The Tea Party turns again to dirty tricks

Waxahachie Republican comes under fire from potential opponents over vote for anti-bullying bill and his connection with fundraiser for anti-bullying foundation

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TEA PARTY TARGET | Waxahachie Republican state Rep. Jim Pitts, left, talks with Waco Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson during proceedings in the Texas Legislature in January, 2010. Members of the Tea Party are said to be targeting Pitts for defeat in 2012 after Pitts voted in favor of anti-bullying legislation this year, and reportedly hoped to use. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Politics just don’t seem to get any nastier than they do in Texas, judging from a group of Texas Tea Party members’ apparent plans to exploit an appearance in Dallas by an internationally known anti-bullying champion.

The Tea Party members reportedly hope a planned appearance by British rugby star Ben Cohen this month at the Dallas gay rights parade can be used as a weapon against an incumbent Texas state representative in the Republican Primary.

The legislator, state Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Cohen’s anti-bullying StandUp Foundation on Sept. 16, prior to the rugby player’s appearance as a VIP guest at the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sept. 19.

Cohen, 33, retired from professional rugby in May of this year to focus on the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation he created to combat homophobia and bullying. As an athlete he represented the brands Brive and Sale Sharks. He is married to a woman and has twin children.

In November 2000, Cohen’s father Peter Cohen was killed while protecting an attack victim at a nightclub he managed in Northampton, England. He died a month later from head injuries. Three men were found guilty of the violence.

Cohen — a World Cup winner who is straight but has many gay fans — has said in interviews the stories he heard from gay people about being bullied and feeling suicidal as a result of the violence they experienced drew him to the issue years ago.

The Dallas fundraiser, organized by a gay resident, was scheduled to take place at Pitts’ Highland Park home. It was relocated after published reports created controversy, and news of the uproar reached Cohen’s representatives.

The situation nearly derailed Cohen’s planned four-day visit to Dallas, according to the organizers.

The sports star’s representatives reportedly wanted no association with Texas’ volatile political climate, made infamous in recent years by ultra-conservative, anti-gay Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Tea Party members learned about Cohen’s planned appearances when Dallas Voice published a report about them online.

At one point, the agitators who had heard about the report but couldn’t find it online, erroneously claimed that the newspaper had pulled the story in an effort cover up Pitts’ involvement with the fundraiser.

The Tea Party members antics came to light when they twice asked Joey Dauben, the publisher of the conservative Ellis County Observer website, to reach out to a Dallas Voice writer he knew for information.

In the last communication, the Tea Party members wanted to know if the newspaper or any other organization would be taking pictures at the fundraiser that they would be able to obtain for use against Pitts in a campaign.

The Tea Party members’ supporters reportedly have no plans to demonstrate at the event or crash it.

Pitts reportedly is being targeted by Tea Party members because he advocated the passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and voted in favor of two measures backed by Equality Texas. The legislator reportedly offered the use of his home for the fundraiser because of his interest in the issue.

Although Pitts backed the anti-bullying measures, he has been criticized by LGBT advocates for voting to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses. That has left some observers puzzled by the Tea Party members’ tactics.

Dauben said that his criticism on his blog is more motivated by Pitts’ apparent residency in Dallas when he represents Waxahachie, rather than his participation in the fundraiser.

Two Texas Tea Party members, Linda Bounds and T.J. Fabby, have announced plans to oppose Pitts, who has been in office since 1992, according to the Ellis County Observer. It appears the two candidates and their supporters are willing to do just about anything to get one of them elected.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Activists: Anti-gay Tennessee law will be challenged

DICTATING MORAL POLICY | Tennessee Republican State Rep. Glen Casada told a Nashville television station he introduced legislation preventing local governments from requiring their contractors to abide by local human rights ordinances because such ordinances dictate moral policy. Gov. Bill Haslam signed Casada’s bill into law this week.

Governor signs state legislation that could gut some local nondiscrimination ordinances

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

Gay legal activists are already working on a legal challenge to a new state law in Tennessee, signed into law Monday, May 23, by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, which prevents local governments from requiring their contractors to abide by local human rights ordinances.

The legislation, entitled the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act,” was aimed at undermining a new Nashville metro area ordinance, signed into law in April. The ordinance prohibited city contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It was passed by the Nashville/Davidson County Metro Council.

Abby Rubenfeld, a Nashville attorney and a former legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Tuesday, May 24, that the new state law will “definitely be challenged — we are working on it right now.”

