Taffet on the Road from Austin: Day 1 of the 84th Legislature

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Pete Schulte

Dallas Voice’s intrepid reporter David Taffet is on the road today, traveling aboard a bus with friends, family and supporters of state Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrats serving District 100. They are all in Austin for the first day of the 84th Legislature and the inauguration of new and returning lawmakers and state officials.

Mechanical problems with the bus before the group ever left Dallas put them a bit behind schedule, but they got there just in time for the swearing-in.

Schulte to run for sheriff

Also on that bus is Dallas attorney Pete Schulte who, David reports, has just announced that he will be running for Dallas County sheriff in 2016, as long as incumbent Sheriff Lupe Valdez retires, as she has said she will do.

Taffet says that the Texas Capitol is packed today, with lines of people waiting to get in at all four main entrances. And according to reports in the Houston Chronicle that most reporters are being turned away, David may be one of the few reporters inside for the swearing-in ceremonies.

Secretary of State speaks

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, acted as emcee of the opening day ceremonies. Berry, from India, is married to a native Texan and their two sons were born in Ethiopia., She spoke about the diversity of the 150 representatives elected by their constituents to be their voice in Austin, mentioning every part of the state — but Dallas.

Villareal declines oath

Temporary House officers were then appointed, after which state senators were sworn in and the House took roll call by district number. Rep. Mike Villareal, from District 123, declined the oath of office to run for mayor of San Antonio, but the rest of the House members took their oaths of office.

Here are a few photos from Johnson’s group, watching the opening day ceremonies from a committee room below the floor of the House.

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—  Tammye Nash

A Lyons’ heart

Out lesbian Emy Lyons once lobbied state Rep. Myra Crownover for education funding; now she’s hoping to replace her in the House


ROUND TWO | Emy Lyons, left, pictured with her son Ethan and partner Melissa Allison, is the second out candidate to challenge Republican incumbent Myra Crownover in Denton County. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)


ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

DENTON — Emy Lyons exudes passion: passion for education, passion for LGBT equality and a passion for bringing change to Austin.

Lyons lobbied against the bill that cut $5.4 billion in funding to education, special education programs and disability programs in 2011. She showed up to share her story about how the funding helped her teenage son, Ethan, who has spina bifida and autism.

Wearing Birkenstocks and a sundress, Lyons said she shared her story and was encouraged to address the crowd gathered at the Capitol speaking out against the bill.

“So I put on a blue jean jacket, stood behind a podium and told my story,” Lyons said.

Later that day in March 2011, Lyons went to state Rep. Myra Crownover’s office to put a face to the bill and the people it would hurt.

She said she wanted her representative to know that not everyone who needs Medicaid waiver programs, which the bill cut, are indigent.

“Sometimes it’s just middle-class, average people who also need the services,” she said.

But Lyons said Crownover didn’t seem to empathize and instead politely asked if she had parents who could help her.

“It was very patronizing, and she was dead serious,” Lyons recalled. “So that was 2011, and I’ve been mad ever since. So I decided to run when I could.”

Lyons, a Denton native and a registered nurse for 32 years, is the only Democrat in Denton County’s House District 64 race, and she’ll face Crownover in November. Crownover, who’s held the seat since 2000, will face Read King in the Republican Primary.

District 64 covers parts of Denton County from Denton, Lake Dallas, Corinth and Hickory Creek. The University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University and North Central Texas College are all located in the district.

Aside from her fervor for education based on personal experience, Lyons said education is an important focus in the district with three universities in HD 64.

Lyons spoke candidly to Dallas Voice this week during her son’s Special Olympics basketball practice at Lakeland Elementary School in Lewisville, talking about two of her dearest passions, her son and education.

She’s had to advocate for Ethan’s education services at Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings to plan for special needs students. And she helped Ethan get on the team in Lewisville about four years ago because Denton didn’t have many options for students with special needs, especially ones with physical disabilities. So she joined the PTA, and the school welcomed Ethan onto the team.

