Tuesday, December 4, 2012

HB 238: Prohibit Employment Discrimination

Rep. Mike Villarreal
House Bill 238 by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Villarreal has filed similar legislation for the last 5 sessions (78R HB 1136, 79R HB 1515, 80R HB 900, 81R HB 538, 82R HB 665).

Under current law it is illegal in Texas to discriminate in employment based on a person’s race, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability. It remains legal to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. There is no federal law prohibiting employment discrimination against the LGBT community (although, according to  a 2011 poll by the Center for American Progress, 9 out of 10 American voters erroneously believe that federal law does provide LGBT people employment protections).

HB 238 would allow the Texas Workforce Commission's Civil Rights Division (TWC CRD) to investigate claims of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in the same way that it investigates claims of discrimination based on the other protected attributes. The TWC CRD allows individuals who believe they have experienced prohibited employment discrimination to file a complaint in person in Austin, over the phone, or via notarized form. If the complaint warrants investigation the TWC CRD pursues it further. The Legislative Budget Board (an agency of the State of Texas) estimates that if employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression was prohibited that the TWC CRD would need to investigate 474 credible cases a year.

There is a great deal of evidence that employment discrimination is pervasive and widespread in Texas:
  • Men in same-sex relationships in Texas make 9% less on average than their straight married counterparts according to information from the Census Bureau,
  • Households in Texas headed by two women make one average 11% less than households headed by a man and a woman according to information from the Census Bureau,
  • In a 2010 survey 26% of transgender Texans reported losing a job because of their gender identity or expression.
Prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression has overwhelming public support. In a 2010 poll conducted by Equality Texas,
  • 75.4% of registered voters in Texas said they support ending employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation,
  • 69.7% said they supported ending employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens.
With the reality of employment discrimination clear, a mechanism already in place for investigating it and strong public support for addressing the issue why has Rep. Villarreal's decade long effort to pass legislation thus far been fruitless? Because there is a disconnect between the people of the state of Texas and the 183 elected officials who create laws in Texas. If HB 238 is to become law we must bridge that disconnect, and the only way to do it is by contacting your members of the legislature and telling them that you expect their support for HB 238.

If you live in Rep. Villarreal's district please call and thank him for his support, and ask what you can do to help. You can reach him at (210) 734-893.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

HB 226: Prohibit Insurance Discrimination

Rep. Senfronia Thompson
House Bill 226 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), would prohibit using sexual orientation or gender identity or expression as the basis for discrimination in insurance. Under current law insurance providers may not deny insurance or offer a different rate of insurance based on the applicant's "race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, marital status, geographic location, disability or partial disability" unless the denial of insurance or difference in rate is based on "sound actuarial principals." HB 226 would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to that list.

Rep. Thompson's bill is the companion to Senate Bill 73 by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston). The Texas legislature has two bodies: the House and the Senate. In order to become law a bill must be voted out of Committee and then pass two votes on the floor in both the House and the Senate. Companion bills allow for legislation to be considered by the House and the Senate at the same time, instead of having to pass one body, then the other. Which ever bill passes its body first (HB 226 in the House and SB 73 in the Senate) can then be substituted for the companion bill on the other side, regardless of where it is in the process. (So, for instance, if SB 73 passes committee and the two required votes in the Senate before HB 226 comes up for a vote on the House floor HB 226 can be set aside and SB 73 can receive a vote on the floor without having to go through the House committee.)

By having identical version of the insurance nondiscrimination bill in both the House and Senate Thompson and Ellis have increased the likelihood of the bill passing.

This is not the first time that insurance nondiscrimination has had versions filed in both the House and Senate. During the 82nd regular legislative session Roberto Alonzo (D - Dallas) filed the House version and Rep. Ellis filed the Senate version. Neither bill made it out of committee.

While Alonzo is a very capable and dedicated lawmaker it gives me great hope to see Thompson take the lead on this effort this year. Thompson is the senior-most Democrat in the Texas House and the second senior most member of the House as a whole. She is a tenacious advocate with an encyclopedic understanding of the legislative process and the unquestioned respect of her colleagues, and she doesn't take on fights she can't win.

With Thompson at the helm there is a better chance of insurance non-discrimination passing this session than ever before.

If you live in Rep. Thompson's district please take the time to thank her for her support and ask what you can do do help. You may call her at (713) 633-3390.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

HB 201: Accurate Birth Certificates

Rep. Rafael Anchia
It is standard practice for courts to issue “supplemental birth certificates” that reflect the names of the adoptive parents of a child. This is done because birth certificates are the primary document for establishing the parental relationship and are often required to enroll children in school, add them to the parent’s insurance policy or admit them for medical treatment. Current Texas law states that supplemental birth certificates contain two fields for parents "one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father."

It is perfectly legal in Texas for two men or two women to be the parents of a child. Adoption is about the relationship between parents and their children, not about the relationship between the parents, so Texas' lack of the freedom to marry has no affect on adoption law. From the perspective of the law two people of the same sex who have a child together are simply two single people with a child, in the same way that two people of the opposite sex who have a child together but who are not married are simply two single people with a child.

There are thousands of same-sex couples who are raising children together (20% of same-sex couples in Texas are raising children, according the 2010 Census), but those parents are unable to obtain the primary document used to prove the parent child relationship.

House Bill 201, by Rafael Anchia (D - Dallas), corrects this problem by deleting the requirement in the Family Code that one parent must be male and one must be female.

