Spectrum again seeks LGBT senator at SMU

Members of gay student group speak out after registrar cuts off talks over diversity seat proposal

SEEKING REPRESENTATION  |  Spectrum members, from left, Jessica Barner, Eric Douglas, Danielle Palomo, Breanna Diaz, Jakob Schwarz and Kristen Baker-Fletcher outside an SMU Student Senate meeting this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

SEEKING REPRESENTATION  | Spectrum members, from left, Jessica Barner, Eric Douglas, Danielle Palomo, Breanna Diaz, Jakob Schwarz and Kristen Baker-Fletcher outside an SMU Student Senate meeting this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK — Progress toward an LGBT Student Senate seat at Southern Methodist University came to a halt last week when the school registrar cut off talks with Karen Click, director of the Women’s Center for Gender and Pride Initiatives.

“I need to put this project on hold for a while, as I don’t have the resources now,” Joe Papari, SMU’s director of enrollment services for student systems and technology, wrote in an email to Click.

Papari couldn’t be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, members of the LGBTQA student group Spectrum addressed the Student Senate to ask for help in restarting the talks about a Senate seat.

“Show how progressive our campus can be,” Spectrum President Harvey Luna urged the Senate.

Tom Elliott, who now works for the Travis County Democratic Party in Austin,  first brought the idea of an LGBT seat to the Senate in 2009 when he was a senior.

Elliot said when he served on the Senate’s Diversity Committee, it dealt with finding more resources for minorities and better ways to recruit new students from those communities.

He thought that with the negative publicity SMU gets from the Princeton Review rating of the school as one of the 20 most homophobic campuses in the U.S., an LGBT senator would send a positive signal to potential incoming students that while the student body remains conservative and seems lacking in diversity, everyone is actually welcome at SMU.

The Princeton ranking is based on student surveys. In many ways, SMU doesn’t fit the profile of other schools on the list. SMU is the only school on the list with inclusive nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner benefits for employees, sanctioned LGBT student groups and openly gay faculty and staff who are embraced by the administration.

In December 2009, the Student Senate voted against adding the LGBT diversity seat. The vote was 19-19, but a three-fourths majority was needed to pass the resolution that would have then gone to the entire student body for a vote.

But the perception of the school remains one where gays and lesbians are not welcome, according to members of Spectrum who believe that a diversity seat would help change that.

Last year, Spectrum again urged the Senate to add the seat but they again voted it down citing the difficulty in identifying LGBT students and uncertainty about how many students the senator would represent.

“They were concerned with numbers,” said Spectrum member Eric Douglas. “They threw out 150 as a number.”

He laughed at the idea that on a campus with 11,000 students, fewer than 150 would be LGBT.

Senate Secretary Martha Pool said that there’s concern about double representation and questioned all diversity seats.

“Special interests are supposed to have liaisons,” she said. “There’s supposed to be a senator [assigned to] every student group. That way, everyone is fairly represented.”

However, no one from Spectrum who attended the Senate meeting on Tuesday had ever met a senator assigned to their group.

Spectrum member Kristen Baker-Fletcher objected to the idea that a senator who isn’t a member of the LGBT community could represent those students well.

She mocked the idea, characterizing it as, “We have efficient people who can speak for you.”

Spectrum’s activist chair Breanna Diaz said that a diversity senator would represent all LGBT students, not just the few who belong to one of the school’s several gay groups. She said an LGBT representative would bring issues to the Senate that aren’t currently being addressed, including health, mental health and safety.

Diaz said a major concern from last year seems to be resolved. In talks with the registrar, an optional slot could be added to the online student information profiles. Students could indicate their sexual orientation or gender identity on a confidential page. Those who self-identified as members of the LGBT community could vote for the diversity senator but wouldn’t have to belong to a campus LGBT organization.

Several senators asked whether a resolution to the registrar would make a difference.

Spectrum member Jakob Schwarz said, “The only leg the registrar’s office can stand on is that students don’t want it. A resolution by the Student Senate would be an indication of students do want.”

Click wasn’t sure that registration on the campus database was necessarily the answer.

“Is this the one stumbling block?” Click asked, adding that she doesn’t know the answer.

Click said the question of who would vote for the LGBT seat is complicated since a lot of allies attend Spectrum, many LGBT students don’t belong to any of the campus groups, and reaching out to them all is difficult because of the transience of an undergraduate population.

“There’s no easy fix,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Ready for the fight

Baldwin says she doesn’t believe anti-gay attacks against her in her U.S. Senate bid would work with Wisconsin voters

 

Baldwin.Polis
Openly gay members of Congress Rep. Tammy Baldwin, center, and Rep. Jared Polis, right, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco in December 2009. Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has announced she is seeking the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herbert Kohl. If she wins the election, Baldwin will become the first openly LGBT person in the U.S. Senate. (Russel A. Daniels/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin said last week that her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin “will not be about me,” but she’s “prepared to respond to any number of likely attacks in this political age,” including ones based on her sexual orientation.

Baldwin, one of only four openly gay members of the U.S. House, announced Sept. 6 that she will seek the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat who announced in May that he would not seek re-election in 2012.

Although Baldwin is not the first openly gay person to run for a U.S. Senate seat, her campaign has ignited considerable enthusiasm in the LGBT political community.

Chuck Wolfe, head of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly gay candidates for elective office, said in a telephone conference call with LGBT media Sept. 7 that the Victory Fund “believes this will be an important race for our community.”
He predicted the community would “rally around” Baldwin, whom he called a “stellar” representative of the community.

Baldwin, who participated in that call and took questions from the media, said she expects the campaign to be “hotly, hotly contested,” as are all Senate races in recent years.

The partisan balance has been closely divided for years. Democrats currently have 51 seats plus 2 Independents who caucus with them; Republicans have 47.

It takes a majority of 60 to break a filibuster staged by a minority party, and the Republican Party has made the filibuster an almost routine maneuver since 2008, in hopes of thwarting a second term for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Following Obama’s election in 2008, Democrats and Independents held 60 seats.

Baldwin said her first challenge will be to introduce herself to parts of Wisconsin outside her district of Madison, the state capital.

She said current polling suggests between 52 percent and 55 percent of voters in the state recognize her name. And given the potential for a hotly contested Senate race to include an anti-gay attack, said Baldwin, she’s eager to introduce herself to voters around the state before an attacker does.

Baldwin doesn’t necessarily believe an anti-gay attack will be particularly effective in Wisconsin. She noted that the western part of the state has also elected an openly gay member of Congress before: U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson.

Gunderson ran for re-election twice after he was outed in 1991.

Baldwin noted that she has been openly gay “all my adult life” and she thinks the voters of Wisconsin “appreciate values of honesty and integrity.

“And I have a lifetime commitment to equality for all,” said Baldwin.

But “this campaign,” Baldwin added, “will not be about me. It will be about the middle class, the threats they’re facing, and which candidate is the best fighter for them.”

Meanwhile, two state representatives in Wisconsin announced Sept. 7 that they will seek the Democratic nomination to run for Baldwin’s seat.

One is openly gay Rep. Mark Pocan, who filled in Baldwin’s state assembly seat when she was elected to Congress.

The other is State Rep. Kelda Roys, the youngest member of the Wisconsin assembly and former head of the Wisconsin chapter of NARAL.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Tammy Baldwin joins U.S. Senate race

Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin entered the race Tuesday for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, becoming the first Democrat to officially jump in the contest.

The seat is one of at least eight open spots that will help determine the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans need to pick up just four seats to take control.

One of the most liberal members of Congress, Baldwin had been saying since Kohl announced his retirement in May that she was seriously considering a Senate bid. Her congressional district includes the city of Madison, a liberal Democratic stronghold, and some surrounding rural areas.

Baldwin, 49, made her announcement in an email and video announcement to supporters early Tuesday. If elected, she would become the first openly gay member of the Senate.

Baldwin, the first woman whom Wisconsin voters sent to Congress, was also the first person elected to Congress after announcing they were gay. She was first elected in 1998.

She downplayed the historic significance of her candidacy during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. She said she supports equal opportunity for all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation, but that her focus of the race will be on fighting for the middle class.

“From day one, I have always been open about my sexual orientation,” Baldwin said on the call. “I think that integrity is something that is important to voters.”

She called for a new federal stimulus plan focused on improving schools, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in order to put people to work immediately.

“I hope we hear the president calling for that later this week,” she said.

Baldwin also used her video message to mention her opposition to the war in Iraq and her support for ending the war in Afghanistan, as well as to hint at the obstacles her candidacy will face as she seeks to win her first statewide election.

“I’m used to facing challenges head on,” she said. “When I first ran for Congress in 1998, people counted me out. But we worked hard, campaigned across south-central Wisconsin, and we won.”

