Creech advocates for LGBT rights

Pastor lost his ordination in 1999 for performing same-sex wedding

Creech-11-Author-Photo-by-Natalia-Weedy

The Rev. Jimmy Creech (Courtesy of Natalia Weedy)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
It was in the 1980s that a member of  the Rev. Jimmy Creech’s  church came out to him as gay, it didn’t just turn the Methodist minister into an LGBT equality supporter, it also set him onto a path of advocacy that eventually cost him his ordination

“It changed my perspective and attitude,” Creech, who will be in the Dallas area speaking at several area churches Oct. 31-Nov. 2, said this week of that coming out moment. “It began to challenge my ideas about homosexuality.”

One of Creech’s early triumphs advocating for the LGBT community was lobbying the Raleigh, N.C., City Council to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy in 1988. He said that passage of the ordinance while

Jesse Helms was still the state’s senator made the victory so much sweeter.

But most of Creech’s work has been within the Methodist Church.

“I was concerned the messaging [about homosexuality] was condemnatory,” he said. “Everything you heard a religious leader say was negative.”

So he sponsored conferences about “Homophobia and the Bible,” in an attempt to “educate about the damaging theology in Christian tradition,” he said.

In 1990, Creech performed his first holy union.

“Two men asked if I’d do it,” he said. “I agreed without hesitation. How can you support an individual and deny their relationship?”

He performed more ceremonies over the next few years, and it was no problem since the Methodist Church had no prohibition against doing so — until 1996.

That year, Creech moved to a church in Nebraska where he continued welcoming LGBT people and honoring their relationships. But after he presided over a holy union for a lesbian couple in 1997, charges were brought against him for violating the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

He was acquitted in a church trial.

Creech said the reason was very technical. The prohibition was added to the social principles rather than to religious law. Social principles guide moral behavior.

“My defense was that it was not law,” he said.

And that defense was successful. However after his trial, the one sentence prohibiting Methodist clergy from performing a same-sex wedding was given the weight of law. Creech said it is the only sentence in the social principles to have that designation, something he called “institutional bigotry.”

After his acquittal, Creech moved back to North Carolina and in 1999 charges were filed against him again after he presided over the wedding of two men in Chapel Hill. This time, a jury found him guilty of “disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church” and withdrew his credentials of ordination.

Since then, Creech has been writing and speaking about LGBT rights. His recently released book, Adam’s Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays, deals with his experiences with the church’s struggle to welcome and accept LGBT people.

In his book, Creech explains that he defied church law to do what he thought God would want him to do.

“As a pastor, my mission was to help people overcome whatever damaged them spiritually, whatever diminished their capacity to trust God’s love, to love others and to love themselves,” he wrote.

Although heterosexual, Creech has appeared on Out Magazine’s Out 100 list several times, and he received the HRC Equality Award in 1999.

Northaven United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Eric Folkerth said, “Jimmy Creech stands as a powerful witness to those who have been standing up for social justice.”

Folkerth said 1,000 Methodist clergy have recently signed a pledge that if asked, they would perform a same-sex wedding. Many were in marriage-equality states New York and Connecticut.

And while performing a same-sex wedding remains “absolutely still a chargeable offense,” according to Folkerth, the church courts hearing the charges have differed in their response.

Creech said that each of those pastors could be charged.

“But do you want to spend all of the church’s resources on this?” he asked.

He said each one would have to be tried individually.

“Bishops will find a way to get around it,” he said.

Folkerth called it “open dissent against what is church law.”

He said that although this region is more conservative than some others, gays and lesbians are welcome not only at his church but a number of other Methodist churches in the area.
Celebration Community Church, 908 Pennsylvania Ave., Fort Worth. Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. Reception follows.
Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. Guest preacher at contemporary worship service, Nov. 2 at 7:15 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

In 9 years, 53 complaints of anti-gay discrimination in Dallas, but 0 prosecutions

A total of 53 complaints have been filed under a nine-year-old Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the city has never taken one of the complaints to court.

The city released statistics on the complaints to Dallas Voice this week in response to a request under the Texas Public information Act.

A city ordinance passed in 2002 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The definition of sexual orientation includes gender identity. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

The statistics from the city show that 49 of the 53 complaints have been closed, while four are pending.

In 32 of the 49 closed cases, or almost two-thirds, the City Attorney’s Office determined that there was no cause to prosecute. Here is a breakdown of the other dispositions:

• Five of the complaints were dismissed because they were non-jurisdictional, meaning they occurred outside the city or involved an entity that is exempt from the ordinance.