Anchia has been filing this legislation for nearly a decade. His version during the last session, HB 415, received a powerful hearing in the House Public Health Committee last session, with several parents of small children testifying about the need for the bill. Unfortunately the bill was never brought up for a vote in the committee.

The House Public Health Committee is chaired by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R - Brenham), who is expected to retain her chairwomanship during the upcoming session. 89% of Texas voters believe that "gay and lesbian parents should have the same legal rights with respect to their children." With the overwhelming public support for this bill it is hard to believe that it would not pass a vote of the entire 150-member House, were the House given the opportunity, but first Rep. Kolkhorst must grant HB 201 a hearing, and allow it to come up for a vote in committee.

If you live in Rep. Anchia's district call him at (214) 943-6081 and thank him for for filing HB 201.

If you live in Rep. Kolkhorst's district call her at (979) 251-7888 and ask that HB 201 receive a prompt hearing and committee vote once the legislature reconvenes in January.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Secede (Without Really Trying)

Why can't the White House let you secede? Because these
guys say so, that's why. (The Chase court)
A petition calling on the White House to allow the State of Texas to secede and form its own government has reached the threshold required for an official White House response. The "We the People" site on the White House's official webpage allows anyone to create a petition. If any petition receives 25,000 signatures within 30 days the White House has committed to respond.

Several states have similar petitions on the site, although none of the others, as the Texas Tribune pointed out, has a governor who hinted at secessionist statements in public. “When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” Perry told a group of bloggers in 2009. “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

Beyond the funny gubernatorial gaffs and the rantings of on-line trolls what's the legal reality behind secession? If the White House wanted to grant the petitioners their wish (and let's face it, removing Texas' 38 electoral college votes from the process would pretty much guarantee the election of Democratic presidents for the foreseeable future) is there a process by which the Lone Star state could strike out on its own?


No there is not.

In fact, the State of Texas once argued stridently that such a process did not exist:

Monday, November 12, 2012

SB 73: Prohibit Insurance Discrimination

Sen. Rodney Ellis
Sen Rodney Ellis (D - Houston) filed Senate Bill 73 with the Secretary of the Senate today. Under current law insurance providers may not deny insurance or offer a different rate of insurance based on the applicant's "race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, marital status, geographic location, disability or partial disability" unless the denial of insurance or difference in rate is based on "sound actuarial principals." SB 73 would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to that list.

Ellis filed identical legislation last session. That bill, SB 208, was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee and was never heard from again. State Affairs is chaired by Sen. Robert Duncan (R - Lubbock), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst recently re-appointed Duncan to that post. Ultimately it will be Duncan who decides if this bill is allowed to continue through the legislative process.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D - Dallas) has filed identical legislation in the House for at least the last three sessions, but has not done so yet this cycle.

  • If you live in Sen. Ellis' district please call him at 713-236-0306 and thank him for his support.
  • If you live in Sen. Duncan's district please call him at 806-762-1122 and ask that SB 73 be given a prompt hearing in committee.
  • If you live in Rep. Alonzo's district please call him at 214-942-7104, thank him for his previous support, and ask that he consider re-filing his insurance nondiscrimination bill as soon as possible.

If you don't know who represents you go here to find out.

Day -57: First Day to Pre-file Bills

There are 57 days until the start of the 83rd regular session of the Texas legislature. Today is the first day for members to pre-file legislation for consideration once the body convenes.

Even after the start of session there will be several additional steps before any of these bills start on the process to become laws. First the House will need to elect from amongst their membership a speaker, who will oversee the legislative process over the 140 days of the session. The current speaker is Joe Strauss (R - San Antonion), but Rep. Brian Hughes (R - Mineola) has announced his intention to challenge Strauss for the speakership. Hughes is unlikely to defeat Strauss unless he can engineer a change in the way the speaker is selected.

Throughout its history the House has voted as a body for speaker, this has required candidates to construct coalitions from both parties to achieve the 76 votes (out of 150) needed. This process has usually produced a centrist speaker with which neither the far right nor far left has been particularly enamored.

Contrast that process with the US House of Representatives: the majority party meets in caucus to select their choice and then agrees to vote a block for that choice, thus producing the gridlock and intransigence for which Washington is so well known. If Hughes can convince his fellow Republicans to use a similar system he may be able to unseat Strauss.

After the House selects a speaker both it and the Senate must write their own rules. This is usually done by starting with the previous session's rules and making adjustments to address issues that arose during the previous session or during the interim. The rules also determine the committee structure for both the House and Senate.

Once the rules, and the committees, are determined the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor assign members to committees in the House and Senate, respectively.

On the Senate side there will be 5 new members (four new members elected last week and one more elected in a special election to replace the late Sen. Mario Gallegos). Last session Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced committee assignments on the 16th day of session. He's already begun to re-arrange some of the committee chairs and even with the new members it's likely that we'll know the make-up of committees around the same time this session. 

Because of the advantages of early filing, some members
have staffers camp out to file early. As Rep. Dan Branch
(R - Dallas) notes in this tweet.
The speaker will have a bigger task on his hands. During his first session as speaker, Struass announced committee assignments on day 18. Last session, with 26 freshmen members it took him a little longer and committee assignments weren't announced until day 30. This session, with 43 freshmen in the 83rd House we likely won't see committee assignments until early February.

Only after rules are adopted and committee assignments are made can bills be referred to committee. So a bill filed today will likely be in limbo until late January or early February, when it will finally get the chance to be referred.

