Westboro Baptist to picket Gov. Perry’s day of prayer, sponsored by fellow anti-gay hate group

Margie Phelps, the daughter of Fred Phelps, reports on Twitter tonight that Westboro Baptist Church will picket Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response” — a day of prayer and fasting set for Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Response is of course sponsored by the American Family Association, designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Westboro Baptist is also listed as an anti-gay hate group by the SPC. So it’s pretty clear that Perry will have to do a better job of uniting homophobic bigots — and build a bigger tent of hate — if he wants to win the GOP presidential nomination.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: FW officials briefed on LGBT progress; GLAAD rips Houston’s Fox affiliate

Jon Nelson

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Fort Worth officials received a briefing Tuesday on progress the city has made in addressing the concerns of the LGBT community in the nearly two years since the Rainbow Lounge raid. According to the Star-Telegram, the city has implemented 19 of 20 recommendations made by an LGBT task force formed after the raid. The only recommendation left outstanding is that the city provide health insurance to cover the cost of sex reassignment surgery for transgender employees. Other ongoing concerns include some apparent resistance to diversity training among police and firefighters, as well as the question of whether the city should subsidize domestic partner benefits. But overall, everyone seems pleased with the progress. “I think there is no city, because I’ve looked, in the United States which has done more in less time on these issues than the city of Fort Worth,” said Jon Nelson, a member of the task force and a leader of Fairness Fort Worth.

2. A Texas House committee is expected to take up a bill this morning that would allow same-sex parents to put both their names on the birth certificate of an adopted child. HB 415, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would resolve an issue in Texas that’s been the subject of a high-profile lawsuit in Louisiana, where a federal appeals court recently ruled against a same-sex couple in a case that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the full House could give final approval today to an anti-bullying bill that’s become Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s legislative session. HB 1942, by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, would then go to the Senate for consideration.

3. GLAAD is calling on Houston’s Fox affiliate (KRIV-26) to apologize for a segment that aired last week called, “Is TV too gay?” which criticized Glee‘s portrayal of gay teens. The segment aired the same night as a Glee‘s “Born This Way” episode and featured Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, which has been certified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Watch the full segment below. To sign GLAAD’s petition, go here.


—  John Wright

Memorial tree for gay suicide victim Zack Harrington to be planted in Norman, Okla. park

Zack Harrington

The father of Zack Harrington, the gay teen who took his own life after listening to homophobic comments at a Norman, Okla. city council meeting last year, says his family plans to plan a tree in his memory at a city park.

Zack Harrington’s death served as the inspiration for gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” speech.

Zack’s father, Van Harrington, said the family plans to plant the Oklahoma White Bud on April 29, which would have been Zack’s 20th birthday.

“We now have site approval and digging permit for planting of Zack’s tree,” Van Harrington said in an email this morning.

They’ve also ordered a memorial bench from the Norman Park Service that will be placed there at a later date.

Van Harrington said a documentary film is being produced about Zack’s life by Still Point Pictures, a New York company. They’ll be back in July for more filming, he said.

Also, Lecia Brooks from the Southern Poverty Law Center recently brought the film Bullied to Norman for two separate showings in Zack’s name.

“Hopefully these interests in Zack’s life will make a difference for others,” he said. “I know it helps me.”

—  David Taffet

Hate group count tops 1,000

Graphic from Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that for the the first time the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. tops 1,000.

For the first time last year, SPLC included organizations like the National Organization for Marriage as anti-LGBT hate groups that promote violence.

SPLC attributes the increase to three factors:

resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government.

SPLC, based in Montgomery, Ala., has been tracking hate groups since the 1980s. The number of groups has increased during Democratic as well as Republican administrations. Every year since 2000 has seen an increase.

The most violent groups are so-called “patriot” groups that have killed eight law-enforcement officers since President Barack Obama took office.

Of the total, Texas has 59 hate groups listed, second only to California’s 68 hate groups. In Texas, the Bethesda Christian Institute in San Antonio is the only anti-gay hate group listed. Most of the Texas groups are Nazi or KKK. Dallas is home to the Confederate Hammerskins, a racist skinhead group. Fort Worth has a chapter of the Klan and a Nation of Islam group. Richardson and Irving are home to white nationalist organizations.

Only one anti-immigrant hate group is listed in Texas — the Border Guardians in Livingston, about 75 miles northeast of Houston and several hundred miles from the border.

