Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Raging Elephants' Target Texas House Members for Pro-LGBT Votes

'Raging Elephants,' a Republican activist group targeting the African-American community, has begun a series of robo-calls attacking African-American and Hispanic house members for their pro-LGBT votes. In the last two weeks the group has targeted 20,000 minority households in the districts of Senfronia Thompson, Dawnna Dukes, Joaquin Castro and Marc Veasey, all Democrats.

Raging Elephants took issue with the member's efforts to defeat 82(1) Amendment 148 to SB 1, Wayne Christian's (R-Center) attempt to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas' college campuses (read LQ's post on the defeat of Amendment 148). The four targeted house members were some of the most vocal in standing up for the queer community, delivering impassioned speeches on the House floor:
"Everybody’s not straight, people who are gay are born gay and they deserve the same rights, liberties and protections that everyone does."
-Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth)

"You may say ‘if they’re gay, and somebody hurts them, then so what?’ But let me just remind you that those persons are somebody’s child..."
-Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)

"I have the same feelings elicited in me about the hate and bigotry put forth by measures like this as [measures that] were [introduced] back in the pre-civil rights period when certain buzz words and statements to create fear about certain individuals [who were] different [were] brought before legislative bodies and certainly before the Texas House of representatives on multiple occasions just to create a vote based on hate, because someone was different."
-Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin)
Raging Elephants, which is lead by "Apostle Claver T. Kamau-Imani", is claiming that that the members' defense of basic human rights and dignity equates to funding “homosexual education and activities in the state budget” and of waging an “attack on biblical morals”.

Bizarrely, by attacking house members who opposed amendment 148 Raging Elephants is, by default, supporting the amendment's author: Wayne Christian. After a procedural maneuver forced Christian to retreat from his attempts to defund campus resource centers he defended his position, and rebuffed accusations that his amendment was discriminatory by saying:
“I'm one fellow that was racially discriminated against. Back in the '70s I was on the first team in basketball at high school, my sophomore and junior years, and we integrated my senior year, and I rode the bench because I couldn't play as good as they did. White boys can't jump. So I received discrimination.”
-Wayne Christian (R-Center)
That's right, in Wayne Christian's mind racial discrimination is what happens when people of color are permitted to compete on an even playing field against white people, and less skilled white people are replaced by more skilled people of color. It's hard to read Christian's quote and not think he is secretly pining for the days of segregation, when nonathletic white boys didn't suffer the 'discrimination' of fair competition.

For anyone to defend this kind of racism is deplorable, but for an African-American organization, even a Republican one, to suggest that Wayne Christian should be the arbitrator of what is and isn't discrimination is unfathomable, reckless and borderline suicidal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

WATCH: Legislators Speak at Dedication of Montrose Remembrance Garden

Texas Senators John Whitmire, Mario Gallegos and Rodney Ellis and Representative Garnet Coleman spoke last night at the dedication of the Montrose Remembrance Garden in Houston. The Garden is the brainchild of the Aaron Scheerhoorn Foundation for Change, made possible by the generous support of local business owner Charles Armstrong and the help of the Montrose Counseling Center.

All four spoke at length about the decade-long fight that led Texas to pass hate crimes legislation in 2001, and about the anti-bullying and teen suicide prevention bills passed this session by the legislature. Only Garnet Coleman mentioned Texas' hate crimes statute still excludes the transgender community (an omission he has tried to correct).

The Aaron Scheerhoorn Foundation was created in response to last December's brutal murder of Aaron Scheerhoorn, just blocks from the garden's location. Scheerhoorn was attacked in the Houston "gayborhood" of Montrose. Bleeding from stab wounds, he ran to a nearby bar to ask for assistance. According to witnesses the bar's bouncer refused to allow the dying man access. Scheerhoorn left to seek assistance elsewhere when his attacker caught up with him, finally delivering the fatal blow just feet from the bar's door.

In dedicating the garden organizers made it clear that it was not just in memory for Aaron Scheerhoorn, but in memory of "all victims of violence, victims of hate crimes, and those who were subjected to bullying." The event ended, as the sun set, with a candle-lit reading of the names of dozens of victims of violence and hate from the Houston area, followed by a release of hundreds of white balloons (watch the reading of victims names here).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Special Election Date Set for Brown's House Seat

Fred Brown
Governor Perry has officially set November 18th as the date for the special election to fill Rep. Fred Brown's (R-Bryan) House Seat. Brown officially announced his resignation on the House Floor on June 29, but rumors of an impending resignation have circled since shortly after the 2010 election, when his on-line resume surfaced. The resume indicated his willingness to relocate out of his Brazos County District. Apparently the resume worked, because Brown has taken a position with a car dealership in Temple, TX.