Gov. Haslam, who took office Jan. 15, pitched his support for the law as a pro-business act, saying it relieved businesses of the necessity of navigating differing non-discrimination regulations from city to city.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee argued that it does not target LGBT people, and noted that the law does not affect the Nashville Metropolitan Government ordinance prohibiting discrimination by the government against LGBT people.

But no attempt was made prior to passage of the Nashville ordinance to relieve businesses affected by a Nashville ordinance that prohibited contractors from discriminating based on age, race, sex or disability.

Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal’s Atlanta office said Lambda is not involved in mounting a legal challenge against the Tennessee law, but he called it “a terrible piece of legislation.”

The Human Rights Campaign said Haslam was trying to score “cheap political points” by giving a “green light” to anti-LGBT discrimination. HRC noted that a number of large corporations — including FedEx, AT&T, Comcast and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce — opposed the new state law.

FedEx issued a statement May 20 saying it “values and promotes the unique contributions, perspectives and differences” of all its employees and is “committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

State Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican from Williamson County, introduced the “Equal Access” bill after the Nashville Metro Council passed a law requiring city contractors to sign an affidavit promising not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Specifically, the bill prohibits local ordinances from having non-discrimination laws broader than that of the state. According to Lambda Legal, Tennessee has no statewide laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in either public or private employment.

Casada told local television NewsChannel 5 that the Nashville ordinance amounted to having the city “dictating moral policy.”

Another anti-gay bill — one that sought to prohibit teachers from providing any information about homosexuality to public school students in grades K through 8 — passed the Tennessee Senate 19-to-11 on May 20 but did not get a vote in the House before the General Assembly adjourned May 21.

The original bill — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” — was amended to limit sex education curricula “to natural reproduction science.”

The Tennessee Equality Project said the bill “remains a threat to safe schools for all students in Tennessee,” even though the bill no longer references homosexuality specifically.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Gay marriage repeal not on agenda in N.H.

Despite the e-mail we mentioned earlier from HRC, a proposed repeal of same-sex marriage is officially not on the agenda for Republican state lawmakers in New Hampshire, The Associated Press reports:

House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities on an agenda to be announced Thursday. Bettencourt says there’s widespread agreement that social issues will have to take a back seat.

It’s good to see that in at least one state — thus far anyway — Republicans who rode November’s tsunami appear to be living up to their commitment to focus on fiscal issues.

—  John Wright

Brittany Novotny fires back at Sally Kern

Brittany Novotny, the transgender candidate who’s challenging anti-gay Republican State Rep. Sally Kern in Oklahoma, has issued a statement responding to an attack last week from a Kern supporter who called Novotny a “confused it.” In the statement titled “How do we move Oklahoma forward?” Novotny notes that Kern issued a statement Sunday attempting to distance herself from the attack:

In a statement released today, Rep. Kern claims that she has “repeatedly asked [her] supporters not to use any degrading or insulting comments toward [me].” Unfortunately, the evidence indicates this is not the case. In a speech on August 7, 2010, Rep. Kern told supporters:

“And this year, in 2010 election, I have a very interesting race, I have an individual who was born a man, has had a sex change operation, and now considers themselves to be a woman. So, if you live in my district or know anyone who does, please get the word out. Because if I say anything about it, it’s gonna look like I’m smearing, and I’m not, it’s just a fact. And ‘they’ talk about it themselves. (Emphasis added).”

Does this rhetoric sound like someone asking her supporters not to use any degrading comments? Does this rhetoric sound like someone who is trying to keep the campaign about the issues facing Oklahomans?

When I announced my intention to run for this seat, Rep. Kern said she planned to keep this campaign focused on issues. As you are now aware, she has failed to keep her word on that count.

Novotny also posted the above video ad, accusing Kern of ignoring real issues to promote “her narrow social agenda” and “her own extremist interpretation of the Bible.” Ya think?

—  David Taffet

Gay candidate for Kansas Legislature receives death threat

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — An openly gay Democratic candidate for the Kansas Legislature says he received a death threat containing anti-gay slurs.

Dan Manning of Wichita says he found the threat on his front door Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21 after returning from work. He says it contained cut-out words and letters from a newspaper, including “Kill” and “Will die,” as well as homophobic comments.

Manning, a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army, says he notified Wichita police, who are investigating. He says the note scared him, but also strengthened his resolve to run.

Manning faces Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr in the Nov. 2 election. Landwehr condemned the death threat, saying such actions have no place in America.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Manning says his sexual orientation hasn’t been an issue with voters he has spoken with in his campaigning.

—  John Wright