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

Banks Appointed to Citizen Police Oversight Board

Kris Banks

Kris Banks

On Wednesday the Houston City Council confirmed Mayor Annise Parker’s appointment of Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Kris Banks to the Independent Police Oversight Board.  The Oversight Board provides a way for Houstonians to have input into allegations against police officers involving use of excessive force, discharge of firearms, serious bodily injury or death or mistreatment of citizens.  The Board also makes recommendations on recruitment, training and evaluation of police officers; and considers community concerns regarding the Department.  Houstini talked with Banks about his new role:

[Houstini] Why have you agreed to serve on the Oversight Board?

[Banks] I believe the Oversight Board performs an important and vital function that benefits all involved. Police officers are granted extraordinary powers over their fellow Houstonians. They can, under legally sufficient circumstances, detain people against their will, walk into other people’s homes without their permission, and even use physical force to make people comply. We grant police officers these powers because they are necessary for the officers to do their jobs. However, with these great powers come great responsibility, and the Oversight Board exists as a check on those powers, thereby protecting the public against the very rare officer who uses her or his powers irresponsibility or excessively. It also benefits the police department. With the assurance that the Board is providing oversight, members of the public can be more confident of the police department, and form a better working relationship with officers.

[Houstini] What do LGBT Houstonians who have concerns about police behavior need to know about the mission of the Oversight Board?

[Banks] Historically, the LGBT community has had concerns about very broad and obvious police harassment, like bar raids. Incidents like these still occur (see Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth), but they tend to not be the focus of issues that exists between the LGBT community and the police department. Concerns between the community and the police department now tend to be over specific incidents that sometimes come to light and sometimes do not. That being said, the IPOB will review internal police investigations for complaints of excessive force, any discharge of a firearm, any time there is a death or serious injury, or any matter the police chief refers to us. We make recommendations, and the chief has ultimate discretion. What I want to highlight here is that a complaint has to be made for the IPOB to have any role. Complaints have to be sworn, either by the complainant, or, if the complaint is anonymous, by the person taking the complaint.

LGBT Houstonians should also know that I take my role as a community representative very seriously. I will not only take my perspective as an LGBT Houstonian to the police department, I will also take the knowledge I gain back of police procedure back to the community. For instance, I mentioned anonymous complaints above. In the training I have received so far, I learned that organizations can be deputized to take anonymous complaints (LULAC and the NAACP are both deputized). Anonymous complaints are, unfortunately, a big concern for our community. Whether because our congress has failed to pass job protections, family concerns, or any other personal reason, there are still many, many people in the closet. But being in the closet does not mean that a person is not protected. I will learn more about the deputizing community groups and take that back to organizations in our community like the Caucus, Community Center and Transgender Foundation so they can begin that process (as a caveat, I do not have a full list of deputized organizations and any of these organizations may already be deputized).

—  admin

Broken Mould

Queer punk pioneer Bob Mould turned an abusive childhood into a musical movement, but memoir targets hardcore fans

2.5 out of 5 stars
SEE A LITTLE LIGHT: THE TRAIL OF RAGE AND MELODY
By Bob Mould (with Michael
Azerrad). 2001 (Little, Brown)
$25; 404 pp.

………………………….
It all starts with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It continues with the itsy-bitsy spider, the ABCs and being a little teapot. From there, you embrace whatever your older siblings are listening to until you develop your own musical tastes. Maybe you started with records, moved on to the cassette tapes, CD and now, your iPod is full.

The point is, you’ve never been without your tunes.

But what about the people who make the music you love?

When Mould was born in 1960 in the northernmost end of New York, he entered a family wracked with grief: Just before he was born, Mould’s elder brother died of kidney cancer. He surmises that the timing of his birth resulted in his being a “golden child,” the family peacekeeper who sidestepped his father’s physical and psychological abuse.

“As a child,” he writes, “music was my escape.”

Mould’s father, surprisingly indulgent, bought his son guitars and young Bob taught himself to play chords and create songs. By the time he entered high school, Mould knew that he had to get out of New York and away from his family. He also knew he was gay, which would be a problem in his small hometown.

He applied for and entered college in Minnesota, where he started taking serious guitar lessons and drinking heavily. His frustrations led him to launch a punk rock band that made a notable impact on American indie music.

Named after a children’s game, Hüsker Dü performed nationally and internationally, but Mould muses that perhaps youth was against them. He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with his bandmates, and though he had become the band’s leader, there were resentments and accusations until the band finally split.

HUSKER DON’T | Bob Mould turned his youthful rage and homosexuality into a music career. (Photo by Noah Kalina)

But there were other bands and there were other loves than music, as Mould grew and learned to channel the rage inside him and the anger that volcanoed from it.

“I spent two years rebuilding and reinventing myself,” writes Mould. “Now that I’ve integrated who I am and what I do, I finally feel whole.”

