Diverse coalition speaks out against numerous anti-LGBT bills at Capitol

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Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City.

Texas lawmakers and the head of the Texas Association of Business joined with civil liberties organizations today (Tuesday, April 7) at a press conference warning against numerous bills filed this year that promote discrimination against LGBT Texans.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, say they are worried about at least 20 bills that would allow, promote or even require discrimination against LGBT Texans.

“These bills allow people to be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, denied public services the rest of us take for granted, and even turned into criminals simply because of who they are and whom they love,” Ellis said. “The Texas I love is better than that. This debate isn’t about businesses not serving someone they might object to, as that minimizes the seriousness of what’s at stake here.”

They also voiced concerns over two bills that they say would burden taxpayers, businesses and the LGBT community.

Currently three resolutions would expand the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Legislature passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in 1999, is sufficient. Like the federal RFRA, it protects religious liberty from government overreach while including provisions to ensure that civil rights protections against discrimination aren’t undermined.

All 20 proposed bills in Texas this year, on the other hand, are unnecessary for protecting religious freedom and would allow, and sometimes even require, discrimination or harm to others, Ellis said.

Rep. Anchia warned that the proposed bills would undermine or even sweep away nondiscrimination ordinances put in place in major cities across the state, including Dallas and Fort Worth.

“By undoing these protections, the Legislature would be sending a message that local control isn’t as important as some of my colleagues have long said that it is,” Anchia said. “They would be saying to the rest of the country that discrimination against our neighbors, our friends, our family members is more important. My own city and many others across the state have decided against that kind of discrimination, and the Legislature shouldn’t undermine our cities’ economic well being or our citizens’ civil liberties.”

The message to the rest of the country particularly concerns business leaders, said Bill Hammond, chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business.

“Either of these two amendments would bring the same backlash to Texas,” Hammond said. “They also would lead to potentially enormous litigation costs, hurt our efforts to attract businesses and tourism dollars that keep our economy growing, and make it harder for employers to enforce laws and company policies barring discrimination against their workers and customers. Texas is a magnet for new businesses, talent and visitors. This legislation would immediately threaten our solid brand.”

Reached by phone, Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Fort Bend County, urged activists to keep the pressure on legislators.

Among those legislators is Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who authored HJR 125 and spoke with the Voice last week about the legislation.

Reynolds said Krause and others “are hiding behind a smoke screen. They may say discrimination is not the purpose of the bill but we also saw that with the debates over voter ID laws and the sonogram bill. They said those bills were about ‘voter integrity’ and ‘safety’ but they were really about voter suppression and closing down Planned Parenthood. They’re never gonna admit it but that’s what it is.”

“If so many people hadn’t read the bills in Indiana and Arkansas, then activists would’ve never turned it around until it was too late,” he said. “Grassroots activists and business were key to the outcry over both Indians and Arkansas’ bills. It’s imperative to stay informed.”

Sustaining the momentum against the bills could make Abbott and other legislators rethink their support of the legislation, Reynolds added.

“I don’t want to see Texas go down a slippery slope. I don’t see what happened in Indiana happen here, “ he said. “We’re a conservative state, but you can be conservative and not discriminate.

“Let’s not let this be a black eye on the state,” he said.

—  James Russell

Beaumont ISD denies cosmetology program was canceled over gay student

Beaumont school officials are denying allegations that a principal canceled a cosmetology program because a gay student enrolled.

Cequada Clark, a teacher in the Beaumont ISD cosmetology program, alleges that Principal Thomas Campbell-Amons expressed his dislike for gay students at an event in April, and after meeting a student he thought was gay last week, he pulled the plug on the program.

Clark said she feared for her job but wanted the truth to be told about the principal discriminating against the student and hurting other people in the program, including single moms who want to earn their cosmetology licenses.

Beaumont ISD spokesman Ron Reynolds told Instant Tea on Tuesday that “misinformation” was given in various media reports and that the principal no longer wanted adults to attend classes because of funding. Reynolds said classes were never canceled but adult students were no longer allowed to attend.

Because only two adults were in the class last week, Reynolds said the cost of the adults, who pay to attend but often receive assistance, was too much and they would be better suited if their class fell under continuing education. Adults, including 22-year-old Kwmane Gray, whom Amons thought was gay, can enroll in the continuing education cosmetology class in October, but Reynolds said at least 10 students must enroll for the class to take place.

As for the action in response to Gray’s perceived sexuality, Reynolds said the principal “denied those allegations” and that the decision to separate students and adults was based solely on funding.

A Change.org petition has been created calling for Campbell-Amons to be removed as principal, for the program to be reinstated, and for Clark to be returned to her position. However, Reynolds said Clark is still employed with the district as a substitute teacher. So far, 1,124 people have signed the petition.

“We demand documentation that Principal Amons followed standard BISD protocol in cancelling the course to begin with and that if such documentation doesn’t exist, he be removed from his position, that the program be reinstated, that Cequada Clark be returned to her teaching position and that a formal apology be issued to Kwmane Gray from the school district,” the petition reads in part.

The district’s official statement is below.

“Due to budget restraints and no Beaumont ISD cosmetology graduates registering for the class, the Taylor Career Center is no longer offering an extended courtesy evening cosmetology class for adults. According to Thom Campbell-Amons, principal at Taylor, ‘The lack of funding has halted the continuation of the courtesy program that was developed to allow BISD high school graduates and other adults to earned state required cosmetology hours in order to become licensed practitioners.’

“Campbell-Amons reiterated that the high school cosmetology program at Taylor still exists, however, Taylor Career Center can no longer afford to fund the part of the program that was serving non-BISD cosmetology program graduates.”

—  Dallasvoice