Political activists say LGBT community should be well represented at senatorial district conventions
At least 100 LGBT people will be serving as delegates or alternates at the Democratic Party’s senatorial district conventions on March 29, according to Jeff Strater, political co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign’s Dallas-Fort Worth Steering Committee and vice president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
"I have gotten e-mails from people throughout North Texas who will be representing our community at their senatorial district or county conventions," Strater said. "I think we can probably count on a good 100 people that I know, and we’re hoping to spot even more at the conventions themselves. I am hearing about new people every day."
The senatorial district conventions — or county conventions in areas where all of a county falls within a single senatorial district — are the second tier in the Texas Democratic Party’s three-tiered convention system. Delegates and alternates elected at their precinct conventions on March 3 advance to this second level where committee reports are presented, resolutions are passed and delegates are chosen for the state convention.
The Texas Democratic Convention will be held June 6-7 this year in Austin. The Texas GOP Convention is set for June 12-14 in Houston.
Strater said he believes it is important for the LGBT community to have delegates at both party conventions. But, he noted, the Democratic Party remains much more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.
"The Democratic Convention allows you to sign in as an LGBT delegate. The reason is that the Democratic Party has put a priority on representation by the LGBT community, and that plays into which delegates are selected for the state convention," Strater said.
"But," he continued, "it is important to have LGBT delegates at both parties’ senatorial district and state conventions, because that is where the parties’ platforms are developed. There are several key resolutions out there that were adopted at some of the precinct conventions. So it is important to have our people there at the senatorial district conventions to make sure those resolutions are passed through the pipeline and down to the state conventions."
Equality Texas wrote and distributed two resolutions that were successfully introduced at a number of Democratic precinct conventions. One calls on Democratic legislators to introduce and support a measure banning anti-gay discrimination in areas such as employment and housing, while the second calls for a comprehensive anti-bullying statute to protect LGBT students in public schools.
On the GOP side, Equality Texas distributed a resolution calling on the state Republican Party to remove anti-gay language from its platform. Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, said he re-wrote the resolution to make it more palatable to conservatives in his party. He said last week he knows of at least 10 precincts in the Dallas area where the resolution was approved.
While even Schlein acknowledged that the prospects of that resolution making its way into the Republican platform are slim, Terrell said this week the picture looks brighter for the two Democratic resolutions.
"With LGBT delegates at the Democratic senatorial district conventions, we’ll have people to fight for those resolutions and get them into the state party platform. Our next goal is to make sure that the Democrats are on board with passing legislation that will help our community," Terrell said. "They are pretty much there already, but it helps to have the goals spelled out in the platform."
Beyond supporting those gay-positive resolutions, Terrell said the senatorial district conventions are a perfect opportunity for LGBT people to make connections that will prove useful down the line.
"Woody Allen said that about 90 percent of success is just showing up, and that is especially true in politics," Terrell said. "If you don’t have a seat at the table, you don’t have the power to make changes.
"By being a delegate, you make those critical connections. You find out who in your neighborhood is active in the party," he said. "You get to network. You get to express your views and make sure you and your values are not left behind."
Although many people have long viewed the Democratic Party as more open to and inclusive of LGBT people and issues, Terrell said its only been in recent years that some "refreshing changes" have truly started to take place.
"It is my observation that, for a long time, LGBT people have felt marginalized and left on the outside of the power structure," he said. "My arguments here go for all the parties — Democratic, Republican, Green, all of them. Participating in the political process is one of the most empowering things people can do. And the progress we have made over the last generation is one of the most hopeful signs of acceptance and progress.
"To the extent that more people are participating in the process, the community is more included and more a part of the solution," Terrell continued. "In a day when politics tends to be so cynical, that [inclusiveness] goes a long way toward healing the wounds."
Terrell noted that transgender people, as a group, still are not as involved or as accepted as gays and lesbians, and that Equality Texas has been reaching out to transgenders around the state, encouraging them to "get out there and get involved and active and to participate, so that they can get familiar with the power structure, and so the power structure can get familiar with them. We want those in power to see [transgenders] just as everyday people, not as an unusual occurrence."
He added, "The more that people see us and understand our issues, and appreciate us for what we are, the sooner we will have success in Texas politics."
The March 3 Democratic primary in Texas saw a record number of people go to the polls, all of them energized and enthusiastic over the historic candidacies of U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Record numbers also turned out for the Democratic precinct conventions after polls closed, a situation that was exciting to see but that also created chaos in many precincts where party officials were not fully prepared for the huge crowds of people who had little knowledge of and less experience with how the precinct conventions are conducted.
That chaos led to a number of disputes over allotting delegates, which could lead to disputes over credentials at the senatorial district conventions.
"There definitely were some irregularities in some of the precinct conventions," acknowledged Strater. "No one had any idea how many people would turn up, and so no one could prepare for what happened."
But, he said, Democratic Party officials "learned some lessons" from what happened during the precinct conventions, "and they are taking steps to prevent that kind of chaos at the senatorial district conventions."
For one thing, he said, some conventions are being moved to larger venues to accommodate the expected crowds. On top of that, "there is always more party leadership at the senatorial district conventions, people who know how things work."
"There will be some problems, I am sure," Strater said. "I expect both [the Clinton and Obama] campaigns to contest results from precinct conventions that were held incorrectly or where the sign-in was incomplete. There might be some credential questions for some of the delegates."
But, he said, he expects the party officials to handle any problems efficiently and fairly.
"The credentials committees are representative of the two main campaigns, and they will consider things very carefully. They will go by the rules and do things as carefully and as properly as possible," Strater said. "I am sure their intent is not to disenfranchise anyone."
Despite the problems at some precinct conventions and the potential problems at the senatorial district conventions, Strater said that the 2008 primary has been the most exciting election he can remember.
"It has been truly amazing," he said. "It is amazing to see the number of people who are actively engaged in the party and in our community, many of them for the first time ever. It is so wonderful to see so many new and energized faces. Both campaigns have done such a wonderful job. I truly feel like I am part of history being made."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008