Trans activists speak at Commissioners Court

NOT THE SAME | Transgender activist Kelli Ann Busey addresses the Dallas County Commissioners Court, asking that specific protections for trans employees be added to the county’s policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LGBT advocates urge Commissioners Court to add protections for transgender Dallas County employees to nondiscrimination ordinance

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Three members of the LGBT community spoke Tuesday morning, April 5, during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s regular meeting, calling on the court to add protections for transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

Transgender activist Kelli Ann Busey commended the court for adding sexual orientation to the policy covering the county’s 7,000 employees a few weeks ago. But she said the court did not go far enough with that effort.

“Transgender people are not the same as gay people,” Busey said. “We need to be protected differently.”

Busey said many transgender people are homeless after transitioning, often because of discrimination against them in the workplace.

“Without workplace protections, we cannot live up to our potential,” she said.

Dave Guy-Gainer spoke on behalf of Equality Texas. He told the commissioners about a poll conducted by Glengariff Group that sampled registered voters in Texas on 12 rights as they pertain to the LGBT community.

“According to the poll, 70 percent of all Texas voters support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens,” he said.

Gainer said that over the past three election cycles, Dallas County has voted for progressive government. He called Dallas County a leader for other jurisdictions across the area as well as nationally.

Pam Curry, who is transgender, told the court she is a former part-time Dallas County employee.

“I was bothered when the non-discrimination policy was passed and I was not included,” Curry said, going on to explain the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I urge the court to move quickly to correct the oversight,” she said.

Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas, spoke at the Commissioners Court meeting the previous week and by the court’s rules is barred from speaking again for a month. But McDonnell promised to keep the issue before the court by lining up speakers for each weekly meeting.

McDonnell also forwarded to Dallas Voice a copy of an email he received from County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“I believe in equality for all,” Jenkins wrote to McDonnell. “The new non-discrimination language was formulated by the county’s human resources department at my request and was intended to prohibit discrimination against anyone. Our HR director informs me that her interpretation of sexual orientation includes gender identity and gender expression.  Therefore, under our current policy, discrimination will not be tolerated.

“Many people share your concern that the policy needs to be changed to specifically state that gender identity and expression are included. I have requested an opinion from the District Attorney’s office about adding identity language to the county code and its overall impact; the first step in a proposed change,” Jenkins wrote.

“The vote that passed last month is a positive step, which I consider a victory, and I am asking for your faith and patience as the process moves forward,” Jenkins added.

On Monday, April 4, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Commissioners Court to add transgender protections, according to President Omar Narvaez.

The resolution pointed out that “comprehensive nondiscrimination policies, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, decrease costs for employers, decrease regrettable loss, raise productivity, and increase recruiting efficiency,” and “will serve to further the goals of economic development, marketplace competition, and improved quality of life.”

Staff writer John Wright contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

LGBT Democrats meet to strategize for the future

Texas Stonewall Democrats assess 2010 ‘ass-whipping’ at the polls during weekend meeting}

See related slideshow here

 

From Staff Reports

editor@dallasvoice.com

Members of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus from all across the state met in Austin on March 5-6 to assess the “ass-whipping” Democrats took at the polls last November and to develop messaging and other strategies for winning in 2012, according to caucus president Dan Graney.

Keynote speakers were openly bisexual Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and national transgender activist Mara Keisling.

Sinema warned Texas Democrats that “Arizona is coming to a state near you,” calling her home state the breeding ground for the anti-immigrant, anti-choice, anti-worker’s rights and anti-children’s health care measures currently being proposed in many state legislatures, including Texas.

Sinema called the spreading efforts an attempt by the Tea Party to “mainstream hatred in this country,” adding that “Tea Party” is just another name for Republicans.

Sinema said Democrats must build coalitions to stop such legislation, and encouraged LGBT Democrats to reach out to even unlikely allies to get — and give — support.

“After all, LGBT people make up only 4 percent of the electorate and you need 50 percent plus one to win,” Sinema said, who stayed after her speech to autograph copies of her book, “Unite And Conquer: Building Coalitions That Win — And Last.”

Keisling, mixing healthy dose of humor in with her experience and expertise, urged LGBT Democrats to move outside their “issue silos” and talk about racism, immigration and other progressive issues. She jokingly referred to former President George W. Bush and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as her “prior husbands” and referred to the Tea Party as a reincarnation of the John Birch Society.

Keisling expressed little hope for the advancement of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act over the next two years, saying that the measure is dead for now thanks to the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Other guest speakers at the conference included Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie, Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman and state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

Villarreal led a plenary session that included an analysis of the November 2010 election and small group sessions to develop messaging for the 2012 election. A second plenary session, led by TSDC Vice President Erin Moore and Rio Grande Valley Chapter President Eli Olivarez, focused on winning strategies for the 2012 election.

