First Texas treetop adventure set to open in Plano park

zip1Swing from the trees this spring thanks to a new partnership between Plano Parks and Recreation and treetop adventure course company Go Ape.

The course will be a two-to-three hour trek through the forest canopy using rope ladders, Tarzan swings, five zip lines, and more than 40 other obstacles situated more than 40 feet in the air. All Go Ape courses are designed to allow for a wide variety of skill levels, offering a balanced mixture of challenge and fun, according to a press release from the company.

This is the company’s 13th course in the U.S. Construction began in December 2015 and is set to open on March 12. The cost is $58 and tickets can be booked on the Go Ape website.

The course is located in Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve, 5901 Los Rios Blvd., Plano. The park is also bounded by E. Spring Creek Parkway and Jupiter Road.

—  David Taffet

Two candidates who campaigned against Plano ERO win election


Plano City Councilman-elect Ron Kelley

Two opponents of the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance were elected to Plano City Council yesterday (Saturday, May 5) against opponents who backed the ordinance.

With the backing of conservative activists, clergy members and state legislators, non-profit leader Ron Kelley and retired corporate executive Tom Harrison bested their opponents in their elections for two of the city’s at large council seats.

According to the Dallas Morning News, both were motivated to run because of the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other classes. Citing a lack of community input and the speed at which it was implemented, the candidates said the measure should have been voted on by Plano residents.

“That issue should have been put on the ballot,” Kelley said. “The citizens of Plano should have had a right to decide.”

Despite the ERO’s passage in December, however, an attempt by local and national activists to put the ordinance up for a referendum failed after the city secretary found it lacked enough valid signatures. The ordinance also faced local uproar over exemptions, including by some in the trans community. But city officials stood by the measure.

—  James Russell

BREAKING NEWS: All Plano recall petition signatures ruled invalid

PlanoThe team that screwed up the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance recall has proven  to be equally incompetent in Plano. The “county of residence” requirement was omitted from the Plano petitions, which invalidated all of the signatures on it.

In Houston, fewer than 4,000 signatures on petitions to overturn that city’s newly-enacted equal rights ordinance were valid out of more than 50,000 turned in. In Plano, none of the signatures were valid because that requirement was omitted.

Plano spokesman Steve Stoler wrote in a press release this morning (Friday, Feb. 20), that the city of Plano has determined that the recently circulated petition is invalid and will not move forward.  Plano’s city secretary was unable to certify the petition because it failed to meet state and local requirements for validation.

Stoler wrote:

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Plano City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, expanding the city’s policy to prohibit discrimination against the following classes: U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity.  The petition called for the city to either repeal that ordinance or submit it to the citizens for a  vote.

The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms.  The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist.

Texas Election Code requires petitions submitted in cities located in two counties to include a column for the signee’s county of voter registration.  Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory.  However, none of the petition pages included it.

The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed.  The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance.

On Dec. 30, three weeks prior to the deadline for the Equal Rights petition to be turned in, the city of Plano sent an email to the groups organizing the petition drive, including Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council and Plano Citizens United, to clarify information. It outlined problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned.  The email read, ‘The city is providing information in an attempt to facilitate accuracy in referendum petitions to avoid any potential disputes regarding validity of signatures.’ Links were provided to the city of Plano Charter, Texas Election Code and petition information on the Secretary of State website. The city made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy.

Nonetheless, not a single page of submitted petitions was valid.

—  David Taffet

TENT explains position on Plano ERO, looks for lobby day sponsors

Transgender Education Network of Texas officials released a statement today (Monday, Feb. 9), explaining why they do not support Plano’s Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 1.27.33 PMendangered Equal Rights Ordinance but at the same time don’t want to see that ordinance repealed. (Read it in its entirety here.)

TENT is also looking for sponsors to support the organization’s TransTexas Caucus/Lobby Day, coming up April 26-27.

TENT’s statement on the Plano ERO reads, in part:

“The Transgender Education Network of Texas does not appreciate the fact that an ordinance was written with the intent of adding gender identity protection without input from the transgender and gender non-conforming community. We find the restroom exclusion confusing and not acceptable. We find the exclusion of non-profits allowing them to deny important and often necessary services to the transgender and gender non-conforming community lacking.

“However, we do recognize the intent of the city to provide protection to the transgender and gender non-conforming community that was previously not provided. We do acknowledge that this new policy was not an amendment to their existing policy, but replaced it and therefore the repeal of the policy would leave Plano with no Equal Rights Policy.

“We also recognize that the vote to repeal this existing policy would, in all probability, make it almost impossible to get a policy even this inclusive passed in the future.

If the ERO withstands the Plano vote and remains the law in Plano, TENT is committed to actively pursuing amendment of the ordinance so that offensive language and discriminatory exclusions are removed.

