Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thank You, Jack Valinski, for Twenty-five Years of Pissing People Off!

HERA benefit honoring Jack Valinski:

When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. today

Where: South Beach, 810 Pacific, Houston

Cost: $25 for individual tickets; $100 for sponsorships

Tonight we're paying tribute to one of Houston's most effective and loved community activists, Jack Valinski. He's been dedicated to progressing GLBT rights in Houston for over twenty five years, and I can't think of a better way for HERA to honor such a persistent, progressive prodder than a roast. Come see Ray Hill, the Honorable Annise Parker, the Honorable Sue Lovell and others rake Jack across the coals. We all love you Jack!

Visit HERA to purchase tickets to tonight's event, and don't forget to join the Jack Pack!

The Chronicle ran an excellent profile of Jack in yesterday's paper.

Valinski says there's a lot of work to be done. He's not ready to step aside, but still wonders who will take up the battle in the next generation.

"We are always trying to get the next generation involved," Valinski said. "It's a difficult thing because a lot of them don't see what we saw."

We all owe Jack a huge debt of gratitude. He's is an inspiration, and we should all answer Jack's call. Join the Caucus. Support HERA. Buy at ticket to tonight's event, and show your appreciation by making your own personal comitment to progressing GLBT equality.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


This is this the inaugural post of a new series here on The Caucus blog. Everybody loves YouTube, so, starting today, I'm going to post a few relevant videos right here on the blog. If you've stumbled on an awesome GLBT clip somewhere, email me ( and I'll include it in the next installment. Please use the comment section to discuss these video clips.

1.) New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Richardson at the annual HRC black tie dinner in Los Angles.

2.) This is a really excellent documentary about marriage equality. It chronicles one town's heroic defiance of President Bush. It was produced by the cool people at Dark Star Entertainment.

3.) This is one of the short films from 10couples, an ACLU project to help advocate for marriage equality. I thought this pair's story was particularly moving, but all of the films are really compelling.

Keep checking The Caucus Blog for updates in this series.


Freshman Representative Ellen Cohen has signed on as a joint author, along with Jessica Farrar and Rafael Anchia, to Garnet Coleman's HB 2527, the "Dignity for All Students Act." All of our hard work has certainly paid off, and district 134 can be proud to finally have true representation in the Texas state house.

Also, State Representative Roberto Alonzo's HB 247 will be the first GLBT bill debated in hearing at the 80th Texas legislature. Alonzo's bill would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of catagories that are currently protected from discrimination under Texas law.

We should all contact these great leaders and share our deep appreciation for their work.

Roberto Alonzo: 512-463-0408
Rafael Anchia: 512-463-0746
Ellen Cohen: 512-463-0389
Garnet Coleman: 512-463-0524
Jessica Farrar: 512-463-0620

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Garnet Coleman Wants Dignity for All Texas Students

H.B. 2527, the Dignity for All Students Act, prohibits discrimination or harassment against students

(Austin, TX)—Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) announced today he has filed the Dignity for All Students Act to prohibit discrimination or harassment against students in and employees of Texas public schools. According to the Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN), the average GPA for LGBT students who were frequently physically harassed was half a grade lower than that of LGBT students experiencing less harassment (2.6 versus 3.1).

"Every Texas student has the right to a public education. No child should ever have worry about getting on a school bus or walking down a hallway because of fear of harassment or discrimination," said Representative Coleman. "When students are discriminated against in school and the school does nothing about it, we are failing them in a very fundamental way. The Dignity for All Students Act will help set a tone in Texas that no type of discrimination will be tolerated in this state."

H.B. 2527 prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin. Additionally, the bill prohibits discrimination based on association with a person, and protects both the parents of students and whistleblowers who may report incidents of discrimination or harassment.

"If school officials turn a blind eye to anti-gay harassment while they take steps to deal with other kinds of harassment, they can be liable for violating the federal constitutional rights of the students affected," said Randall Ellis board member of the Texas ACLU. "H.B. 2527 directs Texas schools to take preventive steps by establishing a policy that includes LGBT youth that will help stem harassment before it becomes a problem."

The legislation also provides for data reporting on incidents of harassment in public schools as well as requiring school districts to undergo training on how to respond to and prevent harassment and discrimination at school.

"Knowing what kind of discrimination may be going on in our schools will bring us a lot closer to figuring out how to stop it," said Representative Coleman.

