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

Online revenge can now mean felony conviction

Chad West and Laura Martin

Local officials stepping up enforcement of new Internet harassment law targeting those who harass, impersonate others online

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dallas police and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office have begin stepping up enforcement of a 2009 Internet harassment law that makes it a felony to impersonate, imitate or otherwise harass others in e-mails, instant messaging programs and commercial social networking sites.

And some gay men who use online dating and social media sites are getting caught in the crosshairs.

“Word is getting out about the law,” Dallas LGBT police liaison Laura Martin said, adding that she’s spoken to a number of people who have been harassed with phone calls, Internet posts and fake Facebook pages.

“It usually happens when a relationship ends,” Martin said, “[when] someone is seeking revenge.”

She said that usually the person filing the complaint just wants the harassment to stop. And when she’s made calls to the person, Martin said, it usually does stop.

But with the new Texas Penal Code 33.07, those using such sites to harass someone could be charged with a felony.

Since the beginning of July, criminal defense attorney Chad West said he has signed four new clients charged under the law. Three of them are gay.

The cases are varied. One involves harassment through a Facebook page; another is a “text message situation,” West said.

West said one of his clients had been dating a closeted man for years. When the closeted man broke off the relationship, the two remained in touch for awhile, but then the closeted man wanted to cut off all communication.

West said his client told him his feelings had been hurt by his ex’s actions and then “one night he did something stupid.”

On Craigslist, the client posted his ex’s first name, last initial and cell phone number with a picture of someone else. Within minutes the ex began receiving calls.

After talking to one of the callers, the victim found the page on Craigslist, printed it off and filed a complaint with the police who tracked the IP address.

West’s client, with nothing prior on his record other than speeding tickets, was arrested and charged with a third degree felony. If convicted, he faces two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In another case, one man was impersonating his boyfriend online. Using the victim’s passwords, he signed onto dating sites such as Manhunt to find out if the victim was cheating on him.

Cheating is not a crime. Impersonating someone else online in Texas is. And that man has now been charged with a felony.

Manhunt does what it can to prevent that sort of situation, Manhunt CEO Adam Segel said. A button on profiles allows a member to report fake or malicious profiles.

“Whenever Manhunt receives reports of harassment between users, we investigate to the best of our ability and take whatever steps are necessary to rectify the situation,” Segel said.

“This may include suspension or deletion of the offending user’s account,” he explained.

Segel said that Manhunt always cooperates with the police once officers have obtained a subpoena, but those instances are rare. “Fortunately this isn’t something we hear about very often,” he said.

West has spoken to the victims in all of the cases he represents. He said that all of them just want this to go away and that none seem interested in appearing in court to testify about intimate details of their lives.

And that’s the best hope West’s clients have.

Defending the charge is difficult when police have hard computer evidence of where the harassment originated and when a victim is willing to testify, West said.

The Craigslist case is furthest along and may be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor, but that still carries the possibility of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Probation or deferred adjudication are possibilities as well. Even if dismissed, the legal fees can mount quickly.

West said one of the victims he spoke to isn’t interested in putting his ex in jail but wants him to get counseling. A judge could set that as a condition of the probation or deferred adjudication.

Katherine Robinson is an assistant Dallas district attorney who prosecutes Internet crimes. She said that her office looks at cases like these very carefully, but because the law is still new, she hasn’t seen any cases come to trial.

Robinson said the Texas law was prompted by a 2006 cyber-bullying case in Missouri.

Megan Meier, 13, took her own life after being told online that the world would be better off without her by “Josh,” a boy who friended her on MySpace.

“Josh” turned out to be Lori Drew, an adult woman. Megan was one of her daughter’s classmates.

However, Drew had not violated any criminal law at the time. She was charged and acquitted of violating the terms and conditions of MySpace under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Robinson said that after that case, legislatures started enacting stricter Internet harassment laws.

“That case hit home how devastating it can be,” Robinson said.

Assistant District Attorney Rick Watson has handled two cases under the Internet harassment law.

“I talk to the victim, balance what they want and make sure the public is safe,” he said.

In one case, a high school student created a Facebook page with another student’s information and made threatening remarks.

The student received four years probation but only after a psych evaluation to make sure he was not a danger.

Watson said the student thought he was pulling a prank, and had no idea he would be charged with a felony.

Watson said that although charges may be reduced, they’re not likely to be dismissed.

West warned that although these cases may eventually be pled to misdemeanors, the arrest and associated costs can be enormous. He said that the potential is a felony conviction and with all the attention placed on bullying last fall, Internet harassment is being taken seriously by law enforcement in Dallas.

And Dallas County is not the only place police are pursuing these cases. Of West’s four clients, only two are in Dallas. One is in Denton and another is in Collin County.

____________

TEXAS PENAL CODE

Sec. 33.07.  ONLINE HARASSMENT.

