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News Briefs: July 2008

Political parties’ platforms; caucus early endorsements; Nunn’s flip-flops; woman and DADT; investigation into TG abuse by police; and more. 

Compiled by Nancy Ford

State Political Parties Adopt Divergent Platform for Texas’ Gay Citizens
Political Caucus Makes Early Endorsements for November Election
Former Senator Sam Nunn Flip-Flops on Antigay Military Policy
Women Disproportionately Affected by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
Police Abuse of Trans Woman Prompts Criminal Investigation
Congress Examines Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act
Martin and Lyon Wed (Again) in California
Bishop Gene Robinson and Partner, Mark Andrew, Joined in Civil Union


 Texas’ major political parties both met in June to hammer out details of their parties’ aspirations as the November presidential election approaches.

Convened June 12–14 at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, members of the Texas Republican Party upheld antigay language in the 2008 state Republican platform. The document addresses homosexuality under the heading, “Celebrating Traditional Marriage,” stating:

“We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples.’ We are opposed to any granting of legal special entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.”

Regarding Texas sodomy statutes, struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, the platform states:

“We oppose the legislation of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy.”

Regarding adoption, the platform states:

“We oppose mandatory open adoption and adoption by homosexuals.”

Texas’ state Democratic Party also held its state convention last month. During the weekend of June 6–8, Texas Democrats adopted a party platform in Austin, that nowhere contained the words “homosexual” or “homosexuality,” stating: “We believe in equal opportunity for all Texans.”

The Democratic state platform also calls for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and supports “the right of all military personnel to serve without discrimination, sexual abuse, or prejudice.”

Regarding child protection and foster care, Texas Democrats’ platform states:

“We oppose discrimination in the state foster care system. We support child protection programs that provide safe, secure environments for our children.”

In a section designated “Rights and Freedoms,” the Texas Democratic platform states: “Texas Democrats believe all people possess inalienable rights that are protected by freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, which places responsibility on our government to protect and defend those freedoms just as those freedoms place responsibilities on us as individuals. We believe in and support equal opportunity and equal protection before the law for all people; full protection of civil and human rights; freedom from government interference in our private lives and personal decisions; and freedom of religion and individual conscience. Democrats believe our Constitution is intended to prohibit discrimination in all forms. Republicans wish to make it a tool of discrimination. To protect our rights and freedoms, we support action against all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment.”

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Following a meeting of its political action committee held June 4, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus announced a special early slate of endorsed candidates for the November 4, 2008, election.

Candidates receiving support from the caucus based on their favorable stance on equality include Rick Noriega, United States Senate; Michael Skelly, U.S. Congressional District 7; Vince Ryan, County Attorney; Brad Bradford, District Attorney; David Mincberg, County Judge; Adrian Garcia, County Sheriff; Diane Trautman, County Tax Assessor-Collector; Loren Jackson, District Clerk; Kristi Thibaut, State Representative District 133; Ellen Cohen, State Representative District 134; Ginny McDavid, State Representative District 138; and Hubert Vo, State Representative District 149.

Maria Gonzalez, vice president of the caucus, explained the endorsements were made early so the group could spend   the summer months focusing on legislative priorities.

“By endorsing these candidates early, we will be block-walking and phone-banking in their districts this summer working to get them elected this fall,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said more endorsements are to come. “This is just a partial initial endorsement slate. We will endorse the rest of our slate at our usual August endorsement meeting.”  

The caucus is actively recruiting volunteers to   work on its focused campaign this summer. The caucus meets the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m.   The monthly meeting is held at the Havens Center, 1827 W. Alabama. Details: 713/521-1000 • www.thecaucus.org.

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Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn said in late June that he believes it is time to revisit the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law which bans lesbians, gays, and bisexuals from serving openly in the military. Nunn, one of the principal lawmakers responsible for the passage of the 1993 law, stated: “I think [when] 15 years go by on any personnel policy, it’s appropriate to take another look at it—see how it’s working, ask the hard questions, hear from the military. Start with a Pentagon study.”

