What’s Brewing: TX Senate OKs anti-bullying bill; FW candidate calls LGBT protections ‘damnable’

District 7 Fort Worth council candidate Jack Ernest called the city’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance “damnable” and “wrong” during a forum Tuesday.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A bill that would require school districts in Texas to enact anti-bullying policies cleared the Texas Senate in a 30-1 vote on Tuesday. Unbelievably, school districts in Texas aren’t currently required to have anti-bullying policies. The bill by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, contains no specific references to LGBT youth — who do they think is getting bullied? — but it is backed by Equality Texas and it does now proceed to the House.

2. Also this week, the Texas Senate is working on the budget bill, HB 1, which currently contains an amendment from Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require colleges and universities with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for “traditional and family values.” According to The American Independent, the amendment would have little practical impact because LGBT resource centers are funded mostly with student activity fees, and not with state dollars. Even so, we’d certainly rather not see the amendment included in the Senate version of the budget. To contact your senator and urge them to strip the Christian amendment from the Senate budget, go here.

3.  Fort Worth’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which has long included sexual orientation but was amended to include gender identity/expression in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid, has become an issue in city elections this year. At a forum on Tuesday night, District 7 council candidate Jack Ernest came out strongly against the LGBT protections in the ordinance, calling them “damnable” and “wrong.” Mayoral candidate Betsy Price also indicated that she is opposed to the ordinance, saying “I don’t like the idea that the city is in this business at all.” Listen to audio of the candidates’ remarks, via the Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy on Twitter, by going here and here. (Ernest is the third speaker in the first audio clip, and Price is the first speaker in the second one.)

—  John Wright

Quote of the Day: Pat Carlson

Pat Carlson

“There is a continual effort by the homosexual community to push their agenda on the rest of us. The bottom line is they are trying to destroy traditional marriage as we know it in the country and make their lifestyle the norm. They make it seem that anybody who has a problem with it is homophobic.”

Pat Carlson, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, in a Star-Telegram article about marriage equality demonstrations on Valentine’s Day in Texas

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Moncrief won’t seek re-election

Mike Moncrief

Mike Moncrief announced today that he won’t seek re-election to a fifth term as mayor of Fort Worth, according to the Star-Telegram.

Possible candidates to replace Moncrief include former councilmembers Cathy Hirt and Jim Lane, as well as Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Betsy Price, according to the Star-Telegram.

Moncrief, of course, has led Fort Worth through the aftermath of the 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid.

The filing period for Fort Worth elections begins Monday.

—  John Wright

Fort Worth Police Department bans ‘bias-based policing’ against LGBT people, other groups

Chief Jeffrey Halstead

The Fort Worth Police Department has a new policy prohibiting “bias-based policing” — including bias against LGBT people — and officers who violate the policy are likely to be fired, according to FWPD officials who spoke to the Star-Telegram.

A police spokesman said the policy is not a response to any specific incident, but acknowledged that the department’s raid of the Rainbow Lounge gay bar in June 2009 was “on our mind.”

FWPD suspended three officers for a total of five days for their actions related to the raid, but determined that they didn’t use excessive force.

Jon Nelson, a founder of Fairness Fort Worth who once called the suspensions “absolutely inadequate,” praised Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead for the new policy.

“This policy would not exist but for the chief of police,” Nelson told the Star-Telegram. “He sets the tone and he made this decision and I think that this Police Department is significantly different because of his leadership.”

Halstead signed a special order enacting the new policy on Friday. It will be distributed to employees next week and takes effect immediately.

The policy specifically prohibits bias based on “race, color, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, economic status, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, transgender status, membership in a cultural group or other individual characteristics or distinctions.”