Seeking out opportunities for her son also has helped her bring special education issues into focus for her education platform in the way special education classes are operated and special needs students are taught. Lyons used the example of her son, who learns more from direct instruction, not from observing other students, so it’s hard on him and teachers when he switches classrooms.

“I really, really dislike how we’re mainstreaming so many of these special education children to the point that, I think, is almost detrimental because we’re ignoring their disability, and we’re trying to change them and making them change to our way of thinking as opposed to just accepting them the way they are, finding a strength in their ability and going with that,” Lyons said. “So I’m making this kid who’s already struggling in society acclimate to my way of thinking, and I think that there’s got to be a change in that, and I think we’re wasting a lot of money in the Texas education system trying to do that.”

Other issues, like fracking and LGBT rights, also are part of Lyons’ platform. While not opposed to gas drilling, she said she wants to ensure that drilling is done safely.

“I want to make sure that what we do is safe and not going to harm the environment and create health concerns,” she said. “It’s a big issue in our area.”

As a lesbian who couldn’t marry her son’s other mother, Lyons said when they split up after 14 years together, it was her ex’s choice to pay child support and visit their son because they weren’t married. She said her experiences as a lesbian with a family would make her an advocate for LGBT families in the state House.

“I’d like the legalization of marriage so that there’s rights,” she said, adding that she’d like to marry her partner Melissa in the future. “I’ve never really wanted a formal ceremony because it wasn’t even a possibility, but I so want that now.”

Crownover received a D-minus on Equality Texas’ Legislative Scorecard last year, scoring a 50. She did vote against the anti-gay Krause amendment, which would have allowed clubs at universities to discriminate for membership. She also supported three non-LGBT specific bills endorsed by Equality Texas. They were bills to study youth homelessness and why companies have not selected to relocate to Texas, as well as a bill to implement metal health and suicide prevention programs in public schools.

When a resolution supporting marriage equality was slated to go before the Denton City Council in August, councilmembers who supported the measure backed out, afraid the resolution would hurt relationships between the city and Crownover, as well as with state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

When conservatives in the district mention they stand for “traditional family values,” Lyons said she takes offense because she has a traditional family.

“I have a very nontraditional relationship, but I have a very traditional family,” she said. “I’m a homeowner, we come home every night, we bath our child, we feed our child, we get him to bed, we say prayers, and that’s us.”

Lyons isn’t the first openly gay candidate to challenge Crownover. John Turner-McClelland, president of Stonewall Democrats of Denton County, was the first openly gay candidate in Denton County to run for the state Legislature when he challenged Crownover in 2008. He received 40 percent of the vote compared to Crownover’s 57 percent and the 3 percent the libertarian candidate brought in.

“I felt proud that I got what I got,” he said.

But the district has changed since then with redistricting making it redder with westward expansion, though Turner-McClelland said it now encompasses all of Denton and luckily South Denton, which is very Democratic.

Turner-McClelland didn’t have issues running as an out candidate in 2008, but the Denton County Republican Party chairwoman did write a letter to the editor in the Denton

Record-Chronicle encouraging readers to look up Stonewall Democrats and see if it aligned with their beliefs.

“That was her way of calling me out,” he said.

Turner-McClelland said Lyons has her work cut out for her in the district, but added that people could identify with her as a candidate.

“I think she’s very down-to-earth, comes across as the person next door,” he said.

Daniel Moran

Daniel Moran

But Lyons is one of two out candidates running for the state House in Denton County.

Daniel Moran, a 20-year-old UNT student, is challenging incumbent Republican state Rep. Tan Parker in Denton County’s House District 63. The district includes Flower Mound, Highland Village, Sanger and the western half of Lewisville.

Moran, a political science major with an emphasis on Constitutional law, decided to run for the seat after confronting Congressman Michael Burgess in August about his vote not to allow secular and humanist chaplains to serve in the military. Moran, an atheist, asked Burgess about the vote at a church and was shouted at by people in attendance. Since he’s not 25, the age to serve in Congress, he said he’d run for the state House to help give every constituent a voice. Moran will be 21 in April, complying with state law that requires legislators to be at least 21 years old. He also plans to address fracking in the district and Medicaid expansion.

