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News Briefs: March 2004

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DATE BOOK

Men of All Colors Together-Houston meets every Thursday, 7 p.m., at the Houston GLBT Community Center. Details: 713/524-3818.

Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby will conduct March 6-9 volunteer training at the Houston GLBT Community Center for the Equality Knocks door-to-door campaign. Register: 713/521-1000.

Texas Democratic presidential primary takes place March 9, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Voter help: www.harrisvotes.org.

On March 20, Houston GLBT Chamber of Commerce offers the 1-4 p.m. workshop “You Built Your Business, Now What Do You Do?” at the Houston GLBT Community Center. Details: Michael Plaks, 713/721-3321, [email protected]

Houston Gay & Lesbian Parents will hold a March 20-21 garage sale fundraiser at a member family’s home. Details: Chris Togni, 281/681-0697, [email protected]

Montrose Softball League spring season opens March 28 at Slo-Pitch City softball complex. U.S Rep. Chris Bell will deliver the first pitch. Details: www.montrosesoftballleague.com.

A new support group for HIV-positive women meets Wednesdays, 1:45-3:15 p.m. at Montrose Counseling Center. Register: Rufina Basu, LMSW, at 713.529.0037, ext. 312.

Doctor’s Hospital Parkway + Tidwell, in conjunction with People With AIDS Coalition Houston, now offers an HIV/AIDS support group on the first Wednesday of the month, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Register: Craig Overstreet, 281/765-7313.

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NEW HRC EXEC CHERYL JACQUES: “WE’VE ONLY BEGUN TO FIGHT”

Cheryl Jacques interviewed by Christopher Curtis

By assuming the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, Cheryl Jacques not only illustrates the power of coming out, but she also pays homage to the organization that convinced her to live her life openly and honestly.

Nearly four years ago, the HRC hosted the Millennium March on Washington, D.C., rallying thousands of members from the GLBT community to celebrate their accomplishments and energize activists to fight for change. Amid those out and proud activists stood Cheryl Jacques, a state senator from a conservative Massachusetts district, who until that moment had been decidedly in the closet.

“It was absolutely the match that lit the fuse that set off the explosion in me,” Jacques recalled in a recent phone interview.

Jacques was already public about her support for gay rights. When she first ran for the office at the relatively young age of 29, she debated an incumbent who had held the position three years longer than she had been alive. “We were asked our position on gay rights,” she recalled. “And my opponent’s response was that if he was in a burning building and a gay fire fighter came to rescue him, he’d burn. And my response was I fully supported gay rights and I would have hugged that fire fighter so tight, he’d never get my arms off his neck!

“But that’s the kind of district I had. They had been listening to that for 32 years. So I didn’t believe I could continue to serve in office and be out.”

But the Millennium March changed her mind. “The power of that weekend helped me see another way.”

After helping win a battle to save the Safe Schools Program, which was designed in part to stem the high incidence of suicide among GLBT students, Jacques came out in a column for the Boston Globe. “I said in the op-ed that I understood the tremendous pressure and burden these kids were under because I too was gay.”

Jacques credits the HRC for helping her find the courage to not only come out, but to run for re-election after she broke the news. “A fellow ran against me, who ran solely on the campaign that I was unfit to serve in office because I was gay.”

That plan backfired.

“I won re-election by my largest margin ever after I came out in the same conservative district that had accepted gay bashing for years.”

Now after becoming president of the nation’s largest GLBT advocacy organization in January, Jacques, 41, is leading the fight against the latest forms of gay bashing: the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). If passed, the FMA would force states to deny recognition of same-sex marital relationships and would require any state that recognized such relationships to amend its constitution.

Much of the momentum behind the FMA has been fueled by the developments on same-sex marriage in Jacques’ home state, where the state’s highest court ruled that same-couples are legally entitled to full marriage benefits.

Jacques vowed, “We’ve only begun to fight.”

“One of the core missions of the Human Rights Campaign this year is to help everybody understand that marriage is our moment in history. We have now had a court opinion in this country saying we are equal.”

In an effort to appeal to conservatives, Jacques directed that HRC team up with the Log Cabin Republicans to launch an ad campaign in Massachusetts decrying an effort by lawmakers to stop same-sex marriages from taking place.

Other lawmakers in Massachusetts are trying to get the GLBT community to accept civil unions—similar to what happened in Vermont. Jacques said she will never sanction such a move.

“To accept anything less, I couldn’t do that as a leader of this organization. To me, that would be selling out our community because it is in fact less. Civil unions are not the same as marriage. It’s not even close. It’s not even separate and equal. It’s separate and unequal.

“I’ve always said to people, Imagine how history would have changed for the worse had Rosa Parks settled for going for the middle of the bus. We cannot retreat from this moment in time.”

Even with the challenges that face the HRC and the GLBT community, Jacques also stressed recent milestones.

From the Houston-based Lawrence v. Texas decision that outlawed sodomy laws across the country to the consecration of an openly gay Episcopalian bishop, Jacques remains enthusiastic about accomplishments made by the GLBT community. “These are extraordinary victories,” she said.

“It is important for the gay community to understand that all their hard work is changing public opinion every single day. You know when we look at polls that show that the nation is almost equally divided over the question of gay marriage, there is good news in those numbers. There’s good news in those number when you consider what those numbers would have looked like 10 years ago. We’re making tremendous, tremendous progress.”

When it comes to Texas, Jacques sees the Lone Star State as a key player in the fight for GLBT rights.

“Some of our most wonderful activists and hardest-working steering committee and board members come out of Texas,” she revealed.

Jacques is set to visit here on March 20 for HRC Houston’s “Garden of Even” dinner at the InterContinental Houston.

Jacques said she looks forward to her visit. “I’ll be disappointed if I don’t see a lot of big hair,” she joked.

Jacques Facts

Last Name: Jacques is pronounced “Jakes”

Spouse: Jennifer Chrisler

Children: Timmy and Tommy

Favorite Music: Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Melissa Etheridge, Barry Manilow

Favorite Food: Seafood

Pets: “No pets. I’m a people person.”

Sports: “I’m a Patriots fan!”

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GOOD RELATIONS

Christopher Sieber and John Benjamin Hickey, the openly gay stars of the ABC comedy It’s All Relative, will speak at the March 20 Human Rights Campaign dinner. Sieber and Hickey play gay dads on the sitcom. HRC executive director Cheryl Jacques will also speak at the event at InterContiental Houston, along with U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, city controller Annise Parker, and attorney Mitchell Katine.

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