group.

On the return bus trip to Dallas, everyone was excited about the day.

“I thought it was a great performance,” said chorale member Kevin Hodges. “I told a woman who said ‘thank you’ that it’s a joy for us.”

“I was choking back tears,” said singer Gene Olvera. “Invigorating,” added Darrin Humphrey, another chorale member.

“To me, it’s the sort of thing that made me stay in the chorale 17 years,” said C. E. Bunkley. “There’s purpose to it.”

Palant told the riders in his bus that he wants to do another out-of-town performance next year in another city that might not be completely welcoming.

He said that unlike many other gay men’s choruses around the country, the chorale gets out of the gay ghetto: “That’s part of our mission.”

“It was fun,” said chorale President Dean Baugh. “Up until the point I looked out and people were crying.”

“I was very proud,” said singer Hank Henley.

On the return bus ride, chorale members discussed the lack of protesters. Several suggested that as much as some might have been offended by the chorale’s appearance in town, maybe that group has more shame than Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro clan and just wouldn’t protest a church.

Palant commented on the energy he felt from both the audience and his group. “As a performer, you perform with your dukes up,” he said. “You puff up your chest and it influences the performance. Tonight was a good example. They fed off our energy and we fed off theirs. We wanted to give them more.”

He said he consciously did not bring up the controversy of the location but was glad that Duncan had.

“I wanted to make an issue of it earlier on,” said Stephen Tosha, the chorale’s senior executive director. He said he wanted the chorale to move more in that direction.

But singer DiMarcus Williams summed up why most of the members of the chorale devote so much time and energy and why they spend so much of their own money to continue performing with the group.

“It was nice to be performing in front of such a welcoming and receptive audience,” said Williams.

Turtle Creek Chorale Holiday Concert, Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. $30–$67. TurtleCreek.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert: Homosexuality is adultery in the Ten Commandments

Discussing “don’t ask don’t tell” on the Family Research Council’s Washington Watch Weekly radio program on Friday, Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, offered his response to those who point out that the Bible — if you read it closely and all — doesn’t really appear to condemn homosexuality per se:

“Some people say, ‘Where is homosexuality in violation of the Ten Commandments?’ Well, it’s adultery. It’s sexual relations outside of marriage, a man and a woman. Of course there are other verses that reference these specific acts, men lusting after men, etc., but specifically for the military, when anyone, whether they’re homosexual or heterosexual, cannot control their hormones to the point that they are a distraction to the good order and discipline of the military, then they need to be removed from the military.”

Gohmert goes on to agree that if DADT is repealed, the military would have to change its policies to allow “heterosexual immorality.”

“Well of course it would,” he says. “Well, I say of course it would. You would think that. But of course we’ve already shown through Congress that homosexuality deserves a more precious and privileged position just by some of the laws that we’ve passed.”

Gohmert is likely referring to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which he suggested last year could lead to the legalization of things like pedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality.

—  John Wright

Early voting begins today for midterm elections, with plenty at stake for the LGBT community

Many LGBT advocates and activists were thrilled two years ago when Barack Obama — a man who said he supported legal federal recognition of same-sex civil unions, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” and who pledged to be a “fierce advocate” for the LGBT community — was elected president.

Since President Obama was taking office at a time when the Democratic Party — which tends to be, overall, more progressive on LGBT issues — controlled both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, LGBT advocates were looking forward to seeing big progress very quickly. And in fact, Obama has included a number of LGBT and LGBT-supportive individiuals in his administration. He did issue an executive order that granted partner benefits to LGBT federal employees. He did sign into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law (one of the top priority issues on the LGBT community’s list for several years).

But many of those same activists who were so tickled to see Obama elected have begun losing faith that the president has a real commitment to LGBT equality. ENDA continues to languish. Repeal of DADT went down in flames in the Senate and lesbian and gay servicemembers continue to be discharged. And the Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, has continued to appeal court rulings favorable to the LGBT community on issues like DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps, many feel, the “fierce advocate” isn’t so fiercely on our side, after all. And yet, would a Republican-controlled Congress make it any easier to get our issues fairly addressed? Democrats warn that not only would we make no further progress with the Republicans in charge, we might also lose some of advances we have made so far.

However you feel about it, the midterm elections next month will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the future of efforts like passage of ENDA and DADT. Many pundits expect the Republicans to win control of at least the House of Representatives, if not both the House AND the Senate.

And that’s not even taking into account the importance of races from the county level on up to the state level, where Republican incumbent Rick Perry is fighting a hard battle against Democratic challenger Bill White in the race for Texas governor. And what about the Texas Legislature? Will the LGBT community have enough allies there to pass a safe schools bill that would address anti-gay bullying, or to at least fend off recurring efforts to keep same-sex couples from adopting or being foster parents?

