Iconic LGBT activist Ray Hill files for Texas House seat

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

Long time Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill filed paperwork this week to run for the 147th Texas House seat against incumbent Garnet Coleman, D – Houston. The iconic (and iconoclastic) Hill said that he and Coleman agree on many issues but that he had “some issues  that aren’t on the table in Austin.”

Specifically Hill has concerns with the legislature’s approach to criminal justice issues. “The Texas legislature is a serial world class red-necking competition,” says Hill. “What they are doing on criminal justice is wrong and it doesn’t work… we need a serious rethink.”

Coleman has a strong history of supporting LGBT legislation. For the last three sessions he has attempted to pass anti-bullying legislation that would require school districts to report instances of bullying using an enumerated list of motivating characteristics that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, he has also filed legislation to remove the the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas penal code (a law that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), to equalize age of consent laws in Texas and to add gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crime law. In the 82nd legislature earlier this year Coleman authored seven pieces of legislation designed to create greater equality for LGBT people, including the first ever filing of legislation to standardize change of gender marker procedures for the transgender community and the first effort to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition against marriage equality.

Hill recognizes Coleman’s historic contributions, “The incumbent and I agree on a lot of issues,” says Hill, “but we don’t tell young gay people ‘if you work real hard and go to school and do your best you can grow up to have straight friends in Austin who like you.’ No, we tell them ‘if you work hard they can grow up to be Mayor of Houston, or City Supervisor of San Francisco.’”

When asked why the community would be better served by him than Coleman, a 20 year legislative veteran, Hill replies “I understand how government works. A freshman legislator can’t do anything more than irritate, but that’s about all any member of the minority party can do. On that level the incumbent and I are on the same level… I think we need somebody obnoxious [in the legislature] who’s going to purposefully rub the cat hair the wrong direction.”

Since being elected to the legislature for the first time in 1992 Coleman has been unopposed in 5 of his 9 primary reelection bids. No primary challenger to Coleman has pulled more than 21% of the vote.

—  admin

The go-to place for programs to combat bullying in schools

Mary Jo Kaska, new programming director Hope for Peace and Justice, says the organization will focus on private schools

Kaska1

Mary Jo Kaska

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Mary Jo Kaska, the new director of programming for Hope for Peace and Justice, hopes her organization becomes the go-to place for help in establishing anti-bullying policies, especially for private schools in Texas.

Right now, the biggest program at Hope for Peace and Justice is its Safe Schools Project.

“We’ve taken the stand that all school districts need enumerated categories,” she said. “The addition of those enumerated categories spells out for young people that the kind of bullying they’ve seen in their schools frequently is no longer tolerated.”

Kaska said that Hope for Peace and Justice is creating its own standard for an anti-bullying program that is research-based, comparing the rollout of this policy to the way Nolan High School, where she taught, introduced its harassment policy.

“We developed a code,” she said. “We talked to boys and girls separately — straight on — explaining what harassment was, [how] what they did before was harassment and won’t be tolerated.”

She said a successful policy sets out who to go to and what happens when the rules are violated.

When that happens, she said, “suddenly a bell goes off before a student does something. It’s an educational process. You’re creating a safe climate, a safe culture.”

The regulations articulate a set of values and a policy, she said.

While H4PJ would be happy to work with public schools that need assistance, Kaska said the organization’s focus is on private schools. Despite the law passed in this year’s session of the Texas Legislature, she said many private schools feel exempt because they don’t receive public funding.

One step in making schools safer, she Kaska, is training teachers to intervene.

“What I like about the Texas law is that it requires the whole program to be on the district website,” she said.

Posting the policy she said is important for private schools too.

Once criteria are finalized, Kaska said H4PJ will be contacting private schools throughout the Dallas area first and then throughout the state. Its consulting services will be available to schools for free, and paid for by H4PJ contributors.

“Then our website will be one-stop shopping for the best anti-bullying resources,” Kaska said.

“Private schools are already doing so many things right,” she said, but added that some simple changes will help make schools a little bit safer.

“We want schools to be able to promote their success stories,” Kaska said. “Upload videos showing things that are working. Foster student leadership and participation in developing a respectful and welcoming school environment.”

Kaska was hired after group founder and president Michael Piazza moved to Atlanta earlier this year. She said that although her organization is based at Cathedral of Hope, it is incorporated as a separate non-profit organization.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Texas House tentatively OKs anti-bullying bill

Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington

An anti-bullying bill that’s become the top priority for Equality Texas in this year’s legislative session received tentative approval from the Texas House tonight, in a 102-34 vote.

