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News Briefs: April 2007

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Caucus, HRC, “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” lawsuit. Plus…

Compiled by Nancy Ford

Political Caucus PAC endorses Noriega for Council San Antonio veteran named HRC spokesperson
Lake Jackson man is lead plaintiff in ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Circuit Court appeal
Pride Houston announces grand marshals, Idol contest

Political Caucus nixes Pride moves Coleman introduces legislation to protect GLBT students
Organizers call lobbying efforts‘a huge success’

Montrose Counseling Center keeps pace with April wellness themes
AIDS Walk Houston tops $900k
Local and national equal rights groups denounce anti-gay military chairman’s ‘immoral’ remarks

Stonewall Democrats criticize advancement of Arkansas adoption ban

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Political Caucus PAC endorses Noriega for Council

Noriega
Melissa Noriega

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus political-action committee voted to endorse candidate Melissa Noriega for City Council, At-large Position 3 at its March general meeting, held March 7.

Citing that the meeting room at the Houston GLBT Community Center was “filled to capacity” with approximately 50 members attending, caucus president Jenifer Pool characterized the endorsement of Noriega as “overwhelming,” calling Noriega “a proven friend of the community for many years.”

Openly gay candidates Noel Freeman [profiled in “Gay Watch,” February 2007 OutSmart] and Ivan Mayers also sought the endorsement for the May 12 special election to fill the council seat vacated by Shelly Sekula-Gibbs.

“The caucus had the privilege to be able to screen two openly gay candidates in a race,” Pool said. “The GLBT community is beginning to come of age with such good candidates. Even though they were neophytes in the political race, Noel and Ivan have the potential to be strong candidates for our community in the future.”
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San Antonio veteran named HRC spokesperson

EAlva
Eric Alva

The first U.S. military service person wounded in the Iraq war, retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, now serves as a national spokesperson in the Human Rights Campaign effort to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy.

Alva came out publicly during a Capitol Hill press conference in early March. The press conference reintroduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, legislation to repeal the ban against openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military.

“When Eric Alva lost his leg in Iraq [in 2003], it didn’t matter whether he was gay or straight, only that he was a courageous American serving his country,” HRC president Joe Solmonese said in a media statement. “Eric’s voice represents the sacrifice of thousands of gay and lesbian service members fighting for the safety and freedom of all Americans. We believe his story should help move this issue forward and educate Congress as to why it’s so important to lift the discriminatory ban that compromises our nation’s security.”

“My proudest moment in the military came when I would confide in one of my friends about my sexual orientation, and they still treated me with the same respect as before,” Alva said. “And although I’m no longer wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps, my mission continues to be protecting the rights and freedoms of all Americans.”

As spokesperson for HRC, Alva will raise awareness of the impact of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy through public appearances, media interviews, and blog postings at the Human Rights Campaign website, www.hrc.org.

In 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the cost to recruit and train replacements for enlisted service members separated under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban was more than $190 million from fiscal years 1994 through 2003.
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Lake Jackson man is lead plaintiff in ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Circuit Court appeal

TCook
Tommy Cook challenges the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, assisted by Lambda Legal.

The First Circuit Court heard oral arguments on March 7 in an appeal filed by veterans dismissed under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. The veterans, who all recently served, asked the court to reverse a lower court ruling dismissing their constitutional challenge to the law.

The lawsuit, Cook v. Gates , was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and the law firm of WilmerHale.

Tommy Cook of Lake Jackson, Texas, is the lead plaintiff in Cook v. Rumsfeld, which seeks to eliminate the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“When we began this journey in December 2004, we were determined to have our stories heard and to present the facts about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Today’s hearing was an important step forward in that journey,” the plaintiffs said in a press statement.

“We have come to the First Circuit with unmovable confidence in our nation’s promise of ‘liberty and justice for all.’ We believe the freedoms we defended as United States military personnel are alive and well in our country. We know our nation can do better than this law.”

Cook and 11 other plaintiffs in Cook v. Gates seek reinstatement in the armed forces. Their lawsuit asserts that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” punishes lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members for their sexual orientation and for their private, constitutionally protected conduct.
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Pride Houston announces grand marshals, Pride Idol contest

Pride Houston announces grand marshals for the 2007 GLBT Pride celebrations at a reception on April 30, 7 p.m., at Café Adobe. Members of the community voted for marshal nominees in February.

This month, Pride Houston also introduces a new event to uncover undiscovered talent in the community. Auditions and registration for Houston Pride Idol are scheduled Saturday, April 14, at the Pride Houston office (1415 California).

Qualifying rounds will be held at Guava Lamp on five dates beginning April 17 and running through June 14. The semi-final round will be held at Guava Lamp on June 17, with finals to be held on the main stage of the 2007 GLBT Pride Festival on June 23.

Entry forms and rules will be available online (at www.pridehouston.org), the Pride Office, and at Guava Lamp. There is no entry fee, but contestants must sign up before the qualifying rounds. The event is limited to 15 contestants per qualifying round, or 75 total contestants.
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Political Caucus nixes Pride moves

At its February general meeting, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus unanimously voted to reject Pride Houston’s proposed location and date change of the annual Pride Parade and Festival.

Pride Houston, the organization that produces the festivities traditionally held in Montrose each June, is considering moving the festivities to a downtown location in September 2008.

The caucus statement reads as follows:

“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.”

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Coleman introduces legislation to protect GLBT students

Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) filed the Dignity for All Students Act on March 15 to prohibit discrimination or harassment against students in and employees of Texas public schools. Coleman’s H.B. 2527, the Dignity for All Students Act, seeks to prohibit discrimination or harassment against students.

“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,” Coleman said in a press statement. “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. It 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.

The bill next goes to the Texas house committee on public education, where advocates hope chairman Rob Eissler (R-Magnolia) will grant the bill a hearing and allow students to testify about the need to end discrimination in Texas schools.
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Organizers call lobbying efforts ‘a huge success’

More than 200 Texans assembled in Austin on March 5 to talk with legislators about issues of public policy that directly impact the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans. Participants in Lobby for Equality! 2007 came together to discuss their shared belief that public policy discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is wrong.

“It’s amazing to think that the simple act of sitting down for a few minutes with staffers and sharing stories can make a difference in the long run in representatives’ hearts and minds,” said Deborah Wilson of Atticus Circle, one of several groups that worked to produce the lobbying effort.

“Equality for LGBT persons will be a great investment return on a wonderful day at the Capitol spent celebrating the diversity of our human family.”

Equality Texas organized the lobby day, which brought participants to Austin to share real-life stories about their families, their jobs, and their schools and the impact of inequality on their lives.

“We engaged our legislators on issues important to every Texan: child welfare, safe schools, and nondiscrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and insurance,” Equality Texas executive director Paul E. Scott said. “This was just one day in our ongoing efforts to end public policy discrimination in Texas based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. But it was a very satisfying and rewarding day.”

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Montrose Counseling Center keeps pace with April wellness themes

The month of April may keep staff at Montrose Counseling center even busier than usual. April is designated Alcohol Awareness Month, Sexually Transmitted Diseases Month, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and Counseling Awareness Month.

The center has programs recognizing and addressing all these issues, including its ongoing chemical dependency treatment program and sexually transmitted diseases education department.

The center’s sexual assault prevention focus group meets April 4, 6-7:15 p.m., and its sexual assault survivor support group for teens meets on Tuesdays, 6-7:30 p.m.

Executive director Ann J. Robison calls the anti-violence program at the counseling center one of the “best-kept secrets” in the Houston GLBT community.

“Nobody ever leaves their home expecting to become a victim, but if it does happen, call Montrose Counseling Center or Gay & Lesbian Switchboard,” she says.

Robison says center representatives may accompany victims to the hospital for treatment or to the police station to file a report, helping to assure that individuals are treated with dignity and respect. “If you’re suffering in silence, you don’t have to go through it alone,” Robinson says. “Program the numbers in your cell phone. You never know when you’ll need them.”