“I will start in Austin to make a difference in the lives of the millions of people in Texas who are being ignored by their elected officials,” he said.

Moran identifies as bisexual and genderqueer, so hopes to fight for LGBT rights like statewide employment protections and the freedom to marry in Texas.

“I know it’s going to be an uphill battle,” he said about running in the district. “This is a very conservative Republican area. This is a bit of a stronghold for them. I’m not letting that deter me.”

Parker scored an F on Equality Texas’ Legislative Scorecard last year with 20 points for voting for the bill to create a study to determine why companies decided not to relocate to Texas.

A few years ago in high school, Moran tried to start a secular group and an LGBT group. But the school in Lewisville then changed its policy not to recognize any non-academic clubs. Religious clubs were then required to meet in designated rec rooms on campus but not during school hours. Moran tried to get his clubs to meet in those rooms but said they never got off the ground after religious groups took over the rooms and fliers about the his clubs were torn down.

Asked if he thinks it’ll be difficult to run as bisexual, genderqueer and an atheist in a red district, Moran said he hopes it starts a dialogue about secularism and identity in the LGBT community.

“I hope that this will create conversations about sexuality and gender identity and gender expression and about religion in politics,” he said. “I hope [my candidacy] starts that kind of conversation where it can open it up to more LGBT candidates and officeholders, as well as secular officeholders.”

Lyons and Moran are two of a record five out state House candidates seeking office this year. State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, and Celia Israel, who won a runoff for Austin’s House District 50 last month, are running for re-election. And former State Board of Education member George Clayton is running in North Texas’ House District 102.

Turner-McClelland said Moran’s run will be more of a challenge than Lyons’ because District 63 is more rural and conservative, adding that they’ll both have “an uphill battle in their district.” But he said they could do well in the races as times, and attitudes, have changed.

“2014 is obviously a lot different climate as far as being open as to who you are and being accepted, especially in Texas,” he said. “Back in 2008, you would have never heard anyone talking about marriage equality in the state. Six years later, it’s almost on the horizon.”

For Lyons, she’s not sure it’s the year for an out challenger to unseat Crownover. But she’s seen the energy among the LGBT community, especially younger voters, and she’s ready to take on the challenge.

“Is it the year for the change? I’d like for it to be the year for the change,” Lyons said. “It’s really interesting because I have a lot of young people that are so excited that I’m running.

And they’re so excited that I’m running because I am a single mom, I do have a special needs child and I’m also a lesbian.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.

—  Dallasvoice

TX legislative panel advances pro-LGBT bill for 1st time in 12 years

John Carona

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, voted in favor of the pro-LGBT bill.

Even in Texas, LGBT equality is inching forward.

For the first time in 12 years, a state legislative committee advanced a specifically pro-LGBT bill on Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice voted 4-1 to advance SB 1316 — which would provide legal protections for sexually active gay and lesbian teens.

Sen. John Carona, a Republican from Dallas who made news by waffling on LGBT issues last year, joined three Democrats in voting to advance the bill. The Democrats who voted for the bill were author John Whitmire of Houston, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen and Jose Rodriguez of El Paso. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, voted against the advancing the bill. The other two Republican members of the criminal justice committee were absent from the hearing.

The committee heard testimony from the parents of gay teens before voting to advance the bill, which is backed by Equality Texas. No one testified against the bill, although the anti-gay group Texas Values issued statements to media outlets saying it amounts to “promoting sexual behavior.”

Under Texas law, sexual contact with minors under the age of 17 is a crime of indecency. But a “Romeo and Juliet” defense protects teen couples from prosecution as long as they are in a consensual relationship, both over 14 and within three years of age of each other. However,  the law specifically states that this protection is available only to couples of the opposite sex. SB 1316 would give same-sex teen couples the same protection as their heterosexual peers.

