Al Franken asks public for help passing Student Non-Discrimination Act

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D – Minnesota, is asking the public for help passing S. 555, The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the provisions of S. 555 students who experienced discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with LGBT people could bring a civil suit against the school officials or districts responsible for the discrimination. The bill currently has 34 co-sponsors (none from Texas) and its House companion (H.R. 998 by Rep. Jared Polis, D – Colorado) has 150 (with 7 Texan co-sponsors including Houston’s own Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green) . Both bills have been referred to committee but neither has received a hearing, a crucial step towards becoming law.

In the video requesting the public call their Senators (after the break) Franken points out that federal law already provides protection for school children harassed because of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, but that no protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inclusion of “association” in S. 555 is particularly well thought out. According to the Williams Institute nearly 1 in 5 same-sex couples in the United States is raising children, in Harris County 18% of same-sex couples are.  As these children enter school it’s important that they be able to receive an education without harassment or bullying due to who their parents are.

Franken is asking people to call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and encourage their Senator’s to support the bill.

—  admin

Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas


John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90’s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

Troy Sands Remembrance Party at Dallas Eagle with Tony Moran

And the beat goes on

Earlier this year, DJ Troy Sands passed away due to cancer. Through the years, he made both an impact and an impression with his music and DJ skills at The Brick in its former location on Maple. He grew his name by being one of the first DJs to headline parties and events outside of Dallas. DJs such as Blaine Soileau and Chris Cox have seen him as their inspiration for their musical perspectives. Before passing on, Sands deejay-ed at the Dallas Eagle. In honor of his life and his musical gifts to the club scene, the Eagle  hosts the DJ Troy Sands Remembrance Party which also benefits some of his favorite organizations. DJ Tony Moran steps in to headline the night, but this is truly Sands’ night.

DEETS: Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave. 10 p.m. $10.

—  Rich Lopez

IL Senate joins state House in passing civil unions, off to Gov now

And the governor has said he’ll sign it.

Civil unions for same-sex couples would be allowed in Illinois under historic legislation the state Senate swiftly sent Wednesday to Gov. Pat Quinn, who is expected to sign the measure.

The bill would give gay couples the chance to enjoy several of the same rights as married couples, ranging from legal rights on probate matters to visiting a partner in a hospital that won’t allow anyone but relatives into a patient’s room.


—  admin

The Passing of a Hero – Mrs. Stella Byrd

The following comes from HRC’s Associate Director of Diversity, Donna Payne:

The struggle for LGBT equality is a lengthy journey, and we still have a long way to go. There comes a time during this journey when one person’s bravery stands out among all of us. One such person is Mrs. Stella Byrd.  Mrs. Byrd died at 85 yrs old on October 7, 2010, after a long period of  illness.

Stella Byrd is the mother of James Byrd Jr.  In 1998, James was dragged behind a pickup truck by his ankles and then dumped in a cemetery in Jasper, Texas by three men in a vicious act of hatred. The details of his heinous killing brought about national attention and activated many civil rights organizations to begin addressing race and hate crimes in Texas.

Mrs. Byrd faced an overwhelming amount of attention on her son’s death, but she handled it with courage and love.  She led the Byrd family immediately into working with lawmakers to pass hate crimes legislation in Texas.  Her heart was in making sure that no one had to go through what her family was facing.  Within four months, another heinous crime was committed; this time against a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. Again there was a national outcry for something to be done about hate crimes.  It was at this time that we saw our hero stand up.  Mrs. Stella Byrd talked to several civil rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign.  Her family agreed to attend the HRC dinner in solidarity with the LGBT community.  She was 73 years old at the time.  Her courage in demanding that the Federal Hate Crimes legislation be broadened to include the LGBT community was an act of bravery.  Many attempts were made to separate the Black community from supporting LGBT rights, but Mrs. Byrd was steadfast in her support.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.  Mrs. Stella Byrd asked her daughters to represent the family while she watched it on television; she was ill then and couldn’t travel.  I called her after the signing to ask her if she was pleased to see it signed into law; she said,  “This is a good day and will help prevent other families from going through what we experienced.  Even though we’re different colors and different sexual orientations or gender identities, God made us all and he loves us all.”

Of course, we have plenty of more work to do to reach LGBT equality. The work continues, but we won’t forget Stella Byrd, who understood that justice wasn’t about just her family; it is about all of us.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

The DNC did a video about us. Forget about repealing DADT and DOMA, and passing ENDA. They did a video!

Yes, the DNC did a video about us. All about us. And if it were 1985, we’d be on our knees thanking them for acknowledging our pathetic existence. But since it’s 2010, it’s not enough for the Democrats to keep doing these very public but very lacking in substance efforts to buy off our money and our votes.

I’ve made the comparison to high school before. And how when we were all insecure children, we practically waited on pins and needles for that one moment in the hallway when one of the popular kids might look our way and smile, or maybe even said “hi.”

But we’re not pathetic kids anymore. And doing a video about us, showing up at some organization’s dinner, or throwing us a cocktail party in the White House isn’t going to cut it anymore. We no longer feel the overwhelming need to be accepted into the cool kids club. We are the cool kids now. Our community has the money, the votes, the power. We are a key constituency of the Democratic party, and you’d better damn well be wooing us, because you need us. And we’ve finally come to realize that point. YOU need US.

That’s why another sweet-nothing, which this video is, is not going to cut it. Truman didn’t do a video instead of integrating the military. Johnson didn’t do a video instead of getting the Civil Rights Act passed. This little YouTube isn’t going to get Dan Choi his job back. It’s not going to help the lesbian fired from her job. It’s not going to let gay couples finally marry like everyone else. The President didn’t promise us videos and dinner appearances. He didn’t promise an administrative fix to hospital visitation rights that will go away the next time a Republican president takes office along with those “new” benefits for gay federal employees that we found out weren’t new at all, and in fact, gay federal employees have been getting since the Clinton era. The President promised us the repeal of DADT and DOMA, and the passage of ENDA.

So where are they?

When you come up with that video, the one telling us you repealed DADT and DOMA, and passed ENDA, get back to us.

PS And please don’t claim credit for DADT when the legislation currently being discussed doesn’t even repeal the law, doesn’t require a repeal in the future, doesn’t mandate what is to replace DADT if it is ever repealed, and in fact gives DOD 2 votes to the White House’s 1 vote for repeal. When you can tell us the discharges have stopped – when you can tell us WHEN the discharges will even stop – then get back to us.


—  John Wright