LSR Journal: 2 of a kind — but different

Paul Cross and Jim McCoy were single when they each started volunteering for Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS; now as a couple, their dedication is renewed

Paul Cross, left, and Jim McCoy

M.M. Adjarian  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

If ever two people exemplified the idea of “different strokes for different folks,” it’s longtime Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS supporters Paul Cross and Jim McCoy.

Each man loves to cycle, especially if he’s with the other. But as for the individual approaches Cross and McCoy take to bike riding — that’s another matter entirely.

Both men have either participated in or donated to the LSRFA since 2001, the year the ride began. In that inaugural ride, when both were still single, Cross served as a pit crew volunteer and McCoy cycled.

By 2003, however, the two bachelors had become life partners and rode together in LSRFA as a couple. Their commitment to each other took top priority after that.

“We had been meaning to get back to it [the ride] over the last three or four years,” says McCoy, a consultant in healthcare IT. “It’s just one of those things we had in common — our [desire to help] the community.”

Shared goals have made for a strong union between the two men. But it’s the differences that have kept their relationship consistently interesting. Take, for example, their divergent cycling styles.

“[After we got together,] people kind of laughed at us: They called us the Tortoise and the Hare,” McCoy says. “When I want to go fast, Paul goes slow. And then when Paul wants to go fast, I want to go slow.”

These differences in style translate into differences in perspective. If McCoy tends to be the one more eager to get from one point to another as quickly as possible, his partner takes special pleasure in smelling the proverbial roses along the way.

“I like to just ride and look around and just watch everything,” says Cross, a banker.

“But then when we get to a hill, I’m the one with the energy,” he adds with a certain smugness.

The behavior these 40-something partners display in the saddle could not be more dissimilar. Yet both men are alike in how they carry exceptionally painful memories of the devastation HIV/AIDS wrought in the gay community.

“One of the things I’ll remember throughout my life is when This Week in Texas came out and there were no obituaries to report,” says McCoy. “That was in the late 90s. For a long time [before that], you had pages and pages of obituaries.”

What they saw in the dangerous decades of the 1980s and ’90s has served as the impetus behind their participation not only in the LSRFA, but in other HIV/AIDS-related causes such as Cheer Dallas and the AIDS Life Walk.

“We’re not ‘going out’ people,” admits Cross.  “But where there’s a fundraiser or event, we’re definitely there.”

The Tortoise and the Hare still haven’t decided how many miles they’ll be doing together in this year’s Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS: Tortoise says 180 and Hare says 150. Regardless of how far they plan to pedal or the approach each will take to reach the finish line, both are united in their belief that they’re cycling for a cause that matters.

Says McCoy, “With the way the economy is, there are a lot of people who need a lot of assistance. Programs are constantly getting cut.”

“Everyone seems to have put [HIV/AIDS] on the back burner like it’s not out there anymore, but it is,” adds Cross. “And we still need to raise awareness.”

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Sept. 24-25. To donate to an individual rider, to a team or to the Ride itself, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Neighborhood activist takes on incumbent

Scott Griggs

Scott Griggs says District 3 Councilman Dave Neumann doesn’t have the neighborhood’s interests as a top priority

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

In campaigns, gas drilling is usually a state vs. federal government concern. In Dallas, it could be a deciding factor in a single council district race since challenger Scott Griggs has raised the issue in his race for city council against District 3 incumbent Dave Neumann.

The massive Dallas City Council District 3 covers more than 50 square miles — an area larger than the city of San Francisco.

Potential drilling sites include Red Bird Airport and Mountain Creek, an area that is closer to Highway 360 in Arlington than it is to Downtown Dallas or even to Bishop Arts in Oak Cliff.

A controversial technique called “fracking” — slang for “hydraulic fracturing” — would be used to extract gas from underlying shale. Opponents have warned fracking could be responsible for recent earthquakes in North Texas and that chemicals used in the process may pollute the ground water.

Runoff from this area feeds Mountain Creek Lake, a source of drinking water for the southern sector.

At the Sept. 22, 2010 council meeting, Neumann called the Barnett Shale drilling proposals “a sweetheart deal” and “a great deal for the taxpayers of Dallas.”

Many in his district, including Griggs, disagree.

“He’s ignoring the effects on property values, quality of life, our air, our water, our health,” Griggs said. “I’ve been asking for a moratorium.”