(a) A person commits an offense if the person uses the name or persona of another person to create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial social networking site:

(1) Without obtaining the other person’s consent; and

(2) With the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person.

(b) A person commits an offense if the person sends an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:

(1) without obtaining the other person’s consent;

(2) with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and

(3) with the intent to harm or defraud any person.

(c) An offense under Subsection (a) is a felony of the third degree. An offense under Subsection (b) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the actor commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by emergency personnel.

(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor is any of the following entities or that the actor’s conduct consisted solely of action taken as an employee of any of the following entities:

(1) a commercial social networking site;

(2) an Internet service provider;

(3) an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230;

(4) a telecommunications provider, as defined by Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or

(5) a video service provider or cable service provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.

(f) In this section:

(1) “Commercial social networking site” means any business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of establishing personal relationships with other users through direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users. The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message board program.

(2) “Identifying information” has the meaning assigned by Section 32.51.

—  John Wright

House panel hears bills to remove ‘homosexual conduct’ law, add trans hate crimes protections

Daniel Williams

By DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Four bills that would improve the lives of LGBT Texans were heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. The Committee is responsible for making recommendations to the state House of Representatives on bills that effect the Texas Penal Code. The first step in that process is to hold a public hearing. Any member of the public may testify for, or against, a bill during the hearing.

The first bill, House Bill 1909 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, amends the state’s law against “indecency with a child” to provide LGBT teens with the same protections as straight teens. Currently, the law contains a provisions that allows consensual sexual contact between a person under the age of 17 and a person who is no more than three years older. Dubbed the “Romeo and Juliet” rule, the exception recognizes that teenagers engage in sexual behavior with their boyfriends/girlfriends and that prosecuting “heavy petting” by high school sweethearts serves no purpose.

However, there’s a catch! When the Romeo and Juliet rule was created in 1973, “homosexual conduct” was still an enforceable crime in Texas. The authors of the exception were very careful that it only apply to couples “of the opposite sex.” Coleman’s bill removes the opposite sex requirement to give “Juliet & Juliet” the same protections as their straight contemporaries. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, testified in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.

Next, the committee heard House Bill 2227, also by Coleman. Texas law allows prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s bias against people with specific attributes, including “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.” HB 2227 would add “gender identity and expression” to that list.

—  admin

Right-wing lawmaker says Legislature doesn’t have time to remove sodomy ban from books

Wayne Christian

The Austin American-Statesman has a story today about legislation aimed at removing Texas’ unconstitutional sodomy ban from the books. (It makes you wonder, why doesn’t The Dallas Morning News report on stuff like this?)

Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, which outlawed gay sex, was struck down as unconstitutional eight years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the statute remains on the books, and those who want to remove it say its continued presence “creates a climate favorable to bullying, gay-bashing and hate crimes,” according to the Statesman.

Take, for example, the incident a few years back at Chico’s Tacos in El Paso, in which two gay men were threatened with sodomy charges for kissing in public. No, we’re not kidding.

Democratic State Reps. Jessica Farrar and Garnet Coleman have introduced identical bills that would remove 21.06 from the books, but the bills are almost guaranteed to go nowhere in the Republican-monopolized Legislature.

Why? Well, the real reason is that many conservative lawmakers believe sodomy should still be a crime. The Statesman fails to point out that the state GOP platform calls for the recriminalization of sodomy. But naturally these right-wing lawmakers are too chicken shit to come out and say this, so they’ve come up with another excuse: We simply don’t have enough time!

From the Statesman:

As of January, Republicans hold 101 of the 150 seats in the Texas House , a supermajority that allows them to easily control legislation. Last session, the House was almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

The GOP domination is also reflected in the Criminal Jurisprudence committee, which would be the first to vote on Farrar’s or Coleman’s bill . A Democrat chairs the committee, but Republicans — including Wayne Christian, the most recent president of the Texas Conservative Coalition — outnumber them two-to-one.

Christian said he had not looked at the bills in detail, but that the time it would take them to go through committee probably would not be worth the outcome — especially in a session where lawmakers are wrestling with major issues like redistricting and filling a multi-billion-dollar budget hole.

So there you have it, folks. Christian doesn’t believe gays should be allowed to fill each other’s holes, so he’s claiming the Legislature is too busy filling the budget hole. Or, to phrase it another way, Christian is preoccupied with filling his own hole.

Funny how the Texas Legislature always seems to find time to TAKE AWAY people’s civil rights.

—  John Wright

Kansas sodomy law to remain on the books; Texas law might be removed

Rep. Jessica Farrar

A Kansas law that makes sexual contact between persons of the same sex illegal will remain on the books, even though that law was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2003 ruling in  Lawrence v. Texas.

A Kansas Republican and Democrat both said that the law is unenforceable and no one is being hurt by it, according to an MSNBC report. They removed its repeal from pending legislation.

However, according to Thomas Witt, chairman of Kansas Equity Coalition, John Wheeler, the president of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, warned a group of adult college students in 2008 that “even to this day, homosexuality is a crime in Kansas.”

In Texas, section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, better known as the sodomy law, also remains on the books.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat, introduced HB 604 to repeal 21.06. The bill has been sent to the Criminal Jurisprudence committee for hearing.

—  David Taffet

Equality Texas sets LGBT lobby day for March 7

Equality Texas hoping for more than 400 to participate in lobbying effort; Stonewall Democrats, TENT planning weekend gatherings

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Equality Texas is calling on the LGBT community and its allies to converge on Austin on March 7 to lobby the Texas Legislature on a slate of already-filed bills.

Bills filed include anti-bullying legislation; a bill to prohibit of insurance discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; a bill allowing both same-sex parents to be listed on an adopted child’s birth certificate; a bill banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; and a bill to repeal Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, the sodomy statute that has been ruled unconstitutional.

In addition, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston has filed a joint resolution to repeal the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Coleman has filed a similar resolution in each legislative session and, as is past sessions, the resolution is not expected to pass.

Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, asked that people planning to attend the lobby day pre-register on his organization’s website.

Those who do register in advance and indicate an interest in a particular bill will be sent to offices of legislators who will hear those bills in committee.

The day begins with registration at 7:30 a.m. followed by a press conference at 9 a.m. Rep. Garnet Coleman and the parents of suicide victim Asher Brown are expected to speak.

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman said that an hour of orientation is meant to put people at ease, teach them to simply tell their own stories and put together small groups of people that pair first-timers with more experienced lobbyists.

“Lobbying is about telling your own story,” Dennis Coleman said. “You never know who you’ll meet.”

Legislators are lobbied daily, Dennis Coleman said. Sometimes the lawmakers are in their offices and receive constituents. Other times those constituents meet with the lawmaker’s legisltive director. He said that senators and representatives who are allies need to hear support from their districts, but opponents need to hear from the LGBT community as well.

He said Equality Texas is working with legislators on bills that would benefit the LGBT community and hasn’t had to spend much time this session fending off discriminatory legislation.

Local representatives have taken the lead in proposing much of the positive legislation.

Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth submitted a bill prohibiting bullying in public schools. That law would also address cyberbullying.
Rep. Mark Strama of Austin filed similar legislation in the House.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo of Dallas wrote HB 208 that would prevent insurance discrimination. The bill would keep insurance companies from refusing to insure, charging a different rate or limiting coverage in amount, extent or kind because of bias or prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia authored HB 415, the bill that would repeal language that states that only a mother and father may be listed on the birth certificate of an adopted child.

Lobbying will begin at 11 a.m.

“That should give people a chance to visit about three offices before lunch,” Coleman said.

Equality Texas is providing a continental breakfast in the morning as well as lunch. After lunch, constituents will visit offices until 3 p.m. followed by a one-hour debriefing session.

Coleman said more than 200 people are already registered but he’s hoping for 400. Among those participating are members of Stonewall Democrats who will be in Austin for a weekend conference.

Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who is openly bisexual, will be the opening keynote speaker for the Texas Stonewall Democrats Caucus statewide conference on March 5.

The conference takes place at the Hilton Garden Inn on 5th Street. Among the weekend’s other highlights, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, will lead a roundtable discussion on transgender issues on Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon, the Transgender Education Network of Texas will hold its second Transgender Caucus, also at the Hilton Garden Inn.

To register for Lobby Day, visit EqualityTexasLobbyDay.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Bill would remove sodomy law from Texas books eight years after it was ruled unconstitutional

Rep. Jessica Farrar

It’s been almost eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law as unconstitutional in a landmark ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. But the law itself, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, remains on the books. Bills have been introduced in every legislative session since then seeking to repeal the statute, but needless to say they’ve never passed. (Remember, the state GOP platform actually calls for the re-criminalization of sodomy.) This year, the 21.06 repeal bill has been introduced by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston. Farrar’s HB 604, which was introduced today, would not only repeal 21.06, but also strike related anti-gay language from the Health and Safety Code. With a Republican supermajority in the Texas House, the bill is likely doomed again. At the very least, though, it should serve as a sobering reminder. Here’s 21.06, which Farrar’s bill seeks to repeal:

Sec. 21.06.  HOMOSEXUAL CONDUCT.

(a)  A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.

(b)  An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

And here’s the language from the Health & Safety Code that Farrar’s bill would strike:

SECTION 2. Section 85.007(b), Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:

(b) The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must: …

(2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.

SECTION 3. Section 163.002, Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:

Sec. 163.002. INSTRUCTIONAL ELEMENTS. Course materials and instruction relating to sexual education or sexually transmitted diseases should include: …

(8) emphasis, provided in a factual manner and from a
public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle
acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a
criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.

Read the full bill by going here.

—  John Wright