HB 1942, by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, doesn’t provide specific protections for LGBT youth. However, experts say the bill represents the last, best chance for the Legislature to crack down on bullying this year.

From the Texas Tribune:

The bill lays out a definition of bullying and calls on school districts to adopt procedures that prohibit it, make students aware of their options for seeking assistance, protect “whistle-blowers,” establish procedures for notifying parents and guardians about incidents of bullying, and set out counseling options for both the victim and the bully. The bill also gives authority to a school board to transfer a bully — as opposed to a victim — to a different classroom and different school, if necessary.

Equality Texas has issued action alerts over the last few days calling on people to contact their state representative and urge them to support the bill. The bill must be voted on once more by the House before moving to the Senate, which could happen Wednesday.

—  John Wright

Texas House OKs measure requiring schools with LGBT resource centers to spend equal amount on centers for ‘family and traditional values’

Wayne Christian

Public colleges and universities in Texas with LGBT resource centers would have to spend an equal amount on centers promoting “family and traditional values,” under a budget amendment approved by the House late Friday.

The amendment from State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, passed by a vote of 110-24. From The Dallas Morning News:

While many members in the chamber cracked jokes and guffawed, the amendment’s author, Rep. Wayne Christian, said the University of Texas, Texas A&M and “some other schools” have centers promoting “alternative sexual practices.”

“I’m not treading on their rights to that, to teach alternative sexual behavior,” said Christian, R-Center. But he said they must match it, dollar for dollar, with advocating heterosexual, “traditional values.”

Meanwhile, the House defeated a proposed budget amendment that would have required school districts to report incidents of harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment from Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, was defeated by a vote of 97-49.

—  John Wright

If you can’t read this post at school, your district may be illegally filtering LGBT content

If your school district is illegally filtering LGBT content, you probably can’t read this post — at least not from a district computer. So, you’ll just have to read it at home and take notes so you can check tomorrow when you’re at school or work. Ready?

Earlier today we posted a story from the Associated Press about how the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that school districts stop filtering LGBT web content in violation of federal law. As the story notes, Texas is one of a handful of states where the ACLU sent letters to school districts requesting information about web filtering. We inquired of the ACLU as to which districts in Texas received requests, but we haven’t heard back. A few years ago, according to Lambda Legal, the Dallas Independent School District agreed to allow access to web sites that were blocked at the time, including those belonging to Youth First Texas and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). DallasVoice.com was also among the sites DISD had blocked.

On Tuesday we contacted Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for DISD, and sent him a copy of the press release from the ACLU. Dahlander responded by saying that he had not seen any request from the ACLU, although he added that it may have gone to the district’s technology department. He also pointed us to the district’s policy on web filtering:

Each District computer with Internet access shall have a filtering device or software that blocks access to visual depictions that are obscene, pornographic, inappropriate for students, or harmful to minors, as defined by the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act and as determined by the Superintendent of Schools or designee. Every computer shall have a filter device or software that protects against viruses.

Because the DISD policy seems open to interpretation, we asked Dahlander to check whether the following sites are accessible from DISD computers. He said he did so and confirmed that all of them are accessible:

www.dayofsilence.org
www.itgetsbetter.org
www.thetrevorproject.org
www.gsanetwork.org
www.glsen.org
www.dallasvoice.com

Note that these are the same sites, with the exception of DallasVoice.com, that the ACLU recommends checking to determine whether your district is illegally filtering LGBT content. For more, watch the video above. If any of the LGBT sites are blocked,the ACLU recommends that you check the following anti-LGBT sites to see whether they’re also blocked:

www.NARTH.com
www.peoplecanchange.com
www.pfox.org

Dahlander said the three anti-LGBT sites are also accessible from DISD computers, which is a little scary, but hey, free speech is free speech.

Still, DISD is just one of hundreds of school districts in Texas. So if you think your district may be illegally filtering LGBT content on its computers, you can fill out the ACLU’s form by going here.

—  John Wright

Coleman introduces ‘Asher’s Law’

Asher Brown, left, and Rep. Garnet Coleman

Today as LGBT citizens from around the state converged on Austin to lobby lawmakers on LGBT issues, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat from Houston, introduced “Asher’s Law,” a bill that would “help protect our children before they are terrorized and traumatized both physically and mentally,” according to a press release from Coleman’s office.

Before this session of the Texas Legislature even began, Coleman had prefiled HB 1386. Asher’s Law — HB 2343 — is identical to that earlier legislation except that Coleman renamed it in honor of Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from Houston who committed suicide last year after enduring relentless bullying from his classmates and peers.

Coleman said that he renamed the legislation with the permission of Asher’s parents, Amy and David Truong. Coleman said, “The Truongs are acting with grace and courage. They are allowing a tremendous personal tragedy be a catalyst for change in state statute. We should honor them.”