Typically, at least on the House side, bills are referred to committee in 200 bill blocks, so the first 200 bills (which will likely all be filed today (except for the first 20 in the House and 25 in the Senate, those are reserved for "priority" bills and can be filed at any time) are the first to get started in the process.

Because of the advantages of being in that first block of 200 some members have staffers wait overnight in the capitol to ensure being first in line, and so the first of many long nights for capitol staffers begins and the 83rd regular session draws closer.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Maybe now the Texas House will learn what "Pansexual" means

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time to switch cereals: Kellogg's out, General Mills in

Apologies for the non-legislative post.

Growing up there were two breakfast cereals available at our house: Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Cheerios. The two options were so ubiquitous on the breakfast tables of my youth that to this day I can't stand to eat either. But I may have to find a way to stomach Cheerios again after the taurus-shaped staple's parent couple, General Mills, came out against a proposed ban on marriage equality in its home state of Minnesota this week.

In contrast, the other purveyor of the processed grains of my youthful mornings, Kellogg's, has pulled its advertizing from the Teen Nick series "Degrassi" over story lines involving transgender youth. "Degrassi" is a long running Canadian television series that since 1979 has taken on a number of difficult teen issues including abortion, drug use, racism, gay teens and eating disorders. But apparently the existence of transgender teenagers is a step too far for Kellogg's.

The ad pulling comes after pressure from the hate group The American Family Association, which characterizes the portrayal of trans teens as promoting "bizarre sexual role-playing with transvestism, [and] homosexuality."

I've never been a fan of "Degrassi." I find it over-acted and melodramatic. But for some kid in middle-of-nowhere America (or Canada) who's trying to figure out their gender identity having a positive portrayal on television of another kid dealing with the same thing can make a world of difference, and in some cases can save lives.

So in my house we're going to go buy some Cheerios today, and if a bizarre craving for corn flakes pops up we'll just have to go with the store brand.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Comments at the Third Annual Harvey Milk March and Rally

Today I had the incredible honor to address the crowd at the third annual Harvey Milk March and Rally on the front steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. These are my prepared comments on that occasion:

I stand before the doors of this grand temple to democracy today; these doors I have walked through more times than I can count; these doors whose creek and polish have welcomed me time and time again and I say to you:

You don’t know the power you have.

Next January 8th the people who work behind those doors will return to begin making decisions that affect your lives.

You have the power to turn their minds towards the path of equality.

You have the power to tell them, face to face, your story of how inequality affects you and the ones you love.

You have the power to carry with you the spirits of those we’ve lost: to disease, to violent hatred, to the self-hate generated by a society that over and over again tells our children that they are not acceptable.

Over the next seven months most of the people who work behind those doors will not hear from a single constituent about our state’s continued systemic enmity towards queer people.

I’m going to say that again: most of the people who work behind those doors never hear from their constituents about queer issues.

We, gathered here today, at the doors of this grand temple to democracy, have the power to change that.

We have the power to tell those nestled in the seats of privilege the stories of our vibrant, varied community,

We have the power to speak for ourselves, to speak for the silenced and to speak for those just finding their voices and to say with a loud clear voice “I am here, and you are hurting me.”

One of the things Harvey taught us is the importance of coming out. He knew that it is harder for everyday people to hate us when they know us.

Well... the people who work behind those doors are everyday people, and it is harder for them to hate us if they know us.

So it is not enough to come out to your parents.

It is not enough to come out to your employer.

It is not enough to come out to your dog walker, your green grocer or your barber...

You must, you must, you must come out to your lawmaker!

In the days of Harvey Milk, the rallying cry was “out of the bars and into the streets.” On this day, on this day just over 82 years since Harvey’s birth, I propose a new rallying cry:

Out of the bars and through those doors; and

Off of grindr and into the workplace; and

out of the closet and into the classroom; and

off of facebook and onto the phones; and

off of twitter and into the voting booth; and

back into the bars to pick-up reinforcements; and

never give up; and

never shut up; and

never, ever stop hoping

because you have more power than you know;

and together, together we can harness that power to tell the people who work behind those doors about our lives, our stories, our Texas;

and that is how we win.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

House Candidate's Homophobic Tweet Stirs Controversy

Pat Carlson

Republican Candidate for Texas House Pat Carlson is in hot water as news of her recent homophobic tweet becomes viral.

Carlson is the former president of the Texas chapter of the Phyllis Schlafly-founded Eagle Forum, an ultra-conservative organization that last session (while Carlson was president) worked to defeat nearly every piece of legislation in Texas designed to improve the lives of LGBT Texans, including testifying against anti-bullying bills HB 1942 and HB 1386, and surrogate parenting bill HB 910.

In other words she has quite literally made a career of homophobia.

Even given Carlson's curricula vitae, the blinding ignorance betrayed by this tweet still comes as a bit of a shock:

"Don't be fooled by anti-bullying rhetoric. Not about kids, it's about LGBT's getting their foot in door of schools."
The link in the tweet refers back to Carlson's campaign website,, but the linked page has been removed.

It would, I'm sure, shock Mrs. Carlson to the core to learn that LGBT people are already in schools, even private christian schools; many of them have even infiltrated home school classrooms...

 ...they're called students.

That's the reason that so very many people - gay and straight, cis- and transgender, Republican and Democrat - have become concerned about anti-LGBT bullying in schools: because real students are suffering the consequences. Perhaps if Carlson was as concerned with the well being of actual flesh-and-blood kids as she is about defending her ideology she would understand that.