If you remember with fondness the ‘80s, with its angry lyrics and mosh pits, then you’ll love this book. For most readers, though, See a Little Light is going to be a struggle. Mould spends a lot of time on a litany of clubs, recording studios, and locales he played some 30 years ago — which is fine if you were a fellow musician or a rabid, hardcore fan. This part of the book goes on… and on… and on, relentlessness and relatively esoteric in nature.

Admittedly, Mould shines when writing about his personal life but even so, he’s strangely dismissive and abrupt with former loves, bandmates, and even family. I enjoyed the occasional private tale; unfortunately there were not enough.

Overall, See a Little Light is great for Mould fanboys and those were heavy into the punk scene. For most readers, though, this book is way out of tune.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Suicide Coverage: Caution is Warranted If We’re Serious About Prevention

(Trigger warning: If you're in tender space related to suicide, grieving, recovering, or feeling vulnerable, feel free to move on.)

Cindi E Deutschman-Ruiz published a well-researched article in 2003: Reporting on Suicide.  One of the resources she used was a World Health Organization document, from which she drew these points:

  • Suicide is never the result of a single incident.
  • Details of the method or the location a suicide victim uses may lead to copycat suicides.
  • It's vital to use statistics and mental health information very carefully.
  • Suicide coverage is an opportunity to provide the public with information and resources that could save lives.

Of particular interest in the context of youth suicides after bullying, from the WHO doc (emphasis mine):

Overall, there is enough evidence to suggest that some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people.

Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

 A couple of quick points here:

  • I detest the term copycat suicide.  To me, it marginalizes the very real pain a suicide victim experienced, implying that they just wanted to be trendy. The more accurate term is suicide contagion.
  • I lost my partner Dale to suicide a decade ago, so the lessons learned which inform the following are borne of real, raw experience.

What does this mean to us as we grieve the loss of too many young lives where bullying has contributed, and press for bullying and suicide prevention?  I have more questions than easy answers, after the jump.

Never the result of a single incident

The WHO expands on the concept:

[Suicide] is usually always caused by a complex interaction of many factors such as mental and physical illness, family disturbances, interpersonal conflicts and life stressors.

This certainly isn't the way we've often acknowledged youth suicide lately where bullying has been a factor, right?

  • GLSEN refers to [name redacted by me]'s suicide due to bullying.
  • Equality Forum's press release yesterday: It is estimated that about 500 gay teens each year or 40 gay teens per month take their lives as a result of homophobia. 
  • Karen Ocamb: Another Teen Commits Suicide Because of Bullying
  • Americablog Gay: …the horrible suicide of gay teenager [name redacted] due to bullying…

I'm not picking on these good folks, as much as noting that bullying-triggers-suicide seems to be an accepted, little-questioned meme.

I'm also not denying that bullying has been a significant contributor to the deaths of youth and young adults by suicide.

But we need to ask ourselves, Is suicide after bullying distinct from other suicide?  Is there evidence to suggest that bullying is a more unitary cause or a more direct trigger than other contributors?

Checking in with experts on the evidence.

Slate.com's Emily Bazelon published an in-depth piece about a young woman lost to suicide that I won't link to out of personal discomfort with investigative reporting on suicide victims.  Public health social worker Elana Premack Sandler has written about the Slate piece, though:

The truth about bullying and suicide
Why suicide is never simple

She had earlier quoted a parent whose son died in 2003:

“I want to be very clear. I don't blame Ryan's suicide on one single person or one single event. In the end, Ryan was suffering from depression. This is a form of mental illness that is brought on by biological and/or environmental factors. In Ryan's case, I feel it was the ‘pile on effect' of the environmental issues mentioned above that stemmed from his middle school life.

“We have no doubt that bullying and cyber bullying were significant environmental factors…”

While she noted:

We can't say, empirically, that bullying causes suicide.

Discussing the Slate piece, Premack Sandler concludes (emphasis mine):

As much as it's been beneficial to have [name redacted]'s story in the media as a way of raising awareness about teen suicide prevention [...] and as much as linking bullying to suicide helps both kids who are bullied and kids who are suicidal, the simplification – that bullying was the cause of [redacted]'s death – has been a problem for suicide prevention. Suicide as an outcome is never simple.

The evidence-based answer

So, we've got a painful, uncomfortable, answer to the question: Suicide after bullying is not something set apart, simpler, or more easily prevented than suicide in general.  In fact, while increasing awareness of bullying and suicide is helping, some of the most vulnerable in our families and communities may be harmed by the use of an oversimplified bullying-causes-suicide meme.

My perspective as a layperson

I wrote yesterday from a more personal, less evidence-based POV at my blog.

One of my observations as a SOLOS (Survivor Of a Loved One's Suicide) is that distorted thinking seems to be an essential contributor to suicide.  And, one of the common distorted thoughts of suicide victims is that dying by suicide will serve a greater good than living would have.  It strikes me as essential, when we're talking about suicide and bullying, to call this out as false. As Deutschman-Ruiz wrote in 2003:

Suicide is not a rational act.  It is an act of desperation, carried out after a monumental struggle.