“Therefore, considering all these facts, the Transgender Education Network of Texas is opposed to the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance, but is against the repeal of the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance.”

The statement in its entirety is available here. It includes a number of “Facts Discovered,” including the fact that no one from either the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas (GALA) or Equality Texas were asked to be involved in the wording of the ordinance, nor were representatives of those organizations able to examine the ordinance before its presentation to and approval by the Plano City Council.

The statement also includes a number of “Reflections,” as well, including noting that TENT officials believe it was “unwise of the city of Plano” not to solicit input from transgender individuals or organizations, and that they believe the city was put in place an ordinance that “protected everyone, including the transgender community, without infringing on the rights of others.”

Still, the statement notes, “TENT does feel that the bathroom exclusion is problematic for both the transgender community and the private business owners.”


TransTexas Caucus/Lobby Day

TENT is also seeking sponsors to help support TransTexas Caucus/Lobby Day, a two-day event set in Austin for April 26-27.

TENT is pairing with Equality Texas for the second year in a row to host the transgender specific lobby day, where the trans community and its allies can come together to discuss what legislative changes are needed “to prevent transgender Texans from falling through society’s gaps,” and then to lobby lawmakers to make those changes.

Sponsors are needed to help fund the logistical costs of the event, including refreshments, printing of booklets, bringing in speakers, audio/visual set-up, venue fees, a special fund to help attendees who need assistance in defraying some travel costs.

Go here to explore sponsorship opportunities.

—  Tammye Nash

Plano ordinance opponents say they have the signatures to force a vote

Screen shot 2015-01-20 at 5.06.24 PM

Opponents of the Plano nondiscrimination ordinance say they have gained enough signatures to force a referendum.

Anti-gay forces opposing the equal rights ordinance passed last month by the Plano City Council are claiming they have collected enough signatures and met the deadline to force the council to put the ordinance on the ballot for a referendum.

Representatives of Plano Citizens United — basically a front for The Liberty Institute, Prestonwood Baptist Church and other bastions of bigotry — said they have collected about 7,000 signatures, many more than the 3,822 they needed to have collected by today to force a referendum.

“We are certain that once Plano citizens realize the City Council has criminalized religious views about sex and gender, the ordinance will be rejected overwhelmingly at the polls. The citizens of Plano are good and decent and treat one another with respect, so criminalizing the beliefs of our diverse communities of faith does not advance the common good,” said an unnamed spokesperson for the group in a statement.

Plano City Secretary Lisa Henderson today told Dallas Morning News she has received the petitions and now has to verify that at least 3,822 of the signatures are valid. It was that part — actually having enough valid signatures — that proved to be a roadblock for the group of similar (maybe the same?) bigots at the US Pastors Council who tried to get Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance repealed last year. Plano Citizens United didn’t even name their spokesperson in a statement, raising eyebrows about the group’s local roots.

They aren’t the only outside group opposing the ordinance on discriminatory grounds. Texas Values Action, an Austin-based group that has waged similar fights over local ordinances across Texas also chimed in.

“The people of Plano have made their voice loud and clear – it is time to repeal this anti-religious freedom ordinance. These LGBT special rights ordinances are designed to be used as weapons against people of sincere faith, as we have seen in Houston. The people of Plano, just like in Houston, are ready to put an end to government hostility towards our First Freedom,” said the group’s leader Jonathan Saenz.

But the religious right aren’t the only opponents of the ordinance. Local transgender activists raised alarms that the ordinance fails to protect transgender people and contains confusing language. Look for a story in this week’s Dallas Voice.

—  Tammye Nash

Plano mayor addresses anti-gay venom spewed at rally


Rally attendees signed a petition to repeal Plano’s nondiscrimination ordinance

About 24 pastors and 100 spectators gathered at a library in Plano today (Jan. 7) to denounce the new Plano equal rights ordinance.

Liberty Institute attorney Jeff Mateer, who explained that his Plano-based group “defends religious liberty,” called the ordinance unconstitutional and said it “threatens the religious liberty of Plano citizens and businesses.”

Opponents have 10 days to collect 3,800 signatures to force the city council to repeal the ordinance or call an election. A pastor from Prestonwood Baptist Church said ministers would be denouncing the ordinance from the pulpit and collecting signatures in church. He claimed that doesn’t violate their non-profit status because they are not supporting a candidate or party. He called the issue bi-partisan.

Dave Welch, an agitator from Houston who heads the Houston Pastors Council, said his group collected more than 50,000 signatures and verified more than 30,000. He didn’t tell the group that fewer than the 17,000 required signatures were actually valid.

“There was no discrimination in Plano and no need for this ordinance,” Welch said to a standing ovation.

Members of Collin County’s delegation to the state House of Representatives pledged to pass a law that would outlaw any LGBT protections by cities.

Pat Gallagher, a Plano city councilman who voted against the ordinance, rose to address the group. He was shouted down because he voted against the proposal for the wrong reason, wanting to delay the vote rather than because he had strong religious views on the issue.

Plano Mayor Henry LaRosiliere spoke to reporters at Plano City Hall about an hour after the library rally.

“It’s fair. It’s legal. It’s constitutional,” LaRosiliere said about the ordinance.

Welch said at his rally that he wanted to debate the ordinance with the mayor.

“The debate is over,” LaRosiliere said. “We respect the rights of all 270,000 citizens.”

The mayor said he will let the petitioning go through its process and have the city secretary verify the signatures. If 3,800 signatures are valid, the council will vote to either repeal the amendment or put it on the ballot.

LaRosiliere stood firm repeating several times the debate about equality was over. He said companies such as Toyota moving to the city had nothing to do with passage of the ordinance, but that Plano respects every one of its citizens.

—  David Taffet

Progressive responds to one of its agents promoting bigotry in Plano

Plano hatredProgressive Insurance sent a response — really a non-response — to one of their agents promoting hatred in Plano.

Although the Plano nondiscrimination ordinance has religious exemptions that include not only churches, but also nonprofit organizations and just about anyone else who really, really wants to discriminate, extremists have begun a recall campaign.

Plano residents found a flyer on their doors sponsored by a church located in neighboring Wylie. A Progressive insurance agency located in Plano is collecting signatures for the recall petition. Just 3,700 signatures are required to place the ordinance on the ballot. Progressive is one of Human Rights Campaigns large donors and received 100 percent on the Corporate Equality Index.

Over the weekend, Progressive sent a response to my inquiry about whether this represents their values or if they were even aware one of their agents was promoting bigotry. Here’s the answer I received:

“At Progressive, we’re committed to creating a diverse work environment where all of our employees can successfully thrive, and where their uniqueness is celebrated. The views of our more than 35,000 independent agents are their own and do not always reflect the views of Progressive.”

—  David Taffet

Stop ‘forcing this immoral lifestyle down the throats of the people of Plano’

Plano hatredA new group called Plano Citizens United has organized against the city of Plano “forcing this immoral lifestyle down the throats of the people of Plano” following the Plano City Council’s recent vote to add protections for LGBT people to its nondiscrimination ordinance.

A flyer was distributed door to door to warn of this “immoral” ordinance that was passed with only two days notice.

According to Plano spokesman Steve Stoller, this ordinance, like all pending city business, is posted on the city’s website the Thursday before the next council meeting.

The ordinance was passed early in December, but Plano Citizens United cries foul because it was done just before Christmas.

The group claims the ordinance violates the Constitution. It’s not clear if they meant the U.S. or Texas Constitution, but if the group does mean the Texas Constitution, the Plano ordinance does not legalize same-sex marriage.

Guest Insurance Agency, 903 18th Street, Suite 124, Plano is collecting signatures to put the repeal of the ordinance on the ballot. The 3,700 required signatures must be collected within 30 days.

Progressive Insurance, a major corporate donor to Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT causes, lists Guest Insurance as one of their agents. We will post an update when we hear from Progressive.

The door hanger indicates the flyer comes from New Heights Baptist Church, which is located at 340 Hooper Road, Wylie, and is not located in Plano.

Plano Citizens United can be contacted at 972-755-9824.

—  David Taffet

Plano passes nondiscrimination ordinance, but with limits

PlanoWith Toyota moving U.S. headquarters to Plano, the Plano City Council this week addressed concerns expressed by the company earlier this year about the city and state’s lack of protections for its LGBT residents.

Last night (Monday, Dec. 8), the council expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity — but the ordinance comes with quite a few restrictions. Religious, political, governmental, educational and non-profit organizations are exempt, except those doing business with the city.

There’s a bathroom clause that allows businesses to segregate restrooms based on gender. That condition may be taken by some as a green light to discriminate against transgender employees and patrons of businesses, despite protection based on gender identity.

The governmental exemption doesn’t exempt Plano from discriminating, but it doesn’t require Collin County to provide the same protections in order to continue working with the city.

Liberty Institute was at the Plano City Council meeting to call the ordinance unconstitutional and threatening to sue the city if it passed.

Plano had a population of 270,000 in the last census, making it the ninth largest city in Texas and 70th largest city in the U.S.

—  David Taffet

CCGLA hosting 3 candidate forums for municipal elections in April

544659_560537957310358_129449817_nCollin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance is hosting candidate forums in April for Plano, McKinney and Frisco municipal elections.

The Plano event is tonight and 14 candidates are expected to attend, including those running for Plano City Council, mayor, and Collin College trustee seats.

Candidates will give short speeches about their platforms before talking questions from the audience.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at 4568 Southgate Dr. in Plano.

Candidate forums have also been scheduled for McKinney races on Wednesday, April 10, and Frisco races on Thursday, April 25.

—  Dallasvoice