The good news is that Pat Carlson has almost no chance of being elected to the House. Carlson originally entered the race running for House District 91, the seat being vacated by Kelly Hancock (R-Fort Worth), but during all of the back and forth involved in redistricting she found herself in House District 93 running against incumbent Barbara Nash (R-Arlington). Nash, incidentally, voted for last year's anti-bullying bill HB 1942 (which, admittedly, had no specific protections for LGBT students).

It is much harder to unseat an incumbent than to win an open seat, on top of which Carlson is up against two opponents in the Republican primary: Nash and Matt Krause, both of whom have soundly out-fundraised her (as of last week Nash's and Krause's campaigns had $101,965 and $23,201 respectively, whereas Carlson has gone $8,200 in debt). Of course fundraising is not the only measure of a candidate's viability, but it often gives a glimpse into the level of community support a person has, particularly when the fundraising totals are so lopsidedly against one candidate in a crowded field, and these totals tell me that Carlson is running a serious deficit of community support.

Of course stranger things have happened in Texas politics than an underfunded candidate from far outside the political mainstream being elected, so the threat of Carlson, and her radical agenda, having a voice in the Texas House is still very real.

A petition has been started calling on Carlson to retract her statement.

Monday, April 30, 2012

More Than Six Thousand Transgender Texans to be Disenfranchised by New Photo ID Law, Says Study

Over six thousand transgender Texans will be barred from the polls if legislation requiring photo identification in order to vote goes into effect. That's according to a recently released study by the Williams Institute, an independent legal institute at the UCLA School of Law. The study is based on information from National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted jointly by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality and released earlier this year.

Last year the Texas legislature passed SB 14, a bill that requires anyone voting to present one of five forms of photo identification:
  • Driver's license or state ID,
  • Military ID,
  • Citizenship certificate that includes photograph,
  • Passport, or
  • Concealed handgun license.
If the person does not have one of those forms of identification, or if the election judge determines that the identification provided does not match the record of the person on the voter registration roles the voter may fill out a provisional ballot and then must submit proof of identification with-in six days of the election in order for their ballot to be counted.

According to the Williams Institute report 27% of transgender Texans do not have updated ID. Under this new law these voters may be unable to vote.

The new law has not yet gone into effect. So any registered voter who wishes to vote in the upcoming primary election need only show their voter registration card in order to vote (early voting starts today!). Implementation of the law has been delayed while the Justice Department considers whether it would violate provisions of the Voting Rights Act by making it unduly difficult for minority communities to vote.

Unfortunately the Voting Rights Act does not require the Justice Department to determine if the law would disenfranchise transgender voters.

If upheld the new photo ID law will have the ultimate effect of silencing one of the most vulnerable segments of the LGBT community, and at this stage in the process there is little that can be done to defeat the law other than wait and hope that the Justice Department refuses to approve it, or that a lawsuit brought to defend the voting rights of people of color is successful.

In the meantime we can prepare and educate our community about what will need to be done if this law goes into effect:

  • Double check that you are registered to vote (this goes for everyone, trans and cisgender people alike). You can look up your voter registration on-line on your County Clerk's website (just search for "(your county) TX clerk);
  • If you have a history of gender transition make certain that you have at least one of the five forms of ID listed above that matches the name and address on your voter registration;
  • Work to educate your local election officials about the issue (again, this goes for everyone). Both the Republican and Democratic parties (and to a lesser extent the Libertarian, Green and Reform parties) try to have a chair in every voting precinct. Generally the contact information for these chairs can be found on your county party's website. Contact the chair for your precinct and let them know to be on the lookout for the issue. While you're at it contact your County Clerk and ask that, if the law is upheld, election judges receive training on how to be sensitive towards transgender voters.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

National Day of Silence: A Texas Legislative History

Tomorrow is the National Day of Silence, an annual day of protest where High School and College Students pledge to be silent for a day to draw attention to the persecution of LGBT students.

Every session the Texas House and Senate pass resolutions recognizing events in Texas, from Rose Festivals to Pharmacy Day. The resolutions don’t do anything; they’re just a nice way for lawmakers to recognize events in the community.

In 2005 (The same year that the Texas version of the “Defense of Marriage Act” passed) State Rep. Garnett Coleman (D-Houston) introduced House Resolution 1162, recognizing the National Day of Silence. HR 1162 would not have required Texas schools or universities to recognize the day of silence in anyway, nor would it have compelled anyone to participate. It simply recognized that the day existed as a way to bring attention to issues facing LGBT students.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Rules and Resolutions and was never heard from again, effectively silencing the Day of Silence resolution.

No word on when the Legislature will recognize “Irony Day”.

This post appeared in a different form on on April 15, 2010

Friday, March 23, 2012

When We Were Hidden: Ten Years of the Gay/Lesbian Support Group at Rice University

In January of 1979 the "Gay/Lesbian Support Group" formed at Rice University in Houston. The organization was the prestigious school's first officially recognized LGBT student group. The group, with the Latin motto Noctuae Excubiculum Una (roughly: one owl out of the closet (the Rice mascot is the owl), did not appear in the University's yearbook, the Campanile until 1983.

That year the twenty member group appeared photographed in front of a statue of the University's founder,William Marsh Rice. All but two of the group hid their faces beneath paper bags to insure that their identity would remain secret.

For the next ten years LGBT students at Rice would continue to hide their identities in the Campanile.

1983 was the first year what was then known as the Rice Gay/Lesbian Support Group appeared in the yearbook. Members were identified as Harvey J. Spooner, J.Q. Public, Rin Tin Tin, Wilhelmina Marsha Rice (a feminization of Rice University founder William Marsh Rice's name), Wonder Woman, Vallery girl with bagged face, Brainiac V, Anacin II (Anacin was a popular pain reliever at the time), "Eggs" Ackley, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, Typical Rice Guy, Typical Rice Girl, Clark Kent, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Sapho, Plato, Damon, Pythias, L. Davinci and Alexander the Great. Also listed in the pictures caption: "not pictured: approximately 10% of Rice students, faculty and staff."
For the 1984 yearbook the group replaced the paper bags with paper plates. No names were listed in the caption.
The 1985 yearbook again contained no caption for the Gay/Lesbian support group, but did include a description ending with "As of January, 1985, RG/LSG is proud of a half-decade of service and activity as an official student organization. We look forward to many more years of pride in who we are, not labels such as "Rice people" or "gay people," but people just proud to be ourselves.
For the 1986 picture the Gay/Lesbian Support group got a little more political, using pink triangles (symbols used in Nazi concentration camps to signify gay and trans inmates) to block their faces. The caption is more political too, listing famous historical figures known or rumored to be LGBT: "(standing) Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, King James I, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Alexander the Great, Emperor Hadrian, Frederick the Great, Sophoclies, Socrates, Aristotle, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. (kneeling) Hans Christian Anderson, Alan Turing, and Peter Tchaikovsky. (not pictured) Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, John Milton, Emily Dickinson, King David and Jonathan, John Maynard Keynes, T.E. Lawrence, Lord Byron and approximately 10% of the other people throughout history."

In 1987 the organization got a new name "Gays and Lesbians at Rice" and faces (but not names) started to show up in the year book. Caption: "This picture was taken at GALOR's end-of-the year pool party. Included are members of GALOR along with our guests, gay students from the University of Houston. And those record albums? Just what are we up to this time? Well, maybe it's a message about the value of diversity ("marching to the sound of a different drummer," that sort of thing), or perhaps it says something about the need for harmony among people, or maybe it's just one of our bizarre satanic rituals involving cardboard and virgin vinyl. Stay tuned to Jerry Falwell for the incorrect answer!

1988 was the first year the group published both faces and names of members in the yearbook. Still, some club members choose to hide behind the previous year's Campanile and the historical pseudonyms "Alexander the Great" and "Sappho." Listed under their own names are Dan Whittaker, Morgan Slusher, Don Baker, Doug Moore, David Schnure and Gary Hislher.

The 1989 yearbook did not feature a group photo of GALAR and the 1990 edition did not include the group at all. By 1991 only one member of the group felt the need to hide their identity, listed in the caption as "one foot out of the closet." Several members of GALAR are holding signs protesting Texas' law against "Homosexual Conduct" - Penal Code 21.06. (Although declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 the law remains on the books in Texas.) Also pictured: Stephen Sachitano, Vanessa Baker, Adam Thornton, Don Baker, Brady Lanier and Cory West.

GALOR did not appear in the 1992 Campanile. Finally, in 1993, 10 years after the Rice Gay/Lesbian support group began appearing in the yearbook and 14 years after its founding the group, now renamed "Gays and Lesbians at Rice and Friends" appears with all faces showing and with real names listed in the caption "Front row: Erica Ollman, Greg Rice, Shawn Brooks, Barbara Solon, Kathy Oaks, Beckra Yorke, Brad Monton, Jon Adler, Niescja Turner, Tandy Pittayathikun, Asad Jafari, Row 2: Robert Cervantes, Dr. Michael Winters, Rayan Wyatt, Keith Rozendahl, Chepe Lockett, Amy Nelson, Ray Brizendine, Kim Peyson, Eric olson, Jenny Maxwell, Daviv Richter, Dave Ross, Colleen Walsh, Wiel Robinson, Dr. Lindley Doran, Jeff Kuhr, Shaila Dewan, JJ Heldman, Dr. Deborah Nelson, Dave Brown, Jill Carroll, George Papastanpalopoulus, Stephen Kahan. Row 3: Brad Smith, Dr. Chandler Davidson, J.J. McCoy, Don Baker, Tex Duncan, John Doherty, Booth Babcock, Jim Paluszak, Kyle Gpton, Jenn Lee, Nancy Chaber."
It took fourteen years for members of Rice's student LGBT organization to feel comfortable having their pictures and names in the yearbook. 1993 was not that long ago, just under twenty years.

I look at that picture from 1983 and I am haunted by a past where such anonymity was necessary, but I also fear a future where it might again be needed.

Last year Rep. Wayne Christian twice attempted to remove resources for queer students from state universities. (Rice, being a private school, would not have been affected.) Although his efforts were defeated the threat remains. Paper bags are for groceries, not for faces. People like Wayne Christian who want to return to the days where students were afraid to be outed in the yearbook - people who want the lives and contributions and families of LGBT people to be hidden under a sack - must be stopped.

The only way to stop them is to be public, to put aside the paper bags and paper plates and to call the people who get to make decisions about things like campus LGBT resource centers: the members of the state legislature. Christian has an opponent in his Republican primary, but if he's re-elected there's a pretty good chance he will try again. Now is the time to tell your representative to support campus LGBT resource centers at Texas schools.

If you don't know who represents you visit this site to find out.

LQ would love to hear from any of the anonymous students in the photos! Please leave your comments below or e-mail

Monday, March 19, 2012

A New Chapter

The last few years have been a whirl-wind for me. This time in 2008 I was living in Dallas working as the Operations Director for the Dallas Peace Center and my partner Jason (the uncredited editor of almost everything I've ever written) was the assistant manager at a local art house movie theater. When Jason got an opportunity to take over his own theater in Austin we packed up and I started work as a legislative aide in the Texas House, the perfect job for someone as lege obsessed as myself.

