First Mississippi city to offer partner benefits

Wiseman

Mayor Parker Wiseman

Coming out matters. Knowing someone gay makes a difference.

Starkville, Miss. Mayor Parker Wiseman announced his city will offer partner benefits to its LGBT employees. This is the first city in Mississippi to do so, according to the Jackson Clarion Ledger. Starkville, south of Tupelo and northeast of Jackson, has a population of about 24,000.

Wiseman is Paul Scott’s cousin. Scott is executive director of AIDS Services of Austin and former director of Equality Texas and Resource Center.

In May, Bay St. Louis, Miss. passed a nondiscrimination ordinance, the sixth one passed in the state. Starkville was one of the first make nondiscrimination its law.

—  David Taffet

PHOTO: 6 who’ve led Texas’ statewide gay-rights group gather at service for Bettie Naylor

The executive directors are, from left, Randall Ellis, Paul Scott, Laurie Eiserloh, Dianne Hardy Garcia, Glen Maxey and Dennis Coleman.

All of the former executive directors of Equality Texas, originally known as the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby, as well as its current leader gathered in Austin on May 5 for a memorial service for Bettie Naylor.

Among those attending the service to honor the group’s founder were current Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and the group’s first director, Glen Maxey. Maxey left the organization to run for the Texas House of Representatives. He remains the only out person to have served in the Legislature. The other executive directors are Randall Ellis, Paul Scott, Laurie Eiserloh, Dianne Hardy Garcia

After coming out in her 50s, Naylor began lobbying the Texas legislature on gay and lesbian issues. Her efforts evolved into what is now Equality Texas.

Naylor, 84, died April 18. She was also a founder of Annie’s List and Human Rights Campaign. Before coming out, she lobbied the Texas Legislature about women’s issues since the 1960s.

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal’s Coleman named ED of Equality Texas

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman will become executive director of Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation on July 17.

Coleman will replace Paul Scott, who stepped down earlier this year to become executive director of AIDS Services of Austin.

For almost seven years, Coleman has served as regional director of Lambda Legal’s South Central office in Dallas. Much of his work built on the success the office had in June 2003 with the Lawrence v. Texas case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s sodomy ban.

Coleman said he’ll get an apartment in Austin, but he and his partner Gregory Pynes will maintain their home in Dallas.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, is based in Austin. He said the job of executive director entails travel throughout the state and can be done from Dallas as well as Austin.

Coleman said in his position with Lambda Legal, he covered eight states. He said his office manager kept day-to-day operations going while he was on the road. He foresees a similar relationship with Smith.

Although during the upcoming legislative session, Coleman said, “I’m fully committed to being in Austin.”

Equality Texas board chair Rob Scamardo said the search committee was looking for someone familiar with Texas, Texas politics and knew the challenges of advancing LGBT equality in the state.

Scamardo said he believes they found the perfect candidate in Coleman.

“He’s so well known and well respected throughout North Texas,” Scamardo said. “He can build that network in Houston. We would like to see our membership grow. He will be able to most immediately have an effect in North Texas.”
Coleman agreed that membership is a priority in his new position. “That runs parallel to what I was trying to do with Lambda Legal,” he said.

He also wants to raise the profile of Equality Texas, and change the perception of the group. He said many see it as an Austin organization. A third goal is to get activists motivated on statewide issues.

Coleman began his work in the LGBT community as a member of the Resource Center Dallas Speaker’s Bureau in the early 1990s. He joined the Black Tie Dinner committee. When hired by Lambda Legal, he was national chair of the Human Rights Campaign’s Board of Governors.

Scamardo said State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston has talked to the organization about the importance of forging alliances with other minority groups. Scamardo said he looks forward to Coleman doing just that.

Toni Broaddus, executive director of the Equality Federation, made up of state equality organizations from around the country, agreed. Broaddus said she thinks that in addition to his experience, hiring an African-American executive director is a smart move for Equality Texas.

“The LGBT civil rights movement can’t succeed alone,” she said, “And part of the work we need to do is representing our entire community, and exploring the intersection between discrimination against LGBT people and discriminating against people of color.”

Coleman will not be the first person of color to lead the organization. Through the 1990s, Dianne Hardy Garcia, who is Hispanic, headed the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby, which later changed its name to Equality Texas.

“Diversity is one of the things we struggle with in the leadership of our state equality organizations,” Broaddus said. “It’s a struggle to bring people of color and transgender people into leadership positions. It’s great news that we’re adding another person of color.”

But those who’ve worked with Coleman said he is simply the best choice for the job.

“I think that he brings a wealth of experience as a Texan,” Lambda Legal senior staff attorney Ken Upton said. “What makes him right for the job is he knows what works and what doesn’t work in Texas.”

Upton said he thinks Coleman’s Lambda Legal experience will give his advocacy a different tone. He said he expects Coleman will call when the legislative approach isn’t working and a legal approach might fare better.

Scamardo said two of the biggest challenges facing the new Legislature next year will be budget shortfalls and redistricting. The perennial challenge for the community is preventing anti-LGBT legislation from getting out of committee to a floor vote. But there’s also the hope of passing a pro-equality bill for the first time since 2001.

“Our hope is that we can push our key agenda item — the safe schools initiative — early in the session,” Scamardo said. He thinks the anti-bullying law has a good chance to pass before things get too contentious later in the session.

In the last session, the bill had enough votes to pass in the House and had Republican sponsorship. Working on this will be a natural fit.

“We’ve always had a collaborative relationship with Equality Texas, especially with the safe schools issue,” Coleman said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Dennis Coleman to be named ED of Equality Texas

Dennis Coleman

Dallas Voice has learned that Dennis Coleman will be named the new executive director of Equality Texas. Coleman has served as executive director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, based in Dallas, for more than six years.