Republicans are sure to go after Baldwin’s liberal voting record, hoping to sway independent and moderate voters their way in a state that has swung between handing President Barack Obama a 14-point win in 2008 and kicking Democrats out of power in the Statehouse in 2010.

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann entered the Senate race last week. Neumann said at the time that he was focusing his campaign on Baldwin, who he presumed would capture the Democratic nomination.

Neumann and other Republicans lined up to cast Baldwin as a liberal who is unelectable statewide.

“I’m a conservative, she’s a liberal — it’s that simple,” Neumann said in his statement.

Brad Courtney, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, called Baldwin a “disastrous failure” when it comes to creating jobs and fixing the nation’s economy.

“We look forward to contrasting Baldwin’s record of less jobs and more big government spending against the proven fiscal responsibility of the Republican candidates,” Courtney said.

There promises to be a spirited contest on the GOP side, with longtime Gov. Tommy Thompson making serious moves toward his first run for office since 1998. Other Republicans indicating they plan to run include Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, a top ally of polarizing Gov. Scott Walker; state Sen. Frank Lasee, a lawmaker who once advocated arming teachers to protect their classrooms; and former state Sen. Ted Kanavas, a lower-profile candidate who’s been quietly building support.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse is considering running, as is former two-term U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton. Former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost re-election last year to Republican Ron Johnson, has said he wouldn’t run for any office in 2012.

Kind’s campaign spokesman and Kagen did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Baldwin’s entrance into the Senate race leaves her House seat open for the first time in 14 years. A number of potential Democratic candidates have already expressed interest, including state Reps. Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys.

—  John Wright

Davis challenging redistricting plan

As we told you in David Taffet’s May 6 story on redistricting efforts under way in the Texas Legislature, the redistricting plan under consideration now would split Senate District 10, currently represented by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis, into as many as five pieces, splitting up her mostly minority constituents and putting them instead into other districts dominated by Anglo Republicans.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Today, Terrance Stutz with the Dallas Morning News reports that Davis “has fired the first shot” at the redistricting plan, claiming that the plan violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

After pointing out that Democrats weren’t allowed to have any input into redrawing the districts, Davis said that black voters in southeast Fort Worth would be pushed into a mostly rural district to the south while Hispanic voters in the northern part of District 10 would shuffled into a district with what Stutz called “hundreds of thousands of Anglo Republicans in Denton County.”

Davis told Stutz: “It is my duty as the elected representative of Senate District 10 to fight the [Senate redistricting] committee proposal with every resource I can muster. I cannot allow the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of constituents in Tarrant County to be trampled to satisfy the partisan greed of the Senate leadership.”

Davis, who narrowly beat out Republican incumbent Sen. Kim Brimer in 2008 to take the District 10 Senate seat, easily winning re-election in 2010, is considered one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies in the Texas Senate and was the author of an anti-bullying bill that Equality Texas called the best of the bunch introduced at the beginning of the 2011 legislative session.

—  admin

Leppert’s DOMA comment was a slap in the face

Lorie Burch

LORIE BURCH  |  Chairwoman, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce

As chairwoman of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, I am disappointed with Mayor Tom Leppert’s recent statements denouncing the Obama Administration’s statement that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government and certain states from honoring same-sex marriages in other states and jurisdictions.

Mr. Leppert has purported to be an advocate of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community through his tenure as Dallas mayor. He’s been an honored guest at many of our community’s most prestigious events like the North Texas Chamber’s Anniversary Dinner and the Black Tie Dinner. He has been part of the International GLBT Press Tour, and helped to sell Dallas as a preferred destination for important GLBT conferences.

In light of his recent resignation as mayor, presumably to pursue Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s Senate seat, such a reversal is politicking at its worst and is a slap in the face to the North Texas GLBT community who have shown him its support.

It is time to expect more from our leaders. No longer should we tolerate this “back of the bus” argument that the GLBT community can have some rights, but not all rights. You cannot qualify equality and we deserve leaders who will stand up for us and be our voice and not cow-tow to their political base. Equality is not a political platform; it is the foundation of our country. Civil rights are not a matter of public opinion; they are a guarantee to us under our Constitution. It is, simply, our way of life.

—  admin

BREAKING: Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert to announce resignation today

Mayor Tom Leppert appears in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade in 2007.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is expected to announce his resignation at the close of today’s City Council meeting.

Leppert’s resignation has long been expected as he prepares to seek the Republican nomination for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat in 2012. It’s really just been a question of when, and now we know: Leppert will step down four months short of the end of his term.