Nine months later we moved to Houston so Jason could take over a larger theater. I found that I missed the hustle and bustle of the capitol and started as a way to stay involved with my obsession. That led to my work with the Dallas Voice and blogging at (this in addition to my day job at a local church).

All of this has led to the newest chapter in my life. On April 9th I start work as the Field Organizer for Equality Texas. Every step along the way has been leading to this and I'd like to thank everyone at the Dallas Peace Center, the Dallas Voice, Grace Lutheran Church, the Transgender Foundation of America and the many other groups and organizations that have allowed me to volunteer or work for them. That experience has led to this new roll and there is no way I would be prepared to take it on without the help and encouragement you all provided. 

Be forewarned! In the upcoming months most of you (the ones who live in Texas anyway) will hear from me, asking for your assistance with my new duties. Whatever our relationship in the past our time working together is not over and I look forward to everything the future has to hold.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Four openly gay candidates seek Texas House seats

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2012.

Since 2003, when Austin Democrat Glen Maxey left the Texas House, no out LGBT person has served in the Texas Legislature.

The Lone Star State is now one of only 18 states that lacks an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC that backs out candidates nationwide.
But at least four LGBT candidates for Texas House will be seeking to change that this year.

Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said the group has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, and the filing period for May 29 primaries just ended last week. But Dison said he believes electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is a crucial part of passing pro-equailty legislation.

“No state legislature has instituted [same-sex] partnership rights without having out LGBT officials in the legislature,” Dison said. “We have seen in cases where there is just a sole legislator, that it can have a huge impact in terms of our community and changing people’s minds about who we are.”

Continue reading the story at

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"A happy, middle-aged Asian couple" endorses Elaine Palmer against Judge Steven Kirkland

Palmer's e-mail
This post originally appeared on on March 14, 2011.

Elaine Palmer is a Democrat running for judge in the 215 Civil District Court in Houston. Her opponent is incumbent Judge Steven Kirkland, the first out LGBT judge elected in Texas.

Palmer is very proud of her broad community support. So proud that she has sent out an email with snap shots of her supporters. At the bottom of the e-mail is a picture of the "Nguyens," proud supporters of Palmer.

Cute couple right? Tan Wei Ming, the Malaysian photographer who took the shot, thought so, too. That's why he uploaded it to the stock photo site

Just think, for a small, one-time fee, any candidate could have the endorsement of "a happy, middle-aged Asian couple" and enjoy the same broad, grassroots support Elaine Palmer claims to have. Isn't that convenient? At the very least it would seem to be easier than garnering actual grassroots support.

A representative from Palmer's campaign couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Obama told Houston GLBT Political Caucus ‘yes’ on contractor nondiscrimination requirement

This post originally appeared on on March 10, 2012.
Obama campaigns in Houston in February 2008

Metro Weekly reports that in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama told the Houston GLBT Political Caucus that as president he would support requiring companies doing business with the government to implement non-discrimination policies that would protect LGBT people.
Obama, as a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2008, was asked by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus if he would support a "formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression ... for all Federal contractors."

Obama's response – according to the survey, a copy of which was provided exclusively to Metro Weekly on condition of anonymity – was one word: "Yes."
Jenifer Rene Pool, who served as the Caucus president in 2008, confirms that Obama did answer the questionnaire as reported, adding that during the Caucus' interview she directly asked the candidate if as president he would issue an executive order instituting such a policy. "I was the primary interviewer and I reiterated the question and heard him say that he supported and would make that order," said Pool.

Pool adds that she feels that as president Obama has done a lot to improve the lives of LGBT Americans. "Having looked at what he has done for GLBT equality in other areas I will not complain too hard that he hasn't done that yet," said Pool. "However I think it's important that we continue to communicate the need for this policy."

GetEqual, a national grassroots organization with a mission " to empower the... (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality" has started a petition encouraging President Obama to issue that promised order. "When Obama was running and when he was elected he told us 'I need you to hold my feet to the fire,'" says GetEqual state coordinator Michael Diviesti. "This petition is one of the ways in which we empower him to do the things he promised."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Christmas-colored backtracking from the man who wants to close LGBT resource centers

This post first appeared on on March 9, 2012.

Rep. Wayne Christian
Poor State Rep. Wayne Christian, the Republican from Center is doing his damnedest to ensure that anyone who looks or thinks or loves differently than he doesn't have the resources to get a college education, but it seems he can't win for losing.

You may remember Christian as the architect of last year's attempts to defund and remove LGBT student resource centers from Texas college campuses, but he's also a strident proponent of keeping undocumented immigrants out of Texas' schools. Unfortunately for Christian, he voted for a 2003 bill that had the temerity to allow immigrant children to pay in-state tuition if they were working toward citizenship and graduated from a Texas public school.

Christian's Republican primary opponent, Marshall Mayor Chris Paddie, has seized on this momentary lapse into decency to attack Christian for being too soft on "illegal immigration." In response Christian has distributed a bizarrely Christmas-colored three-page missive alternatively highlighted in red and green defending his position. Christian points out that he co-authored a bill this session to revoke in-state tuition to non-citizens and three years ago authored a bill that would have prevented scholarships from going to non-citizens, but it's this passage (one of the few un-highlighted sections) that reveals Christian's true motive:
"We have an immigration crisis in our state and our nation, and most pressing is the rejection of the values and institutions of America by the growing illegal immigrant population."
It would seem that Christian's concerns are based less on issues of legality or illegality or concerns about creating a massive underclass of off-the-books workers unable to access workplace protections and more on the "rejection of the values and institutions of America." To put it another way, people who speak a different language or eat different foods or decorate their houses in different ways make him uncomfortable and must be stopped.