• Five of the cases were resolved by “conciliation,” or mediation.

• Four of the complaints were withdrawn, after the city says they were resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction.

• In three of the cases, the complainant was uncooperative.

Two city councilmembers, Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, have said they’re reviewing the city’s handling of complaints under the ordinance. Hunt and Medrano launched their investigation in response to a letter from Resource Center Dallas questioning why no complaint has ever been prosecuted.

RCD’s letter, in turn, was prompted by Dallas Voice reports about a discrimination complaint against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, which refuses to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

The complaint against the Fitness Center is still pending, as is one filed against the Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish same-sex wedding announcements.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Houston puts Dallas to shame by staging Texas’ Big Gay Wedding for Valentine’s Day

While North Texas could only muster one same-sex wedding, 20 gay and lesbian couples participated in a mass ceremony on Sunday at Houston’s Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, in a Valentine’s weekend event called Texas’ Big Gay Wedding. View a slideshow from the ceremony by going here.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Yet another teen bullying suicide; petition targets DMN same-sex wedding policy

Kameron Jacobsen

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Here we go again. This is unbelievable. A 14-year-old high school freshman in Orange County, N.Y., has taken his own life, reportedly in response to bullying on Facebook over his perceived sexual orientation. Watch video from Fox 5 below. Kameron Jacobsen died Tuesday, according to his obituary in The Times Herald-Record. “We hope as a community both collectively and individually we can find a way to finally put an end to this!” Kameron’s family writes in the obituary. Amen.

2. Dallas police have arrested one of several suspects in a series of “takeover-style” armed robberies, including one early Wednesday at the Villa Club near North Hall Street and McKinney Avenue in Uptown. The pistol-wielding suspects struck shortly after 2 a.m. and demanded that employees empty the safe. They took the employees’ wallets and cell phones and even shot at their victims’ while making their getaway in a Hummer H2. Police believe the same suspects are responsible for similar recent robberies at the Old Monk bar in Knox-Henderson and Humperdink’s in Northeast Dallas.

3. Change.org has launched a petition calling on The Dallas Morning News to allow same-sex wedding announcements. The petition stems from a case in which a gay Dallas couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The DMN for refusing to publish their announcement under Weddings. Citing Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, The DMN instead places such announcements under Commitments. As of this morning, the petition had accumulated 6,442 signatures since being launched Wednesday. Will the petition be enough to prompt The DMN to change the policy? Almost certainly not, but it can’t hurt. Sign by going here.

—  John Wright

Top 10: Perry, Dewhurst were tied to cancellation of gay-themed play at Tarleton

Otte-John
John Otte

No. 7:

View all of the Top 10

A Tarleton State University student’s choice to present a play with gay content for his theater directing class stirred controversy in the local community.

Tarleton State is in Stephenville, 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

John Jordan Otte, a junior, was assigned to choose a play meaningful to him to direct for his theater class. He selected Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi.

A 45-minute excerpt from the play was scheduled to be performed on March 27 along with selections from three other plays directed by other students in his class in a theater that held just 95 people. The public was never invited to attend.

Corpus Christi has a modern Texas setting and depicts a gay man whose life parallels that of Jesus. The character, named Joshua, performs a same-sex wedding.

When the community heard about the play, they flooded the school with complaints. Alumni threatened to withhold donations. Otte was denounced from local pulpits.

At first, Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio defended freedom of speech on his campus.

One of the actors in the play was given the choice by his parents of withdrawing from the play or getting out of the house. Otte took in his 18-year-old actor.

As the performance day approached, the time was changed from afternoon to 8 a.m. for security reasons, with only friends and family allowed to watch.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the controversy, issuing a statement condemning the play and use of state money.

State money, however, was not being used. Otte paid for performance rights for the play out of his own pocket.

After a final run-through, the professor canceled the production and a grade was given based on that rehearsal.

He cited safety and security reasons. Though not confirmed, several people called Dallas Voice and claimed pressure was put on the professor and on the president of the school by the governor’s office.

Rachel Dudley, a student reporter at Tarleton State, connected Gov. Rick Perry to the controversy when she obtained a copy of note from Steven Hotze, who heads a group of clergy in Houston that had been one of Mayor Annise Parker’s biggest detractors.

“We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled,” said the note from Hotze.

In response, Cathedral of Hope brought a national touring company of Corpus Christi to Dallas. QCinema, which started a live performance group, promises a production in Fort Worth next year.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Virgin America gives DFW another perfect HRC score, but don’t expect to get hitched in-flight

Virgin America touched down at DFW International Airport on Wednesday — quite literally as you can see in the below video — and begins offering flights from here to Los Angeles as well as the airline’s base of operations, San Francisco.

