News Briefs: August 2007

A violent summer in Houston against gay men. Parker, Lovell, and Cohen in the news. MCC & Fitness Exchange move. Hollyfield grants.

Compiled by Nancy Ford

• The Long, Violent Summer: Gay-Based Assaults On The Rise In Houston
(If Hate Crime Strikes and Hate Crime Stats)
Parker, Lovell appointed to Clinton steering committee
Cohen receives award for legislation
• Houston hate-crime victim commits suicide
Montrose Counseling Center, Fitness Exchange find new homes
Hollyfield Foundation announces grant recipients
• Former Log Cabin Republican president found guilty of murder, child porn

People Will Talk—Notable quotes from all over

Gay-based assaults on the rise in Houston

A series of crimes ranging from assault to murder has plagued local gay men—and men perceived to be gay—in recent weeks.

On June 23, the night of the GLBT Pride Parade, Mark R. Rasch, 37, of Katy was dining with friends downtown at Vin restaurant. According to the Houston Police Department, a group of approximately 20 males assaulted Rasch after he left the restaurant. Reports from the scene indicate that the group of males taunted Rasch and his friends with gay slurs.

Rasch, who is not gay, sustained major injuries and was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital by ambulance.

Jerry Watson, area manager for Vin and the nightclub Roc, both located in Bayou Place, the popular dining and entertainment center in the downtown theater district, said a surveillance tape showed the assailants entering Roc and partying there for much of the evening.

Watson indicated that he was outraged by the attack. “No one—gay or straight—deserves that kind of treatment,” he said in an interview with OutSmart.

Police are investigating the downtown attack as a Class A assault, with hate-crime enhancement.

In the early morning hours of July 14, three men were victimized near the corner of Taft and Pacific in Montrose by a man attempting to rob them.

The three men, who requested anonymity, were walking together from the Pacific Street-area bars when a car drove up behind them.

While a heavyset Hispanic man and a woman, both in their mid-20s, waited in the car, a third man exited the vehicle, indicated he had a gun, and demanded money from the trio.

When the assailant was told by the men that they had no money, he attacked two of the men, who sustained minor injuries. The men gave police officers the license plate number and a description of car.

One of the victims said he was later told by police that officers had been alerted to a similar assault that had happened in the same Montrose vicinity shortly afterward.

Perhaps the most chilling incident in this series of recent assaults resulted in death. A man who claimed, following his arrest, to be the Old Testament prophet Elijah, sent to carry out God’s judgment against homosexuality, murdered Kenneth Cummings Jr. on June 4.

Terry Mark Mangum, 26, of Cypress was indicted on June 12 for the murder of Cummings, a Pearland man.

The men met at a Montrose bar and later proceeded to Cummings’ home in Pearland. After stabbing Cummings in the head, Magnum transported the body to a family ranch in Poteet. Cummings’ body was later positively identified by the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office.

At press time, Mangum was being held in Bexar County Jail on $500,000 bond.

Federal legislation titled The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act/ Matthew Shepard Act is currently being evaluated by Washington lawmakers. Its passage would add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability to existing federal law, ensuring a federal backstop to assist local law enforcement in adequately investigating and prosecuting such crimes.

Fiona Dawson, who co-chairs the local Federal Club donor group of the Human Rights Campaign, says the recent attacks against the gay community makes support of this hate-crime legislation all the more critical.

“These crimes hit home,” Dawson says. “Currently in Texas, gender identity is not included in our state hate-crimes law, and because it is not a federal offense, it is very hard to get funding to investigate and prosecute such a crime. Adding this language to the federal law would change that.”

Passage of the Matthew Shepard Act would make a strong statement on how offensive crimes of this nature are, Dawson adds.

“All violent attacks are hateful. However, when a hate crime is committed, it affects more than the individual victim and their family,” Dawson says. “When someone is attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the message is sent to the whole community that anyone like them is equally despised.

“When you are a part of the GLBT community, an attack against someone else who is gay is also an attack against you. It’s a reminder that not everyone accepts you for who you are.”

• First call 911.

• Montrose Counseling Center offers individual and group programs addressing hate crimes, domestic violence, sexual assault, and childhood sexual abuse. Details: 713/529-0037,

• Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston, a counseling center program, provides crisis information intervention. Details: 713/529-311,

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation constituted the third highest category of hate crimes reported, according to 2004 fbi statistics, and made up 15.5 percent of all reported hate crimes. Only race-based and religion-based prejudice crimes were more prevalent than hate crimes based on sexual orientation.

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Parker, Lovell appointed to Clinton steering committee
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chose the eve of the 38th anniversary of the New York Stonewall Rebellion to announce the formation of LGBT Americans for Hillary. The national steering committee of more than 65 leaders in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community includes two Houstonians, city controller Annise D. Parker and City Council member Sue Lovell.

Other members of the steering committee are activists from national LGBT and Democratic Party political groups, as well as leaders in business, entertainment, and sports. The list also includes three retired members of the military who have worked to overturn the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and the attorney who argued and won the landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence vs. Texas .

“I am proud to have the support of such distinguished leaders in the LGBT community,” Clinton said in a statement. “Together, we can move our nation closer to the promise of fairness and equality that all Americans deserve.”

The campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama have also formed GBLT outreach groups. (Read more about the presidential candidates on page 42.)

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Cohen receives award for legislation
Texas representative Ellen Cohen received the ”Best Freshman Performance as a Bill Sponsor” from the online political publication Capitol Inside for her work on House Bill 1751, which imposes a $5 fee on certain sexually oriented businesses to fund $25 million worth of sexual assault and prevention programs.

“Serving as the president and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, I have led an organization for 17 years whose mission is to end domestic and sexual violence,” Cohen, the freshman legislator indicated in a statement read at the Give Back a Smile dental program fundraiser hosted by dentist Randy Mitchmore in May. “We eagerly work for the day when violence against women is part of history rather than a part of our daily lives.”

Cohen recently moved her District 134 office to 3355 West Alabama, Suite 1250 (713/627-0134).

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Houston Hate-Crime Victim Commits Suicide
David Ritcheson, a victim of a 2006 Houston hate crime in which his attackers beat, kicked, and sodomized him, jumped to his death off a Carnival cruise ship en route to Mexico on July 1.

Ritcheson, 18, testified in April before the Crime Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to urge lawmakers to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1592).

“I appear before you as a survivor,” Ritcheson told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee. “I am here before you today asking that our government take the lead in deterring individuals like those who attacked me from committing unthinkable and violent crimes against others because of where they are from, the color of their skin, the God they worship, the person they love, or the way they look, talk, or act.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said that by sharing his testimony before Congress, Ritcheson’s story encouraged the House to pass a hate crimes bill. “Our condolences go out to his family and loved ones,” Solmonese said. “We will work to pass a hate crimes bill in the Senate that will help honor David’s life.”

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Montrose Counseling Center, Fitness Exchange Find New Homes
Following a purchase made by its permanent endowment fund, the Montrose Counseling Center has moved into its new home at 401 Branard (formerly known as 4040 Milam). The site has long been known as the home of Fitness Exchange, the gym popular in the community.

Fitness Exchange’s lease with the previous owner expired on May 31, but the counseling center officials agreed to extend its lease through August 31.

In a statement to its clients and the community, center executive director Ann Robison said that after that date, the center must engage its property tax exemption, which cannot be done with Fitness Exchange, a commercial business, in the building.

“As long as there is a for-profit tenant in the building, MCC must pay property taxes and a higher loan interest rate on the whole property,” Robison said in the statement. “It would be unfair to MCC’s clients, donors, and stakeholders for the nonprofit organization to, in effect, subsidize a for-profit entity.”

The popular neighbor fitness center plans to move to a new facility at 4810 Washington Ave. near the Heights. Owner Mary Ann McBee plans a late August opening.

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Hollyfield Foundation Announces Grant Recipients
At a July reception, Hollyfield Foundation directors Mary Ann McBee, Coy Tow, and Mark Wood announced that 16 local, state, and national organizations received grants for 2007.