Those are just a few of the races that will be determined in this election, and all of them impact our community in some way. And your vote can make the difference when it comes to who will represent you in county, state and federal government.

Election Day isn’t until Nov. 2. But early voting starts today. Dallas Morning News reported today that Dallas County residents appear to be voting at a higher pace than the last midterm elections four years ago, and that Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet is predicting an overall turnout of about 40 percent this year.

So why not go on and vote now and avoid the Election Day rush?

Do you need to know where to go to early vote? Are you wondering which precinct or district you are in? Do you know if your voter’s registration is still valid? There are online sites that can help.

If you live in Dallas County, go here for information on early voting sites and hours and for information about who represents you, specifically, at the county, state and federal levels. That same information is available for Tarrant County residents here. The state of Texas also has a site with information for voters, and you can find it here.

And if you don’t live in Dallas or Tarrant counties, just do a search online for your county’s elections site.

Remember, our government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” But if you want your voice to count, then you have to vote.

—  admin

Shaking off those nasty midterm blues

It’s tempting to echo the ‘throw them out’ refrain, but compare the candidates and the political parties carefully, then go out and make your voice heard by voting

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White

I suspect a lot of people right now are experiencing the same kind of feelings my grandfather used to have around election time: One of his favorite phrases was, “Throw the bastards out.”

Though it may make for a colorful epithet, it was not the way he voted. He once told me that if his hand ever touched the lever on the voting machine marked “Republican,” it would burn his fingers.

Though he was a feisty and almost illiterate blacksmith from Tennessee, he followed politics and he was a Roosevelt Democrat through-and-through.

That brings me back to the here and now and the current election, when a lot of new voters are frustrated by what they perceive as the lack of change since the last election.

I will admit I, too, am frustrated. I want things to change faster and to do that I agree that we need to throw a few folks out.

But I am selective in my tossing. I know that midterms are every bit as important as the years when the presidency is in play, and though they are not nearly as sexy, they deserve our attention.

I get a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances this time of year as well, and because of that I prepared a short list of “talking points,” just to remind myself — and them — what is at stake.

• “How come things haven’t changed?”

They have, and they can continue to change if we concentrate on keeping and increasing the Democratic majority in Congress.

For example, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed during the last congressional session and signed into law by President Obama. Most importantly, the bill included crimes motivated by the victims “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

That is a big step. Additionally, the president signed a bill giving benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees.

• “Why should I bother to vote for local offices like judges?”

National politics is sexy, but the real actions that affect your life happen at the local level.

For example District Judge Ernest White presided over the gay-bashing trial of Bobby Singleton. He was one of two men who beat and disfigured Jimmie Dean in 2008 here in Oak Lawn.

Singleton was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Though the jury handed down the sentence, the judge has an influence over the trial.

Wouldn’t you want a sympathetic judge on the bench if you were the victim?

• “Are there any LGBT people running for local office?”

You betcha! Gary Fitsimmons, Dallas County district clerk, is seeking re-election. Not only has he been an outstanding public official for all of the county, his office was first in the county to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policies. Fitzsimmons recently added gender identity to the policy as well.

• “Why is Bill White a better choice than Rick Perry?”

Here is a quote from Gov. Perry: “Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

He was addressing a group about jobs creation, but his subtext is clear: “If LGBT people don’t like it here, leave.”

Additionally, who walked with us down Cedar Springs for the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, Bill White or Rick Perry? Bill White.

• “What about ENDA, DOMA and DADT?”

It’s been only two years since the landslide victory for Democratic lawmakers; it took eight years of the disastrous Bush administration policies and six years with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress to get us where we are today.

Yes, I am impatient as well, but we need to keep Democratic control over the Congress and elect even more progressive candidates to move the vital issues forward.

• “Both parties are the same; it’s all politics anyway.”

Take a look at the state party platforms and say that again.

The Republican platform is filled with vehement language demonizing LGBT Texans, like this plum: “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. … Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual couples.”
It is tempting to use my grandfather’s line, and just throw up my hands and say, “Throw all the bastards out.”

But once I get over my immediate frustration and look at the reality of where we are and where we have come from, I know things are getting better for LGBT folk in this country and this state.

If we fail to show up at the polls and support our allies, we will only hurt ourselves. It wouldn’t take much to turn back the clock, and rest assured the candidates who stand against us want to do just that.

Another bit of wisdom I gleaned from my grandfather was this: “If you are feeling down in the mouth, it’s probably because you’ve been standing around with it open. Now shut your trap and get off your rump and go out and do something!”

The best cure for the midterm blues is doing something — like voting!

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

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas