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

Unequal in life, equal in death

As we remember the victims and heroes of 9/11, we should remember that LGBT people were part of each group

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

As our country commemorates the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, we will be bombarded with endless images of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers ablaze and lots of handheld video of people in terror. From the standpoint of the effect of the attack, it caused the terror it was designed to cause, and moreover, it focused us on frightening images of explosions and disaster.

Great media stuff, but not very good for getting perspective.

Yet, the whole event has become part of the American portrait. It was history and as such it will always be with us.

Aside from the terror, 9/11 did draw the country together. One of the most encouraging things about Americans is how we react when the going gets tough: We pitch in and try to help. We act with a selflessness that is a heartening example of what is best about our country.

And part of that American portrait are the LGBT people who fell victim to the attack, as well as those who stepped up and become heroes that day.

Most of us are now familiar with Father Mychal Judge, chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He rushed into the World Trade Center that morning and he not only helped the victims, he administered last rights for many.

He selflessly did his job, ignoring the peril until debris from the North Tower crashed into the South Tower, killing Father Mychal instantly.

Judge was lauded in the media but only later did anyone mention that he was gay.

Equally familiar is Mark Bingham, who was among the passengers on United Flight 93 that were not content to sit and wait while terrorists turned the jet into a guided missile. Mark was a gay rugby player, and his efforts, along with a small band of passengers, prevented a much greater catastrophe when they rushed the cockpit. Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania instead of into Washington, D.C.

Less well known was David Charlebois, the first officer of American Airlines Flight 77. He was killed by the hijackers on their mission to crash the jet into the Pentagon. Even less publicized was the fact that David was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Employees of American Airlines group and helped carry that group’s banner in the March on Washington in 2000.

In such an appalling tragedy, there were many victims. Most were never mentioned in the media, but their loss was just as great to their families.

What’s worse is that many had partners who had to go through arduous court battles to receive the compensation that was freely given to the families of the straight victims.

Some of the LGBT Americans who died will never be known. They may have been closeted, or maybe their families refused to share details of their personal lives with officials or the media.

Whether they are named or unnamed, they are irrevocably woven into the fabric of our country’s history, and we should not forget them.

Like most folks, I have become numb to the horror of that day. I was attending a leather conference in the woods of Michigan and was just having a cup of coffee as I watched the news reports of a plane crash in New York City.

Then along with several friends from New York I watched the second plane slam into the World Trade Center towers, and almost at once, cries went up all around the campgrounds.

I suspect the same kinds of anguished voices were heard around the country from LGBT and straight Americans alike.  It was a moment that bonded us into one people.

It’s sad that today we seem to be splitting apart as never before.

I know a lot of it is the whole media circus that surrounds the current election cycle, and its candidates making points with anti-gay rhetoric.

Still, it would be worth reminding those shrill voices that on Sept. 11, 2001, we all cried out together in shared pain and anguish.

So next time you hear someone arguing against LGBT rights, ask them why they would be so vindictive to the brave heroes of 9/11, and worse, why they would be so hateful to those innocent LGBT people who died.

This Sept. 11, I will recite the names of those people I know were LGBT. It is a short list so far, but I suspect as the stories of the victims finally come fully to light, it will inevitably grow.

Until then don’t forget: David Charlebois, Father Mychal Judge, Mark Bingham, Renee Barrett, Angela V. Lopez, Waleska Martinez, Patricia A. McAneney, Catherine Smith, Eugene Clark, Jeffrey Collman, Michael A. Lepore, Eddie Ognibene, John Keohane, William “Tony” A. Karnes, Pamela J. Boyce, Luke A. Dudek, Seamus Oneal, Wesley Mercer, James Joe Ferguson, Sheila Hein, Graham Berkeley, Carol Flyzik and Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa, and their son David Gamboa-Brandhorst.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens