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News Briefs: January 2007

Garnet Coleman looks at new Lege, Matt Locklin receives award, and much more, including EXTRA WEB CONTENT

Garnet Coleman looks at new LegeMatt Locklin receives awardCommunity Center break-inEquality Texas hires development directorVoters more likely to support same-sex marriageKushner play at Main Street Theatre

WEB EXTRA: Armstrong Investments donates15,500 Brit gay unionsNigeria may outlaw gay contactRobert Durst completes parole Military medical pros discuss HIVConservative Judaism green-lights gay marriage, ordination

EXPANDED WEB ARTICLE: Coleman looks at new Lege

Garnet Coleman

In anticipation of the 80th session of the Texas legislature, which begins this month, we asked newly re-elected state representative Garnet Coleman to provide a preview what GLBT citizens might expect.

The 80th session of the Texas Legislature begins January 9, and the legislature could face a number of issues this session affecting GLBT families in Texas. Adoption rights, workplace and education non-discrimination are a few issues we should expect to be debated and discussed come January. I would like to let you know about existing law on these issues, as well as potential changes we might see in the future.

Non-discrimination in employment is an important priority for me. Currently, neither federal nor Texas law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Fairness in the workplace is critical to ensuring a just society and equal opportunity for everyone. GLBT people should never lose their livelihood just because of who they are.

That’s why I’ve sponsored, in previous sessions of the legislature, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether it is perceived or otherwise. Not only is ENDA the right thing to do in the interest of fairness, employment non-discrimination would bring Texas into line with 14 other states and hundreds of major corporations that have recognized how much talent and human capital they’re losing if they don’t ensure fairness in the workplace.

In addition to ensuring fairness in the workplace, we must be vigilant to ensure that our public schools are free of harassment for GLBT students. Texas currently does not prohibit discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that’s wrong. An environment that isn’t free from harassment for GLBT students isn’t one that’s conducive to learning.

In a 2003 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, nearly 80 percent of GLBT students reported hearing homophobic remarks often in school, and nearly a third reported missing school at least once in the past month because they were too afraid of harassment to attend. Education is one of the most important obligations and greatest opportunities our state government has to provide to young people in Texas, and GLBT students should never worry about going to school for fear of harassment.

In the past legislative session, I authored the Dignity for All Students Act, which would prohibit discrimination in Texas public schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I will continue to support legislation that makes our schools safe for GLBT students.

Just as I support legislation that would promote fairness for all people, I will continue to oppose legislation that restricts rights of GLBT Texans. In the past session, an amendment was introduced to ban GLBT people from serving as foster parents in Texas, and would also have placed Texas adoption agencies in the odd position as a kind of “gay police,” having to determine the sexual orientation of every prospective foster parent. Additionally, some social conservatives, energized by their success in passing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, like Texas did last year, have talked about banning GLBT parents from adopting.

GLBT people are just as loving and caring parents as anyone else, and any attempts to bar them from the right to raise a family is not only a denial of their rights, but a denial of providing children with loving homes. I hope the legislature won’t have to deal with a ban on GLBT people serving as foster parents or their right to adopt, but if it does come up, you can be sure I will be ready to fight it.

Adoption, education and workplace non-discrimination are just some of the issues affecting GLBT Texans that may come up in the next legislative session, but there are a host of others issues, like non-discrimination in housing, insurance, or public accommodations, funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, or testing of inmates in Texas prisons for HIV that we can’t anticipate now coming up this session. That’s why I hope you will take the opportunity to visit my website (www.garnetcoleman.com) to see important updates relating to the legislature. This session I’ll be giving weekly YouTube and podcast updates on the work of the legislature, as well as sending out a weekly e-mail newsletter specifically relating to GLBT issues that come before the Texas house of representatives. It’s important to me that GLBT Texans have frequent updates on legislation that affects them and their families, and I encourage you to visit our website for important information and updates about the legislative session.

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Locklin receives Jefferson Award

Matt Locklin

Matt Locklin, volunteer executive director of the nonprofit AIDS Housing Coalition Houston, has been tapped as a recipient of the Jefferson Awards, which will be awarded this month. Locklin, who describes himself as “a self-empowered human being,” founded AHCH in 1994 despite living with the HIV virus since 1991.

Locally, television station KPRC presents the Jefferson Awards, part of a nationwide system of honors established by the Delaware-based American Institute of Public Service.

Locklin also serves as operations CEO at the West Heights House community home, a shelter for HIV-positive members of Houston’s GLBT community, as well as co-chair of the city’s Citizen Review Committee for Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS.

Earlier this year, Locklin received the Islamic charities-based House of Charity’s Humanitarian Award, recognizing his contributions to GLBT and AIDS emergency housing.

