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News Briefs: January 2008

Caucus-endorsed candidates win. Hate-crimes vigil. Targeting Lakewood. And more. Plus Milestones.

Compiled by Nancy Ford

Caucus-Endorsed Candidates Win Runoffs

Faith Group Stages Hate-Crimes Vigil

Effort Targets Lakewood, Other Megachurches

New Citizen Celebrates With Fundraiser

Lambda Legal Establishes Fellowship In Memory Of Garner

Equality Organizations Denounce Drop Of Hate-Crimes Amendment

Lamba Legal: Proposed Regs Unfair To HIV-Positive Visitors and Immigrants

PFLAG Accepting Scholarship Applications

Houston Comets Move to Reliant Center

Caucus-Endorsed Candidates Win Runoffs

Two candidates endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus political-action committee won their bids for City Council seats in a December 8 runoff election.

Jolanda Jones, an attorney, easily emerged victorious with a two-to-one margin over her opponent, education consultant Joe Trevino. Jones was vying for the City Council At-Large Position 5 seat, formerly occupied by term-limited Michael Berry.

Wanda Adams, a city worker who coordinates city recycling and environmental programs, won her bid for City Council District D, over HISD administrator Lawrence Allen Jr.

Adams and Jones, as well as City Controller Annise Parker, City Council member Sue Lovell, Mayor Bill White, and other reelected municipal officials endorsed by the political caucus, will be sworn in on January 2.

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A group of GLBT-supportive clergy and community allies will join together on January 6 for a vigil intended to present a religious response to recent hate crimes perpetrated against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The event, billed “A Raising of Voices,” will take place at 4 p.m. at Covenant Baptist Church (4949 Caroline).

Clergy involved include Rev. Jeremy Rutledge of Covenant and Rev. Dwayne Johnson of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.

“When Kenneth Cummings Jr. was murdered last June, his murderer exclaimed that he was Elijah, called by God to carry out a code of retribution by killing a gay man. And there was silence. Not a single clergyperson spoke out in protest,” according to an advance media statement. At A Raising of Voices, we will lament that earlier silence with music and stories and proclaim that the common thread of all religions is love, not hate.”

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A group of advocacy organizations, including the Austin-based Soulforce and Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), are recruiting GLBT parents and their children along with other supporters for a 2008 outreach project, The American Family Outing. As part of the endeavor, selected families will visit six major megachurches to educate the public on the issues facing GLBT individuals.

During the weekends between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, COLAGE members and their families will ask to meet with church leaders and their congregations in Texas, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, and California with the goal of changing hearts and minds in some of the most influential churches in the nation. Targeted churches include those led by the nationally known preachers Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church, Houston), T.D. Jakes (The Potter’s House Dallas), and Rick Warren (Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California).

Soulforce and COLAGE are working with the National Black Justice Coalition and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Applications are due by January 15. A downloadable information packet is available at www.soulforce.org. All participants must be able to attend training in Austin during the weekend of February 22–24.

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Community activist and volunteer Fiona Dawson celebrates her new status as a U.S. citizen with a party and fundraiser on January 9, 6:30–8:30 p.m., at Salud! Winery. The British-born Dawson, who will participate in the citizenship ceremony that morning (and will have dual British-U.S. status), suggests a $5 donation at the door for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Equal Rights Alliance, or the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Guests will also be able to register to vote at the event.

“In case you’re wondering why I applied [for citizenship], consider this question from the Immigration and Naturalization Service test,” says Dawson, a newly appointed member of the national HRC board of governors. “What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens? The right to vote.”

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Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund recently established the Tyron Garner Memorial Fellowship for African-American LGBT Civil Rights in memory of Tyron Garner, one of the two Houston men who were the petitioners in the groundbreaking Lawrence v. Texas case. Lambda Legal argued their case before the Supreme Court, and the victory struck down all remaining state sodomy laws in the nation. Garner died in 2006.

The first paid fellowship will be awarded to a law student or recent law graduate to work in any of the five Lambda Legal offices during the summer of 2008. Lambda Legal will provide payment for round-trip travel from the fellowship recipient’s school or home to the Lambda Legal office. (Details: Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal deputy legal director, at [email protected].)

With the Garner Fellowship, Lambda Legal officials say they will sponsor the work of a talented law student or recent law graduate with a strong interest in GLBT and HIV issues affecting African Americans and with experience working in African-American communities.

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In early December, House of Representative and Senate conferees confirmed that the Matthew Shepard Act, which had passed the Senate as an amendment to a Department of Defense authorization bill, would be removed from the final version of the bill.

House leadership determined the defense bill would not pass if the Matthew Shepard Act remained attached to it. The act would give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese called the removal “deeply disappointing.”

“After more than 10 years and several successful bipartisan votes, it is heartbreaking to fall short this close to the finish line,” Solmonese said in a statement. “However, we are not giving up on efforts to find another legislative vehicle, in the second half of this Congress, to move the Matthew Shepard Act.”

Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director, was more direct in his remarks.

“We call on the Senate to immediately advance a stand-alone version of hate crimes that matches the version passed by the House earlier this year and send it to the president’s desk,” Foreman said in a statement. “When the president vetoes the bill—as he has repeatedly promised to do—everyone will see just how subservient this administration is to America’s antigay industry. Force his hand, for goodness sake, rather than hiding us away.

“Right-wing forces would rather see hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people ignored than have the words ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ appear alongside other protected classes in federal law,” Foreman continued. “It’s appalling that this administration—which has never met a tough-on-crime bill it didn’t like—is so in bed with these forces.”

Reports produced by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs have documented more than 35,000 anti-GLBT crimes over the last 22 years.

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Representatives from Lambda Legal have announced the group is opposing regulations proposed by the Department of Homeland Security regarding temporary admission of individuals infected with HIV into the United States. The suggested regulations continue the stigmatizing discrimination against persons living with HIV, create greater barriers to their entry into the United States, and significantly curtail their legal rights once here, according to Lambda Legal.

“There have been extraordinary advances in the understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS and how it’s transmitted,” said Bebe Anderson, Lambda Legal HIV Project director. “There is no medical justification to continue to treat people living with HIV as creating, by their very presence, a danger to public health.”

Lambda Legal urges that the homeland security department not adopt the proposed regulations and instead significantly revise them so they would allow more people living with HIV to visit the United States and would not require those visitors to give up safeguards and rights available to other visitors.

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Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is currently accepting applications for its national scholarship program. The deadline is March 15.

“PFLAG national scholarships are a key component of our safe-schools work,” Suzanne Greenfield, PFLAG senior Safe School coordinator, said. “What better way to show our commitment to students than to provide support for role models and pioneers around the country that are making schools safer for all students?”

This year, the organization will award up to three $5000 and ten $1,000 scholarships to GLBT students.

Application materials as well as eligibility requirements may be downloaded from the PFLAG website at http://www.pflag.org/Scholarships.1236.0.html.

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Houston Comets team owner Hilton Koch has announced that the WNBA team will move
to Reliant Arena at Reliant Park beginning in 2008. The Comets are relocating from Toyota Center, which had been the team’s home since moving from the Compaq Center (now Lakewood Church) in 2004.

“We are very excited that Reliant Arena will be the new home for Houston Comets basketball,” said Koch. “Reliant Arena’s smaller venue will be a great setting for our boisterous fans and will help create a powerful home-court advantage for our team.”

The Comets are scheduled to play 17 regular-season games at Reliant Arena in 2008, beginning with a match-up against the Minnesota Lynx on May 27. As part of opening night pre-game ceremonies, representatives say the Comets will raise all four of their WNBA championship banners (1997-2000) at Reliant Arena.

Several new elements will be introduced within Reliant Arena, representatives add, including the “Kim Perrot Memorial Locker Room,” and the “Cooper’s Corner VIP Entrance.”

Details: www.houstoncomets.com.

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Colleen Fischer and Kelly Bennett

MARRIED Colleen Fischer and Kelly Bennett on November 4 in Houston. The ceremony was performed by minister Jamie Block and was witnessed by Youngmin Chung, Bennett’s best friend, and man of honor Dan Fischer, Colleen Fischer’s brother. A reception followed in the Atlas Room at Dave & Buster’s in the Marq-E Entertainment Center.


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