The “low-fares, high-frills” carrier brings with it a perfect score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies according to their LGBT-related employment practices. According to HRC’s Buying for Equality guide released Wednesday, Virgin America’s arrival makes it the seventh airline at DFW with a perfect score, joining American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines and US Airways.

So it’s great to have another LGBT-friendly option, especially when flying to our Mecca of San Francisco. However, if after reading this recent report from MSNBC, you made plans to get gay-married on a Virgin America flight out of DFW, you might want to double-check with the airline first. According to the initial report, which was largely based Twitter updates, a Virgin America pilot veered intentionally into Canadian airspace so he could come back into the cabin and perform a same-sex wedding. Really? That’s awesome! But is it true? Well, maybe. Yahoo’s The Lookout reports:

When contacted by CBS, a Virgin America representative appeared to know nothing about a gay marriage ceremony being conducted on one of its flights — and denied that any flight had deliberately veered into Canadian airspace, for that or any other reason.

“I did briefly get a hold of the pilot for the flight, and there was no ‘diversion’ — this was part of the normal flight path,” the spokesperson said. “He actually was unaware of the reported celebration in the cabin (so reports that a pilot performed it are definitely not correct). That flight’s normal flight path (VX 28 SFO-JFK) does cross the Canadian border for a few minutes. I have not had reports from anyone else onboard however, so other than that I cannot confirm anything.”

What’s more, the Canadian Globe and Mail points out that such a ceremony, in order to be legal, would have to have a Canadian official presiding — and the couple would need to register the marriage in advance with Canadian authorities.

Another mild curiosity: In all of the articles written about the incident, we could not find a single mention of the couple’s names, nor have they appeared to come forward to reveal their identities.

The Lookout contacted Virgin America seeking clarification on the question of whether the story might be a hoax, but our calls and e-mails were not immediately returned.

Of course, Virgin would have good reason to keep the heartwarming account in play, regardless of its accuracy: Corporations have long been courting gay consumers — especially since gay couples are often two-income households without children, with sizable disposable incomes to spend on things like travel.

—  John Wright

Gay couple files complaint against Dallas Morning News for not printing wedding announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

Paper’s CEO says policy based on state’s ban on same-sex marriage

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday, Nov. 19. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C via teleconference.

Reed- Walkup, a board member for the national LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section.

But the newspaper has refused because of a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legally recognized by the state of Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a 2002 city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, are a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

James M. Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of the complaint because he had not seen a copy of it.

Moroney said The DMN’s policy was enacted several years ago as a way to allow same-sex couples to announce things like civil unions. As more states have legalized same-sex marriage, the newspaper has started to receive requests to publish the announcements as weddings.

“We’ve just so far said that we’re thinking about it,” Moroney said.  “Certainly if the state of Texas recognized the marriage of same-sex couples, we would put it in the paper. … This is the community and state we represent and live in, and we’re dealing with that.”

Moroney added that it’s not “a closed subject” and stressed that he believes the Morning News does a good job of reporting on LGBT issues.

“What troubles me a little bit is that some folks jump to this next level and say the newspaper is homophobic,” he said. “That really is an unfair accusation if they would only take the time to read the paper every day.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, confirmed this week that her office received the couple’s complaint and is reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

“We’re having to consult with our attorney’s office on whether or not we have jurisdiction in this particular case,” Davis said. “Whenever we get a complaint, we go the extra mile to examine it. I imagine it will probably be next week sometime before I have a decision.”

In addition to the question of whether wedding announcements are a public accommodation, Davis noted that the ordinance doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on “marital status.”

The city once dismissed a complaint against a landlord who refused to allow a lesbian couple to live together in his apartment complex. The city determined that the landlord had not violated the ordinance because the policy was based on “marital status” and not sexual orientation.

But Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said that because Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and marital status are effectively the same.

“That’s really an old dodge to try to avoid the real issue,” Upton said.

Upton said he believes wedding announcements are public accommodations, because they’re paid commercial advertisements offered as a service. He also said it’s ironic that someone’s wedding announcement wouldn’t be published based on marital status.

Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage in no way prohibits the newspaper from publishing the announcement, Upton said. And he questioned whether the Morning News investigates announcements of heterosexual marriages performed outside the state to confirm that they’re legally recognized in Texas.