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Community Center break-in

The Houston GLBT Community Center, located on the second floor of 3400 Montrose Blvd., was broken into the evening of Nov. 28. Jack Valinski, a board member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, a center tenant, discovered the break-in the following morning.

Christopher Bown, community center president, said vandals kicked in three doors at the center. No items were stolen, Bown said. Bown alerted Houston Police Department and other center tenants of the break-in.

The caucus and the Houston Equal Rights Alliance, another center tenant, moved into a new office at 1915 Commonwealth in late December.

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Equality Texas hires development director

Marianne DeLeon

AUSTIN — The equal rights group formerly known as the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas has tapped Marianne DeLeon (pictured) as the Austin-based organization’s new development director.

DeLeon, a former Houstonian, assumes her new position with Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation on January 2.

Development director for the Resource Center of Dallas since 2005, DeLeon is a native of Tampa, Florida. She moved to Houston with her parents at age 12.

Prior to joining the Resource Center, she worked as a resource development specialist with the International Rescue Committee.

DeLeon’s hiring was made possible by a $50,000 capacity development grant from the Gill Foundation to the Equality Texas Foundation. The grant will also fund technical support and equipment.

“The Gill Foundation’s support is critical to Equality Texas’ efforts to increase its outreach to all parts of Texas and to be more effective in building public support for LGBT equality,” said Paul E. Scott, executive director of Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation.

Equality Texas sponsors a legislative lobby day on March 5. Details: www.equality texas.org.

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Task Force: Voters more likely to support same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON — Bans on same-sex marriage performed more poorly in the November 2006 elections than in the past, in part due to their declining appeal in states with smaller “born-again” Christian populations, according to a study released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

If current trends hold, such bans would fail at the ballot box in many of the states that have not yet considered same-sex marriage initiatives, the study indicated.

The study, “Same-sex marriage initiatives and lesbian, gay and bisexual voters in the 2006 elections,” was written by Patrick Egan of Princeton University and Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College.

“The days of winning national elections on the backs of gay people appear to be over,” said Sherrill of the Hunter College political science department. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, marriage initiatives did not give President Bush a lift in 2004. They were of no more help to Republicans running for Senate in 2006.”

Same-sex marriage bans passed with an average of 64 percent of voter support in all states in 2006, down from a similar figure of 71 percent in 2004. But support has fallen even more dramatically in states where those identifying themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians make up an identifiable minority of residents, according to the report.

Same-sex marriage ballot questions did not help Republican Senate candidates, while minimum-wage initiatives appeared to help Democratic Senate candidates, the study found. Three in four lesbian, gay, and bisexual voters backed a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, about the same as the 77 percent of GLBT voters who backed John Kerry in 2004.

“This study demonstrates yet again that gay voters are a loyal, core, and essential part of the Democratic base,” said Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director. “We look forward to working with the new Congress to move forward on long-stalled priorities for our community, including nondiscrimination and hate crimes protections.”

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Kushner play opens Jan. 27

The work of playwright Tony Kushner, creator of Angels in America and one of the leading gay voices of our time, comes to Houston this month when Main Street Theater-Rice Village presents his timely drama Homebody/Kabul (January 27-February 25). Tickets: 713/524-6706, www.mainstreetheater.com.

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Armstrong Investments donates to 12 groups

For the fourth year, Charles Armstrong Investments made the end of 2006 a bit cheerier for 12 local nonprofit organizations.

Groups that received $1,000 checks at a December 11 Twelve Days of Christmas reception at South Beach: AIDS Foundation Houston, Legacy Community Health Services, AssistHers, Bering Omega Community Services, Center for AIDS, Gay & Lesbian Switchboard of Houston, HATCH, Houston Transgender Unity Committee, Pride Houston, Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Lesbian Health Initiative-Houston, and the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program.

Charles Armstrong Investments, Inc. is the parent company of JR’s Bar and Grill, South Beach, and Montrose Mining Company.

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GLBT organizations collaborate to develop hospital, treatment-rating system

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association have announced a first-of-its-kind tool to rate the healthcare industry on treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients and to educate the GLBT community about what to expect from healthcare providers and facilities.

“Too often a gay man has been unable to comfort his partner, a transgender person has been ridiculed instead of treated, or a lesbian mom has been barred from seeing her child at the hospital,” said Human Rights Campaign president, Joe Solmonese.

“We believe this project will create a patient’s bill of rights for GLBT Americans so we no longer have to live in fear of these scenarios.”

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have unique healthcare needs, and hospitals need to implement certain policies and procedures in order to ensure high-quality, non-discriminatory care,” said Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

“Some hospitals are already doing a good job,” Ginsberg said. “This project will help all hospitals improve their services to our community, while giving our community the opportunity to assess which hospitals are willing to take those necessary steps.”

The survey includes questions that address patient and employee non-discrimination policies, visitation rights, and medical decision making for same-sex couples and same-gender parents, and cultural competency and quality of care.