Details: www.montrosecounselingcenter.org, 713/529-0037, 713/529-3211 (Gay & Lesbian Switchboard of Houston).

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AIDS Walk Houston tops $900K

Under a brilliant Sunday morning sky, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee spoke of “passion and love” as an estimated crowd of 12,000 gathered in Sam Houston Park for the 18th annual AIDS Walk Houston on March 11.

“This year’s AIDS walk Houston, our 18th, was the best one yet!” said AIDS Foundation Houston chief executive officer, Kelly McCann. ” We broke attendance records, having more than 12,000 walkers, and it looks like we are on track to exceed our goal of $900,000 for this walk. We had great weather and wonderful entertainment.”

Houston rapper and walk grand marshal J Xavier warmed up the crowd before participants from corporations, churches, social and service organizations, as well as numerous pets stepped off to complete the course along Buffalo Bayou. Hydeia Broadbent, J Xavier’s co-grand marshal, shared her experience of having been born with the HIV virus.

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Local and national equal rights groups denounce anti-gay military chairman’s ‘immoral’ remarks

In a February interview with the Chicago Tribune , General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, called lesbian and gay military personnel “immoral,” stating, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.”

Organizations promoting equal rights were quick to condemn the four-star Marine general’s statement.

“General Pace’s comments are what is immoral, not the honorable gay and lesbian men and women in the military who place their lives on the line for us all. Immorality is denying these brave men and women the opportunity to serve our country,” Tammi Wallace, president of the Houston Equal Rights Alliance, said in a media statement. “The fact that General Pace would completely negate their courageous and brave sacrifices clearly reflects his priority and concern for his homophobic viewpoints over the safety of our country.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, made similar remarks.

“Chairman Pace should apologize immediately to the tens of thousands of gay and lesbian service members who are making huge sacrifices and risking their lives every day to protect our country,” Solmonese said in a statement. “What is truly immoral is maligning these service members with his bigoted statements. The chairman also is making matters worse by misrepresenting the failed military policy. He argues that the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy allows individuals to serve the nation and that it does not make a moral judgment. He doesn’t tell the truth on either account. What the chairman fails to admit in his latest statement is that the current policy requires people to hide, misrepresent, and deny their basic identities. It also criminalizes gay relationships and is a constant source of stress and fear for our gay and lesbian troops.”

People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas said General Pace’s comments do not reflect the views of the American public or people in uniform.

“Most Americans believe policy should not be grounded in prejudice,” Neas said. “General Pace’s personal ‘upbringing’ is no justification for a policy that discriminates against people willing to serve their country.”

Neas further noted that retired Army General John Shalikashvili, a previous Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman (1993-97), wrote in a January New York Times column that “we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.” Shalikashvili said he believes the change is “inevitable” and will not harm the armed forces.

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Stonewall Democrats criticize advancement of Arkansas adoption ban

National Stonewall Democrats criticized a Democratic Party-controlled committee of the Arkansas senate for choosing to advance legislation that would bar same-sex couples from adopting children and serving as foster parents in the state of Arkansas.

The public health, welfare, and labor committee of the Arkansas senate voted to send Senate Bill 959, sponsored by Republican senator Shawn Womack, to the senate floor for a vote. The bill would ban same-sex couples from adopting children and serving as foster parents in the state of Arkansas.

“Republicans have diligently pushed this adoption ban as an attempt to divide the people of Arkansas and advance their narrow interests,” Jo Wyrick, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said in a media statement. “As a Democrat and as a mother, I am ashamed that Senate Democrats in Arkansas have cowered to Republican pressure and failed to defend the principles of the Democratic Party. The action taken by this committee threatens the children of Arkansas and that is why the Stonewall Democrats are working to ensure that Democrats defend families instead of a Republican agenda.”

Democratic governor Mike Beebe stated that he is still reviewing the legislation. However, during his 2006 campaign for the office, Beebe publicly stated that he would support reinstating a ban on gay foster parents that was recently struck down by Arkansas courts. The Arkansas Stonewall Democrats revoked their endorsement of Beebe after the candidate took the position, which contradicted earlier statements made to Stonewall members.

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