Awards were presented to Houston LGBT activist Brad Pritchett,  Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. The conference also included a TSDC executive board meeting and workshops on a variety of topics, such as building a bigger club and youth involvement and use of social media.

Many who attended the conference stayed to participate in Equality Texas Lobby Day on Monday, March 7.

A total of 70 LGBT Democrats and straight allies from across the state registered for the conference. There was representation at the conference from all nine active chapters statewide, including many young people, as well as from Galveston and Tyler.

For more information about the conference, go online to  TexasStonewalldemocrats.org

.

—  Kevin Thomas

Alleged serial killer linked to 5 strangulations in Houston, including two transgender women

Lucky Ward

Houston police have arrested a man they say is responsible for five murders last year, including two in which the victims were transgender women. Lucky Ward, 46, is a serial killer who targeted those he perceived as vulnerable, according to police.

Ward’s victims included Gypsy Rodriguez, 40, of Houston, a transgender woman who was found dead Sept. 13; and Myra D. Ical, 51, a trans woman who was found dead Jan. 18, 2010. Both women were murdered near Houston’s heavily LGBT Montrose area.

The Houston Chronicle has published a story that identifies Rodriguez and Ical by their male birth names, refers to them with male pronouns and calls them “men who dressed as women.” Meghan Stabler, a transgender activist from Houston, said on her Facebook page that she’s asked the newspaper to correct the story.

—  John Wright

Top 10: Controversy brewed success for ‘TOTWK’

TOTWK
UNDER ATTACK | Director Israel Luna, center, is shown with Jenna Skyy, left, and Krystal Summers, two of the stars of his ‘Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives.’

No. 6:

View all of the Top 10

Gay Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna has been building his reputation behind the camera since he wrote and directed his first feature film, Str8 Up, in 2001. His subsequent films — including The Deadbeat Club, RU Invited and Fright Flick — secured his place in the Dallas filmmaking community and made him a regular on the independent film festival circuit.

But it wasn’t until the early part 2010 and the release of his latest, the “transploitation” flick Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, that Luna got a taste of the kind of fame that filmmakers long for. And it was due, in large part, to the protests of an angry transgender activist with nothing good to say about either Luna or his movie.

If Luna wanted attention, he got it, especially from local trans activist Kelli Busey, who at first protested the use of the word “trannies” — a word considered by many to be a pejorative term for trans women — but soon expanded her objections to include the movie’s content, which includes have trans women who have been bashed taking their revenge in a most brutal fashion.
Busey, who acknowledged never having watched the movie and refused Luna’s invitations to attend a screening, said the film painted trans women as psychotic killers who all have silly names, engage in campy dialog and work as “drag” performers. She said the film’s transphobic attitude was a reflection of Luna’s — and many gay men’s — own transphobia.

When, in mid-March, Luna announced that TOTWK had been chosen for the prestigious TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, Busey turned to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for help in spreading protests against the film. GLAAD soon called for a boycott of Luna’s movie, and called on officials with TriBeCa to rescind their invitation.

TriBeCa officials responded with a reasonably polite but thoroughly firm “no” to GLAAD’s demands, and screenings of TOTWK at the festival not only drew sell-out crowds but received, for the most part, positive reviews — despite protests staged outside the screenings by transgender activists.

In June, Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film fest also screened TOTWK, and again, the movie drew protesters, this time led by Busey herself.

Yet again, though, the screenings sold out, and Q Cinema organizers put together a panel discussion of trans issues after one of them.

The panel included Fort Worth trans woman Tori Van Fleet who had initially agreed with Busey and was opposed to the movie.

Van Fleet, however, agreed to watch the movie before forming an opinion, and she came out of the first Q Cinema screening as a fan of both TOTWK and filmmaker Luna.

Luna’s movie went on to win spots in numerous festivals — including Seattle International Film Festival, Philadelphia Q Fest and Telluride Horror Shows — and audience favorite awards at many of those screenings.

As icing on the cake, in late July Luna reached a distribution deal with Breaking Glass Pictures that put the film on even more big screens through a limited theatrical run of midnight screenings that began in October, and a DVD release in November.

Earlier in the year, Busey turned her attention to an eventually successful effort to convince Dallas Area Rapid Transit to extend protections to its transgender workers, and she continues her trans advocacy online.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Houston LGBTs to celebrate anniversary of repeal of ordinance banning cross-dressing

Phyllis Frye

Back when I was in junior high school — the early to mid 1970s — our school had a dress code that prohibited girls from wearing pants with rear pockets. See, pants that had pockets on the back were “boy” pants, and girls weren’t allowed to wear “boy” pants.

Having always been a jeans kind of gal myself, I broke that rule often. And I got in trouble for it more than once.

But obviously, my rural, smalltown junior high school wasn’t the only place that had such rules. Most cities had ordinances that prohibited cross-dressing. My old friend, the late Joe Elliott, told me that in the ’60s when she was a dyke about town, the butch lesbians always had to be careful not to dress too masculine in public, or they would be arrested. And I have heard drag queens talk about how they had to make sure to wear men’s underwear under their dresses to avoid arrest.

These ordinances were usually used by police to justify harassment of “the queers,” especially the transgenders and the butch lesbians. Such was the case in Houston, where next weekend the Transgender Foundation of America will hold an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the repeal of that city’s “no cross-dressing” ordinance.

Lou Weaver, who is on the TFA board, sent out an e-mail Wednesday announcing the event.

“This is not a joke!” Weaver wrote. “At that time women were expected to have their zippers on the side or in the back, otherwise, they were cross-dressing. This led to constant harrassment and several arrests for trans identified women, lesbians and anyone else the vice squad did not approve of.”

Well-known Houston attorney transgender activist Phyllis Frye led the three-and-a-half-year-long battle to get the ordinance repealed, and she will be on hand at the event to “share stories about fighting for transgender rights,” Weaver said. One of those stories is Frye’s account, following, about how they slipped the repeal vote past the homophobes/transphobes:

“On August the 12th, 1980, after several delay-tags that were put on to the repeal ordinance, it was again before Council. At the time, our Mayor was Jim McConn. He was out of town, as was Jim Westmoreland. McConn knew that it was coming up on the agenda, and he had told the Mayor pro tem for that day, Johnny Goyen, that it was alright with him. City Secretary, Anna Russell, waited until Council members Homer Ford and Larry McKaskell were on the phone. When they got on the phone, she immediately handed the repeal to Johnny. You see, the deal is that under council rules if you’re present and you don’t vote no, then it’s an automatic yes vote. Homer and Larry were on the phone. They didn’t even know what was going on. There was only one no vote, and that was Council member Christen Hartung, she was the sole and only no vote. I still hope that somebody will beat her. Homer and Larry went to Johnny about five minutes later, and Johnny says, ‘oh, I didn’t know that was going through.’ The ordinance was repealed and it has remained so to this day.”

The anniversary event will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14, at 604 Pacific in Houston. Everyone is welcome. Food will be provided but bring your own beer and wine.

Today, we celebrate a court victory over Prop 8 in California and move one step closer to eventual full marriage equality in this country. But as you celebrate remember that just 30 years ago, butch lesbians in Houston couldn’t wear zip-up Levis without risking arrest.

So if you are in Houston next weekend, go on over to 604 Pacific on Saturday afternoon and celebrate  a significant historical victory. And if you’re not in Houston, well, take a minute that day to stop and say a silent thank-you to those men and women, like Phyllis, who were willing to stand up and fight the good fight when it was much more dangerous to do so, and win the battles that make it possible for us to live as openly and freely as we do today.

—  admin

Trans activist robbed, beaten in apparent hate crime at Houston Community College

Lance Reyna (Houston Chronicle)

A transgender activist and student at Houston Community College was beaten and robbed at knifepoint Tuesday in what he says was a hate crime, The Houston Chronicle reports.

Lance Reyna, 29, says his attacker uttered a sexual epithet in a “flamboyant,” mocking tone before putting a knife to his throat in a campus bathroom. Reyna is well known on campus as a trans activist. Reyna suffered a concussion and lost his wallet. His credit cards were later used for purchases. The attack occurred days before this weekend’s Houston Pride celebration.

Reyna told the Chronicle he believes the attack should be prosecuted under Texas’ hate crimes law, but there are two problems here. One, the 2001 law doesn’t cover transgender people, and two, aggravated robbery is already a first-degree felony, meaning there is no sentencing enhancement available.

What the Chronicle’s story doesn’t say is that the crime could and should be prosecuted under the federal hate crimes law passed in October. In fact, one of the biggest benefits to the federal law for people in Texas is that it covers trans people, whereas state law does not.

We spoke with Randall Terrell, political director at Equality Texas, about the case this morning. Terrell agreed the case would be difficult to prosecute under state law.

“If the guy believes that any transgender person is also gay and that’s why he attacked, there may be a sexual orientation element in there,” he said. “But if it’s just because of gender identity, it’s going to be hard to prosecute.”

Terrell also agreed that the feds can intervene because the new hate crimes law calls for that when a state lacks jurisdiction, which is the case in Texas when it comes to gender identity. A federal prosecution could carry an additional penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

—  John Wright

DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

—  admin