Surveys for the study were mailed to the largest 1,000 hospitals in the United States. An industry advisory council, consisting of representatives from professional associations, unions and healthcare facilities, and a community advisory group of GLBT health advocates, leaders, and experts, are guiding design and implementation for the project.

“Given the patchwork of federal and state laws, it is our hope that this index will provide our community with the resources to make sound healthcare decisions for their loved ones,” Solmonese said.

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United Kingdom formalizes 15,500 gay unions

LONDON — More than 15,500 gay and lesbian couples were united in civil partnerships in the first nine months after new laws were codified in the United Kingdom, BBC News reports.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 15,672 partnerships were established between December 2005 and September 2006. Nearly 2,000 partnerships took place last December when the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was established.

The act allows employment and pensions rights for same-sex couples, though the partnerships are not officially regarded as “marriages.”

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Nigeria seeks to outlaw gay contact, culture

NIGERIA — According to a report from the Associated Press, Nigerian lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban any form of association with a gay person, including the most casual of social contact like sharing a meal at a restaurant.

The legislation would also outlaw membership to gay clubs or reading books, watching films or visiting Internet sites that “promote” homosexuality.

Engaging in homosexual acts is already illegal in Nigeria; those convicted face prison terms or execution. The bill, which recommends penalties of up to five years in prison for its offenders, is expected to pass.

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Robert Durst completes parole

GALVESTON — After spending more than five years in prison and various skirmishes with authorities, cross-dresser Robert Durst has paid his debt to society, completing the obligations of his parole on November 29.

Durst was acquitted of murder by a jury in 2003, after he was charged with slaying his neighbor, dismembering the body and disposing of it in Galveston Bay. Durst maintained he had accidentally shot his neighbor Morris Black after struggling with him in his apartment in the fall of 2001.

Durst had been on state parole following Black’s death. He returned to Texas under supervision of the state parole board after pleading guilty in 2004 to felony evidence-tampering and bail-jumping charges, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

Durst served nine months in a New Jersey federal prison on weapons charges, and had also been arrested November 30, 2001, for shoplifting from a Pennsylvania supermarket, though he was discovered to have $38,000 in his rental car trunk at the time of the arrest.

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Military medical pros meet to discuss HIV among service members

SAN ANTONIO — Military healthcare professionals from 30 countries gathered in December for the sixth annual international HIV/AIDS Strategic Planning and Policy Development course.

According to a report in the Air Force Print News, the week-long course was hosted by the Defense Institute for Medical Operations. Program organizers aimed to help senior military and civilian leaders develop, strengthen and implement effective HIV and AIDS prevention and education strategies in their home countries.

“AIDS is a global problem,” said Brig. Gen. (Dr.) David Young, III, commander of the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base and guest speaker at the conference’s opening ceremonies. “The world shares this disease. It transcends races, genders and borders and together the nations of the world need to seek a cure.”

“While prevention of the spread of HIV and AIDS within military organizations is the course’s ultimate goal, this will not be possible without proper education at the lowest levels,” Young said.

“Education is the key to prevention,” he said. “It keeps those without AIDS from getting it and those with it from spreading it or getting worse. So, courses such as this one allow healthcare professionals from across the globe to come together and create HIV and AIDS education practices that can be used globally. ”

From a military perspective, HIV and AIDS is a concern to health officials because of its potential impact on a unit’s wartime capabilities.

“Basically, AIDS effects readiness,” Young said. “Each service member infected is one who is not battlefield ready.”

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Conservative Judaism green-lights same-sex unions, gay ordination

WASHINGTON — The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which interprets religious law for the Conservative movement of Judaism, has ruled to allow both commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples and the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis.

“We rejoice that, like our ancestor Jacob, our sisters and brothers in Conservative Judaism have wrestled with this difficult question for a blessing,” said Harry Knox, director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign. “This historic decision represents a major expansion of the role of lesbian and gay rabbis in the leadership of the Conservative movement and a fuller embrace of the whole lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews.”

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards endorsed three opinions on issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in an early-December meeting.

Two of the opinions upheld earlier prohibitions on same-sex activity, but the third endorsed the recognition of same-sex commitment ceremonies and the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis. The opinion also retained the ban on sodomy between men.

Two other opinions were under consideration that would have removed all restrictions on same-sex activity. Those opinions were declared by the committee to be substantial breaks from tradition that would require an absolute majority of the committee members for adoption. The opinions were defeated.

“It allows individual congregations and rabbis to lead with their hearts,” said Rabbi Denise L. Eger of the predominantly LGBT Reform Congregation Kol Ami in Los Angeles and a member of the HRC Religion

Council. “What this will do is allow gay and lesbian Conservative Jews to find a congregation which will welcome them. No, it’s the not the whole enchilada, but it’s a start.”

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