H.B. 2527 has been referred to the House Committee on Public Education. Advocates for this legislation are hopeful that Chairman Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) will grant the bill a hearing and allow students to testify to the need of ending discrimination in Texas schools.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The New Congress Makes Unprecedented Progess for LGBT

As we start organizing our field campaign for Melissa Noriega's council race, I thought it might be nice to look at some of the great legislation that is expected from the new congress. Pro-GLBT legislation has stagnated for many years, but with last fall's Democratic election surge, it seems that unprecedented progress is finally being made. I guess the work of grassroots organization's, like ours, really pays off.

Last week Congressional Quarterly reviewed some of the pro GLBT bills that will be introduced during this session. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Michigan's John Conyers Jr., chairman of the house judiciary committee, will be introducing a bill federalizing gay hate crimes against GLBT. The bill will also provide law enforcement agencies with resources that will help them deal with the special nature of these crimes. Senator Edward Kennedy is expected to carry the bill in the Senate.
  • A bipartisan team, including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, and Deborah Pryce of Ohio, is preparing a much anticipated employment non-discrimination act. Senator Kennedy is expected to carry this bill as well.
  • Congressman Jim McDermott is expected to introduce legislation that would permit employees and companies to make pretax payments toward a same-sex domestic partner’s medical costs.
  • Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts will reintroduce his much reported Military Readiness Enhancement Act. This legislation would repeal the "don't ask don't tell" policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. Military.
None of these ideas are new. In fact, our community has been looking forward to the passage of this kind of legislation for many years. Some of these bills have been introduced and reintroduced in multiple sessions, but this year they have a good chance of passing. Even anti-gay, conservative groups are on defense when it comes to these bills. It seems that the 2006 election will have a significant, positive impact on our community, so congratulations to everyone that has been working so hard for this day.

There's progress in the Texas house as well. Just last week, 2 Republicans and forty-six Democrats, including our own recently elected Ellen Cohen and Boris Miles, joined Garnet Coleman's efforts to remove discriminatory language from Texas's "Romeo and Juliet" law. An unusual amount of Pro LGBT legislation has been filed in the Texas legislature this session. I've already reported on some of these bills, but you can track all of them over at Equality Texas.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Speaking of Lawrence v. Texas...

cross posted at Burnt Orange Report

Yesterday I reported on Patricia M. Logue's appointment as a judge. Logue was one of the lead attorneys in the Lawrence v. Texas case. Her victory has been extremely important to our community. In many ways, the Lawrence verdict has changed the trajectory of our fight for equality. I think it's amazing that all that progress can be traced right back here to Texas. That's one reason why the Houston GLBT Political Caucus is so adamant that our own Houston Pride parade be celebrated in June, the month the ruling was handed down.

It was such an important moment, but did you know that Texas's sodomy law is still on the books? Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision has rendered it completely unenforceable, but the Republican leadership in our legislature has let the law stand, simply out of spite and hatred for our community. Thankfully, State Representative Garnet Coleman has filed a bill to finally repeal Texas's hollow, hateful sodomy law.


[(2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code].
[(8) emphasis, provided in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code].

Congratulations, Patricia Logue! Your service to our community will never be forgotten. And thank you, Representative Coleman, for continually fighting for us in the Texas House.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus Endorses Melissa Noriega

cross posted at Burnt Orange Report

This post was revised on March 15, 2007. If you have a question about the changed content, please contact us at

Tonight, during our March general meeting, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus voted to endorse Melissa Noriega in her run for city council.

With an openly gay candidate, Noel Freeman, running, the decision to endorse Noriega was not an easy one, but the caucus has not compromised its commitment to advancing equality for GLBT people in Houston. After some thorough discussion, there was clear consensus on two things:

First, we can all be very proud of Noel Freeman. His courage is inspiring, and the GLBT community applauds him for running as an openly gay man.

Second, the caucus must be unrelenting in its pursuit of equal rights for GLBT. Of course we want more GLBT elected officials, but, even more than that, we want equal rights as soon as possible. The Caucus is certain that, out of all the candidates, Melissa Noriega will be our most effective advocate. She is a proven leader with broad support. She has demonstrated a deep, personal understanding of GLBT issues, and she is more than prepared to run a victorious campaign. Noriega's screening was exemplary. She far outshined every other contender, including Freeman. We are proud to support her, as proud as we've ever been.

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus enthusiastically looks forward to Melissa Noriega's tenure on city council, and we will be working diligently on her behalf right through May 12th, election day.

Garnet Coleman on the First GLBT Vote of the Session

With all the excitement of the endorsment meeting, I neglected to get this important message from Garnet Coleman up on the blog. Sign up to receive Representative Coleman's GLBT e-mail alerts here.