Coleman said that Asher’s Law, if passed, would direct the Department of State Health Services and the Texas Education Agency to implement a program to recognize students at risk of emtoional trauma or committing suicide, intervene effectively and refer students to mental health services if necessary. The bill would require school districts to report incidents of harassment and bullying to the TEA annually and to train district employees on preventing bullying and harassment. It also addresses harassment and discrimination by school district employees toward students and other employees.

In addition, Asher’s Law gives school districts the option of transferring a bully, instead of current practice which is to transfer the student being bullied.

Coleman has filed similar bills in every legislative session since 2003. Prior to that year, he supported similar bills filed in each session by then state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat.

—  admin

Removal of LGBT references makes anti-bullying bills weaker, but more likely to pass

Daniel Williams

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Instant Tea reported Monday that the reporting requirement proposed by the “big” anti-bullying bills (HB 224, SB 245) will be amended so that the provision that school districts file annual reports on instances of bullying in enumerated categories will now only require a report — with the specifics to be determined by the Texas Education Commission (TEA).

(HB 224 has been filed in the House, SB 245 in the Senate. The bills are nearly identical. It is common practice to file the same legislation in both the House and the Senate. Doing so allows bills to be considered by both sides simultaneously which can speed the process of a bill becoming a law. Since the Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days speed is crucial in passing any law.)

HB 224 (by Strama, D-Travis County) currently would require districts to specify in their annual reports if instances of bullying were based on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability of the victim. SB 245 (by Davis, D-Fort Worth) requires the same enumerated report but adds gender identity and expression to the list. (Strama filed this same bill last session, also without gender identity and expression, but added it to the list of attributes in committee).

In addition to the reporting requirements both bills would require school staff, administrators, students and volunteers to attend training on how to identity and respond to bullying, would allow bullies to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred) and would allow administrators to address cyber-bullying under limited conditions.

Neither bill currently contains a provision prohibiting schools from discriminating against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Let’s face it, removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement will make these good bills less good — there is no getting around that. But (and it’s an extremely ambivalent “but”) the proposed change to these bills dramatically increases the chances of the Legislature doing something to address the issue of bullying this session.

—  admin

Franko running in District 14

4 candidates have started campaigns in Oak Lawn district; still no definite word from Hunt on mayoral candidacy

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Vernon C. Franko is one of four candidates who have already appointed campaign treasurers to run this year for the District 14 seat on the Dallas City Council, according to information posted online by the Dallas city secretary.

And that doesn’t count incumbent Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who may — or may not — choose to run for mayor instead of for re-election to the Council.

Franko said in a recent interview that he has been planning to run for the council for about two years because “I just didn’t think we were getting the representation we deserve in this district.”

Franko said that he is “upset that property taxes didn’t go back down after the adjustments for the [housing bubble]. We have seen some decrease, but not enough.

“I think we need to bring back integrity and fairness to the Council,” Franko continued. “There have been some closed-door meetings held that I really didn’t like. Everything should be out in the open. We just aren’t getting the kind of representation we had in this district back in the 1980s and ’90s.”

Franko also said that he is unhappy with the way “education issues” are being handled in Dallas, and that public school teachers have been “underpaid for way too long” and property taxes levied by the school districts are too high.

Although the City Council has no authority over public schools in the city, Franko said he believes the council “should be working with the school districts around here to make these issues better known. The council is prominent enough to help bring attention to these issues in a way that the school board can’t.”

And, he said, the council should also work with other entities that assess property taxes in Dallas, like the hospital districts.

“Homeowners are being discouraged from buying and maintaining homes because the way the tax situation is handled just isn’t equitable,” Franko said. “Property owners — and even renters who have to pay higher rents so that property owners can pay taxes — they are all carrying a disproportionate share of the tax burden.”

Franko, who lives on Cedar Springs Road, said he has been an insurance agent and small business for 15 years. Although he did not say if he is gay, he did describe himself as “a part of the Oak Lawn community,” and pledged to treat all his constituents fairly and equally if he is elected.

“I think the LGBT people should be represented just as fairly and equally as any other community,” Franko said. “I believe in fairness in representation for all groups, whether it’s about race or gender or orientation or what have you.

“I am a part of the Oak Lawn community, but I wouldn’t want to give Oak Lawn residents better treatment than someone from another community. All community’s deserve equal treatment,” he said.

Council election overview

Dallas City Council and mayoral elections will be held May 14.