“Just because the state of Texas doesn’t recognize it doesn’t mean they’re not married,” Upton said.

Gay Couple’s Complaint Against DMN

—  John Wright

Gay couple married via Skype files complaint against DMN for not publishing announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C. via Skype.

Reed- Walkup said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section. But the newspaper has refused due to a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy reportedly is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, constitute a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, said she didn’t receive the complaint until Monday.

“We just got it,” Davis said Monday afternoon. “I haven’t had time to make an assessment yet.”

The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

—  John Wright

DMN editor blames ban on same-sex wedding announcements on the business department

Bob Mong

On Thursday we mentioned the Dallas Morning News’ policy prohibiting same-sex wedding announcements. The DMN will publish same-sex marriages, but only in a section called “Commitments” and not in the section called “Weddings.” As one commenter put it, “Requiring that it be announced as a ‘commitment’ makes it sound like a psychiatric situation.” Instant Tea reader Elizabeth Parker says she was shocked to learn of this policy, and ever since then she’s been contacting people at The DMN trying to get an explanation. Here’s the response Parker says she received from DMN editor Bob Mong:

Dear Ms. Parker,

Thanks for writing.

I am very proud of our news coverage of gay and lesbian issues. I would put it up against any in the country. Just recently we published prominent stories on GuideSunday and in our Metro sections; one about gay/straight relationships at a Denton bistro, the other about a gay teacher helping gay high schoolers circumvent the public schools. Countless other subjects have been covered routinely by our writers, photographers and columnists in a completely unfettered manner over the years. I would be the first to say we’ve not always been as complete as we could have been, but for much of the post-1990 era of the paper, the coverage has matured and become more focused on this topic. For most readers of the paper, that should be clear – don’t you think.

The issue you refer to is not a news policy but rather an advertising policy. All “Celebration” topics – marriages, commitments, engagements, anniversaries – are handled through the advertising department. Several years ago the paper began publishing gay/lesbian unions under this advertising banner. While only a small number of people buy these ads, they are available. You correctly characterize the policy. I have indeed received some criticism lately from the national GLAAD organization about this policy, and while it is not a news issue, I have forwarded their concerns to the business folks at the paper, just as I have forwarded your letter. As with any policy, it is always subject to review.

I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

Sincerely,

Bob Mong, editor

—  John Wright

LGBT advocate vows to work with GOP in Texas House, says LGBT equality ‘not a partisan issue’

Log Cabin Dallas president urges not to just automatically assume Republican lawmakers are anti-gay

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein
NO ASSUMPTIONS | Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein believes there are Republicans in the Texas House who will support certain LGBT issues.

Republicans across the country rode a wave of voter unrest into office at all levels on Election Day, and that includes the Texas House of Representatives, where Democrats lost 23 seats, giving Republicans a two-thirds majority.

In a state where the GOP party platform calls for the sodomy law to be reinstated and for anyone performing a same-sex wedding to be jailed, that Republican landslide seems — at least at first glance — to be a disaster for the LGBT community.

But Chuck Smith, deputy director for Equality Texas, said this week that Republicans are likely to have far too many pressing issues piled high on their plates when the Legislature convenes in January to spend any time on anti-LGBT measures.

“These legislators are going to be too busy trying to balance the budget,” Smith said. “Gay bashing is notgoing to rise to the level of anyone’s top priority.”

And Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, suggested that Democrats shouldn’t be too quick to judge GOP lawmakers as anti-gay, anyway.

“It’s a little early to be prognosticating about what’s going to happen,” Schlein said. “I would recommend that these activists not be so quick to project that all these Republicans are so anti-gay. You don’t know that. Just take a deep breath and deal with the landscape as it exists today. Get your issues together, find out who can stand behind them, and move ahead with them one at a time.”

Smith said that when the 2011 legislative session opens, there will be 100 Republicans and 50 Democrats in the Texas House, compared to the 2009 session when there were 77 Republicans and 73 Democrats.

Of those 150 lawmakers, 37 will be new to the Legislature, and of those six will be Democrats and 31 will be Republicans. Of those 31 Republican newbies, Smith said, “only four made any mention at all of being pro ‘traditional marriage’ or pro ‘family values’ in their campaigns or on their websites.”

Those four, Smith said, were Erwin Cain in District 3, Connie Scott in District 34, Four Price in District 87 and Kenneth Sheets in District 107.

Cain, whose website says he believes “that marriage is between one man and one woman,” owns a real estate investment company. He defeated incumbent Democrat Mark Homer by a 15-point margin. Cain lives in Como, and attends First Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs.