This is the second consecutive time Equality Texas tapped the Dallas talent pool for its top position. Previous Executive Director Paul Scott, who stepped down earlier this year, came from Resource Center Dallas.

Coleman would become only the second African-American director of a statewide equality organization, after Nadine Smith of Equality Florida, according to Toni Broaddus, executive director of the Equality Federation.

In a letter to the Lambda Legal Leadership Committee dated Friday, July 2, Coleman wrote:

“I have had the privilege for the past six and half years to lead the South Central Region, building on the good work of those who championed the creation of a presence for Lambda Legal in the afterglow of Lawrence v. Texas. The staff here in Dallas, and New York alongside many dedicated volunteers have made Lambda Legal a known force in the struggle for equality. When I came to Lambda Legal,  I had a vision for the organization,  to tell the story of Lambda Legal, and how it along with the sometimes better know pantheon of GLBT organizations, was making a significant difference in the continued advancement of legal rights for all Americans, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity. Happily we have achieved success in making Lambda Legal a vital part of the community here in Texas and around the South Central Region.

“So while the work will continue, it must, I have decided that the time is right for me to move on to the next chapter in my personal journey and professional pursuits as the Executive Director of Equality Texas. In consultation with the leadership in New York and to maintain a smooth transition, my last day will be Friday, July 16, 2010. In the coming days and weeks as I wind down my work here, there will be further communication on any pending projects and programs and how those will be managed moving forward.

“My continued wish for the organization is that it will continue to make a difference and look forward to celebrating future victories for equality.”

Equality Texas was expected to make a formal announcement on Tuesday or Wednesday. For a full story, see Friday’s Voice.

UPDATE: Read Equality Texas’ press release by going here.

—  David Taffet

Reaction to Hodge withdrawal from race

Terri Hodge
Terri Hodge

Rep. Terri Hodge withdrew from the primary for reelection to her House seat and pleaded guilty to a charge of not reporting about $75,000 in income on Wednesday. Her trial would have started six days after the primary.

The district encompasses parts of Oak Lawn, including the southwest side of Cedar Springs Road.

Stonewall Democrats president Erin Moore said, “We’re sorry to have this happen. She’s been a great advocate for our causes, but she needs to take care of her personal matters.”

For the primary, Stonewall endorsed Hodge. Although it is a procedural matter, Moore said that the board would meet to discuss what happens with that endorsement. She could not change or rescind the endorsement herself.

Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance president Patti Fink said, “I think it’s a sad day for our community because she’s been such an amazing advocate for us in the House.”

Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said, “We have worked with Terri and she has been supportive and receptive during her tenure. She was supportive of the Resource Center, which was in her district. We look forward to continued support from Eric Johnson or whoever replaces her.”

—  David Taffet

Paul Scott leaving Equality Texas

Paul Scott
Paul Scott

Paul Scott is stepping down as executive director of Equality Texas to become executive director of AIDS Services of Austin. Scott previously served as executive director of Resource Center Dallas before joining Equality Texas four years ago. During his tenure, the statewide LGBT advocacy group essentially put a stop to years of anti-gay legislation in Texas, and in the 2009 session, there were 17 pro-equality bills. Scott will be leaving at the end of February, and Equality Texas is conducting a nationwide search for his replacement. We’ll undoubtedly have more on Scott’s departure in a future issue of Dallas Voice, but for now, read this morning’s press release after the jump.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas in Houston supporting Parker

Paul Scott
Paul Scott

Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, has been in Houston working for Annise Parker’s campaign.

Scott said, “Looks like it’s going to be a great night. I was down in headquarters and did some literature drop and block walking today. Had great conversations with people who had already voted or were about to vote. Annise is going to be the next mayor. She’s the most qualified and that’s why she’s going to be the next mayor.”

—  David Taffet

Offices of statewide gay-rights group vandalized in possible hate crime

As you can see, someone would have had to go out of their way from 12th Street to break out the window of Equality Texas' offices on 12th Street in Austin. No other businesses or residences in the area were damaged.
As you can see, someone had to go out of their way from 12th Street to break out a window at Equality Texas’ offices in Austin over the weekend. No other businesses or residences in the area were damaged.

Equality Texas’ offices in Austin were vandalized over the weekend, and the organization’s executive director said this morning that while he has no proof, there’s reason to believe the incident may have been a hate crime.

Equality Texas ED Paul Scott said someone broke out the large plate glass window on the front of the group’s offices on 12th Street sometime late Saturday or early Sunday. Nothing was stolen from inside the building and there was no damage to the contents.

Scott said he didn’t want to “overdramatize” the incident, but he suspects Equality Texas may have been singled out because no other vandalism occurred in the neighborhood — despite the presence of businesses that theoretically would have made easier targets for a random act.

Unlike other nearby buildings, the Equality Texas offices are set back a good distance from the street, and the window is several feet above the ground, he said.

“We don’t know that it was specifically targeted,” Scott said. “It’s just interesting that we were the only one.”

Scott said there’s no signage on the front of the offices, but there’s a small Equality Texas sign on a side door. While the organization doesn’t list an address on its Web site, it occasionally flies an Equality Texas flag or a gay Pride flag out front.

Scott said the perpetrator likely used something like a baseball bat or a crowbar because no object was found inside the building.

He estimated it will cost a few thousand dollars to replace the window. He said under its lease, the organization is responsible and insurance won’t pay for the damage.

Scott said Equality Texas will consider adding security in the wake of the incident.

He added that a lesbian couple reported being verbally harassed Monday morning while walking their dog in his south Austin neighborhood. Along with the vandalism, Scott said it’s a reminder that even in ultraprogressive Austin, there’s still a lot of work to do.

To make a contribution to Equality Texas to help pay for the cost of repairs, go here.

—  John Wright