TX Lege: Pro-LGBT bills see ‘flurry of activity’

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

It’s been a good week for pro-LGBT bills in the Texas Legislature.

Three bills backed by Equality Texas were referred to House committees and another three were filed as lawmakers started getting down to business in the 2011 session.

“There was kind of a flurry of activity this week,” said Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas. “The lower your bill number is, the greater opportunity you have to have a committee hearing sooner rather than later. It’s possible that either the birth certificate [bill] or some of the bullying bills may have hearings in the next couple weeks, and that’s certainly positive.”

HB 415, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would allow same-sex parents to record both of their names on an adopted child’s birth certificate. The bill was referred Wednesday to the House Committee on Public Health. Two years ago, Anchia’s birth certificate bill received a very favorable hearing in the same committee, Smith said.

“There’s a decent chance we could have another good hearing. I’m hopeful that we might be able to win a vote in that committee,” he said, adding that testimony two years ago came from children of same-sex parents who told legislators they merely want accurate birth certificates. “It’s a pretty straightforward and compelling argument.”

—  John Wright

Texas House committees and pro-LGBT bills

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Legislative Queery

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has finally announced the committee assignments for the 82nd Texas House. As I predicted last month the partisan breakdown of the committee chairs roughly reflects the distribution of party control in the House with 11 Democratic chairs and 25 Republicans (not including the four select and joint committee chairs, all Republicans).

House committees that queer Texans will want to watch very carefully:

Public Education — Will get the anti-bullying bills. Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, scheduled the hearing for HB 1323 (last session’s anti-bullying bill) very late last session, but he did schedule a hearing and the committee eventually voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the whole House. Unfortunately, time ran out last session (more info on HB 1323 is here). Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, whose HB 224 is expected to be the water bearer for anti-bullying bills, is on the committee this session.

Public Health – Will get HB 405, which would allow same-sex parents to get accurate birth certificates for their children. Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Austin, was visibly moved by testimony last session on this bill. Let’s hope that causes her to schedule it for an early hearing.

Criminal Jurisprudence – Will get HB 604, the repeal of Texas’s unconstitutional sodomy law and HB 172, the study of the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Act. Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has a solid record of voting in the best interest of queer Texans, but repealing the unconstitutional sodomy law, however common-sense, is going to be a hard sell. Plus, with virulent homophobes Wayne Christian, Bill Zedler and Will Hartnett on the committee, it seems unlikely that common sense will beat out bigotry. The Hate Crimes study has a better chance. It made it out of committee last session, but it’s hard to predict what will happen this session.

Insurance – Will get HB 208 prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, hasn’t let this bill through in past sessions, and I’d be shocked if he lets it through this session. Smithee takes every chance he can get to hurt queer Texans. He’s not likely to pass this chance up, either.

State Affairs – Will get HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This bill, or a version of it, has been filed every session for over a decade, and it never gets a hearing. While new Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is an immense improvement over old Chairman Burt Solomons, it’s unlikely that this bill will go anywhere.

Now that we have committees, bills are going to start moving left and right. The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature is finally getting going!

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Zach Wahls; study shows health risks of anti-gay bullying; Kato remembered

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. If you haven’t seen it already, take three minutes out of your snow day and watch 19-year-old Zach Wahls, the son of same-sex parents, address the Iowa House of Representatives during a public hearing on a proposal to ban gay marriage. The clip has almost 1 million views on YouTube, and some are comparing it to Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” speech. Also, watch Wahls and his family’s interview with MSNBC below.

2. Anti-gay bullying is bad for your health. Not only does it lead to increased suicide rates, but the hormonal imbalance it creates can also increase memory loss, cardiovascular problems and bone density depletion, according to a new study.

3. Murdered Ugandan gay activist David Kato was remembered Thursday in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, a group from Cambridge University has launched a fundrasing campaign in Kato’s name. Half of the proceeds will go to Kato’s organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda, while the other half will go to support LGBT refugees from Africa. For more info, go here.

—  John Wright

U.S. Labor Department redefines ‘family’

New definition could benefit 100,000 children including those with same-sex parents and whose parents are in the military

Hilda Solis Guest Columnist

It’s been 17 years since Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA — groundbreaking legislation that allows parents to take unpaid time off from work to care for their children.

Since then, thanks in large measure to technology, work has changed. And as a result, workers have changed, often at warp speed. But what many have been slow to recognize is the fact that “families” have been changing for a very long time. Well, the Obama administration took a major step in recognizing that change last month when the U.S. Department of Labor clarified the definition of “son and daughter” under the FMLA.

Our interpretation ensures that an employee who assumes the role of caring for a child receives parental rights to family leave regardless of the legal or biological relationship. We’ve done so because the realities of who is a “mother” and who is a “father” — and new, important and responsible concepts of “parenthood” — simply demand it, at home and at work.

It’s called in loco parentis, a Latin phrase and legal doctrine meaning in the place of a parent. When applied to the new realities of work and family, it means all employees who have assumed the responsibility for parenting a child, whether they have a biological or legal relationship with the child or not, may be entitled to FMLA leave.

Consider the case of Nazanin Meftah and her partner, Lydia Banuelos, a lesbian couple in Tucson, Ariz. Meftah developed medical complications after the birth of the couple’s children in 2007 and 2009.