For a Republican in Texas, Leppert has been a relatively good mayor for the LGBT community. After defeating openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley to become mayor in 2007, Leppert reached out and appeared to understand the LGBT community’s importance in Dallas.

Leppert hired an openly gay chief of staff, former WFAA reporter Chris Heinbaugh, and became only the second mayor to appear at gay Pride, doing so in two of his four years in office. Leppert made a habit of showing up at GLBT Chamber events and also attended two of four Black Tie Dinners.

But in the latter part of his term Leppert clearly veered to the right in an effort to position himself for the Republican Senate primary — including joining the virulently anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how Leppert treats LGBT issues in his Senate campaign. Being a moderate Republican won’t win him many votes in a statewide Republican primary, but at the same time it will be difficult to hide from his record in Dallas.

Leppert’s resignation means that Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway will temporarily become mayor until after the May elections. Although Caraway is a Democrat, he hasn’t been much of an advocate for the LGBT community.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Chris Tina Foxx Bruce on discrimination

Chris Tina Foxx Bruce, a transgender personal fitness trainer who’s become something of a celebrity since being profiled by Dallas Voice a few months ago, talks about some discrimination she suffered recently at the hands of a Dallas gym owner.

In her latest video blog posted on Saturday, Foxx Bruce explains that she was interested in contracting with the owner to use his gyms, which are convenient to many of her clients.

“When I walked in, you would have thought I had beaten his child,” she says. “I’m used to the looks. I just would have thought in north or downtown Dallas, it wouldn’t have been such a shock, but he didn’t even allow the time to really discuss credentials, resume. It was just pretty much that he didn’t think I was a good fit.”

Foxx Bruce also confirms in the video blog that she plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. And she encourages people to vote for her as DFW’s Ultimate Diva.

—  John Wright

WATCH: GetEQUAL Texas calls out Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for vote against DADT repeal

Transgender woman Chris Tina Foxx Bruce holds a sign conveying the message of today’s rally outside Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Dallas office.

About 10 people gathered outside Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Dallas office this afternoon to protest her vote on Saturday against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The protest was organized by GetEQUAL Texas, the state chapter of the national LGBT direct action group, and similar rallies were scheduled today outside Hutchison’s offices in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

Wielding signs, bullhorns and a Rainbow-colored American flag, the Dallas protesters chanted “Shame on Kay!” and “Retire, Kay Bailey!” as they stood on a grassy median along the service road outside her 11th floor office in the Hotels.com building at 10440 N. Central Expressway.

Despite Hutchison’s vote against DADT repeal, the bill passed and is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama on Wednesday. However, the protesters  didn’t appear to be in a celebratory mood.

“This is just the beginning,” said protester Marlin Bynum, a 47-year-old former preacher who came out as gay five years ago. “We still need ENDA. We’ve still got to repeal DOMA. This is just the beginning. In fact, I don’t know if the fight will ever end.”

Another protester, Chris Tina Foxx Bruce, said she attended the rally because she wanted to make sure the transgender community was represented.

“We have to put on a united front,” she said.

Foxx Bruce added that she’s toying with the idea running for Hutchison’s Senate seat in 2012. Foxx Bruce said Hutchison voted against DADT repeal even though everyone knew it had enough votes to pass.

“She was making a statement, and her statement was, she doesn’t believe in equality,” Foxx Bruce said.

Jade Rea, who traveled to the rally from Fort Worth and said she was representing the bisexual community, acknowledged that Hutchison is unlikely to ever support the LGBT community.

“Probably not, but it’s better for her to see something going on in support than nothing at all,” Rea said. “If you’re not vocal, you’re not heard, you’re not seen, it’s like you’re invisible.”

At the end of the rally, a representative from Hutchison’s office, Byron Campbell, came down to meet the protesters, who handed him two signs on which they’d written personal messages.

“Eighty percent of this country supported the bill,” GetEQUAL board member Mark Reed-Walkup told Campbell as he handed him the signs. “We e-mailed, we called her, she asked for a study, the study came back positive, and then she still voted no. We’re extremely disappointed, and we’ll be back.”

“I appreciate this. Thank you very much, and thank you for your time,” Campbell said before quickly going back inside.

Reed said GetEQUAL, which formed this year, is just beginning to organize chapters in all 50 states and likely will become more active in Texas in 2011.

“We’ll continue to hold our elected leaders accountable,” Reed said.

More photos from the rally after the jump.

—  John Wright