Gonzalez files sex ed bill; Johnson files immigrant protections

Rep. Mary Gonzalez

On Valentines Day, state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, filed HB1547 a bill to expand sex education in the state of Texas. Currently, all sex education is abstinence-based. Her bill would require evidence-based, age-appropriate information on birth control be taught.

“We say we don’t want abortion, but we’re also not providing sex education that will limit teen pregnancy,” Gonzalez told KVUE in Austin.

Texas regularly is in the top five states for teen pregnancy and six out of 10 high school seniors admit to having sex. Abstinence-only sex education that includes teaching teens that condoms don’t work isn’t preventing teen pregnancy. Gonzalez bill would require accurate teaching of birth control.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed HB1855 to protect immigrant communities by prohibiting Texas law enforcement officers from asking witnesses or crime victims about their immigration status. Data shows that immigrant communities underreport crime because they fear being questioned about their immigration status. Underreporting makes immigrant populations especially vulnerable, as they are often targeted by criminals.

“The well-being and safety of our communities should be the first priority of Texas’ public safety agenda. All too often immigrants fear that their 9-1-1 call will result in them being separated from their families.” Johnson said. “There is a clear need for consistent policies regarding this issue — policies that put public safety first.”

—  David Taffet

Let’s talk about sex (education)

Texas Freedom Network Student Chapter at the U of H“Just a few years back, I was sitting in a Texas public school and had almost zero knowledge about my sexual health because no one wanted to talk to me about sex,” says James Lee, president of the Texas Freedom Network Student Chapter at the University of Houston. “You would think sex was a four letter word growing up in Texas. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing friends of mine negatively affected by the lack of sexual education in our Texas schools.”

Which is why James and the the rest of the Student Chapter is bringing TFN’s Leadership Development Institute to the University of Houston on November 12. Among the topics covered will be an overview of the current state of sex education in Texas. The training also aims to teach participants how to develop a persuasive political message and to effectively organize at the grassroots level. The Institute explores organizing strategies such as issue education, voter registration and block-walking. Scheduled guest speakers include Susan Tortolero of the UT Houston School of Public Health, and representatives of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and the Texas Freedom Network.

James feels that the unwillingness to deal with sex education affects LGBT youth disproportionately. “For the most part, Texas schools teach abstinence until marriage sex education. In Texas it’s still not possible to be wed if you’re a lesbian or gay couple. So, when a gay student hears this kind of language they have less of an incentive to pay attention because they can not marry.” James adds “I have nieces and nephews who’re currently attending public school, I don’t want them to have to worry about some of the things my generation had to, they’re our future and we can’t let them down.”

Attendees to the Leadership Development Institute must register online to attend the free training, space is limited.

—  admin

Proof positive

Terrance Gilbert combated the stigma of HIV by turning his camera on himself

HIV?IN?FOCUS | Gilbert’s photo essay is part of a series by queer black artsis. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

When Terrance Omar Gilbert takes a look at himself, he does it in dramatic fashion. It’s not with a mirror that he gazed into the man he is, but through a lens. At 18, Gilbert was diagnosed with HIV; by 24, his body had deteriorated to 110 pounds before he got on medication. That’s when he decided to use his camera to document his body’s reaction and transformation.

“It’s very difficult, but those early pictures are something I have to look at in order to appreciate where I am now,” says the 25-year-old photographer. “I look back at them and think about how I felt and the pain I was in. I see a skeleton.”

In Gilbert’s petite body, now 40 pounds healthier, lies a dynamo. He struggled initially after the diagnosis, suffering depression and a sense of dread along with coping with the stigma of having HIV — which, in his African-American culture, was an added burden. But he opted not to be seen as a victim. Instead, he strived for self-awareness and empowerment. That resolve led him to point the camera at himself, where he could gain something even more important: Knowledge.
“Never once was I exposed to proper sex education in school, so I educated myself,” he says. “For me to go in and do research, now that I work professionally in the field, that makes me have a passion to help anyone. And honestly, I can do that through pictures.”

Gilbert teamed with Fahari Arts Institute for their “Arts and AIDS” season, which addresses the disease through African-American perspectives. Gilbert was set to debut his photographic essay for the Poz Eyes exhibit in April, but there was a bump in the road.

“That didn’t happen as planned,” Fahari artistic director Harold Steward says. “But we’re reworking it and intend to have Terrance’s work up maybe by the end of summer.”

The intent of Poz Eyes is to feature exhibits by queer, poz black artists in solo shows. The rescheduling, however, worked in Gilbert’s favor: His pictorial essay is perpetually evolving, and he has added photos to his work.

“My goal is to do a day, to six months, to a year with this project,” he says. “And the year wrap up would roughly be around October. I have done portions of it at conferences and as well as the Positive Youth Conference which will be here in August.”

The photos range from abstract images of himself to daily living to visits to his doctor.

But Gilbert just isn’t about his pictures. Although it’s his artistic expression, he’s been an advocate for education and awareness with intent on teaching people his age, notably African-Americans, the language of HIV and the preventive nature people can approach it with. In Houston, he worked with Empowerment as an introduction to AIDS advocacy work. Upon moving to Dallas, he transferred to United Black Ellument to expand his work. He is now the Youth Ambassador for the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation, which the organization announced last Monday.

Although he speaks in a professional and serious demeanor, Gilbert chuckles at his own vanity and admits to pulling out the camera for random photos of himself to post on Facebook.
“I have like 1,300 pictures on there, and, like, 1,200 are of me,” he laughs.

The photographer who had been taking pictures since he was a child has the philosophy that every picture tells a story.  And his own story turns out to be one of the most compelling — and not just for him. Gilbert is documenting not only his own life, but also the face of HIV in a younger generation.

“I found this was my calling,” he says.

For more on Gilbert’s photography work, visit  TrademarkFotography.Blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Why Planned Parenthood funding is LGBT issue

Agency under attack by right wing is about more than abortions

Phyllis Guest

PHYLLIS GUEST | Contributing columnist

Bernard Baruch said it first in the 1940s; Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger shortened it in the 1970s, and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan phrased it most succinctly in the 1980s: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Apparently, many Americans have not heard — or have not agreed with — that simple statement.

Consider, for example, current efforts in Washington, D.C., and nationwide to defund Planned Parenthood.

The efforts made news when, on April 8, Arizona Republican Jon Kyle announced on the floor of the Senate that abortions comprise “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

The organization countered that abortions are only 3 percent of the organization’s services. Kyle’s staff asserted that his remark “was not intended to be a factual statement” and then edited the Congressional Record to say that abortion is simply “what Planned Parenthood does.”

Back in Austin for Easter recess, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas picked up Kyle’s theme. On April 20, Cornyn assured The Texas Tribune’s Emily Ramshaw that “he’s been told 98 percent of the services Planned Parenthood offers to pregnant women are abortion-related.” His staff added that the senator would not join “the nickel tour at any Planned Parenthood centers.”

Take that, you sinners.

In fact, the latest figures — from 2010 — show that Planned Parenthood of North Texas provided 6,000 abortions, 43,000 pap smears and many more thousands of low-cost screenings for cancer and other deadly ailments.

In addition, PPNT provides sexual and general health services for men and women for modest, fixed charges.

So why should any of this interest those of us in the local LGBTQA community? Think children’s well-being, sex education and tax rates. All are intertwined.

Start with the well-being of children. On April 7, State Attorney General Greg Abbott and former first lady Laura Bush announced an effort to recruit more volunteers for the Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. Their plea is urgent — because Texas now has 42,000 children in its foster care system. Those 42,000 children were unwanted at birth or have been abused or abandoned since.

Many Texas politicians consider members of our community who might like to foster or adopt them unworthy. Yet few if any of our oh-so-righteous pols have stepped up to adopt or even advocate for these children.

Next, consider sex — sex education, that is.

In Texas, most notably in the public schools, sex ed is either all about abstinence or altogether absent. Thus, countless Texans lack basic information on contraceptive options. They cannot choose the best protection for themselves and their partners.

Small wonder Texas has so many teenage mothers and leads the nation in teens with two or more offspring. Rates of sexually transmitted diseases among young Texans also are startlingly high — and even higher among some minority groups.

Our state’s macho tradition may even encourage unprotected sex.

Finally, take the issue of how tax dollars are spent in Texas.

Unless conservatives come up with enlightened ways to lift “the least of these our brethren” out of poverty, which they seem disinclined to do, some tax dollars will go towards basic services for the poor.

An estimated 60 percent of Texas mothers are so impoverished that physicians and hospitals must compete for scarce Medicaid dollars to fund prenatal care and delivery. Many families rely on the state’s meager Temporary Assistance to Needy Families — about $260 a month — for basic foodstuffs. Texas public schools provide lunch and often breakfast so children will not spend the day hungry and go home ill.

Keep in mind that Planned Parenthood, now almost a century old:

• Is prohibited by law from using tax dollars to fund abortions. Of course, money is fungible, but Congress never provides more than one-third of the dollars needed to give all low-income and uninsured persons access to contraceptives and sexual health care. There is no tax money to free up for abortions. Support for Planned Parenthood Surgical Health Services, the separate entity that performs abortions in North Texas, comes entirely from patient fees and private donations.

• Provides services without discrimination to persons of all races and ethnicities, young and old, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Here in North Texas, Planned Parenthood works with other nonprofits, including those most closely associated with the LGBT community, to assure the availability of confidential, low-cost testing and expert counseling for HIV/AIDS as well as all other STDs.

• Furnishes important support to LGBTs who are parents, parents of LGBT children, and LGBT children of all ages. For example, a recent workshop in Fort Worth was entitled “LGBT Issues — You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers.” Leading the workshop was a facilitator with an master’s degree in social work and years of experience spent teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on sexual health.

So an argument in support of Planned Parenthood is not an argument for abortion. It is simply an argument against ignorance.

Phyllis Guest lives in Dallas and is an activist on LGBT and other progressive issues.

—  John Wright