In the middle of the monumental struggles of many more than those we have lost to suicide, it seems to me we need to be thoughtful about how we memorialize victims.  (I consider suicide victims to be primarily the victims of mental illness, complicated by other factors.)  While we do everything possible to honor them and draw strength and motivation to eliminate bullying and promote good mental health, it's crucial that we're not inadvertantly contributing to the already-distorted thinking of other folks of any age who are suffering or living with despair.

One layperson's language preferences

Where do we go from here?   I don't have easy answers.  I'm not a journalist or a suicide expert.  I don't want to see a new wave of politically-correct language police rise up and nitpick writings on suicide.

So, my preferences don't carry any more weight than the thoughts of one guy who has a heart for youth and adults who are struggling.

But, here they are:

  • De-couple bullying and suicide.  At best, describe suicide as following bullying, or where bullying appears to have been a factor. Retire the word bullycide permanently.
  • Minimize/downplay suicide methods.  The death indicates severe desperation was at play; the choice of method neither adds or subtracts, and talking it up may contribute to contagion.
  • Drop “committed.”  People commit to jobs or relationships, or commit crime or heroic acts. Saying that my partner Dale died by suicide states the fact without judgment.
  • Honor the victims' lives: We needed you with us longer. We would change it if we could.  Speak to them as we would those who are still with us but struggling.
  • Empathize with families and loved ones: We cannot imagine your pain.
  • Take responsibility: We, as your community, may have failed you in some fashion, given the collapse of your mental health.
  • De-couple memorializing and advocacy: Use limited photos and details when expressing condolences or memorials; swap in statistics and evidence whenever workable while pressing for change.

LGBTQ communities have a terrific opportunity related to suicide.  Like awareness of HIV and open, nonjudgmental discussion of sexual health issues has exploded because of our communities' legacies, we have an opportunity to promote awareness of comprehensive mental health. Coming out, surviving, and thriving had propelled a lot of us to get evidenced-based mental health care.

It's time to continue dismantling stigma and stereotypes by promoting the fact that comprehensive mental health care saves lives.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

♫ The comedy is that it’s serious ♫

Westboro Baptist‘s latest song parody, this time covering Jason Mraz’s “The Remedy”, includes the following charming passage:

I heard two fags talking on the radio

It was Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow

Uncovering the ways to plan the next fag attack

They were counting down the ways to stab their brother in the be right back after this

The unmistakable hiss, Satan calling God a liar, wallowing in the mire, trying to sanitize, sodomize

You’re drunk on the poison but we gots the remedy


“THE REMEDY” — WBC PARODY OF JASON MRAZ’S “THE REMEDY” [Megan Phelps' Tumblr page]

Mmmm, poison. I was planning on red wine tonight, but hey — if poison is what my cable news overlords are peddling, then okay, “uncle.”

We’re just glad to finally know for certain that Westboro has made the consumer choice of XM radio. After all, the only place one can hear both Rachel and Anderson is on satellite — and everyone knows WBC can’t possibly be Sirius!

***

*Cleanse your palate:




Good As You

—  admin

Can Rahm Emanuel win mayor’s race with serious heckling?

It looks like Rahm is seriously considering a run for Chicago’s mayor. I have news for him. The LGBT community is no friend to those who advise a President to throw us under the bus. I hope he hasn’t miscalculated that the LGBT community will support him. When deciding to run for Chicago’s mayor, he had better realize we know he has been no friend to us, and he’d better be ready to hear catcalls and chants about the failure to follow through on the specific promises to our community to end DADT, DOMA and pass ENDA.

Oh, and Rahm, the gAyTM is “out of service.” You can’t expect the gAyTM to keep working when our civil rights problems aren’t addressed.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

GLSEN Releases LGBT Student Survey – School Safety Still a Serious Concern

Today, GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released its National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of LGBT students from across the country. The 2009 National School Climate Survey shows that while progress has been made in providing safe schools for LGBT youth, much work remains to be done. Among the report’s key findings:

• 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

• 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

• Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

• The presence of a gay-straight alliance, supportive teachers and staff members, and a school anti-bullying policy all contributed to an improved climate for LGBT students.  Click here for the full report.

HRC thanks GLSEN for its extensive efforts on this report, which included gathering data from over 7,000 LGBT students, and for its pioneering efforts to improve the climate of schools for LGBT youth. As the report indicates, much work remains to be done to ensure that safe schools become a reality for LGBT youth across our nation.

HRC, along with GLSEN, is currently supporting two bills in the U.S. Congress that would foster a safe and inclusive environment for LGBT students – the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 2262, S. 3739), which would require school districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct prohibiting bullying and harassment, and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA, H.R. 4530, S. 3390), which would prohibit any school program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Let your Members of Congress know that you support the SSIA and SNDA because all students deserve an education free of discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Thanks to HRC staff counsel Aaron Welo for his contributions to this post.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

—  admin