Gay Travis County sheriff candidate talks about changing county’s immigration stance, diversity

John Sisson

John Sisson, a gay Democratic candidate for Travis County sheriff, is up against incumbent Sheriff Greg Hamilton in the May 29 primary. Hamilton is running for his third term.

Former Sheriff Raymond Frank is the only candidate running on the Republican ticket. He was sheriff from 1973 to 1980.

Despite going up against an incumbent, Sisson said that he is faring well and received the endorsement of Stonewall Democrats of Austin.

After two marriages, Sisson came out as gay six years ago while working as a lieutenant for the Austin Police Department. Although he was talked about among his co-workers, Sisson said the talk eventually died down and he does not think his sexuality will be a target in the race.

“I am gay and I’m out. They’re fine with it,” he said. “Back in 1978 when I joined the police department, you just didn’t come out because you couldn’t get backup, they wouldn’t talk to you, they would treat you differently. And so I basically didn’t have enough guts to be who I really wanted to be.”

—  Anna Waugh

CHART: The 30 gayest cities in Texas (revised)

A while back we told you how the estimated number of same-sex couples in Texas had gone way down — not because they’re all getting divorced right under AG Greg Abbott’s nose, but due to issues with 2010 Census forms.

When the Census Bureau released its revised (or “preferred”) estimates from the biennial survey last month, the number of same-sex couples in Texas dropped by about 21,000 statewide, or more than 30 percent.

Until today, though, we didn’t fully know how the revised estimates would break down for cities and counties across the state. But thanks to UCLA’s Williams Institute, we now have those figures, too.

As you can see in the chart at right (click to enlarge), despite losing a total of more than 1,000 same-sex couples under the revised estimates, Dallas remains the city with the highest rate in Texas. And Travis County remains the county with the highest rate of hitched gays (Dallas County is No. 2).

You can check out the Williams’ Institutes full report on the revised statistics for Texas here, or view a press release after the jump.

So which city was the biggest loser for same-sex couples under the revised estimates? That would take some figuring, but it might just be Hutto, a small town east of Round Rock in Williamson County. Under the old estimates, Hutto was No. 7 in the state for most same-sex couples per 1,000 households. Under the new ones, it’s nowhere in the top 85. Oops.

—  John Wright

MAP: The fastest-growing gay counties in Texas

The Austin-American Statesman put together the below map for a story that ran this weekend about recently released 2010 Census data on same-sex couples. The story notes that Travis County’s percentage of same-sex couple households is the highest in the state and 13th highest in the country. Which, coincidentally, is precisely where Dallas stands among cities. Of course, these figures include only same-sex couples, and as Tisha so eloquently reminded us in the comments, “just imagine if they could count all the gay sluts in Dallas.”

—  John Wright

Equality Texas: Austin murders were hate crime

Jose Alfonso Aviles

When a man fatally shot his daughter’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s mother in Austin on Monday, there’s no doubt it was an anti-gay hate crime, according to Equality Texas.

“Two women have been murdered because one of them was a lesbian,” the statewide LGBT advocacy group said in a statement about the murders today. “Equality Texas can emphatically state that these homicides were a hate crime.”

As we reported Tuesday night, 45-year-old Jose Alfonso Aviles is charged with capital murder for fatally shooting 24-year-old Norma Hurtado and her mother, 57-year-old Maria Hurtado, on Monday night. According to authorities, Aviles committed the murders because he was angry that his daughter was in a lesbian relationship with Norma Hurtado.

Although the incident appears to have been an anti-gay hate crime, Equality Texas says it can’t be prosecuted as one. That’s because under Texas’ hate crimes statute, there is no penalty enhancement available to prosecutors since the charges are already capital felonies. From the group’s statement:

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is imperative that we acknowledge that these murders were a bias-motivated hate crime. It is important to acknowledge that the City of Austin and Travis County, in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, convened a Hate Crimes Task Force in December, 2010.  Equality Texas is a working member of this Task Force, which seeks to create a forum that fosters open dialogue about hate and discrimination and strengthens the bonds of our community through prevention, response and restoration.