Which brings me back to Christian's attempts to destroy campus LGBT resource centers, because it really is all part of the same issue. There was a time in this state when the only people who got to go to college were people who acted and looked and thought like people who already got to go to college. When people who are different, whether it's because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression or because of where they were born and who their family is, are given the opportunity to learn and to then enter and walk the halls of power it changes who we are as a people. If you're comfortable with the way things have always been this is terrifying, but if you're part of one of those communities that has been kept out it can be thrilling (and perhaps terrifying as well).

It's not a coincidence that the same people who rush to burnish their homophobic credentials are the same ones tripping over themselves to be the most anti-immigrant. Keeping "those people" in their place has a long tradition in Texas politics, and it's time the people of Texas stood up and declared that we are "those people" and we're not going to put up with it anymore.

After the jump, read Christian's full candy-striped missive.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Farrar backs marriage equality on Facebook

This post originally appeared on on February 27, 2012

Rep. Jessica Farrar
A couple of weeks ago Houstini reported that State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, had blogged his support for marriage equality in Texas. A couple of eagle-eyed Houstini readers wanted to know why Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who made a similar statement via Facebook last week, didn't get the same attention. Farrar took to the social media site to express her approval of the passage of marriage equality legislation in Washington state:
"I am excited that Washington can now be added to the list of marriage equality states! With Valentine's Day approaching, I vow to continue working with advocates to fight for marriage equality, same-sex partner benefits, and laws that protect all of my constituents regardless of sexual orientation." (Screen grab below)

Farrar and Coleman have long histories of supporting the LGBT community (both were among the group of only 25 Texas House members who unequivocally opposed the 2005 legislation that led to the passage of Texas' constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.) Even with that history there is a difference between opposing discriminatory legislation and publicly supporting marriage equality, and it's heartening to see both House members express their support in such a public venue.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A conservative radio host walks into a gay bar ...

Michael Berry
This post first appeared on on February 21, 2012.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Conservative talk radio host and former city council member Michael Berry has been implicated in a hit-and-run accident outside of T.C.'s show bar last month. Berry has not been charged with a crime. In Texas leaving the scene of an accident is a misdemeanor.

KPRC reports that a bouncer for the gay bar witnessed a hit-and-run collision on Jan. 31. The bouncer, Tuderia Bennett, wrote down the license plate of the vehicle and later identified Berry, the owner of the vehicle, as the man he had seen driving. Since then video of Berry inside the bar has been released.
And then the blogosphere exploded:

Houston Chronicle Newswatch blog: Michael Berry accused of ramming vehicle at gay club
Perez Hilton: Um, Oops? Conservative Radio Host Accused Of Hit-And-Run After Visiting Gay Bar
Texas Observer: Homophobic Radio Host Busted at Gay Bar
Towleroad: Conservative Talk Radio Host Michael Berry Was Definitely At That Gay Bar In Houston ...

The site even added Berry to their listing of famous homophobes later caught up in gay sex scandals.

The only issue with all this schadenfreude is that, as far as I can tell, Michael Berry isn't particularly homophobic. The radio host has criticized other right-wing personalities for their homophobia. I've spent a considerable amount of time listening to old episodes of Berry's show over the last few days (a painful experience) and I've yet to find anything hateful toward the LGBT community (please correct me if I've missed something).

Controversial black-face drag character Shirley Q. Liquor is a regular guest on Berry's program, which would seem to indicate that Berry at least has no issue with drag queens (nor, would it seem, does Berry have any issues with astoundingly racially insensitive performances that rely on the most vulgar of African-American stereotypes).

I'm not saying that Michael Berry's good guy (he once advocating bombing a proposed mosque in lower Manhattan), but I have to question why the media in general, and the LGBT media in particular, have been so quick to paint him as a homophobe caught with his pants down.

Perhaps after decades of Sen. Larry "wide stance" Craig and George "luggage lifter" Rekers it's an easy narrative to latch on to. But it's concerning that this story has become about Michael Berry being the sort of person who (allegedly) visits gay bars instead of being about Michael Berry being the sort of jerk who (allegedly) hits a parked car and then drives off.

A conservative radio host walks into a gay bar, walks out, gets into his car, hits another car, and drives off ... and what we find shocking isn't the crime, but that he was in a gay bar.
What a joke.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Houston Area Pastor Council accuses Mayor Parker of violating oath of office

This post originally appeared on on February, 15, 2011

Annise Parker
Mayor Annise Parker has been quite vocal on the issue of marriage equality lately. Last month she co-chaired the bi-partisan "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry." This last Valentine's Day she greeted marriage equality activists in front of city hall, declaring it "Freedom to Marry Day" in Houston (an action that carried no legal weight).

Of Course the Houston Area Pastor Council is riled up about all this talk of "freedom" and "equality." In a statement released today HAPC characterized Parker's actions as a “declaration of war on the traditional family.” Former mayoral candidate and HAPC president Dave Welch said "“The battle lines are drawn again as [Mayor Parker] proves her contempt for the churches of the city, the traditional family and our state Constitution."

