Dallas County adds sexual orientation — but not gender identity — to nondiscrimination policy

Clay Jenkins

The Dallas County Commissioners Court voted earlier today to add sexual orientation to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

However, the amendment adding “sexual orientation” to the policy does not include gender identity/expression, meaning it covers gay and lesbian employees but not transgender workers.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, and Commissioner Elba Garcia told Instant Tea they were under the impression that sexual orientation includes gender identity/expression, which it does not. Jenkins and Garcia, both Democrats who took office in January, spearheaded the proposal to add sexual orientation to the policy.

Jenkins and Garcia said there was no debate on or opposition to the amendment adding sexual orientation to the policy, which first appeared on the court’s briefing agenda a month ago. The policy covers the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

“Dr. Garcia and I talked about this before we were elected, and it was a campaign promise,” Jenkins said. “This is something we wanted to do as quickly as possible. We wanted to send a message by doing this as quickly as we did that it was long overdue.”

The city of Dallas’ employment nondiscrimination policy has included sexual orientation since 1995. However, a Republican majority on the Commissioners Court reportedly has prevented Dallas County from enacting similar protections. Jenkins and Garcia, along with Commissioner John Wiley Price, comprise a Democratic majority on the Commissioners Court for the first time in three decades.

Jenkins and Garcia said they also want to add domestic partner benefits for county employees, but first they must determine what the fiscal impact would be. The county is facing a $33 million budget shortfall this year.

Jenkins said he’s asked the county’s budget director to determine how much offering domestic partner benefits would cost, adding that he believes the county-owned Parkland hospital is at a “huge competitive disadvantage” without them.

“I think it’s very important that we send a message as an employer that we will be competitive with the rest of the marketplace,” he said.

Jenkins also said that while he thought it was covered by sexual orientation, he’d be willing to revisit the issue of adding gender identity/expression to the nondiscrimination policy.

“It was our intent in adding sexual orientation to broaden that to include all members of the GLBT community,” he said.

—  John Wright

A good sign for Texas’ LGBT community

Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein

Joe Straus’ re-election as speaker of the House proves that social conservatives no longer can control the Republican political agenda

ROB SCHLEIN  |  Special Contributor

Unless you’re “wired in” to the inside baseball of Texas politics, you may not know there was a cantankerous fight for the position of Texas House speaker.

House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio, showed himself to be a moderate on social issues last session. Yet, after a momentous midterm election where a slight Republican majority turned into a Republican supermajority in the House, calls for a “true conservative” to be elected speaker started to ring louder and louder among social conservative activists who regularly attend GOP party functions.

Many of these people are the same individuals that helped create the Republican Party of Texas platform that we all know too well includes the language on “homosexuals” revealed and discussed right here in Dallas Voice every election season.

State representatives who had already pledged to support Straus were being lobbied hard to reverse their support, via a war of words on Facebook, by those who changed their profile pictures with logos that declared “Oust Straus,” with statewide e-mail campaigns, and large, organized visits to field offices.

Precinct chairs in Harris, Denton and Dallas counties — perhaps others — convened during the holidays to pass resolutions demanding the election of a “conservative speaker,” implying that Joe Straus wasn’t conservative enough because of his social views.

Activists made threats to “primary,” which means to find someone to run in the next election season primary, against any Republican representatives that didn’t go along with their desire for change in leadership. Their bullying was amplified when hundreds of them descended on Austin on Jan. 10 to observe a caucus gathering of Republican representatives.

The caucus was demanded by the activists as a strategy to replace Straus by forcing a unified Republican vote, because last session Straus took over from Tom Craddick as speaker when Straus garnered the votes of all Democrats and just a handful of Republicans.

What the activists didn’t know was that the caucus would vote solidly for Straus, and after 70 votes were cast (representing more than two-thirds of the caucus present), voting was suspended and the choice was clearly made.
The social conservatives didn’t like the outcome and contradicted themselves about the process, first calling for an open ballot so they could see who voted for whom, and then complaining later that it should have been done in secret because the outcome might have differed.

The social conservatives were perplexed when their chosen candidate, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, dropped from the race after assurances he would stay in, and after the other candidate, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, switched his support from Paxton to Straus.

On Jan. 11, when the formal selection of a House Speaker was concluded, calls for a recorded vote were made and approved, and more than 130 representatives voted for Joe Straus for speaker, with 15 “No” votes or abstentions — handing the social conservatives a serious defeat.

So, what does this mean for the LGBT community?

It means that there is a continual and growing disconnect between the hard-line social conservatives who are a part of the Republican Party of Texas, the average Republican voter and the actual Republican legislators who govern our state. This is good news for the LGBT community, which often fears possible legislation that could be put forward by the extreme elements of our party.

The selection of Joe Straus as speaker means that Republicans will focus most of their time and energy on balancing a state budget that is some $24 billion short over the next two years due to the slowdown of our economy, and will spend considerable effort reviewing programs that automatically sunset every session.

I would be quite surprised if the legislature spends much time on any social items.

Log Cabin Republican members spent considerable time getting to know their local state representatives. We offered direct support and encouragement for their initial pledges to Joe Straus, and were in continual contact by e-mail and very open in our Facebook rebuttals, asking them to stay loyal to their pledges.

Now our direct interaction with Republican elected officials is paying dividends in less anti-gay rhetoric in campaigns and no anti-gay legislation being proposed in this session that we are aware of.

The election of Joe Straus as speaker means that the impact of the Republican Party of Texas platform on legislation continues to be muted. Social conservative activists always complain that the legislators “never govern by the platform.”

So, when you ask gay Republicans about the platform, or if you point to the passages in the platform about “homosexuality,” understand that the re-election of Joe Straus confirms what we have been saying for some time now: The platform isn’t used as a legislative vehicle and only expresses the opinions of a small minority of people in the party who are loud, but not in the majority among everyday Republicans.

What matters to most Republican voters and legislators are the true principles of conservatism, meaning government stays out of our pockets and our bedrooms!

Rob Schlein is president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Is Wyoming the next gay marriage battleground?

State Rep. Cathy Connolly

In the state-by-state march toward marriage equality, four states have been on the radar for possible legalization of same-sex marriage this year. This week, a fifth state became a new possibility.

According to the Billings Gazette, Wyoming State Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, will file two bills. One would legalize same-sex marriage, the other civil unions. Connolly is lesbian.

Wyoming does not have a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. Bills have been filed to change that, and Connolly’s bills are in response.

Like Iowa, where same-sex marriage became legal a few years ago, Wyoming does have a history of equality. When Wyoming was admitted to the union in 1890, it became the first to allow women to vote and was the first to elect a woman governor. (That was 1924 and Texas elected a woman — “Ma” Ferguson — that year as well).

In Wyoming’s 60-seat lower house, only 10 of those seats are held by Democrats. In the Senate, only four out of 30 are Democrats.

Four other states that may consider marriage equality this year are New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Minnesota.

Of those four, Rhode Island and Maryland are the states where it is most likely to pass. Rhode Island’s new governor favors marriage equality and Democrats hold a strong majority in both houses. Their former governor opposed equality although the state already recognizes marriages performed elsewhere.

Maryland has been studying equality for more than a year and a bill is progressing.

New York recognizes marriages performed elsewhere and two courts have upheld that recognition. The state’s new governor, Andrew Cuomo, supports equality, as did their former governor, but the state Senate has a one-vote Republican majority that may block passage.

In his inaugural speech, Cuomo said, “We believe in justice for all, then let’s pass marriage equality this year once and for all.”

Minnesota’s new governor campaigned as an LGBT ally, countering his opponent’s staunch anti-gay bigotry. Support of the Republican is what led to an unorganized Target boycott. The new Democrat has said he supports marriage equality and would like to see a bill pass.

—  David Taffet

Anti-bullying bills top Equality Texas’ 2011 agenda

Despite the Republican super majority in the Texas House, advocates hope lawmakers will be too busy with redistricting, budget to push anti-gay measures

Tammye Nash  |  nash@dallasvoice.com

Standing-on-the-seal-2
WAITING FOR THEIR BUSY SEASON | Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, left, and Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will be spending a lot of time at the Texas Capitol once the 82nd Legislature convenes on Jan 11. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

November elections gave Republicans a 19-12 majority in the Texas Senate, while the elections plus defections by two Democrats gave the GOP a 101-49 majority in the Texas House.

In a state where the GOP platform calls for homosexuality to be recriminalized — among other anti-gay planks — such an overwhelming Republican majority would normally be really bad news for LGBT Texans.

But maybe not this year.

“We haven’t seen any anti-gay bills filed so far, and obviously, we hope we don’t see any during this session,” Chuck Smith, deputy director for Equality Texas, said during a December interview.

“If you look at an analysis of the [November election results], only four of the new Republicans taking office campaigned on social conservative issues. And none of them made those issues a top priority,” Smith said. “Most of the new people coming into the Legislature were elected based on issues of fiscal responsibility.”

Lawmakers were sworn in earlier this week and will convene the 82nd Legislature next Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Smith predicted that Texas lawmakers would spend the lion’s share of the session on two issues: passing a budget and redistricting.

The Texas Constitution requires that lawmakers, when they meet every other year, pass a LEGISLATURE balanced budget. And with a looming deficit of between $8 billion and $25 billion this year, that will be a difficult task indeed.

And, thanks to the ever-growing population of the state as recorded in the 2010 Census, Texas will be getting four new seats in Congress. That means lawmakers will also face a redistricting battle to make room for those new seats, and that’s never an easy fight.

“I believe the legislative session will be mostly consumed by the budget deficit and redistricting,” Smith said. “And there are several other contentious issues — things like immigration and reproductive rights — where numerous bills have already been prefiled. So I am not sure how much time for [lawmakers to consider] anything other than these hot-button issues.”

And that’s good for the LGBT community if it keeps at bay the kind of anti-gay measures that have been introduced in the past, like measures to prevent same-sex couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents.

But it could also keep the several pro-LGBT bills that have already been prefiled from getting consideration, too.

“I don’t think we will be as fortunate as we were in 2009 and get as many hearings [on pro-LGBT bills] as we did in 2009, when we had hearings on seven bills,” Smith said.

“I think we will have more good bills filed in 2011, but I think we will see a lot more of them get left pending,” he continued. “What bills get hearings and which ones get sent to the floor for a vote is all a function of the committee chairs and the make-up of the committees.”

Still, Smith said, he hopes that at least the issue tagged as Equality Texas’ top priority will get attention from lawmakers this year.

Former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat, introduced the first anti-bullying legislation has been on Equality Texas’LGBT-inclusive legislation — the Dignity for All Students Act — addressing bullying in Texas’ public schools back in 1997, and Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman has introduced the measure in every session since 2003. That bill was sent to the Public Education Committee in 2009, but never got a hearing.

But Smith said he hopes this year’s new crop of anti-bullying measures may have a better chance, given the attention focused on a recent string of highly-publicized incidents in which LGBT teens — or teens perceived as LGBT — committed suicide after being bullied persistently.

Legislation on bullying

Nine bills addressing bullying, including anti-LGBT bullying, have been prefiled, including, for the first time, nearly identical comprehensive measures in both legislative chambers.

“It would be accurate to say that the current Texas Education Code does not have a modern-day definition of bullying and doesn’t include adequate information on what it is and what to do when it happens,” Smith said.

Fort Worth’s Democratic senator, Wendy Davis, has filed two bills — SB 242 and SB 245 — addressing bullying. The bills define bullying as “engaging in written or verbal expression or physical conduct, including an action motivated by a perceived imbalance of power based on another student’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior or beliefs” that harms a student or a student’s property, or places that student in “reasonable fear of harm” to themselves or their property.

The definition also says that bullying is behavior that is “sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive enough” to create an “intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student,” to interfere with a student’s education opportunities or disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

The bill also specifically includes cyberbullying, defining it as “bullying that is done using electronic communication, including electronic media,” and specifically covers bullying that occurs not only at school or during school-sponsored trips or events, but also behavior occurring away from school and school-sponsored events.

Dennis-Coleman-hi-contrast
BACK TO THE FUTURE | Since the weak economy forced Equality Texas to make staffing cuts, new Executive Director Dennis Coleman said the organization is going back to its original model, in which the executive director focuses on lobbying as well as fundraising. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

SB 242 also requires school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and to prohibit retaliation against anyone reporting a bullying incident, as well as requiring school districts to develop strategies and training for faculty and staff on dealing with bullying.

SB 245 would amend Section 21.451(d) of the Texas Education Code to include requirements for training of educators in “preventing, identifying, responding to and reporting” incidents of bullying. It also would amend Section 39.306(a) to require an annual “statement of the number, rate and type of incidents of bullying, including cyberbullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination against any student on the basis of the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, national origin or disability of the alleged perpetrator or victim that occurred on each district campus.”

Both Davis’ and Strama’s bills would “do a number of things,” Smith said, aimed at correcting current shortcomings in the Texas Education Code in addressing bullying.

Rep. Mark Strama, an Austin Democrat, has filed HB 224 which is “nearly identical” to Davis’ Senate bills, but which does not include “gender identity and expression” in the section requiring collection of data of bullying incidents that occur.

“Our preferred bill is Wendy Davis’ bill in the Senate,” Smith said. “We want as much data collected as possible, and we want legislation that provides clear guidance into the future on what the school districts need to do to be the most effective in addressing bullying.

“We’d like to see [both bills] read the same way, both have those four words in there — ‘gender identity and expression,’” he added.

Six other bills addressing bullying have also already been filed, but Smith said none are as comprehensive as either Davis’ or Strama’s bills.

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, filed HB 24, Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, introduced HB 170, both of which would also remove bullies from the general classroom and put them in a “disciplinary alternative education program.”

Smith said, however, that Equality Texas is not “just looking to make the bullies the bad guys,” and would prefer legislation that provides counseling or some other help for bullies as well as those who are bullied.

Also in the House, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, introduced HB 130, which would create a bullying hotline.

In the Legislature’s other house, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has introduced two bills addressing bullying: SB 42 adds the word cyberbullying to existing Texas Education Code sections addressing bullying, and SB 49 would require that parents of students transferred to an disciplinary alternative education program be notified of the incidents prompting the move.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has introduced SB 205, which would add certain requirements to the Texas Education Code’s Code of Conduct.

“All these other bills deal with just bits and pieces of the problem,” Smith noted. “None are as comprehensive as Davis’ and Strama’s bills.”

Other bills Equality Texas supports

Smith said lawmakers have again filed three bills that were “part of Equality Texas’ agenda in the 2009 session,” Smith said. But he again added that he doesn’t expect to see any positive action on them this year, either, given the partisan makeup of the Legislature and the likely focus on the budget and redistricting.

The three bills are each authored by lawmakers long considered staunch allies of the LGBT community.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, has filed HB 172 that would create a study on the effectiveness of the Texas hate crime law. Dallas Democratic Rep. Roberto Alonso has filed HB 208, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in insurance, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, another Dallas Democrat, has filed HB 415, which would allow birth certificates to be corrected so that same-sex couples who adopt could have both their names on their child’s birth certificate.

Changes within Equality Texas

Despite Smith’s prediction that budget woes and redistricting worries will keep lawmakers away from any anti-gay bills, the conservative majority in the Legislature this year could be a frightening specter for an advocacy organization that has recently undergone major changes.

Chuck-Smith
Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

The 82nd will be the first legislative session for new Executive Director Dennis Coleman, who left his position as South Central regional director of Lambda Legal last summer to replace Paul Scott as head of Equality Texas. In addition, the recession and the continuing weak economy has forced the organization to cut back on staff.

The former political director, Randall Terrell, is gone, and the staff is down to just three: Coleman, Smith and Operations Manager Allison Jones. Coleman said there are also two interns already working with the organization, “and a third will be coming on.”

Scott, during his tenure, tended to focus on fundraising and maintaining the structure and operations of Equality Texas, while Smith and Terrell put most of their efforts into lobbying and working with lawmakers. Interns and other employees were there to pick up the slack.

But Coleman said recently he firmly believes that, with the help of and active and determined board of directors, the organization can be efficient and effective.

“Up until they hired Randall Terrell, this organization had always functioned without a political director, and they did a very effective job. Plus, Randall was only here for one [legislative] session,” Coleman said. “This organization has a history of the executive director being the chief face of the lobbying effort, and I think we can go back to that and be just fine.”

Board Co-Chair Anne Wynne has experience as a lobbyist, and North Texans Jeanne Rubin and Paul Tran, on the board’s “strong and diverse” legislative committee, have the experience and dedication to “make sure we stay connected at the Capitol and when [lawmakers] go back to their home districts,” Coleman said.

“I definitely have a strong enough board, especially on the legislative side, for us not to miss a beat,” he added. “We will be able to move forward with the structure we have and feel confident in getting bills passed.”

The groundwork for passing anti-bullying bills has already been laid, Coleman said. But in the event that the organization “gets to the point on introducing new, we will consider hiring a contract lobbyist. But since the Legislature only meets every two years, the question is, do we really need a fulltime lobbyist?”

Despite the financial straits of the past two years, Coleman said that monthly donations have begun to increase again, and Equality Texas also recently received a challenge grant from The Gill Foundation “challenging us to raise $25,000 in monthly donations.”

“The board has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to fundraising, which allows the staff to focus on doing what needs to be done at the Capitol,” he said.

Coleman said Equality Texas’ leaders will, in the coming months, be looking at new ways to “beef up our field work and to bring in the cash to, say, deploy someone to work on a ballot initiative in El Paso, or something like that. Our job is to find out how we can make the largest impact with the resources we have.”

Coleman also noted that Equality Texas’ Lobby Day is set for March 7, and that this month he and his staff and board “will start reaching out the community to come to Austin to lobby that day. Stonewall Democrats will be [in Austin] for their annual retreat at the same time. We are reaching out to LULAC, to Log Cabin Republicans — we’re reaching out to everyone to come to Austin that day.

“This is an exciting time for us,” Coleman continued. “There is legislation already introduced that we really have a chance of passing this year. And the more diverse we can be in our efforts to lobby our legislators, the better chance we have.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum tries to bully legislators into ousting Speaker Joe Straus

Speaker Joe Straus

The anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum is trying to bully state legislators into opposing Joe Straus’ bid for re-election as speaker of the House. As we’ve said before, Straus, R-San Antonio, is socially moderate and could be our last line of defense against possible anti-gay attacks in the upcoming session. The other candidates for speaker are Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who authored the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, who voted to ban gay foster parents.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Pat Carlson, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, is circulating a form letter for activists to send their legislators:

The letter says the Eagle Forum, which monitors issues such as abortion and gay rights, will base half of its legislative scorecard on who lawmakers support for speaker when the House convenes next week.

The Eagle Forum and many other groups on the right and left use scorecards to track key votes during a legislative session and then rate lawmakers. A poor rating from the Eagle Forum, for instance, could cause trouble for a lawmaker seeking re-election in a Republican primary.

“Texans have spoken at the ballot box by returning a strong conservative Republican majority to the Texas House,” the letter says. “They expect this conservative majority to vote for a conservative speaker. Unfortunately, Speaker Straus is not a conservative. Anyone who says otherwise, was not paying attention during the last legislative session or has not looked at Speaker Straus’ political associations and background or both.”

The story goes on to note that a vast majority of House members have pledged support for Straus, who is considered a favorite to remain speaker.

—  John Wright

Oklahoma lawmakers spar over how conservative to be

After sweeping into power in November’s election, state’s ultra-conservative Republicans take aim at moderate House leader

Sean Murphy  |  editor@dallasvoice.com

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Republicans in control of the Oklahoma House opened two days of meetings to set their 2011 agenda this week, their incoming leader was taking shots from the chamber’s ultra-conservative wing because he has put the state’s struggling economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues.

KrisSteele
Oklahoma State Rep. Kris Steele

Members of the House GOP meet Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6-7. in Bartlesville, and Kris Steele, who will be formally elected as House Speaker next month, believes the Legislature next year should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

More-conservative Republicans want legislators to tighten access to abortion, relax regulations on firearms and attempt to restrict immigration.

“There’s going to be some fireworks within the caucus,” said state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who acknowledged some of his GOP colleagues have privately questioned whether Steele is too liberal to lead the House.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

Steele, a soft-spoken minister from Shawnee, said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February.

This week’s meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by Oklahomans wanting action on social issues. But moderate House Republicans fear an inordinate amount of attention on social issues will create a House divided and divert attention from the budget and a struggling Oklahoma economy.

“I’m seeing people every day who are concerned because they don’t have a job or health insurance,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician in far northeast Oklahoma. “They could care less about right-to-carry [firearms]), abortion, gays. They’re worried about their health care and putting food on the table.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, agrees.

“I would ask my ultra-conservative friends — do they understand that we are in the bottom of median family income, that we lead the nation in incarceration of female prisoners, that some of our nonviolent, criminal statutes are some of the most oppressive in the nation?” he asked. “We have serious issues in the state that are challenging us, especially when the budget situation is as bleak as it’s been in the history of this state.”

For his part, Steele says he’s never wavered on his commitment to expanding gun rights, restricting abortion or targeting illegal immigration. He said he supports a measure to allow for open carrying of firearms that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed last year, and that he will not thwart legislative attempts to further restrict abortion or address illegal immigration.

“Just because I’d like to pursue initiatives to create a business-friendly environment in Oklahoma and give us the opportunity to foster job creation and job opportunities for Oklahomans does not mean I’m any less committed to my stance on pro-life issues or Second Amendment rights or states’ rights or any of those things,” Steele said. “I think we can take a balanced approach and pursue an agenda that ultimately accommodates both arenas.”

Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she agrees with Steele that the state’s budget and fostering a good business environment should be the top priority for lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol in February.

“We’ve got to focus on getting Oklahoma’s economy back on track, creating the very best business climate possible,” Fallin said. “We’ll certainly consider the other ideas that the Legislature has, and that’s not to take away from their ideas, but just says these are the important priorities I believe will get Oklahoma back on track.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Declining donations force Equality Texas to cut staff in half as legislative session approaches

Dennis Coleman
Dennis Coleman

With the 2011 legislative session approaching and a huge Republican majority looming, the LGBT community’s lobbying organization in Austin has been forced to eliminate three of its six staff positions due to declining donations.

Dennis Coleman, who took over as executive director at Equality Texas earlier this year, confirmed Thursday that the organization eliminated the positions of political director, field director and development director in August. Equality Texas’ former political director, Randall Terrell, had served as its chief lobbyist for the last two biennial sessions, when for the first time in recent memory no anti-gay legislation was filed.

“Like most organizations, we were suffering financially — donors pulling back on their giving or reducing their giving — and unfortunately a decision had to be made pretty quickly,” Coleman said. “It was a very difficult decision to make.”

Coleman said he doesn’t believe the cutbacks will limit the organization’s effectiveness in the upcoming session, which begins in January. Coleman said Equality Texas likely will contract with a lobbyist, while he and Deputy Director Chuck Smith, along with volunteer board members, pick up any remaining slack.

“We have 18 board members around the state who have rolled up their sleeves and are doing everything they can so that we’re successful,” Coleman said. “We are not closing. We will continue the work, and we will find more inventive ways to do it.”

Coleman noted that Equality Texas added the political director position only about five years ago. Prior to that, the executive director functioned as both chief fundraiser and chief lobbyist.

“In some ways we’re kind of going back to basics — that’s kind of how I look at it — and we’ll build from there,” Coleman said.

Coleman noted that the group has about 20,000 people on its e-mail list, and while many of them respond to action alerts, only a few thousand contribute money. He said he thinks some may forget that Equality Texas is active every month of every year, not just during the six-month session.

“If everyone who receives an e-mail from us just committed $40 a year, that would mean a lot to the organization,” he said.

For more info on Equality Texas or to donate, visit the website.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Tammy Baldwin at Black Tie

Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told The Washington Blade on Tuesday there is “zero chance” of passing pro-equality legislation in the new Republican-controlled House next year. Three days before, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin told attendees at Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner pretty much the same thing.

“The last time Republicans were in control of Congress, we fought hard for consideration of pro-equality measures, and we were rebuffed at every turn,” Baldwin said. “Within the new Republican leadership and among the incoming class of members, I don’t see many champions of gay rights. Now it’s my hope the Republican majority won’t revert to its prior agenda, which forced us to play defense, fighting back anti-equality measures, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Baldwin said that while a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” is still “possible” during the lame duck session of Congress, the same cannot be said for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act.

“Unfortunately the chances of enacting these measures are slim to none for now and for the foreseeable future,” Baldwin said. “Now that doesn’t mean we’re going to throw up our hands and give up. We will keep on moving forward, because LGBT equality is a movement, not a moment in time, and as with every great movement of social change, it requires that we have faith — faith that, using the tools of our democracy we can affect change, even when it’s our government that’s denying us our rights.”

Watch Baldwin’s full speech above.

—  John Wright

Forget about ENDA and DOMA for 2 years

The Advocate has an early piece up about what life will be like on the federal front with a Republican majority in the House and possibly even the Senate. Basically, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act are off the table in the 112th Congress. The repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” meanwhile, is pretty iffy. But hey, who knows, we might get some changes to Social Security!!! Here’s an excerpt:

“This is going to be a real test of the leadership of the gay community,” said Christopher Barron, chairman of the Board of GOProud, a conservative gay group. “This will be a test of whether partisanship will come first or if there will be a recognition that the leadership is actually interested in delivering for their constituency.”

Barron said new opportunities to work with the Republican majority in the House would not be “sexy” but might be fecund, nonetheless, as he ticked through a list that included reworking social security, encouraging health insurance competition, and altering the tax code.

As Republicans revisit taxes and the federal deficit, Barron saw an opportunity for LGBT activists to push for optional personal savings accounts that move toward privatizing social security. From his perspective, this would help level the playing field for LGBT Americans who are currently locked into a social security system that does not allow them to pass their survivor benefits along to their partners.

“You’d be able to take a portion of your social security tax dollars and put it into a personal savings account that you could leave to your partner or really anyone that you wanted to — something you’re barred from doing today,” Barron said.

—  John Wright