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is important that we acknowledge pending legislation that would seek to address the barriers to prosecution of hate crimes under the Texas James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 by State Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth would require the Texas Attorney General to conduct a study to examine the success of our Hate Crimes Act and identify barriers to the effective use of, and prosecution under, the Act.  HB 172 is pending in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

Norma Hurtado

Also, the Austin American-Statesman has a follow-up today that provides more details about the murders, including an answer to one of our biggest questions: How old was the suspect’s daughter? According to the Statesman, she had just turned 18. Note that the age of consent in Texas is 17. From the Statesman:

The daughter told police that she and Norma Hurtado had been involved in a lesbian relationship, which her father did not approve of, and that there had been disturbances between Aviles and Norma Hurtado, according to an arrest affidavit. An online records search for those incidents turned up a report of a sexual assault in September and a family disturbance in October; however, police did not release details of the incidents.

The American-Statesman is not identifying the daughter.

The affidavit said a witness told police that the daughter’s parents would send threatening text messages to Norma Hurtado. In one message, Aviles threatened to kill Hurtado and her mother, the document says.

“She stated that (the girlfriend’s) parents have sent text messages threatening Norma because of this relationship,” the witness, a friend of Norma Hurtado’s, told police. About a month ago, the witness “saw a text message from (Aviles) to Norma in which (he) threatened to kill both Norma and her mother,” police said.

Watch the Statesman’s footage of the police press conference about the case below below:

—  John Wright

Police: Austin man killed daughter’s girlfriend, girlfriend’s mother over lesbian relationship

Norma Hurtado

Horribly tragic news tonight out of Austin, where authorities say a man killed his daughter’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s mother because he was upset that his daughter was in a lesbian relationship. The Austin American-Statesman reports:

Jose Alfonso Aviles, 45, has been charged with capital murder and was arrested early this morning in Bexar County by the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, said Lt. Gena Curtis. Aviles lives in Austin, but was found in San Antonio, police said.

Aviles’ daughter had been dating 24-year-old Norma Hurtado for several months, which was the source of feuding between the Aviles and Hurtado families, Curtis said.

The daughter told police that she was “in a lesbian relationship which her father did not approve of.”

Aviles and another Hispanic man, who has not been identified, went to the Hurtado’s home at the 7100 block of Dixie Drive late Monday and knocked on the door, Curtis said. Moments later, Aviles’ daughter, who was in the home, heard gun shots and found that Hurtado and Hurtado’s mother, 57-year-old Maria Hurtado, had been shot, police said.

Both women died at the scene, police said.

KVUE reports that Aviles’ daughter was in the back of the home when the shootings occurred. She heard the shots, found the bodies and called 911. Police are still trying to locate the second man involved in the killings. Watch the report above.

The San Antonio Express-News has more on Aviles’ arrest:

Officials had been searching for several hours for a Nissan Altima that Aviles was believed to have been driving and found it in a car port in the Bexar County community of St. Hedwig early Tuesday, Hogeland said.

About 30 San Antonio police officers and U.S. Marshals, backed by canines and SAPD’s helicopter Blue Eagle, surrounded Aviles around 3:30 a.m., officials said, and he surrendered.

Police say it will be up to the District Attorney’s Office whether to prosecute the case as a hate crime. Although Travis County has a lesbian district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, we’d say it’s unlikely that will happen. Texas’ hate crimes statute includes “sexual preference.” However, under the statute, there is no penalty enhancement available to prosecutors if the crime is already a capital felony. In other words, the DA’s office would have nothing to gain from prosecuting the case as a hate crime, but it could increase their burden of proof.

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay measures filed in Texas House

Dennis Coleman

As deadline looms, Chisum files bill to give AG more time to intervene in same-sex divorce case; Workman files resolution urging Obama to defend DOMA

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Just before the Texas Legislature’s deadline for filing new bills passed last week, one anti-gay measure and one hostile resolution were filed in the House of Representatives. It was the first time in six years that anti-gay measures have been introduced.

Rep. Paul Workman, a freshman Republican who represents the southwest corner of Travis County, introduced a resolution to urge U.S. President Barack Obama to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. In February, the president directed Attorney General Eric Holder to stop defending DOMA in court.

So far the resolution, known as HCR 110, has no Senate counterpart bill.

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said a resolution doesn’t need a committee hearing before going to the floor. The resolution was added to the LGBT lobby group’s tracking list, but Coleman did not express concern.

“So far, we don’t see it as having any traction,” he said.

Rep. Warren Chisum, whose district covers part of the Panhandle and is known as one of the most conservative members of the House, has filed a bill to give the Texas attorney general more time to intervene in same-sex divorce cases.

The move comes after Texas AG Greg Abbott tried to intervene in the divorce of a lesbian couple in Austin but was declared ineligible by an appeals court because he had missed the deadline.

This bill would give that office up to 90 days after a divorce is settled to intervene.

Coleman laughed and said, “It was introduced because [the attorney general] missed the window. We want to give him more time so he doesn’t miss the window again.”

Coleman said that it was interesting that a legislature that was elected to get government out of people’s lives was considering bills that interfered more when it came to the lives of gays and lesbians.

Known as HB 2638, the bill has no co-sponsors and has not been referred to committee yet. A Senate counterpart was not been filed.

Now that the filing period for new bills has ended, Coleman said his organization’s main concern is amendments that could weaken pending legislation or add anti-LGBT measures to other laws.

Anti-bullying bills

Several bills addressing bullying have been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. But not all those bills have gained ringing endorsements from LGBT activists, while the two that had advocates most hopeful have been stripped of language enumerating protected categories.

Sen. Wendy Davis and Rep. Mark Strama authored identical bills that have been amended and are now known as CS (Committee Substitute) SB 242 and CS HB 224. A House committee has already heard the bill. Coleman said that most of the testimony supported the bill and only two groups spoke in opposition.

Coleman said that as a result of the recent LGBT Lobby Day, Rep. Alma Allen of Houston has signed on as a new co-sponsor. He has spoken to others in both the House and Senate about adding their names.

Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston introduced another anti-bullying bill in the House known as Asher’s Law, in memory of Asher Brown, a Houston 13-year-old who committed suicide last September.

Asher’s Law would mandate creation of suicide prevention programs for junior, middle and high schools. It requires training for counselors, teachers, nurses, administrators, social workers, other staff and school district law enforcement to recognize bullying and know what to do to stop it. A report would be submitted to the legislature by Jan. 13, 2013.

The bill also defines cyberbullying in state law for the first time.

That bill was placed in the public health committee. Dennis Coleman liked that the legislature was treating suicide as a public health issue and thought the bill had a good chance to move to the House floor from committee.

He said legislators favoring anti-bully laws have told him that they need to continue to hear from constituents, especially from teachers and principals.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Rep. Workman loves 10th amendment, except when it protects gays from discrimination

Daniel Williams

By DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

HCR 110 by Rep. Paul Workman, R-Travis County, expresses the desire of the Texas Legislature for President Barack Obama to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against court challenges. DOMA was passed in 1996 by Congress. It prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage and allows individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

(HCR stands for “House Concurrent Resolution.” Concurrent resolutions must be passed by both the House and Senate and — in most cases — signed by the governor. They cannot create new laws but are used to express the will of the Legislature and, in some situations, to allow the Legislature to exercise its power. HCR 110 expresses the will of the Legislature for the executive branch of the federal government to take a particular course of action. If passed it would have no binding power over the president.)

—  admin

Another anti-gay measure filed in TX Legislature

Rep. Paul Workman

Fortunately, it’s just a meaningless, piece-of-crap concurrent resolution that isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s written on.

Rep. Paul Workman, R-Travis County, today filed HCR 110, which would urge President Barack Obama to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. The text of the resolution is not yet available on the Legislature’s website, but it sounds pretty self-explanatory. Obama’s administration, of course, has announced that it will no longer defend a section of DOMA in federal court because it’s unconstitutional. And while Workman’s resolution may be likely to pass, the Obama administration certainly isn’t going to pay it any attention. As such, it’s clearly just an attempt to score political points on the part of Workman and others who support it. Let’s just hope it’s not a sign of things to come as this year’s session proceeds. Last week, State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, filed a bill that would create a loophole for the Attorney General to block same-sex divorces. Although the main bill-filing deadline has passed, there’s always the danger of amendments.

If you’d like to tell Workman what you think of his resolution, you can e-mail him by going here, and the phone number for his Capitol office is 512-463-0652.

UPDATE: Here’s the full text:

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
WHEREAS, President Barack Obama took an oath to “preserve,
protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” but on
February 23, 2011, he instructed the U.S. Department of Justice to
stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage
Act; and
WHEREAS, The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was passed in
1996 with overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and
signed into law by then president Bill Clinton; DOMA consists of two
core provisions: it defines the words “marriage,” “spouse,”
“husband,” and “wife” wherever they appear in the U.S. Code as
referring only to the union of a man and a woman, and it defends the
right of each state to reject the redefinition of marriage that has
occurred in a handful of other states as a result of state court
decisions or legislation; and
WHEREAS, Nearly 40 states have enacted laws defending the
institution of marriage, and 31 have embraced traditional marriage
in their constitutions; the Texas Defense of Marriage Act was
signed by the governor in 2003, and the statute was solidified with
a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a
man and a woman, which was approved by voters in November 2005; and
WHEREAS, The constitutional role of the president of the
United States is to execute the laws, not adjudicate them; it is
well-established policy of the U.S. Department of Justice to defend
a federal statute unless no reasonable argument can be made in its
defense, but instead President Obama has unilaterally decided that
DOMA is unconstitutional; the constitutionality of this law should
be determined by the courts, not by the executive branch; now,
therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas
hereby respectfully urge the president of the United States to
order the U.S. Department of Justice to defend the
constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act; and, be it
further
RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward an
official copy of this resolution to the president of the United
States.

—  John Wright

Removal of LGBT references makes anti-bullying bills weaker, but more likely to pass

Daniel Williams

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Instant Tea reported Monday that the reporting requirement proposed by the “big” anti-bullying bills (HB 224, SB 245) will be amended so that the provision that school districts file annual reports on instances of bullying in enumerated categories will now only require a report — with the specifics to be determined by the Texas Education Commission (TEA).

(HB 224 has been filed in the House, SB 245 in the Senate. The bills are nearly identical. It is common practice to file the same legislation in both the House and the Senate. Doing so allows bills to be considered by both sides simultaneously which can speed the process of a bill becoming a law. Since the Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days speed is crucial in passing any law.)

HB 224 (by Strama, D-Travis County) currently would require districts to specify in their annual reports if instances of bullying were based on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability of the victim. SB 245 (by Davis, D-Fort Worth) requires the same enumerated report but adds gender identity and expression to the list. (Strama filed this same bill last session, also without gender identity and expression, but added it to the list of attributes in committee).

In addition to the reporting requirements both bills would require school staff, administrators, students and volunteers to attend training on how to identity and respond to bullying, would allow bullies to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred) and would allow administrators to address cyber-bullying under limited conditions.

Neither bill currently contains a provision prohibiting schools from discriminating against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Let’s face it, removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement will make these good bills less good — there is no getting around that. But (and it’s an extremely ambivalent “but”) the proposed change to these bills dramatically increases the chances of the Legislature doing something to address the issue of bullying this session.

—  admin

BREAKING: Texas appeals court upholds gay divorce, rules against AG’s office in Austin case

Angelique Naylor

A state appeals court has upheld a divorce that was granted to a lesbian couple in Austin last year, saying Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott lacks standing to appeal the divorce because he intervened in the case too late.

“Because the State lacks standing to appeal, we dismiss this appeal for want of jurisdiction,” a three-judge panel of Texas’ 3rd District Court of Appeals wrote in its decision posted earlier today.

Travis County District Judge Scott Jenkins granted a divorce to lesbian couple Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly last February. Naylor and Daly married in Massachusetts in 2004 before returning to Texas and adopting a child. Abbott’s office appealed Jenkins’ decision, arguing that judges in Texas cannot grant same-sex divorces because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Abbott’s office won an appeal last year of a same-sex divorce in Dallas, where the 5th District Court of Appeals ruled in his favor.

Jennifer Cochran, an attorney who represented Naylor, explains on her blog that the Austin appeals court’s decision doesn’t address the constitutional issues related to gay divorce:

The Appellate Court dismissed the appeal for “want of jurisdiction” finding that the State was not a party of record and thus lacked standing to appeal.

So what’s this mean? Well this particular divorce was granted and upheld by the appellate court because the AG intervened after the divorce was granted orally by Judge Jenkins and because neither party raised constitutional challenges to the Family Code or the Texas Constitution.  If either party had, the appellate court would have most likely found that the AG did have standing and would have addressed the constitutional arguments in addition to the procedural ones.  So, we will leave the constitutional challenge for another day (or case).

Abbott’s office could now drop its appeal, request that the entire 3rd District Court of Appeals hear the case, or appeal the three-judge panel’s ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

According to the Texas Tribune, Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Abbott’s office, said the decision “undermines unambiguous Texas law.”

“The Texas Constitution and statutes are clear: only the union of a man and a woman can be treated as a marriage in Texas,” she said, adding, “The Office of the Attorney General will weigh all options to ensure that the will of Texas voters and their elected representatives is upheld.”

More to come …

—  John Wright