Although candidates have already started filing paperwork designating campaign treasurers, the candidates cannot actually file to run for the council until Monday, Feb. 14. The deadline to file is March 14. The drawing for placement on the ballot will be March 18, and March 21 is the last day that candidates can withdraw from the races.
April 1 is the deadline to register to vote in the May elections. Early voting runs from May 2-10.

Four candidates for District 14 — considered the district with the largest LGBT population — have registered information on their campaign treasurers with the city secretary’s office so far: James Nowlin, Jim Rogers, Erin C. Lasseter and Franko.

District 14 incumbent Angela Hunt has said publicly she is considering a run for mayor to replace first-term incumbent Mayor Tom Leppert, who has said he will not run for re-election. However Hunt has not yet registered a campaign treasurer with the city secretary’s office for either a District 14 re-election bid — incumbents running for re-election are not required to file a new campaign treasurer form — or as a mayoral candidate.

Nowlin, who is openly gay and was the first to register a campaign treasurer, said he has been discussing the possibility of running for the District 14 seat with Hunt for more than a year, and he is confident she will run for mayor.

Rogers, however, said that if Hunt decides instead to run for re-election to the council, he would drop out of the race.

Two other incumbents in districts with significant LGBT populations — Delia Jasso in District 1 and Pauline Medrano in District 2 — so far face no declared opposition in their re-election bids.

But in District 3, neighborhood activist Scott Griggs has appointed a treasurer and is running to replace incumbent Dave Neumann. The District 3 seat was long held by Ed Oakley, the openly gay man who made national headlines with his 2007 campaign for Dallas mayor against Leppert, a race Leppert won in runoff balloting.

Other candidates who have registered campaign treasurers with the city secretary are Monica R. Alonzo and John M. Lozano, running for the District 6 seat held by incumbent Steve Salazar; Edward D. Turner, running for the District 7 seat held by incumbent Carolyn R. Davis, and Richard P. Sheriden, running for the District 13 seat held by incumbent Ann Margolin.

Other council incumbents facing no declared opposition yet are Dwaine R. Caraway in District 4, Vonciel Jones Hill in District 5, Tennell Atkins in District 8, Sheffie Kadane in District 9, Jerry R. Allen in District 10 and Linda Koop in District 11.

District 12 incumbent Ron Natinsky is a declared candidate for mayor.

Mayoral election overview

Natinsky is one of three candidates who have registered campaign treasurers with the city secretary, and is considered — at least so far — the frontrunner for the seat. Oakley, who lost the mayor’s race in Leppert four years ago, has already endorsed Natinsky’s mayoral bid, as have several other well-known leaders in the LGBT community.

Jim Moore, an attorney with offices in Oak Lawn, was the first mayoral candidate to register a campaign treasurer. He recently joined Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and he, too, said he counts LGBT leaders as friends and supporters.

The third declared candidate to replace Leppert is former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle who, during his years leading the Dallas Police Department, earned a reputation for treating the LGBT community fairly, and who was the first Dallas Police chief to participate each year in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: N. Dallas High School bars transgender girl from running for homecoming queen

A male-to-female transgender student at North Dallas High School says the school’s principal is discriminating against her by barring her from running for homecoming queen, according to a report that aired Wednesday night on Fox 4.

Andy Moreno, an 18-year-old senior, told the station that some friends nominated her for homecoming queen. However, a few days ago, a counselor warned Moreno that some school administrators were opposed to the idea. Moreno says she went to talk to the principal, who told her to run for homecoming king instead.

The Dallas Independent School District says it has no formal policy on the issue, but DISD issued a statement saying: “The district fully supports the decision of the principal at North Dallas High School. It should be noted that the Dallas Independent School District is proud to have one of the most aggressive anti-harassment policies among school districts in the state of Texas.”

Moreno says she doesn’t feel comfortable running for homecoming king because she identifies as a female, and her friends support her.

“I do feel like I’m being harassed and I feel like I’m being discriminated against,” Moreno told Fox 4. “I feel like the principal is embarrassed to have a transgender queen.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea and Dallas Voice for more on the story.

—  John Wright

Fairness Fort Worth meeting tonight

Fairness Fort Worth meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Celebration Community Church, 908 Pennsylvannia Ave., and everyone interested is helping set the organization’s agenda for the coming year is welcome to attend.

Initiatives already on the agenda include:

• working with Fort Worth Independent School District and other area school districts on anti-bullying projects and LGBT inclusive policies for students and staff.

• reaching out to other local governmental bodies and major employers on LGBT issues and providing  LGBT diversity training.

• coordinating and training with all Tarrant County hospitals to ensure equal access to healthcare for LGBT people.

For more information, check out the Fairness Fort Worth Facebook page.

—  admin