A House version of the bill, HB 2403, was also heard by a committee today but did not receive a vote. Despite clearing the Senate committee, the measure still faces long odds. It would need a two-thirds majority vote from the full Senate before it can be considered on the floor.

The last pro-LGBT bill to clear a Texas legislative committee was the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which includes protections based on “sexual preference” and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2001.

Four anti-bullying bills passed the Legislature and were signed by Perry in 2011, but none contained specific protections for LGBT youth.


—  John Wright

BREAKING: Zedler withdraws LGBT resource center amendment

State Rep. Bill Zedler

State Rep. Bill Zedler

Arlington state Rep. Bill Zedler withdrew his amendment that would defund LGBT resource centers at state universities when it hit the House floor tonight amid cheers from the gallery.

Matthew Posey, Zedler’s legislative director, told Dallas Voice Thursday afternoon that it’d be “pulled down.” He declined to comment on the decision to remove the amendment.

News of the amendment that stated LGBT and gender centers caused high-risk behavior and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases created an uproar among LGBT advocates.

Petitions and letters opposing the amendment were sent to lawmakers this week.

Daniel Williams, field organizer with Equality Texas, said the organization had been preparing for the amendment for the past year after a similar one from the previous session was filed, which was withdrawn after pressure to stall the appropriations bill.

“Because of Equality Texas’ outreach, there was massive public outcry about the amendment,” he said. “Zedler was under tremendous pressure to remove it.”

Three other amendments that would have some impact on the LGBT community were considered.

An amendment filed by state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, was adopted and will allot grant money to school districts for suicide prevention, mental health and substance abuse programs.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, withdrew his amendment that would collect data on the number of LGBT people under the age of 24 who seek mental health services.

An amendment by state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, was tabled. The measure would require school districts to make reports based on alleged discriminatory incidents based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and other categories.

Amendments are still being debated on the floor. Watch here.

—  Dallasvoice

Gay El Paso House candidate Mary Gonzalez to visit Dallas for LGBT fundraiser next week

Mary Gonzalez

Mary Gonzalez, an openly gay candidate for Texas House from El Paso, will be in Dallas on Thursday, May 3 for a fundraiser sponsored by the Texas Equity PAC, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and Annie’s List.

Of the four known openly LGBT candidates for Legislature in 2012, Gonzalez arguably has the best chance to become only the second out lawmaker in the state’s history and the first since Glen Maxey, who served from 1993 until 2001. Texas is one of only 18 states that lack an openly LGBT legislator, and according to the Victory Fund, no state has ever passed relationship recognition without one.

Gonzalez is one of three candidates in the May 29 Democratic Primary  in El Paso’s District 75 who are vying to replace Rep. Chente Quintillia, who isn’t seeking re-election.

“The oldest of eleven children, Mary Gonzalez is a natural born leader,” an invitation for next week’s fundraiser reads. “Before putting herself through college to eventually become a PhD candidate and Adjunct Professor, Mary spent her adolescent years advocating for underserved colonias in her hometown of El Paso. Now, Mary is putting her education and experience to work for the people of El Paso and is poised to become Texas’ only LGBT voice in the state legislature. Come meet this remarkable young woman and catch a rising star on her way to the Capitol!”

The fundraiser will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the home of Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and his partner, Gregory Pynes. Other hosts include Cece Cox; Jack Evans and George Harris; Scott Green and Garrett Warren; Chris Luna and Kent Mecklenburg; Karl Meyer and Craig McCartney; Dr. Mark Parker and Eric Johnson; and Andy Smith and Paul von Wupperfeld.

The suggested donation is $100, or become a host for $250.. For more information or to RSVP contact Chuck Smith at 512-474-5475 ext. 2 or chuck@texasequitypac.org; or Michael McCall at 202-567-3304 or michael.mccall@victoryfund.org.

—  John Wright

Gay Republican member of State Board of Education to run for Texas House in Richardson

State Board of Education member George Clayton speaks at the kickoff meeting for the new Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans in January.