Despite a clear need and obvious relationship to the children, Banuelos was denied unpaid leave both times by her employer. She wasn’t able to care for the kids because she was not a biological parent or legal guardian.

I had the chance to meet Ms. Meftah, and her story is sadly as common as it is compelling. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that more than 100,000 children growing up in same-sex families could benefit from this simple, but important action.
The Labor Department’s interpretation of the FMLA makes clear that children can get the support and care they need from the people who love them and are responsible for them.

This is certainly a win for LGBT families, and recognizes the importance of a partner who shares in the parenting of a child in a same sex relationship.

But it’s also a win for “Tia” (Spanish for aunt), who steps in to care for her young nephew when his mother has been called to active military duty, or a grandmother who takes responsibility for her grandchild.

We know that family-friendly policies and laws like the FMLA aren’t “niceties” but rather necessities that contribute to the well-being of all families and a better bottom line for employers. No further interpretation of that is required.

Hilda L. Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Texas Democrats add four pro-LGBT resolutions to platform

While we’re on the subject of political party platforms in Texas, looks like the Democrats approved four pro-LGBT resolutions over the weekend during their state convention in Corpus Christi.

It’s safe to say the Lone Star State has gotten yet another black eye, albeit deserved, in national LGBT circles over anti-gay language in the state GOP platform. So let’s hope some of those same bloggers will pick up this positive story, but don’t count on it. After all, the idea that everyone in Texas wants to lock up “homosexuals” makes for better headlines.

Anyhow, according to the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, the four pro-LGBT resolutions that were adopted at the convention call for (1) a state employment nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT protections, (2) competitive insurance benefits for LGBT employees at Texas universities, (3) accurate birth certificates for same-sex parents of adopted children and (4) policies that would prohibit bullying and harassment in Texas public schools.

TSDC also reports that the new Texas Democratic platform, for the first time ever, now uses the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” in calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies.

“The 2010 State Democratic Convention proved beyond a reasonable doubt that LGBT Texans have a place at the table of the Democratic Party,” said TSDC President Dan Graney. “As for the Republican Party of Texas, it might as well call itself the Republican Party of Uganda because of all the hate and bigotry that is dripping from its platform.”

Here’s the full press release from TSDC:


TEXAS DEMOCRATS ADOPT PRO-LGBT PLATFORM/
RESOLUTIONS AT STATE CONVENTION

Delegates meeting at the Texas Democratic Convention this past weekend in Corpus Christi adopted a platform and resolutions that champion gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality and nondiscrimination on a variety of levels. This is in stark contrast to the State Republican Party Convention two weeks ago, which adopted a platform that denounces homosexuality as “tearing at the fabric of society” and calls for the felony prosecution of anyone who performs a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple in Texas.

For the first time ever, the 2010 State Democratic Party platform uses the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” in calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies against the LGBT community.  The platform also advocates for anti-bullying policies in public schools, diversity in institutions for higher learning,
passage of the Employment Non Discrimination Act, increased education initiatives and services to address HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, an end to discrimination in the state foster care system, strong enforcement of both federal and state hate crimes laws and repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.

All four pro-equality resolutions that were proposed by Equality Texas and that passed numerous senate district and county conventions also were adopted on the floor of the convention without opposition.  These resolutions included (1) a state employment nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT protections, (2) competitive insurance benefits for LGBT employees at Texas universities, (3) accurate birth certificates for same-sex parents of adopted children and (4) policies that would prohibit bullying and harassment in Texas public schools.   Similar resolutions had been approved by previous convention resolutions committees but never made it to the floor of the convention for a vote.

Hundreds of LGBT Texans were among the 5,000 delegates and alternates who attended the convention.  The Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus (TSDC), which is the official LGBT Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, hosted a reception on June 24 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its founding.  The TSDC also held an Executive Board meeting and Caucus membership meeting at the convention, both of which were well attended.  Dan Graney of San Antonio was re-elected President, Erin Moore of Dallas was re-elected Vice President and Carol Cappa of Fort Worth and Shaun Nelson of Houston were respectively elected the new Secretary and Treasurer of the Caucus.  Graney and Moore will represent the TSDC on the State Democratic Executive Committee or SDEC, which is the governing body of the State Democratic Party between conventions

Also elected to the SDEC were four members of Stonewall Democrats chapters in Texas: Eli Olivarez of McAllen, Garry Brown of Austin and DeeJay Johannessen and Mary Edwards of Tarrant County.  Stonewall Democrats members were also elected to all five of the permanent committees of the convention, which includes credentials, rules, platform, resolutions and nominations.

“The 2010 State Democratic Convention proved beyond a reasonable doubt that LGBT Texans have a place at the table of the Democratic Party”, exclaimed TSDC President Dan Graney.  “As for the Republican Party of Texas, it might as well call itself the Republican Party of Uganda because of all the hate and bigotry that is dripping from its platform”, he said.

Texas Democrats are gearing up for the midterm elections this November and are hoping to elect Bill White the first Democratic governor of this state in 16 years.  The 2012 Texas Democratic Convention will take place in Houston.

—  John Wright