The statement from HAPC also claims Parker "violated her oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the State of Texas" by advocating for the legal recognition of same-sex couples, which is prohibited under the Texas Constitution. HAPC may want to check out the Houston Mayoral Oath of Office before making such accusations, because this is the oath Parker took when she assumed office:

"I, Annise Parker, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of mayor of the city of Houston of the State of Texas, so help me God."
Absolutely nothing about upholding or defending the Constitution of the State of Texas, just a promise to execute her duties and a prayer for God's assistance. The city charter says nothing about the mayor having a duty to uphold the Texas Constitution. So, considering that the mayor's oath was to execute her duties, and the charter doesn't say that she has a duty to not criticize the state, it's hard to imagine how advocating for marriage equality would violate her oath of office.

But let's assume that Parker had sworn to uphold the state constitution. Members of the state legislature and statewide elected officials like the governor do take that oath. If we follow the logic of the HAPC, those individuals would be violating their oaths of office if they publicly advocated changing what the Texas Constitution has to say about marriage. Which is interesting because in 2005 a majority of state legislators and Gov. Rick Perry did just that when they pushed through the constitutional amendment that currently prohibits marriage equality. By the arguments of Dave Welch and the HAPC all of those individuals should be removed from office for violating their oath.

I'm starting to like where this is going...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Houston's State Rep. Garnet Coleman applauds Prop. 8 decision

This post originally appeared on on February 8, 2011

Rep. Garnet Coleman
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, took to his blog today to applaud yesterday's decision by the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declaring Proposition 8  unconstitutional (Prop. 8, passed in 2008, prohibited marriage equality in California):
"Yesterday's 9th Circuit decision, just like the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, is a stepping stone on the path to marriage equality for all. As Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the opinion, 'Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay men and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.' The same holds true for the marriage equality ban in Texas. That is why I continue to fight for marriage equality and continue to file the repeal of the ban of same sex marriage. Denying gay couples the right to marry is unconstitutional and a blatant denial of human rights. "
Coleman has a long history of filing pro-LGBT legislation in the Texas House. Last year he introduced historic legislation that, had it passed, would have called for a state-wide vote to repeal the section of Texas' constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage, so he's no stranger to the battle for marriage equality.
Coleman is seeking re-election to his District 147 seat. He will face long-time local LGBT activist Ray Hill in the Democratic Primary. No republican candidate has filed for the seat.
Read Coleman's full statement on his blog.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Houston Councilwoman Wanda Adams to challenge State. Rep. Dr. Alma Allen in primary

This post first appeared on on January 26, 2012

Houston City Councilwoman Wanda Adams plans to challenge State Rep. Dr. Alma Allen, D-Houston, for the Democratic Party nomination in House District 131, according to a recent post on Adams' blog. The race would pit two candidates with very different records on LGBT issues.

Rep. Dr. Alma Allen
Rep. Dr. Alma Allen
Allen has served in the House since 2005. She is a former school principal who, during the last legislative session, co-authored HB 224, legislation that would have required public schools to report incidences of bullying to the state using an enumerated list that included sexual orientation (but not gender identity or expression). HB 224 did not pass. During the special session last summer Allen voted for a budget amendment that included a similar reporting requirement (which also did not pass). She was one of 44 house members who opposed attempts by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses. Although Allen is not the most outspoken ally of the LGBT community in the Texas House, she has a strong voting record on LGBT issues.

Councilwoman Wanda Adams
Councilmember Wanda Adams
Adams was recently sworn in for her third city council term. Until redistricting this year Adams' District C included much of Montrose. She regularly attends LGBT events (she actually cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony for the Transgender Center) and has a reputation for being open-minded and willing to speak to people. However two events in the last year have some in the LGBT community questioning the depth of her commitment to the community.

In June the Houston City Council considered cutting funding for Marjoe House, a residential HIV/AIDS treatment facility. Adams spoke in the council meeting of the importance of continuing funding, which was opposed by Councilman Jarvis Johnson. When the time came for the vote, however, Adams left the council chambers and was recorded as "absent" (the council voted to continue funding, 10 to 2). Community leaders who had lobbied Adams for her support were disappointed that she missed the vote. "We had been given every indication that she would be in support of renewing funding," says Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats. "It was extremely disappointing that she left the room when it was time to put that support into effect."

Adams support for a Catholic youth homeless services provider has also led to questions about her dedication to her LGBT constituents. The provider, Covenant House (located in the heart of Montrose) had been accused by leaders in the transgender community of denying services to transgender and intersex youth unless they were willing to live in the gender they were assigned at birth. As a private religious organization, argued the agency's director, Rhonda Robinson, Covenant House was under no obligation to provide services without discrimination. Things changed when Councilwoman Jolanda Jones threatened to cut the funding Covenant House received through the city unless they enacted a non-discrimination policy that was inclusive of gender identity and expression. While the threat worked and Covenant House is now working with local organizations like the Transgender Foundation of America to change their policies and practices, Adams continued to defend the organization. "Covenant House has long history of doing great work and making sure that our homeless youth are protected without any ... type of prejudices," she told the council, refuting allegations that the agency discriminated in its services.

"I was extremely disappointed at Council Member Adams' defense of Covenant House," said Cristan Williams, executive director of the Transgender Foundation of America."TFA and others worked for over a decade to bring them to the table to discuss their very well documented discrimination. For the person who cut the ribbon at the opening of Houston's Transgender Center to turn around and defend discrimination against trans-identified children made me feel ill. It was like being stabbed in the back."