Organizations receiving grants are AIDS Services of Austin, Bering Omega Community Services, Capital City Men’s Chorus, Center for AIDS, Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute, Houston Black Tie Dinner, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, Lazarus House, Legacy Community Health Services, Lesbian Health Initiative, PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation, PFLAG Houston, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, Unhinged Productions, and Waterloo Counseling Center.

Tow said that funds are set aside for interim grants if needed. Instructions for applying for the interim grant funds are available at the foundation’s website at

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Former Log Cabin Republican President Found Guilty of Murder, Child Porn
In early June, Kenneth Wilk was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Fatta during a search for child pornography at Wilk’s home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 2004. A jury then sentenced Wilk to life in prison.

President of the Houston chapter of Log Cabin Republicans in 1994, Wilk, 45, was also found guilty of attempted murder in the wounding of a second deputy and of child pornography possession and obstruction of justice charges.

Wilk’s attorney, Bill Matthewman, maintains his client was suffering from AIDS-related dementia at the time of the killing.

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People Will Talk
“From the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to the recent signing of a civil unions bill in New Hampshire, there is no doubt that voters will demand answers to important questions affecting our community.”
—Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign on an upcoming forum for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson. A ccording to exit poll data, the GLBT vote makes up approximately four percent of the voting population. The forum, cosponsored by and Logo, airs August 9 on Logo (see page 42 for details).

“It validates what we’ve been saying for a long time. Average Republicans are much more supportive of gay rights than some on the far right would like people to believe…. This poll makes it clear that the much talked about ‘base’ of the GOP fundamentally believes in basic fairness for all Americans.”
—Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon, regarding a spring 2007 poll by GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio that shows that Republican voters support basic fairness for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.

“It’s the second-largest parade Houston has after the Thanksgiving parade, but it attracts a lot of vagrants and freaks. Just a lot of freaky people. I know lots of people who’ve gotten disgusted with it and aren’t going. It’s just not a class of people some of us want to be around.”
— Lionel Vargas, who was identified as a “lifelong gay Houston resident,” regarding the Houston GLBT Pride Parade in a June 29 article in the Washington Blade .

“My intent in telling these stories is to prove that athletes with different sexualities in sport did not just happen in recent times. It has been going on for centuries.”
—Renowned lesbian author Patricia Nell Warren ( The Lavender Locker Room: 3000 years of Great Athletes Whose Sexual Orientation Was Different), winner of the 2007 Independent Publisher Gold Medal for Best Gay/Lesbian Book.

“At Chubb, we take pride in the progress we have made in creating a workplace that values employee diversity…. Unfortunately, the continued taxation of domestic partner benefits places an undue burden on our employees and our company. We support Senator Smith’s efforts to repeal the unfair taxation of these important benefits.”
—Kathy Marvel, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Chubb & Son, regarding Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act introduced by senators Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn. The legislation would end the tax inequities that currently apply to employer-provided health insurance for domestic partners. 

“Democrats in California support equal access to civil marriage because they understand that all California families deserve equal protections under the law. The work of Stonewall Democrats throughout California led to widespread support for civil marriage among Democratic parties and institutions in the Golden State. Republicans now have the opportunity to join Democrats in strengthening family protections, and we hope the Republican Governor Schwarzenegger will ignore the special interests that control his party and sign this legislation into law once it is passed by the Senate.”
—National Stonewall Democrats executive director Jo Wyrick on the June 6 passage of California’s Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. The legislation now moves to the California Senate, where political observers it to be acted upon this month. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation in 2005.

“As winemakers, we want to offer wine lovers some of the best wines Napa Valley has to offer. Wine for Hope lets us do both. With one click of the mouse, Wine for Hope shoppers have great wine shipped to their front door, while making a contribution to the fight against AIDS.”
—Vintner Bart O’Brien, owner of O’Brien Cellars, which donates 20 percent of sales made through its online Equality Wine Store to Academy of Friends, a California HIV/AIDS philanthropic organization. Details:


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