—  John Wright

Facebook backs Texas anti-bullying bill

The Star-Telegram reports that Facebook has endorsed an anti-bullying measure filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The bill would require school districts to provide training for employees and educate students and parents about bullying and cyberbullying. It would also require school officials to immediately notify parents about incidents of bullying, and grant districts the authority to transfer bullies and victims:

“Facebook supports the bill and we are encouraged to see the Texas legislature take steps to keep our schools places where students can feel safe,” Corey Owens, a lobbyist for Facebook, wrote in a letter to Strama. “As a company with a significant presence in Texas – including employees who send their children to Texas public schools – we are committed to building an online platform that is safe for users of all ages.”

Strama’s bill, HB 224, would require school districts in Texas to track the number of incidents of bullying based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. However, Strama’s bill doesn’t include gender identity/expression, meaning it’s unlikely to receive the backing of Equality Texas, at least in its current form.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that’s nearly identical to Strama’s in the Senate. But unlike Strama’s, Davis’ SB 245 does include gender identity/expression in the tracking requirement. Davis’ bill was inspired by and has the backing of Joel Burns, who replaced Davis on the Fort Worth City Council and has since become famous for his “It Gets Better” speech:

“I have focused the message on the responsibility of adults to end bullying by creating a culture of respect,” Burns said. “The reporting tools in Sen. Davis’ bill will give us the data we need to prioritize resources and understand how we can do better educating and supporting children to learn and be a success.”

The Star-Telegram explains the difference between the two bills as follows:

Strama’s and Davis’ bills differ in one area drawing the attention of some gay rights activists. Both bills require districts to annually report how many bullying incidents they faced, including how many incidents were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Davis said she included “gender identity and expression” to her list of categories to make sure districts looked at bullying situations that arose due to “a perception of someone’s sexuality rather than the reality.” Strama said that phrase might be added to his bill as well.

Davis is correct in the sense that “gender identity/expression” includes some students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian. But these students are already covered because the bill clearly states, “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” The real difference between the bills — and the Star-Telegram should know this — is that Davis’ bill includes transgender students, whereas Strama’s bill does not.



—  John Wright

Rep. Marc Veasey again files bill seeking study of hate crimes act but says it’s ‘not going anywhere’

For the third consecutive legislative session, State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, filed legislation last week calling for a study on the implementation of Texas’ hate crimes statute.

Veasey wants to know why, despite thousands of hate crimes reported to law enforcement since the statute was passed in 2001, only about a dozen cases have been prosecuted in court as hate crimes. If you’ll remember, the statute covers “sexual preference” but not gender identity.

In an interview the other day with KXAN (video above), Veasey cited homophobia as one of the reasons why the statute isn’t being used:

While Veasey understands that it’s hard to prosecute hate crimes he believes there’s another, underlying reason why prosecutors are rarely using the law.

“You have some people on the right that have said that it is a bill that protects gays and so they are against it for that reason,” Veasey said.

And Veasey told The Star-Telegram that the outcome of this year’s elections means the bill is likely doomed again in next year’s session, which begins in January.

“I’m going to try it, but quite frankly it’s not going anywhere,” Veasey said. “A lot of these folks that got elected were elected on opposition to the president and probably feel that being for anything pro-civil rights would hurt them in their political careers.”

Wait a second, is Veasey suggesting they’re going to completely ignore this memo?

—  John Wright

Does anti-gay protest at Tarleton State merit a response from the LGBT community?

Stephenville is about 106 miles from Dallas.
Stephenville is approximately 106 miles southwest of Dallas.

The Star-Telegram of Fort Worth is reporting that Tarleton State University police will need 50 extra local and state officers on Saturday, when student-director John Jordan Otte presents an excerpt from the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” as a drama class project. As DV staffer David Taffet, who broke this story last week, has noted, the right-wingers in Stephenville are raising hell about the play, which depicts a gay Jesus.  They say the content is particularly offensive the week before Easter. And according to The S-T, they’re now planning to protest and “witness” in the parking lot outside the theater. So I’m just wondering out loud here, are any LGBT groups planning to make the 100-mile trek from Dallas? It’s a long drive, but doesn’t this situation warrant a show of support from the community in the nearest metropolitan area? Or in the interest of logistics and strategy, should we just ignore these nutjobs? Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

—  John Wright

Democratic AG candidate says constitutional amendment eliminates all marriages in Texas

Barbara Ann Radnofsky
Barbara Ann Radnofsky

You gotta love Barbara Ann Radnofsky. Why? Well, first of all, she’s basically accusing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott of being a complete idiot.