Dear Friend,

Equal protection under the law is one of the most fundamental aspects of our system of government. All persons should be entitled to the same treatment before the law, regardless of who they are. But unfortunately, under current law Texas law, GLBT teens can receive stricter sentences than heterosexual teens (for the same crime). I filed an amendment yesterday (the first GLBT-related vote of the session) to correct that injustice, and while I was not successful, you can be sure I will continue work on this issue throughout the session.

Background on Texas' "Romeo and Juliet" law

Yesterday the House debated amendments to H.B. 8 (often known as "Jessica's Law"), which changed in part Texas' statute dealing with statutory rape. The law is strict and provides for up to twenty years in prison for engaging in "sexual conduct" with a child under seventeen years of age. But it also provides for an affirmative defense for cases in which the offender was within three years of age of the victim - these are cases where an eighteen year old high school senior might be dating a sixteen year old sophmore. You may have heard of this referred to as the "Romeo and Juliet" law, but Texas is unique in that it only applies when the two persons are of the opposite sex. In other words, Texas law treats heterosexual teen relationships like regular high school romance, but treats GLBT teen relationships like criminal pedophilia.

This section of the law isn't just some piece of obscure legal jargon - it has real effect. Until recently, Kansas had a law just like Texas; in 2000, Matthew Limon, an eighteen year old Kansas teen, was sentenced to seventeen years in prison for having sex with another male just shy of his fifteenth birthday. That sentence was thirteen times more severe than a heterosexual teen would have received for the same crime; not only that, Limon was required to register as a sex-offender after being released from prison. Ultimately, his conviction was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the law which excludes GLBT teens from the "Romeo and Juliet" clause as a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

My amendment

Since the Kansas law was overturned, Texas is the only state to create different penalties for GLBT "Romeo and Juliet" teen relationships. That's why yesterday I filed an amendment to strike that discriminatory language from the law. Unfortunately, the amendment was killed on a vote of 100-46. But you can be sure that I will continue to work for the principle of equal protection under the law throughout the session on this and other GLBT related issues.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reply to this e-mail or call our capitol office at 512-463-0524; I would love to hear from you. I also hope you'll forward this e-mail to a friend, and if you've received this e-mail as a forward, click here to sign up for our e-mail alerts.



Endorsement: The Tough Decision We’ve Been Waiting For

cross posted at Burnt Orange Report

This post was revised on March 15, 2007. If you have a question about the changed content, please contact us at

Endorsement Meeting: Special Election for City Council, At-large Position 3

Tonight, 6:30 PM

3400 Montrose, Suite 207

The screening committee has completed its interviews, and tonight the Houston GLBT Political Caucus will officially endorse a candidate in the race for the at-large, position 3 city council seat, vacated by Shelly Sekula-Gibbs. An openly gay men, Noel Freeman, is seeking the caucus’s support. Melissa Noriega and Andy Neill also screened with the caucus. Everyone on the screening committee agrees that the caucus has a very difficult decision to make, but this is a difficult decision we’re happy to have; it’s one we’ve been waiting for.

Our organization has been committed to recruiting openly GLBT candidates for a long time, so we can’t help but be extremely proud of Noel Freeman. He has distinguished himself by being courageously honest within discriminatory cultures. Noel Freeman was the first openly gay member of Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets.

Though we are extremely excited about Noel Freeman's candidacy, it should not be assumed that the caucus will endorse him, simply because he is homosexual. As an interim state legislator, civic activist and educator, Melissa Noriega has proven herself to be an extremely effective leader. During her interview, Noriega was passionate about building coalitions. She’s obviously eager to learn about GLBT issues, and, in many ways, She's uniquely qualified to help our community reach out to the greater population of Houston.

We certainly face a difficult decision. We have a historic opportunity, not just because we have a homosexual seeking our endorsement. Our city is at the threshold of significant progress, and every city election has the potential to bring us closer to equal citizenship.

The GLBT political caucus is not a mere fan club for elected officials. We don’t vainly seek election victories. We are compelled to by specific policy goals. We are driven by the prospect of equality. Of course we want more GLBT elected officials, but, even more than that, we want nondiscrimination mandated by our government. We want marriage equality, with recognition and security for our loving families. We want equal rights, and the Caucus will endorse and work for the candidate that can best accelerate the realization of these goals.

Tonight we will hear from all three candidates, and we will review their respective merits. I will post the Caucus’s decision immediately following the meeting.