Monday, February 19, 2007

New Jersey Sends Belated Valentines in the Form of Civil Unions

As is being reported by the New Jersey Star Ledger, couples across New Jersey have been enthusiastically racing to court houses to gain legal recognition of their loving partnerships, but even while joyfully pledging their lifelong commitments to each other, most of these couples still aren't satisfied, as the New Jersey law still doesn't recognize them as married. One couple, waiting in line for their ceremony, articulated the bitter sweet quality of this historic moment:

“We just want to show our support to anyone else (registering),” said Lee Rosenfield, who plans to file an application with his partner, Jack Fastag, in neighboring West Amwell tomorrow and have a ceremony at home on Sunday. Smaller than the couple’s traditional Jewish wedding in 2004, the gathering will mark an important legal step but not full equality, the two men said.

“In my opinion, it’s still an expression of homophobia to call it anything but marriage,” said Rosenfield, who is chairing Garden State Equality’s “Crossing the Delaware to Progress” walk across the bridge from New Hope, Pa., to Lambertville tomorrow. “We’re hoping for about 100 people to walk with us to say, ‘This is a good first step, but we’re not there yet.’’
I think the clip above really emphasizes this point. Just listen to the awkward language used during the civil ceremony. Even on this happy day in New Jersey, we're not there yet. In the eyes of the government, our love isn't equal to heterosexual love.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar Stand Up for the GLBT Community

By introducing an important bill amending the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act to include transgender Texans, yesterday, State Representative Garnet Coleman lived up to his reputation as a bold leader. Garnet Coleman is certainly one our best allies in the state legislature. Achieving GLBT equality is obviously one of his top priorities. He’s even designated one of his four email alerts exclusively to GLBT issues. Sign up here to stay connected.

Coleman is not alone though. Houston is lucky to have several great state representatives advocated for us on the floor of the Texas house. Jessica Farrar has already filed three bills aiming to end discrimination of GLBT.

Farrar’s House Bill 305 will protect GLBT students from discrimination at school:
A public educational institution or employee of a public educational institution may not discriminate against a student enrolled in the institution on account of the ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, religion, or national origin of the student or the student's parent.
Jessica Farrar has also filed a bill to secure employment non-discrimination for GLBT.

Of course, the GLBT Political Caucus is extremely grateful for excellent leaders like Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, but, as political activists, we should also proudly claim credit for these audacious steps forward. It is not likely that any of these bills will pass, but when we work to elect progressive candidates we accelerate the pace of justice for our community. On the May 12 special election, we have an opportunity to claim another friendly seat on the Houston City Council. Please participate in our endorsement meeting on March 7th, 7:00 PM at the community center.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Discussing Pride

John from By the Bayou had a really great question about the caucus's Pride statement, and I thought it would be a good idea to move our discussion out here to the front page. If you have an opinion about the statement, we'd love to get a healthy discussion going. (p.s. John has a great Chronicle blog as well).

John asked:
Wouldn't a parade in September be a great opportunity to encourage people to vote?

Members of the caucus expressed several reservations about moving Pride to September. Removing historic significance from the celebration was by far the primary concern. Some members noted that a bigger, flashier Pride, with high profile pop-stars and big corporate floats, leaves very little space for recognizing the important sacrifices of GLBT 's seeking equality. June represents Stonewall and the Lawrence decision, and these two milestones together generally represent our community's poignant sacrifices for equality over time. The Caucus is committed to commemorating these events, and we feel that moving Pride to September diminishes their importance.

Now to your question. Here's what people said about the consequences of the date change on caucus operations. Some might say that a fall celebration's close proximity to the November election makes politics a more pertinent topic for people attending Pride, but a number of Caucus members, who have a lot of experience motivating voters, found several liabilities of a September celebration that outweighed this presumed benefit. Most importantly, by September caucus members are block-walking and phone-banking every weekend, contacting the GLBT voters we've identified throughout the summer, including voters identified during the June Pride festivities. Block-walking and phone-banking are proven to be the most effective methods of voter mobilization, using an event, like Pride, is less effective. Of course, if Pride's date is changed, we'll be there working, but this will prevent us from doing more effective work. Furthermore, as it is now, the caucus uses the June festival to identify and register GLBT voters. A September celebration is dangerously close to the voter registration deadline, which would further complicate the work of the caucus. Some members also fear that a more corporate, less neighborhood centered celebration would prevent us from reaching out to as many voters as we do now.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What We’re Proud Of: The Caucus Opinion on Changing Pride

Tonight, during our monthly general meeting, the GLBT political Caucus unanimously voted to adopt the following statement regarding the proposed relocation and date change of Houston’s Pride parade and festival:

With the hope that much of the GLBT community will address this issue as well as continue the discussion of the future of the Pride Parade, the Caucus would like to state for the record the following:

June is the historic date of Stonewall, since 1969 one of the most significant moments in the GLBT civil rights movement;

June of 2003 was also when the Lawrence and Garner vs. Texas case was announced, making that month particularly important to Houston;

Montrose is the historic heart of the Houston GLBT community and deserves that recognition;

Finally, for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, a parade in September is directly in the middle of the political calendar and would be in direct competition with the demands on the caucus during that time of the year.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

GLBT and the DNC

A number of interesting GLBT news items emerged from this past weekend’s annual, winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee. Most importantly, it appears that party Chairman Howard Dean, the DNC, and most of the Democratic presidential candidates recognize the importance of publicly supporting GLBT equality. As our community begins to scrutinize the commitment of each presidential candidate, GLBT party activists are working to increase our communities influence on the upcoming primary season.