Griggs said he would like more study to see what the effects would actually be.

Neumann has delayed a vote on the issue until October, allegedly to prevent drilling from becoming an issue in the May election.

Griggs describes District 3 as the donut that surrounds Delia Jasso’s compact District 1 donut hole.

Jasso represents much of north Oak Cliff. Neumann represents an area that includes the heavily LGBT-populated neighborhoods of Stevens Park in North Oak Cliff and the Keist Park neighborhoods further south.

Griggs has been active with the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group and the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce and served as Ed Oakley’s appointee to the Board of Adjustment.

He believes in development but criticizes the way Dallas often goes for big projects only. While new overpasses across the Trinity River would help Oak Cliff, Griggs said he worries about the cost of maintaining the faux suspension bridge being built.

In contrast to the way Dallas usually builds, Griggs said he prefers small projects and points to Jack’s Backyard as an example of how one person can help transform a neighborhood.

Kathy Jack, owner of Jack’s, said, “I couldn’t have gotten my business open without him.”

The city was preventing Jack from opening the restaurant without a paved parking lot.

Griggs explained that the area has flooding problems and no storm sewers. Paving the lot would have made flooding worse.

Jack finished the lot with gravel over a green product called Gravelpave that allows water to absorb into the ground.

“I went to the city of Dallas and they gave me 10 reasons why we couldn’t open,” Jack said. “He went to the city of Dallas with me and they approved my parking lot.”

“We always think that the biggest and sexiest development is best,” Griggs said. “But if you look at what happened with Bishop Arts, the city went in and invested $2.6 million.”

The city added parking, trees, wider sidewalks, crosswalks and enhanced pavement, he said, which made pedestrians feel welcome.

“Property values immediately adjacent to the improvements — 10 years ago the property was worth $1.7 million,” he said. “Now it’s worth $6.2 million. We’ve had 13 percent increase steady through two recessions.”

The city makes more money in Bishop Arts now on a Saturday night from taxes on alcohol sales than they did before with a year of property taxes, Griggs said.

He said that the success of the area is not being copied anywhere else in the city.

“Those are the types of revenue solutions we need to look at in these tough times,” he said. “Something Dallas has never looked at — small investments. We don’t do little. We’re all big and sexy.

“We think it’s an accident,” Griggs said of the success in Bishop Arts. “We think it’s quaint and it’s cute. It’s just an old streetcar neighborhood and we have those throughout the area.”

But, he said, the area’s success can be replicated.

Griggs mentioned that adding bike racks has brought additional traffic to Bishop Arts. He said he supports the plan to add bike lanes to streets and is a supporter of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, a neighborhood group that encourages bike riding.

He also supports the extension of the trolley line across the Houston Street Viaduct and across Davis Street. Grants for the extension were obtained despite Neumann’s refusal to sign onto the project, Griggs said.

He charges Neumann with blocking other development in the area by moving money out of designated funds into the general fund, including rebuilding the pergola at Kiest Park and cleaning up the Hensley Field Naval Air Station, also within the district.

Griggs is married but counts the LGBT community as part of the base of his support.

Joseph Hernandez ran against Neumann in 2007. He served on the Landmark Commission and has known Griggs through their work at the city for eight years.

“The gay community is very tight knit and engaged and we know who our supporters are,” Hernandez said. “I believe he’s an advocate for us and would be very inclusive.”

Susan Melnick, who lives in District 3, said, “He and his wife are very progressive and he thinks outside the box.”
She called him thoughtful.

“Scott’s not going to just jump on the bandwagon,” she said. “He’s going to do his homework. ”

Melnick said she believes Griggs would always be very inclusive of the LGBT community.

“He’s always had gay and straight friends,” she said. “He’s very low-key. No ego there. I just adore him.”

Former Dallas Independent School Board member Jose Plata lives in the District and said he hasn’t been pleased with the representation of the incumbent and so is backing Griggs.

“Scott has a strong mind about strong neighborhoods,” Plata said. “Scott understands issues and would be a good spokesperson for the gay community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Anti-bullying bills top Equality Texas’ 2011 agenda

Despite the Republican super majority in the Texas House, advocates hope lawmakers will be too busy with redistricting, budget to push anti-gay measures

Tammye Nash  |  nash@dallasvoice.com

Standing-on-the-seal-2
WAITING FOR THEIR BUSY SEASON | Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, left, and Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will be spending a lot of time at the Texas Capitol once the 82nd Legislature convenes on Jan 11. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

November elections gave Republicans a 19-12 majority in the Texas Senate, while the elections plus defections by two Democrats gave the GOP a 101-49 majority in the Texas House.

In a state where the GOP platform calls for homosexuality to be recriminalized — among other anti-gay planks — such an overwhelming Republican majority would normally be really bad news for LGBT Texans.

But maybe not this year.

“We haven’t seen any anti-gay bills filed so far, and obviously, we hope we don’t see any during this session,” Chuck Smith, deputy director for Equality Texas, said during a December interview.

“If you look at an analysis of the [November election results], only four of the new Republicans taking office campaigned on social conservative issues. And none of them made those issues a top priority,” Smith said. “Most of the new people coming into the Legislature were elected based on issues of fiscal responsibility.”

Lawmakers were sworn in earlier this week and will convene the 82nd Legislature next Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Smith predicted that Texas lawmakers would spend the lion’s share of the session on two issues: passing a budget and redistricting.

The Texas Constitution requires that lawmakers, when they meet every other year, pass a LEGISLATURE balanced budget. And with a looming deficit of between $8 billion and $25 billion this year, that will be a difficult task indeed.

And, thanks to the ever-growing population of the state as recorded in the 2010 Census, Texas will be getting four new seats in Congress. That means lawmakers will also face a redistricting battle to make room for those new seats, and that’s never an easy fight.

“I believe the legislative session will be mostly consumed by the budget deficit and redistricting,” Smith said. “And there are several other contentious issues — things like immigration and reproductive rights — where numerous bills have already been prefiled. So I am not sure how much time for [lawmakers to consider] anything other than these hot-button issues.”

And that’s good for the LGBT community if it keeps at bay the kind of anti-gay measures that have been introduced in the past, like measures to prevent same-sex couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents.

But it could also keep the several pro-LGBT bills that have already been prefiled from getting consideration, too.

“I don’t think we will be as fortunate as we were in 2009 and get as many hearings [on pro-LGBT bills] as we did in 2009, when we had hearings on seven bills,” Smith said.

“I think we will have more good bills filed in 2011, but I think we will see a lot more of them get left pending,” he continued. “What bills get hearings and which ones get sent to the floor for a vote is all a function of the committee chairs and the make-up of the committees.”

Still, Smith said, he hopes that at least the issue tagged as Equality Texas’ top priority will get attention from lawmakers this year.

Former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat, introduced the first anti-bullying legislation has been on Equality Texas’LGBT-inclusive legislation — the Dignity for All Students Act — addressing bullying in Texas’ public schools back in 1997, and Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman has introduced the measure in every session since 2003. That bill was sent to the Public Education Committee in 2009, but never got a hearing.

But Smith said he hopes this year’s new crop of anti-bullying measures may have a better chance, given the attention focused on a recent string of highly-publicized incidents in which LGBT teens — or teens perceived as LGBT — committed suicide after being bullied persistently.

Legislation on bullying

Nine bills addressing bullying, including anti-LGBT bullying, have been prefiled, including, for the first time, nearly identical comprehensive measures in both legislative chambers.

“It would be accurate to say that the current Texas Education Code does not have a modern-day definition of bullying and doesn’t include adequate information on what it is and what to do when it happens,” Smith said.

Fort Worth’s Democratic senator, Wendy Davis, has filed two bills — SB 242 and SB 245 — addressing bullying. The bills define bullying as “engaging in written or verbal expression or physical conduct, including an action motivated by a perceived imbalance of power based on another student’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior or beliefs” that harms a student or a student’s property, or places that student in “reasonable fear of harm” to themselves or their property.

The definition also says that bullying is behavior that is “sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive enough” to create an “intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student,” to interfere with a student’s education opportunities or disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

The bill also specifically includes cyberbullying, defining it as “bullying that is done using electronic communication, including electronic media,” and specifically covers bullying that occurs not only at school or during school-sponsored trips or events, but also behavior occurring away from school and school-sponsored events.

Dennis-Coleman-hi-contrast
BACK TO THE FUTURE | Since the weak economy forced Equality Texas to make staffing cuts, new Executive Director Dennis Coleman said the organization is going back to its original model, in which the executive director focuses on lobbying as well as fundraising. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

SB 242 also requires school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and to prohibit retaliation against anyone reporting a bullying incident, as well as requiring school districts to develop strategies and training for faculty and staff on dealing with bullying.

SB 245 would amend Section 21.451(d) of the Texas Education Code to include requirements for training of educators in “preventing, identifying, responding to and reporting” incidents of bullying. It also would amend Section 39.306(a) to require an annual “statement of the number, rate and type of incidents of bullying, including cyberbullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination against any student on the basis of the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, national origin or disability of the alleged perpetrator or victim that occurred on each district campus.”

Both Davis’ and Strama’s bills would “do a number of things,” Smith said, aimed at correcting current shortcomings in the Texas Education Code in addressing bullying.

Rep. Mark Strama, an Austin Democrat, has filed HB 224 which is “nearly identical” to Davis’ Senate bills, but which does not include “gender identity and expression” in the section requiring collection of data of bullying incidents that occur.

“Our preferred bill is Wendy Davis’ bill in the Senate,” Smith said. “We want as much data collected as possible, and we want legislation that provides clear guidance into the future on what the school districts need to do to be the most effective in addressing bullying.

“We’d like to see [both bills] read the same way, both have those four words in there — ‘gender identity and expression,’” he added.

Six other bills addressing bullying have also already been filed, but Smith said none are as comprehensive as either Davis’ or Strama’s bills.

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, filed HB 24, Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, introduced HB 170, both of which would also remove bullies from the general classroom and put them in a “disciplinary alternative education program.”

Smith said, however, that Equality Texas is not “just looking to make the bullies the bad guys,” and would prefer legislation that provides counseling or some other help for bullies as well as those who are bullied.

Also in the House, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, introduced HB 130, which would create a bullying hotline.

In the Legislature’s other house, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has introduced two bills addressing bullying: SB 42 adds the word cyberbullying to existing Texas Education Code sections addressing bullying, and SB 49 would require that parents of students transferred to an disciplinary alternative education program be notified of the incidents prompting the move.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has introduced SB 205, which would add certain requirements to the Texas Education Code’s Code of Conduct.

“All these other bills deal with just bits and pieces of the problem,” Smith noted. “None are as comprehensive as Davis’ and Strama’s bills.”

Other bills Equality Texas supports

Smith said lawmakers have again filed three bills that were “part of Equality Texas’ agenda in the 2009 session,” Smith said. But he again added that he doesn’t expect to see any positive action on them this year, either, given the partisan makeup of the Legislature and the likely focus on the budget and redistricting.

The three bills are each authored by lawmakers long considered staunch allies of the LGBT community.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, has filed HB 172 that would create a study on the effectiveness of the Texas hate crime law. Dallas Democratic Rep. Roberto Alonso has filed HB 208, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in insurance, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, another Dallas Democrat, has filed HB 415, which would allow birth certificates to be corrected so that same-sex couples who adopt could have both their names on their child’s birth certificate.

Changes within Equality Texas

Despite Smith’s prediction that budget woes and redistricting worries will keep lawmakers away from any anti-gay bills, the conservative majority in the Legislature this year could be a frightening specter for an advocacy organization that has recently undergone major changes.

Chuck-Smith
Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

The 82nd will be the first legislative session for new Executive Director Dennis Coleman, who left his position as South Central regional director of Lambda Legal last summer to replace Paul Scott as head of Equality Texas. In addition, the recession and the continuing weak economy has forced the organization to cut back on staff.

The former political director, Randall Terrell, is gone, and the staff is down to just three: Coleman, Smith and Operations Manager Allison Jones. Coleman said there are also two interns already working with the organization, “and a third will be coming on.”

Scott, during his tenure, tended to focus on fundraising and maintaining the structure and operations of Equality Texas, while Smith and Terrell put most of their efforts into lobbying and working with lawmakers. Interns and other employees were there to pick up the slack.

But Coleman said recently he firmly believes that, with the help of and active and determined board of directors, the organization can be efficient and effective.

“Up until they hired Randall Terrell, this organization had always functioned without a political director, and they did a very effective job. Plus, Randall was only here for one [legislative] session,” Coleman said. “This organization has a history of the executive director being the chief face of the lobbying effort, and I think we can go back to that and be just fine.”