According to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), 143 House members have already taken a look at he policy and responded by cosponsoring HR 1246, the bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“It’s a bit of a stretch for Senator Nunn to now suggest a Pentagon study when one was done by the Rand Corporation in 1993 and whose findings were totally at odds with the proposed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Unfortunately, Senator Nunn rejected that study and instead gave us ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ ”

Since its implementation in 1993, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has resulted in the dismissal of more than 12,000 men and women from the armed forces. The cost to U.S. taxpayers for maintaining the ban is estimated at more than $363 million.

Nunn is said to be on a short list of potential running mates for Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama.

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Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has released new data showing that while women make up approximately 15 percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly half of all “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges from the Army and Air Force. The law forbidding openly gay Americans from military service has always disproportionately affected women, but the 2007 data shows a significant increase in the ban’s impact.

“Women make up 15 percent of the armed forces, so to find they represent nearly 50 percent of Army and Air Force discharges under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is shocking,” said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis. “ ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is often used as a weapon of vengeance against service members. Women in particular have been caught in the crosshairs of this counterproductive law.”

In fiscal year 2007 women accounted for 14 percent of the Army’s active duty force while making up 46 percent of DADT discharges compared to 2006 when women represented 17 percent of the Army and made up 35 percent of DADT discharges. Similarly, 2007 data from the Air Force shows women are 20 percent of the force but made up 49 percent of DADT discharges.

Separation data shows the number of overall discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have fallen by 50 percent since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the beginning of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meanwhile, the military’s need for qualified and experienced personnel continues to grow. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently released data showing the Army has doubled the number of waivers it grants to recruits convicted of violent felonies including manslaughter, rape, and kidnapping. In an attempt to meet personnel goals, Pentagon leaders have relaxed enlistment standards regarding age, physical fitness, education, and criminal records.

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Released in June, a video out of Memphis, Tennessee, clearly shows a police officer abusing Duanna Johnson while she was held in the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center. Johnson is a transgender woman, and had been arrested on a charge of prostitution.

Surveillance video of the incident shows an unidentified officer hitting Johnson several times with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles, as another officer holds Johnson’s shoulders as she tries to protect herself. Johnson was also maced and called “faggot” and “he-she.”   The FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations is ongoing.

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In June, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (H.R. 5524), which connects youth to family reunification programs, outreach workers on the streets, emergency shelter, longer-term housing, and myriad additional support systems, including workplace preparation, education, health and behavioral health services, and other opportunities to ensure the safety and well-being of this vulnerable population.

“LGBT youth make up a disproportionate number of runaway and homeless youth, as many as 40 percent. It is a national disgrace that youth are turned out of their homes and communities based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. These homeless youth deserve the same safety, food, shelter, access to education, and opportunity to a bright future that is the right of every child,” said Rea Carey, acting executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.

The Senate is expected to consider companion legislation (S. 2982) later this summer, reauthorizing the program for an additional five years.

In fiscal year 2007, runaway and homeless youth programs served more than 740,000 youth in crisis situations.

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With even more reason to rejoice during Pride Month, same-sex couples celebrated marriage equality in California when, on June 17, same-sex couples were able to begin legally marrying in that state.

Leading the charge to the altar were lesbian equal rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who were wed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in a private ceremony at San Francisco City Hall. Thousands of other committed couples followed suit by holding or planning their own wedding celebrations.

“Del and Phyllis, pioneering activists now in their 80s, were the first couple to be married in San Francisco as same-sex marriages became legal in California,” said Rea Carey, acting executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“From Sonoma to San Francisco to San Diego, these loving couples, their families, and friends are participating in a poignant and time-honored tradition. This is a momentous time not only for these couples, but for California and the entire country as well.

“We wish each and every one of these newlyweds much joy and happiness in their marriages.”

The legislation also recognizes the legality of same-sex marriages performed in locations other than California.

Martin and Lyon were originally wed in February 2004 when Mayor Newsom issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. California courts annulled the unions four months later, a move struck down as unconstitutional in the May 2008 decision.

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On June 8, openly gay Episcopal Bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson entered into a civil union with Mark Andrew, his partner of more than 19 years at a private ceremony at St. Paul’s Church in New Hampshire.

Rev. Robinson’s spokesman, Mike Barwell, said the event was kept private in deference to the upcoming worldwide Anglican conference.

Robinson was consecrated bishop in 2003 by the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, the 77 million-member worldwide federation of national churches.

Civil unions became legal in New Hampshire earlier this year.


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