George Clayton, an openly gay Republican member of Texas’ State Board of Education, announced Tuesday that he isn’t seeking re-election this year and will instead run for the Texas House District 112 seat, which covers Richardson and parts of Garland.

Clayton, who works for the Dallas Independent School District and was first elected to the SBOE in 2010, came out as gay last year in the midst of a whisper campaign about his sexual orientation among Republicans in his Collin County district.

Clayton couldn’t immediately be reached for comment today.

“After many hours of careful consideration and consultation, I have decided not to seek reelection to the Texas State Board of Education,” he said in an email announcing his decision on Tuesday, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Most of the work I seek to do for education in Texas is outside of the board’s assigned duties and responsibilities. Therefore, I have decided to seek election to the Texas House of Representatives in what is now district 112, which covers Richardson and portions of Garland. A formal announcement will be made in the next few days. Of course, I will complete my term on the State Board of Education. I look forward to serving the people of Texas in the legislature. Restoring strength to Texas education will be the primary focus of my legislative campaign.”

After new redistricting maps were announced Tuesday by a federal court in San Antonio, Clayton is one of two known openly LGBT candidates in North Texas who plan to run for Texas House. The other is Fort Worth school board member Carlos Vasquez, who plans to challenge incumbent Lon Burnam in the Democratic Primary.

Texas is one of only 18 states that currently lack an openly LGBT legislator.

—  John Wright

Ray Hill kicks off campaign for Texas House with YouTube videos

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

As previously reported by Houstini Ray Hill, the iconic and iconoclastic Houston LGBT activist, announced this year that he would challenge ten-term incumbent state representative Garnet Coleman in next spring’s Democratic Primary. Hill is running what he calls an “unfunded campaign,” relying on social media and support from community members to get his message out.

We haven’t heard much about the campaign since Hill filed at the beginning of the month (perhaps he’s been distracted by his recent arrest during an attempt to prevent the HPD vice squad from harassing strippers), but Hill seems to have gotten back into the campaign saddle, releasing two YouTube videos about his campaign and why he thinks he’s the best choice to represent district 147 (they can be viewed after the jump). The audio’s not the best (tip: taping next to a roaring waterfall does not produce the best sound), but in both videos Hill expresses his belief that the common people of the district will vote him into office. Judge for yourself:

—  admin

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

WATCH: TX House debates anti-gay amendment

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, delivered one of the strongest pro-LGBT statements the Texas House floor has ever seen.

Via the Texas Tribune, below is video, in three parts, from Thursday night’s debate in the Texas House on an anti-gay amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, aimed at eliminating LGBT resource centers at Texas universities. As we reported earlier, Christian eventually withdrew the amendment amid opposition from Democrats who threatened to derail the entire fiscal matters bill to which it was attached. Part two and three of the video are after the jump. Read Daniel Williams’ recap of the debate here.

Watch live video from texastribune on Justin.tv

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: Highlights from the Texas House debate on Wayne Christian’s anti-gay amendment

Rep. Wayne Christian

Allies fight off effort to ban LGBT resource centers


Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, lost his fight to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas universities on Thursday night.

Christian had previously been successful in attaching an amendment to the House version of the state budget that would have required schools with LGBT resource centers to equally  fund “family and traditional values centers.” But the amendment was absent from the Senate version of the bill and is not in the final version of the budget adopted two weeks ago.

Then, on Thursday the House took up the controversial “fiscal matters” bill that, among other things, provides funding for public education in Texas. Christian took this opportunity to offer an amendment to completely ban LGBT resource centers from Texas universities.

When Christian passed his amendment to the budget back in April, it sailed through with no House members speaking in opposition, and only one, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, asking questions. In contrast, his new amendment met with vocal opposition, as well as a threat to derail the entire fiscal matters bill if the discriminatory language was attached.

Christian began by saying that his original amendment passed with no opposition in the House (in fact, 24 members voted against it), that his new amendment was supported by the Young Conservatives of Texas and that the Texas A&M Student Senate had passed a resolution in support, although he didn’t mention that the resolution was vetoed by the Student Body President Jacob Robinson.

—  admin