Board Co-Chair Anne Wynne has experience as a lobbyist, and North Texans Jeanne Rubin and Paul Tran, on the board’s “strong and diverse” legislative committee, have the experience and dedication to “make sure we stay connected at the Capitol and when [lawmakers] go back to their home districts,” Coleman said.

“I definitely have a strong enough board, especially on the legislative side, for us not to miss a beat,” he added. “We will be able to move forward with the structure we have and feel confident in getting bills passed.”

The groundwork for passing anti-bullying bills has already been laid, Coleman said. But in the event that the organization “gets to the point on introducing new, we will consider hiring a contract lobbyist. But since the Legislature only meets every two years, the question is, do we really need a fulltime lobbyist?”

Despite the financial straits of the past two years, Coleman said that monthly donations have begun to increase again, and Equality Texas also recently received a challenge grant from The Gill Foundation “challenging us to raise $25,000 in monthly donations.”

“The board has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to fundraising, which allows the staff to focus on doing what needs to be done at the Capitol,” he said.

Coleman said Equality Texas’ leaders will, in the coming months, be looking at new ways to “beef up our field work and to bring in the cash to, say, deploy someone to work on a ballot initiative in El Paso, or something like that. Our job is to find out how we can make the largest impact with the resources we have.”

Coleman also noted that Equality Texas’ Lobby Day is set for March 7, and that this month he and his staff and board “will start reaching out the community to come to Austin to lobby that day. Stonewall Democrats will be [in Austin] for their annual retreat at the same time. We are reaching out to LULAC, to Log Cabin Republicans — we’re reaching out to everyone to come to Austin that day.

“This is an exciting time for us,” Coleman continued. “There is legislation already introduced that we really have a chance of passing this year. And the more diverse we can be in our efforts to lobby our legislators, the better chance we have.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Query • 11.12.10

What should be the top priority for the new Congress?

………………………….

Mike Weaver — “Health care.”

Keith Grogan — “Stop bankrupting the country.”

Scott Ewing — “I know it won’t happen but it should be green energy. In one issue, we could: re-establish our manufacturing base, create jobs, clean our air and water and secure our energy future.”

Juston Roemisch — “Compromise. Neither side is fully right on any issue and they need to stop acting like bratty children and work together.”

Beth Schatz — “Work on economic issues, even though the economy is improving in some sectors, there are still too many people hurting.”

………………………………

Have a suggestion for a question you’d like us to ask?
E-mail it to nash@dallasvoice.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

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

Early voting begins today for midterm elections, with plenty at stake for the LGBT community

Many LGBT advocates and activists were thrilled two years ago when Barack Obama — a man who said he supported legal federal recognition of same-sex civil unions, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” and who pledged to be a “fierce advocate” for the LGBT community — was elected president.

Since President Obama was taking office at a time when the Democratic Party — which tends to be, overall, more progressive on LGBT issues — controlled both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, LGBT advocates were looking forward to seeing big progress very quickly. And in fact, Obama has included a number of LGBT and LGBT-supportive individiuals in his administration. He did issue an executive order that granted partner benefits to LGBT federal employees. He did sign into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law (one of the top priority issues on the LGBT community’s list for several years).

But many of those same activists who were so tickled to see Obama elected have begun losing faith that the president has a real commitment to LGBT equality. ENDA continues to languish. Repeal of DADT went down in flames in the Senate and lesbian and gay servicemembers continue to be discharged. And the Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, has continued to appeal court rulings favorable to the LGBT community on issues like DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps, many feel, the “fierce advocate” isn’t so fiercely on our side, after all. And yet, would a Republican-controlled Congress make it any easier to get our issues fairly addressed? Democrats warn that not only would we make no further progress with the Republicans in charge, we might also lose some of advances we have made so far.

However you feel about it, the midterm elections next month will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the future of efforts like passage of ENDA and DADT. Many pundits expect the Republicans to win control of at least the House of Representatives, if not both the House AND the Senate.

And that’s not even taking into account the importance of races from the county level on up to the state level, where Republican incumbent Rick Perry is fighting a hard battle against Democratic challenger Bill White in the race for Texas governor. And what about the Texas Legislature? Will the LGBT community have enough allies there to pass a safe schools bill that would address anti-gay bullying, or to at least fend off recurring efforts to keep same-sex couples from adopting or being foster parents?

Those are just a few of the races that will be determined in this election, and all of them impact our community in some way. And your vote can make the difference when it comes to who will represent you in county, state and federal government.