Radnofsky, who’s running for AG as a Democrat in 2010, claims Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, approved by voters in 2005, actually invalidates all marriages in the state because of the way one of its clauses is worded, The Star-Telegram reports today. And Radnofsky blames Abbott, a Republican who’s been a strong supporter of the amendment, for not catching the error. The clause was designed to prevent same-sex domestic partnerships and civil unions, but Radnofsky says it actually opens the door to all sorts of marriage-related legal action. Here’s the clause she’s referring to, with key words bolded:

This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Radnofsky, who worked for a powerful Houston law firm for decades before retiring a few years ago, calls the clause a “massive mistake” that “eliminates marriage in Texas.” She blames Abbott and says he should acknowledge the error and apologize. She also says another constitutional amendment might be required to fix it. She says she voted against the amendment anyway and didn’t realize the mistake until she started closely studying the Texas Constitution in preparation for her campaign.

“You do not have to have a fancy law degree to read this and understand what it plainly says,” Radnofsky tells The S-T. “Whoever vetted the language in [clause] B must have been asleep at the wheel.”

Radnofsky is scheduled to appear at 6:30 tonight at the Tarrant County Young Democrats Gubernatorial Forum at TCU. But I don’t even need to go. She’s already got my vote.

—  John Wright

A tale of two opinion pages: The Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News

Kudos to the editorial board at The Star-Telegram of Fort Worth. Twice in the last three weeks, The S-T has published editorials taking strong stances in support of LGBT equality. First, on Oct. 22, The S-T published an editorial under the headline “Boot ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ honor all who want to serve.” In the editorial, The S-T managed to outdo even some so-called gay-rights activists in demanding that President Barack Obama fulfill his campaign promise by ending the discriminatory policy.

“Procrastination must come to an end. It is right that the president consult with his military leaders, but if he is serious about fulfilling his campaign promise and doing the right thing, he should be pressuring Congress on this issue even as he pushes on others on which he has called for change.

“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a bad law, and every day it is allowed to stand is another day injustice prevails.”

Then, just today, The S-T editorialized in favor of adding gender identity/expression to the city of Fort Worth’s nondiscrimination ordinance, a proposal that’s expected to be voted on tonight by the City Council. The editorial noted that the proposal faces strong opposition from religious conservatives.

“Controversial as the new protections may be, they are another step in the fight against acts that make people suffer because they are out of the current mainstream. There are people in Fort Worth who would treat those of a different race or religion as inferior, who even would treat women as such. But in general, U.S. society has moved beyond those particular types of bigotry.

“So it should be for transgender and gender expression and identity. No one should be denied a job, access to public accommodations or housing based on these behaviors. The council should approve the amendments.”

Twenty years from now, assuming it’s still around, The S-T will be able to look back with pride at editorials like these and say that the newspaper’s editorial board was on the right side of history. Sadly, I’m afraid The Dallas Morning News — whose opinion pages remain largely silent on LGBT issues, aside from the endless right-wing drivel of columnist Rod Dreher — won’t be able to say the same thing.

—  John Wright

'The Amazing Race' gay brothers team kinda from Fort Worth talk up God and competition

CBS posted this vid of brothers Sam and Dan McMillen yesterday. They talk about growing up gay and Christian and then get sassy about the rest of the players on this season of The Amazing Race. The bros also talked to the Star-Telegram last week about coming out on national TV.

We dug that they were “from Fort Worth” but the Texas connection is no more. Sam finished his studies at TCU this spring and has recently moved back to Missouri.

—  Rich Lopez