As the North Texas LGBT community prepares for Pride, protestors in Orlando call for gun control, and lawmakers in D.C. hold hearings on anti-gay bills



David Taffet  |  Senior Staff Writer
As families, fellow officers and government leaders gathered Tuesday, July 12, in Dallas for a memorial service honoring the one DART Police and four Dallas Police Department officers shot down Thursday night, July 7, following a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally, activists in Orlando staged a sit-in near U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office there to demand stricter gun control laws.

And in Washington, D.C., Democrats and LGBT activists clashed with Republicans over a federal version of the “religious freedom law” popular now with state legislatures  that, in effect, gives businesses and individuals free reign to discriminate against LGBT people.

In North Texas
Meanwhile, back in North Texas, LGBT community leaders and law enforcement officials are looking ahead to upcoming Pride celebrations, and other LGBT-related events, pledging to remain mindful of the attacks last month in Orlando and last week in

Dallas, but adding that they already have policies in place to address safety issues.

Jeremy Liebbe heads security for the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade along with Maj. Barbara Hobbs of the Dallas Police.

Liebbe said he had just met with the Dallas Tavern Guild, the association of Dallas LGBT bar owners that puts on Dallas’ Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade each September, about any needed security upgrades for the parade and festival in September.

“We’re looking at some small changes,” Liebbe said. But, he said, bar owners were surprised that most contingencies are already in place.

“We’ve had plans in place for potential tragic [or] criminal events as long as I’ve been involved,” Liebbe said. That includes contingencies to address an active shooter situation, suspicious packages and even a sudden tornado.

Fort Worth PD’s LGBT liaison, Officer Kathi Jones, said the Orlando massacre prompted police in her city to create a schematic of Cowtown’s LGBT bars.

“Four bar owners were very open to that” idea, Jones said.

Fort Worth’s parade, the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade held each year on the first Saturday in October, is smaller than the Dallas parade. But, Jones said, the potential for an incident is the same.

She said officers are stationed at each corner along the route through downtown, for crowd and traffic control. The department’s intelligence unit has cameras up cameras along the entire route, and a special response team is stationed a block off the route.

Jones said Fort Worth Police will certainly be on heightened alert, but she believes security threats have already been addressed.

About 30 miles east in Dallas, the increased police presence around LGBT events, funded in part through a $1 million donation to the city by Mark Cuban, has eased while police regroup and heal after the July 7 tragedy. That decrease is only temporary.

Liebbe said he didn’t think people need to be concerned about security. But, he warned, “The freedoms we enjoy and deserve create some level of risk.”

In Orlando
On Monday, June 11, a day shy of the one-month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, gun control advocates started what they intended to be a 49-hour sit-in near Sen. Marco Rubio’s office to remember the 49 victims of the shooting.

Protesters sang songs, held signs that said “#SitForThe49” and laid 49 red roses on white paper inscribed with the names of each victim.

Nine hours in, police cut the demonstration short Monday night by arresting 10 protesters who refused to leave the building when it was closing.

The protesters were released later that same night on $250 bond each. They face misdemeanor trespass charges.

The sit-in was part of a larger fight for new gun control measures, but so far the calls for change have yielded no results. The protesters said they were targeting Rubio because of the Florida Republican’s opposition to same-sex marriage and the support he has gotten from the National Rifle Association.

Protester Fausto Cardenas, a University of Central Florida student, said Pulse had been a “safe space” for him and other members of the LGBT community.

“To not feel safe in a space like that was a very impactful thing for us,” said Fausto, who wasn’t arrested. “We want to hold people accountable.”

Ida Eskamani, who was arrested, said that even though sit-in was over, she and other activists will urge voters to call and tweet Rubio, demanding that he act on gun legislation and measures to end discrimination.

“The line has been drawn and you are either standing with us or not,” Eskamani said Tuesday, hours after being released from jail. “The heat is continuing to be turned up.”

The protesters said they wanted all politicians to reject contributions from the NRA, and they wanted tighter restrictions on assault weapons, as well as universal background checks for all gun purchasers.

“It’s not enough for politicians to offer platitudes,” said Rasha Mubarak, an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida. “We demand a comprehensive platform for gun control.”

Rubio, a former GOP presidential candidate, was in Washington this week, but his state director listened to the protesters for about five minutes Monday.

“Sen. Rubio respects the views of others on these difficult issues, and he welcomes the continued input he is receiving from people across the political spectrum,” Rubio spokeswoman Kristen Morrell said in an email.

As part of the shooting anniversary, Orlando area officials on Tuesday helped move 49 white crosses, which served as one of the three major memorials to the Pulse victims, from Orlando Regional Medical Center to the Orange County Regional History Center, where the crosses will be preserved.

An official memorial will be designed as a garden near the hospital. Hospital officials said Tuesday that four patients from the Pulse shooting were still being treated, including one in critical condition.

And in Washington, D.C.
Also on Tuesday, Congressional Republicans and Democrats clashed over legislation the GOP described as upholding religious freedom and Democrats insisted was discriminatory, with no sign of consensus.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a three-hour hearing to consider the First Amendment Defense Act, a measure to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory action” against a person whose religious beliefs or moral convictions define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The legislation has 171 co-sponsors in the House, but faces opposition from Democrats and outside groups who argue it will result in more discrimination against members of the LGBT community as well as single-parent families.

“Protecting the sacred right to freely exercise your religion is the First Amendment to the Constitution for a reason; it has been and still is fundamental to the foundation of our nation,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the committee.

Foes of the bill also criticized the timing of holding the hearing on the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Pulse.

“With everything going on in this country right now, these horrific shootings of gay people, black people, police officers — what we should be doing is coming together as a nation, not tearing each other apart, which is exactly what this bill does,” said

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the committee. “To say this hearing is politically tone-deaf is the understatement of the year.”

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, testified as a witness opposing the bill and asked, “What could ever justify such a discriminatory act?”

“As important as it is that same-sex couples like John (his late partner) and I have the right to obtain a civil marriage license in any state of the country,” Obergefell said, “it is also critically important that this constitutional right is not undermined by proposals like this legislation that subject loving couples like me and John, and other LGBT people to discrimination.”

Former Chief of the Atlanta Fire Department Kelvin Cochran, who was terminated from his position because of his opposition to same-sex marriage, advocated for the bill, saying it would have protected his job.

“Equal rights, true tolerance means that, regardless of your position on marriage, you should be able to peacefully live out your beliefs and not suffer discrimination at the hands of the government,” Cochran said.

Despite the ideological disagreements, the main focus of the hearing became the language used in the legislation and whether or not the bill would undermine the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act or other pre-existing equality acts.

“We have had very robust conversations that disagree. What my concern is is that we are at times missing each other on misinformation,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said.

Associated Press writers Mike Schneider and Sarah Grace Taylor contributed to this report.  

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2016.