District 3 encompasses the suburban and rural area north and east of Dallas, including Paris, Sulphur Springs and Mt. Pleasant.

In District 34, Scott defeated Democratic incumbent Abel Herrera by an 8-point margin. On her website, Scott said she supports “preserving family values” and that she opposes gay marriage. She co-owned and operated a small pipeline construction company for 10 years, and now lives in Robstown. She is a member of River Hills Baptist Church.

District 34 encompasses primarily Nueces County, including Corpus Christi, on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Four Price, who swamped Democratic candidate Abel G. Bosquez by a 58-point margin in District 87, described himself on his website as “pro-family/pro-life,” and said he opposes gay marriage. He is an attorney and co-managing shareholder in Irwin, Merritt, Hogue, Price & Carthell, P.C.

District 87 is located in the Texas Panhandle, with Amarillo — where Price lives — on the district’s southern edge.

Sheets defeated LGBT ally and Democratic incumbent Allen Vaught by 5 points in District 107, located on the west side of Dallas County. Sheets’ website describes him as “supporting pro-life and pro-traditional marriage policies.” He wrote, “I also believe the definition of marriage should always remain as the union between one man and one woman.”

Sheets is an attorney who served in the Marine Corps in Iraq, and he is active in the St. Thomas Aquinas community.

Despite their inclusion of anti-gay stances on their websites, Smith said, “None of them ran campaigns on supporting bullying in the schools or bashing gay people. Like everyone else, they focused on the economy, jobs and the deficit.”

Smith said, “The turnover we saw [Tuesday night] was based on the economy and on jobs and on spending. Certainly, it was sad to see any of the members with whom we have had good working relationships in the past not be re-elected.

“But equality should be a non-partisan issue, and we will be looking to work with” lawmakers of both parties.”

Smith said Equality Texas’ No. 1 priority in 2011 will be anti-bullying legislation, and that he believes there are Republicans in the state House who will support such a measure.

“We have to pass this bill so that not one more child is ever left to feel hopeless and consider taking their own lives,” Smith said. “We had bipartisan support for [Rep. Mark] Strama’s anti-bullying bill in 2009, and I think we can have that support again in 2011. This is a child welfare issue, and not one more child should die before the state of Texas deals with it.”

Schlein said he also believes there are Republicans in the House who will support anti-bullying measures, including District 108 Rep. Dan Branch, who defeated gay candidate Pete Schulte by 32 points to be re-elected.

Schlein said he had spoken with Branch’s campaign coordinator, telling him that there are “some real problems in the gay community than can be solved, things like hospital visitation and passing property between partners.

“And he told me they had been looking at the bullying issue. So I think we should approach them and start there.”

Schlein also agreed with Smith that the budget would be everyone’s top priority.

“I don’t think denying gays any rights is really high on the agenda for Republicans. Actually, I am hearing more and more activists within the party saying that the [anti-gay elements of the state platform are] hurting us, and we need to fix it. I am hearing them say the party needs to be a lot more open to minorities,” Schlein said. “I just think people need to not be so quick to judge. That hurts our chances of being successful when you just do that automatically.”

Smith and Schlein also both said they believe that moderate Republican Joe Straus is likely to be re-elected as speaker of the House, despite Warren Chisum’s plans to run for the position. Chisum, who represents District 88 in the Panhandle and lives in Pampa, has in the past often spear-headed attempts to pass anti-gay legislation, including bills that would have prevented lesbians and gays from being foster or adoptive parents.

“I think Strauss will win it again, even though a lot of the Republican activists are hoping for someone more conservative. Strauss seems to be a pretty pragmatic guy,” Schlein said.

Even if Chisum were to win the speaker’s seat, Smith predicted, “we would still come back to the budget deficit being the No. 1 issue. He [Chisum] still wouldn’t have any more time to deal with the kinds of social issues he is on record as supporting.”

Despite his pledge that Equality Texas will work with House Republicans, Smith acknowledged that the LGBT community did lose a number of allies in the midterm elections — and those could have been prevented if Democratic turnout had been higher.

“Twenty-two seats in the House flipped from Democrat to Republican, and 10 of those 22 flips were decided by less than 2,000 votes,” Smith said.

In North Texas, three allies of the LGBT community — Kirk England, Robert Miklos, Paula Pierson and Allen Vaught — lost by narrow margins, he noted.

“If there had been just a little bit more turnout, those flips wouldn’t have happened,” Smith said. “It all comes down to people not taking voting seriously.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens