Freedom to Marry is collaborating with the Austin lobby group to prepare for 5th Circuit marriage equality cases


DALLASITES FOR EQUALITY | Eric Johnson, left, chairs the Texas Equity PAC, and Joseph Hernandez joined the board of Equality Texas Foundation.


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Equality Texas recently added two Dallasites to its boards of directors and increased its staff by three. The new staffers were brought on board to file amicus briefs with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and deal with municipal nondiscrimination ordinances.

For the new legislative session in January, Executive Director Chuck Smith said he hoped to add four to six legislative interns and policy analysts.

New staff
Among the new positions are marriage coordinator and faith outreach coordinator. Funded by the national group Freedom to Marry, these positions are temporary and scheduled to run through the end of this year. This week, each of those staff members filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans supporting marriage equality in a case pending before that court. No date has been set for that court to hear the case.

Durrel Douglas is marriage coordinator and working out of the Equality Texas Houston office. He is collecting stories of first responders throughout Texas affected by the lack of marriage equality in Texas.

“His work is in support of Texas couples who put their lives on the line,” Smith said.

Fort Worth Police Cpl. Tracey Knight, FWPD’s LGBT liaison, married her partner Shannon in California. They have a daughter. In an Equality  Texas appeal, she wrote that it bothered her when she had to explain to her daughter why some people can marry in their home state and others can’t.

For 20 years, she wrote, she has been honored to respond to 911 calls and, if she has to, put her life on the line. But, she added, “It bothers me that families like mine aren’t granted the same basic freedom to marry as so many others in the state that we love and call home.”

Other stories of first responders who’ve put their lives on the line, but can’t protect their children should they be killed in the line of duty are included in the amicus brief to the court.

Daniel B. Williams of Austin is Equality Texas’ new faith outreach coordinator, collaborating with Texas Freedom Network as well as Freedom to Marry. Coincidentally, this is the second Daniel Williams on staff for Equality Texas. Daniel Williams of Houston is an Equality Texas field organizer.

The new faith outreach coordinator is “finding voices of faith that can say they support equality because of their faith,” Smith said.

The brief that clergy are signing says, “Within our faith contexts, we are able to choose to perform or not perform marriages, and marriage equality will not change that fundamental principle. However, for those of us whose traditions allow, it will finally remove a long-standing obstacle to our pastoral care, allowing us to minister equally to all couples in our communities.”

Among those who signed that brief in Dallas are the Rev. Jim Mitulski of Cathedral of Hope, the Rev. Jo Hudson, the Rev. Colleen Darraugh of

Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Dallas and the Rev. Eric Folkerth of Northaven United Methodist Church and others.

Smith said he expects marriage equality to come to Texas through judicial action, not by legislative process.

“A judicial decision doesn’t change hearts and minds,” he said. “Telling stories does elevate public support.”

Robert Salcido is Equality Texas’ new field organizer who opened a new San Antonio office.

“He’s there to work on the next steps with the nondiscrimination ordinance,” Smith said.

San Antonio passed an ordinance a year ago and two LGBT discrimination claims have been filed so far. Salcido’s job will be to educate the community on how to navigate the process and work on expanding the ordinance to cover all private employment.

Equality Texas has had a Houston office in place for more than a year, assisting with passage of that city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

Because Dallas and Fort Worth have had protections in place for more than a decade, the priority has been to work with the two largest cities whose LGBT citizens have no protection.

For the new legislative session, Smith said protections in employment, housing and public accommodations are a priority. But until there’s a legislature likely to pass such laws, Equality Texas will work on municipal ordinances to gain those protections for a million people — or less — at a time.

New board members
New board members include Eric Johnson and Joseph Hernandez from Dallas.

Johnson, chair of Texas Equity PAC, is an elementary school teacher who was a semi-finalist this year for DISD teacher of the year. He also co-chairs Lambda Legal’s Dallas leadership committee.

“I was honored to be asked to serve as chair for the Texas Equity PAC — the PAC ‘arm’ of Equality Texas,” Johnson said, adding that “2014 is an exciting year in Texas politics. I felt it was the perfect time to lead an organization that is supporting LGBT and LGBT-allies as candidates statewide in their races this election year.”

Joseph Hernandez is the assistant vice president for compliance for a national mortgage lender who ran for Dallas City Council in 2007. He serves on the board of Equality Texas Foundation, the educational nonprofit arm of Equality Texas, and said he was honored to join the Equality Texas board.

“It’s a privilege to have a seat at the table of such a worthwhile organization that is paving the way for LGBT Texans,” Hernandez said.

He said in addition to adding staff, part of the organization’s strategic plan is to increase membership. Targeting awareness in rural communities is also part of the plan.

“As our only statewide LGBT organization, Equality Texas is working hard to educate Texans about the tax consequences facing same-sex married couples and advocating towards legislative issues that impact our community in a positive way,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.