Election Day isn’t until Nov. 2. But early voting starts today. Dallas Morning News reported today that Dallas County residents appear to be voting at a higher pace than the last midterm elections four years ago, and that Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet is predicting an overall turnout of about 40 percent this year.

So why not go on and vote now and avoid the Election Day rush?

Do you need to know where to go to early vote? Are you wondering which precinct or district you are in? Do you know if your voter’s registration is still valid? There are online sites that can help.

If you live in Dallas County, go here for information on early voting sites and hours and for information about who represents you, specifically, at the county, state and federal levels. That same information is available for Tarrant County residents here. The state of Texas also has a site with information for voters, and you can find it here.

And if you don’t live in Dallas or Tarrant counties, just do a search online for your county’s elections site.

Remember, our government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” But if you want your voice to count, then you have to vote.

—  admin

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Equality Texas issues action alert on bullying

As school gets under way and Equality Texas gears up for the 2011 legislative session, the statewide gay-rights organization is calling on members to contact their representatives and ask them to support LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation. From the Action Alert:

Under current law, students are not specifically protected from bullying and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Current law does not establish a uniform state school conduct policy and does not provide for monitoring or enforcement of independent school district policies.

For the third legislative session, Equality Texas will be working to pass safe schools legislation. It will not pass until lawmakers know it is a top priority for their constituents. During the 81st Legislative Session, Rep. Mark Strama filed a bill relating to safe schools for all youth. While it was voted favorably out of committee, it died on the the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. Will this be the session to finally pass a safe schools bill?

As of this morning, Equality Texas reported that only 68 of 150 representatives had been contacted via the online advocacy campaign. To contact your representative, go here.

Also, while perusing the Equality Texas website, we couldn’t help but notice another recent advocacy campaign that we’d somehow missed in the wake of the Prop 8 ruling. It’s a fundraising letter from Equality Texas that calls attention to the need for advocacy right here at home and, to illustrate the point, highlights some differences between Texas and California:

TEXAS
•    No form of statewide relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
•    Allows employers to legally discriminate against LGBT Texans.
•    Does not have a safe schools law that explicitly addresses sexual orientation and gender identity.
•    Does not permit a same-sex partner to make a medical decision on behalf of his/her incapacitated partner in the absence of an advance directive.
•    No clear adoption laws. Courts have used a parent’s sexual orientation to deny, restrict or modify custody and visitation.
•    Hate crimes law explicitly includes “sexual preference.” No provision of Texas law explicitly addresses gender identity.

CALIFORNIA
•    Allows same-sex domestic partners to register and to receive essentially all of the rights and benefits of married couples under state law.
•    Prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, appearance and behavior in the areas of employment (public and private), housing and public accommodations.
•    Protects students from discrimination and hate violence on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
•    Allows same-sex domestic partners to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner. Domestic partners and their children are specifically granted hospital visitation rights.
•    Permits a same-sex couple to jointly petition to adopt.
•    Hate crime law covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

—  John Wright

W hotel responds to alleged anti-gay incidents

Malcolm Gage

Thomas Caramucci, general manager of the W Dallas – Victory hotel, issued a statement Sunday responding to our inquiry about two alleged anti-gay incidents at the hotel on Friday night following the Lady Gaga concert at the American Airlines Center. Both incidents reportedly involved the same off-duty Dallas police officer who was working security at the hotel. Derrick Brown, chair of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, alleges that the off-duty officer used excessive force by choking him during a confrontation that occurred as Brown was making his way to Ghostbar, inside the W. Another gay man, Malcolm Gage, said his group was unfairly denied access to the hotel when they tried to visit friends who were staying there. Brown and Gage, who are both black, indicated that they planned to file an internal affairs complaint against the officer today.

“Thank you for reaching out to us,” Caramucci said in an e-mail sent Sunday. “We are aware of the incident and are currently looking further into the details of the situation, in cooperation with the Dallas Police Department. Please know that the safety and comfort of our guests is our top priority and any and all situations receive our utmost attention. Again, thanks for your inquiry. As you are aware W Dallas – Victory and the W brand are a strong supporters of the LGBT community and we appreciate the opportunity to respond.”

It’s worth noting that Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which owns the W Dallas -Victory, received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2010. Stay tuned to Instant Tea and Dallas Voice for details about the investigation.

—  John Wright