Among the anti-gay hate groups are the Family Research Institute in Colorado Springs, the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., and the Traditional Values Coalition in Anaheim, Calif.

The state with the fewest hate groups is first-in-the-nation-with-civil-unions Vermont, with just two competing chapters of the Klan.

UPDATE and CORRECTION: We received a note from Focus on the Family, which I had listed with the other groups. They are not and never were one of the hate groups.

Liberty Counsel, Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, Concerned Women for America, Coral Ridge Ministries and National Organization for Marriage are groups whose anti-gay activities SPLC looked into but whose homophobia did not rise to the level of hate group.

Abiding Truth Ministries, American Family Association, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, American Vision, Chalcedon Foundation, Dove World Outreach Center, Faithful Word Baptist Church, Family Research Council, Family Research Institute, Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment, Illinois Family Institute, MassResistance and Traditional Values Coalition are listed as hate groups.

—  David Taffet

Lesbian students enter to cheers at Minn. school

CHRIS WILLIAMS | Associated Press

CHAMPLIN, Minn. — Two lesbian high school students who fought for the right to walk together as part of a royalty court made their entrances Monday, Jan. 31 to the cheers of hundreds of classmates.

Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton wore matching black suits with pink ties and held hands as they entered the Snow Days Pep Fest at Champlin Park High School in Minneapolis’ northwest suburbs.

The reaction came as a relief to the couple and school administrators. The district has been stung by criticism of its policies toward homosexuality and the alleged bullying of a gay student who killed himself.

“It felt amazing,” said Shelton, adding that she was too nervous to notice dozens rise to give her a standing ovation as she walked in with Lindstrom. “I think we were too focused on getting to the stage.”

If there were any boos, they were drowned about by supporters. “I feel so much better,” Lindstrom said while surrounded by friends after the rally.

Sarah’s mother, Shannon Lindstrom, camera in hand, joined the other mothers of children in the royalty court after the rally.

“They had a lot of courage,” she said Shelton and her daughter. “Look how far we’ve come.”

Students voted onto the royalty court traditionally enter the assembly in boy-girl pairs. After Lindstrom and Shelton, both 18, were elected, school officials last week announced a change in procedure: court members would walk in individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher.

School officials said they merely wanted to prevent the two from being teased. But on Friday, two human rights groups sued on their behalf.

On Saturday, in federally mediated talks, school officials relented. The two sides agreed that members of the royalty court would be escorted by anyone meaningful to them, regardless of gender or age.

“This is a new chapter for the district,” said Sam Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local assistance from the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre and Benson.

Young women in evening gowns and young men in dark suits walked through a makeshift arch and to the stage during the Monday afternoon pep rally complete with cheerleaders, dance teams and the school band. So did two young women in suits, and the crowd cheered for each one.

“They did great,” said Principal Mike George. “I’m proud of our students.”

Several of the students in the crowd didn’t understand what all the fuss over the lesbian couple.

“Some people are against it, but they don’t care if they walk down a stupid runway,” said Maggie Hesaliman, 14.

Melissa Biellefe, 16, said, “We’re a pretty respectful school. Our rule is just let people be who they are.”

Champlin Park is part of the Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota’s largest, which has been in the spotlight in the past year for its handling of issues involving gay and lesbian students.

It has been in the crossfire for its policy of “neutrality” in classroom discussions of homosexuality. It was reached in 2009 as a way to balance the demands of liberal and conservative families, but neither side has been completely happy with it.

The issues flared again last year after a gay student, Justin Aaberg, killed himself. His mother has said she heard too late from Justin’s friends that he had been harassed.

Aaberg was one of six students who committed suicide in the district since the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, and advocacy groups have linked some of the other deaths to the bullying of gay students.

However, the district said last month its own investigation did not find evidence that bullying contributed to the students’ deaths.

—  John Wright

'God hates Jews' is the new theme for 'America's most hated family'

God Hates Jews

Has God Hates Fags run its course? Fred Phelps seems to have a new target. Or maybe just an additional target.

This week Congregation Beth El Binah, Dallas’ LGBT Jewish congregation, received a package labeled “Obama Hates Israel.” The return address was simply “WBC” with a Topeka, Kan., address. “WBC” is Westboro Baptist Church.

The DVD inside the package is labeled “Jews Killed Jesus.”

—  David Taffet