Brown's history on LGBT issues is spotty. Historically he has supported anti-bullying efforts, including voting for 82(R) HB 1942, the "super" bullying bill and being the only Republican co-author or 81(R) HB 1323, Marc Strama's (D-Austin) 2009 anti-bullying bill which had an enumerated reporting requirement that included both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. On the other hand Brown supported both 78(R) SB 7 and 79(R) HJR 6, the Texas "Defense of Marriage Act" and constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Brown also consistently voted in support of Wayne Christian's (R-Center) efforts during the 82nd legislature to defund or ban LGBT resource centers at Texas Universities.

Brown represented house district 14, which includes Bryan and College Station, as well as Texas A&M. The District is overwhelmingly Republican (Brown ran without a Democratic opponent in 2010). Since the vacancy is to be filled by special election, candidates will not have to endure a primary before the general election, which means there will likely be several Republicans vying for the seat, and which makes it likely there will be a run-off election. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that the field to replace Brown is getting crowded:Link

"The latest person to declare is Rebecca Boenigk, CEO of Neutral Posture Inc. The political newcomer indicated that she will run as a Republican.

Former Texas A&M football player Seth McKinney and former Brazos County Tax Assessor-Collector Gerald "Buddy" Winn have also announced their candidacies.

McKinney is an investment banker and developer. Winn, who is retired, ran unsuccessfully for Brown's seat in 2010, finishing second out of four candidates in the Republican primary.

Others considering a run include Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski; Rick Davis, a lawyer and former district judge; Bob Yancy, CEO of a medical equipment supply company, and John Raney, owner of Texas Aggieland Bookstores.

All of those potential candidates are Republican. Brazos County Democratic Chairwoman Maggie Charleton said she has spoken with a few possible candidates from her party, though she didn't give any names."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Commissioner David Lakey Encouraged to "Just Ask"

One of the great victories from the 82nd Texas Legislature was the preservation of funding for the Texas HIV Medication Assistance Program. Early drafts of the state budget cut funding for the program, or eliminated it all together. Through concerted lobbying efforts the Texas HIV/AIDS coalition, in co-operation with other groups and activists around the state, convinced lawmakers to preserve funding at current levels, and to create a method by which Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, may request additional funds if he feels that they are necessary.

Whether or not Lakey will requests those funds is still in question. Lakey has a history of dismissing the importance of public input into how the medication assistance program is run. Earlier this year he eliminated the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee, a body designed to provide input from service providers and clients of the program. Lakey's actions prompted the Texas legislature to remove the commissioners ability to disband the committee by making it permanent in the State's Health Code. Lakey also routinely does not attend meetings of the Advisory Committee, one of the few open forums for the public to provide input on how the program is operated.

HIV rates in Texas are on the rise. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services there were 3 ,126 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Texas between Jan and September of 2010 alone. Januari Leo of the Texas HIV/AIDS coalition says that Commissioner Lakey will need to request an additional 19.2 million dollars in funds to keep pace with the increased infection rates:

"By not asking for the $19.2 million that is necessary to ensure that eligibility requirements will not be altered for those coming into the program, administrators are essentially setting up death panels," says Leo. "What constitutes sick enough to have access to life-saving medications? Commissioner Lakey has the lives of thousands of HIV positive Texans in his hands, we hope he will choose to do the right thing and ask for the money."

The Texas HIV/AIDS coalition is asking Texans to contact Commissioner Lakey to encourage him to request the additional funds. A simple on-line form is available HERE.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Equality Texas Wants You To Tell Your Story

Equality Texas has announced a new storytelling program encouraging LGBT people and allies to share their experiences on-line. The program, announced on the Equality Texas Blog, is an effort to connect the faces and lives of real people to legislative decisions:
"Legislators are not making laws regarding groups and organizations; they are making laws about individuals – about you (and me). We need to introduce ourselves to the world. We need to have an individual – a person, a face, a story – for the world to see. We need to see you."
Anyone interested in submitting their story, or who has questions about the project, can contact for more information.