More specifically, as has been reported by the "Washington Blade," in a speech given to the DNC's GLBT caucus on Saturday, Howard Dean expressed deep gratitude for gay activism during the 2006 election cycle.

Last year, some GLBT democrats criticized Dean for supposedly abandoning our constituency with the implementation of the now famous "fifty state strategy," which focused on making gains in rural, traditionally republican states, but after reading this article, I'm beginning to think that the goal of mobilizing rural democrats and the goal of mobilizing GLBT democrats are not mutually exclusive.

Also during the DNC meeting, each Democratic presidential candidate presented a stump speech, formally introducing themselves to the party. As far as can see, only New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson directly mentioned GLBT issues in his speech. (Click on the quote to watch Richardson's full speech).

Although Richardson was the only candidate to mention GLBT issues in his speech, the Washington Blade reports that gay politicos, who met each candidate during the meeting, were most impressed with two of the top tier contenders, John Edwards and Barack Obama:

Democratic National Committee GLBT Caucus Chair Rick Stafford and other politicos said Edwards and Obama have quickly outshined a crowded field of other White House hopefuls because they’re prepared to sincerely discuss gay issues.

Culminating his DNC appearance, Edwards, during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," demonstrated the sort of sincerity described by Stafford. In this excerpt, Edwards talks about reconciling his faith background with same-sex marriage. (This clip opens with a brief discussion of the Yucca Mountain hazardous waste depository).

It should be noted that none of the major democratic candidates, including Al Gore and Wes Clark, have publicly supported same-sex marriage.

Finally, gay party activists are working to get more GLBT delegates to the 2008 national convention.

Minnesota activist Rick Stafford, the chair of the DNC gay caucus, said caucus members have joined forces with the gay group National Stonewall Democrats to encourage party leaders to help elect more gays as delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Stafford said DNC officials have promised to facilitate gay Democrats’ plans to work with leaders of state parties — including those in traditionally conservative “red” states — to include gays in their delegate selection plans. In a proposal that could become controversial in some states, Stafford said the gay caucus is calling on all state parties to set as a voluntary “goal” a contingent of gay delegates to the 2008 convention that come to at least 6 percent to 7 percent of the total number of delegates.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

General Meeting This Wednsday, Feburary 7

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus (HGLBTPC) monthly meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 7, 2007. The speaker for the evening is Paul E. Scott, Executive Directory for Equality Texas. The meeting is scheduled for 7:00 pm at the Houston GLBT Community Center located at 3400 Montrose, Suite 207.

Paul E. Scott joined Equality Texas as executive director in March 2006. He previously served as executive director of the Resource Center of Dallas, the third largest LGBT Community Center in the country. Scott graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Emory University and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Georgia. After practicing civil litigation for nine years, he changed careers and focused on HIV nonprofit work in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he became executive director of Chattanooga CARES HIV Care Center. His passion for LGBT advocacy arose from discriminatory employment and judicial practices in Tennessee.

H.I.V. Testing in Texas Prisons

On Thursday Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that Texas prisons are allowed to conduct mandatory H.I.V. tests on convicts. He did this upon the urging of Houston State Senator Rodney Ellis.

You can read about it here.

According to prison system statistics, more than 38,700 Texas convicts were tested for HIV last year. Of those, 372 were diagnosed as HIV-positive, according to the statistics.

Texas' prison system holds about 154,000 convicts.

Of those, 2,627 were HIV-positive in July, official statistics show.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Molly Ivins: A Great Friend to GLBT

With the passing of Molly Ivins, the GLBT community has lost a true friend. For those of us who work in Texas politics, her departure is particularly hard to take, as her wit and keen intelligence always inspired and encouraged us. Even when facing disappointments, she helped us laugh. She was certainly one of the most persuasive, progressive advocates we've ever known.

So, to help us duly appreciate Molly Ivins, I've collected a few of her classic columns on GLBT issues.

Here's a great excerpt from a Column she wrote in 1993 for "The Progressive." It details State Representative Warren Chisum's -- our newly appointed appropriations committee chair-- and FORMER! representative Talmadge Heflin's outrageous campaign to keep Texas's anti-sodomy law in the books. (Aren't you glad we worked to get Hubert Vo elected).

So the Housies were afraid everyone would think they were perverts if they didn't vote for it, and they did. Chisum then shook hands with his ally, Talmadge Heflin of Houston, in celebration of this double triumph, and the Speaker had to send the Sergeant -at-arms over to reprimand them both.

Because under Chisum's own amendments, it's illegal for a prick to touch an asshole in this state.

Here's how Molly celebrated the much belated repeal of that same law by the U.S. supreme court in 2003. I always enjoy how Molly confidently and deftly refutes hate mongers like Antonin Scalia.

The constitution of the United States was designed to protect the rights of minorities against the majority. The law is supposed to apply equally to all, and under the Texas statute it did not; it was specifically discriminatory...

Justice Scalia's intemperate outburst -- he said the Court has signed on to "the so-called homosexual agenda" -- brings up the question: What the heck is the homosexual agenda? I hear people on the right talk about it all the time, but as I far as I know, gay groups have not signed on to any master plan or series of proposals. Has anybody seen one? There are a lot of gay Republicans: I should think all the gays would have a hard time agreeing on an agenda. I suspect the "homosexual agenda" is like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Most recently, we may thank Molly Ivins for fighting vigorously against prop. 2 in 2005. With this column, Molly Ivins immortalized the poignant and powerful words of Houston's own Senfronia Thompson.

Even through debilitating cancer, Molly Ivins tirelessly fought the good fight, and she fought with infectious humor and exemplary literary craftsmanship. Let's show our appreciation and honor her memory, with diligent work towards progressive causes and unrelenting good humor in the face of adversity.