Representatives from Montrose Counseling Center have announced that MCC’s Safe Zones Project was cited as the chief reason Houston and Harris County were selected as one of the 100 Best Communities for Youth by America’s Promise Alliance. Safe Zones Project, established in 2009, provides LGBTQ youth ages 13–18 with behavioral health screening, affirming group support, and individual/family therapy at participating Houston-area high school campuses.
A 2005 survey commissioned by GLSEN found that as many as two-thirds of LGBT and questioning students report feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, which may also negatively influence adolescents’ home lives and activities beyond campus.
Administered by a licensed therapist from MCC, Safe Zones is underwritten by a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
“I am profoundly grateful that an organization as important as the Ima Hogg Foundation for Mental Health was willing to fund this program,” commented Deb Murphy, youth coordinator for HATCH, MCC’s group for LGBT youth. “We’re thrilled, obviously, that a program designed to help GLBT youth is considered important enough to help Houston be considered one of the Best 100 Cities for Youth—it’s not just about gay youth. So, the times, they are a changin’.” mcc.org. —Nancy Ford
LHI Schedules June Rainbow Health Fair for LGBT Women
Lesbian Health Initiative–Houston knows that, important as having regular mammograms and Pap screenings may be, women’s health concerns are even more far-reaching. That’s why the group’s biennial Rainbow Health Fair for LGBT Women with no health insurance or who are under-insured also offers extensive blood screenings, blood pressure and weight consultations, optical consultations, and more.
LHI partners with Legacy Community Services, The Rose, Dr. Mary Alice Cowan OB-Gyn, M.D. Anderson, CVS Caremark, Montrose Counseling Center, Glenda G. Owen D.D.S., American Cancer Society, Kindred Spirits Foundation, and Assisters to present the fairs. The June 4 fair also welcomes newcomers MD Anderson Melanoma and Skin Clinic’s Jessie Richard to conduct Body/Skin Scan to detect melanoma and other abnormalities; Elizabeth Jones from Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital who discusses Women’s Heart and Vascular Health; Cathedral of Hope Houston’s Lynette Ross who discusses Meditation & Mindfulness and Your Health; and Mary Jean Tiernan, certified fitness trainer, who discusses fitness and nutrition.
Some tests and scans require an appointment; call 713/426-3356 or e-mail [email protected] to schedule. “If you can’t get a screening during our June Fair, come to the Fair and get free certificates for well-woman exams at Legacy or mammograms at the Rose,” said Elizabeth James, LHI’s new chief executive officer.
June 4, 9 a.m.–3p.m., Legacy Community Health Services, 215 Westheimer Rd. lhihouston.org. —Nancy Ford
Galveston Youth Group Sets First Fundraiser
Gulf Pride for Youth, a new drop-in program for LGBT youth ages 13 to 20, has announced its first fundraising event.
The dinner is set for May 21, 7 p.m., at the Bienville Social, 323 Tremont (23rd Street) in Galveston, and consists of a four-course tasting menu prepared by Galveston chef Daya Myers and her wife, Laura Myers Hurt, of the Lunch Box Cafe, with provisions donated by Louisiana Foods, Lunch Box Cafe, and MOD CoffeeHouse.
GPY (pronounced “guppie”) aims to offer an affirming and safe environment to LGBT and questioning youth by providing education, positive role modeling/adult mentors, peer support, and outreach to enhance their strengths and encourage youth to lead healthy, productive lives of their own choosing. Organizers for the new group, which is modeled after Montrose Counseling Center’s highly respected HATCH program for Houston’s LGBT youth, are also recruiting qualified facilitators for its support groups as well as individuals to serve in various other capacities, including accounting, community outreach, fundraising, legal issues, and public relations.
For tickets to the dinner and for more information, log on to gulfprideforyouth.org. —Nancy Ford
Judge’s Same-Sex Partner Cited in Proposition 8 Case
THE SPONSORS OF CALIFORNIA’S antigay marriage ban say the recent disclosure by the federal judge who struck down Proposition 8 that he is in a long-term relationship with another man has given them new grounds to appeal.
The voter-approved ban’s backers say Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker should have removed himself from the case because his impartiality could “reasonably” be questioned, their lawyer, Andy Pugno, told the Associated Press. Lawyers plan to file a motion making the argument that Walker’s historic ruling should be vacated in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Walker, a 67-year-old Republican appointee, declared Proposition 8 to be an unconstitutional violation of gay Californian’s civil rights last summer. He retired from the bench at the end of February.
Rumors that the judge was gay circulated during the 13-day trial that preceded his decision and after he handed down his ruling.
Lawyers for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that put Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot, however, did not raise his sexual orientation as a legal issue. Pugno said that has now changed because Walker publicly addressed the rumors this month when he told a group of courthouse reporters about his 10-year relationship.
Walker said at the time that he did not consider his personal life to be a reason for recusal, noting that sexual orientation is no more a reason for a judge to be disqualified than is race or gender.
In their anticipated filing, the Proposition 8 lawyers plan to argue that Walker should have removed himself not because he is gay, but because his relationship status made him too similar to the same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is already reviewing Walker’s ruling on appeal from the ban’s sponsors. Their previous filings have attacked the judge’s legal reasoning. —Lisa Leff, Associated Press
Senate Passes Bullying Bill
The Senate has passed a bill that would allow Texas schools to prohibit bullying, both in person and online.
Houston state Sen. John Whitmire’s bill requires schools to develop a policy to prohibit, prevent, and punish students who bully others. The bill passed on a 30–1 vote.
The proposed law defines bullying as any effort to harass or intimidate a student in person or using the Internet.
The bill follows recent high-profile cases where public school children committed suicide after being bullied.
Schools would also have to explain to students what is considered bullying, and possible punishments, if the bill becomes law.
The Senate bill will now go to the House for consideration. —Associated Press
Holder Defends Attorney Defending Gay Marriage Ban
The former Bush administration lawyer under fire for defending the federal ban on gay marriage is getting support from an unexpected source—Attorney General Eric Holder.
Former solicitor general Paul Clement quit his law firm after it was announced that he was withdrawing from the case amid criticism from gay rights advocacy groups. Clement is moving to another firm to continue the work.
Holder told reporters Tuesday that Clement is a great lawyer and criticism of him is misplaced. He said Clement is “doing that which lawyers do” in representing legislators who wrote the law.
President Barack Obama ordered Holder’s Justice Department in February to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. That led House Republicans to hire Clement. —Nedra Pickler, Associated Press
Transgender Marriage Rights Threat Introduced by Texas Legislators
TWO YEARS AFTER TEXAS BECAME one of the last states to allow transgender people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license, Republican lawmakers are trying to roll back the clock. Advocates for the transgender community say a proposal to bar transgender people from getting married smacks of discrimination and would put their legally granted marriages in danger of being nullified if challenged in court.
One of the Republican sponsors of the legislation said he’s simply trying to clean up the 2009 law in a state that bans same-sex marriage under the constitution. “The Texas Constitution,” Sen. Tommy Williams said, “clearly defines marriage between one man and one woman.”
The legislation by Williams, of Houston, and Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, of Brenham, would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married, effectively requiring the state to recognize a 1999 state appeals court decision that said in cases of marriage, gender is assigned at birth and sticks with a person throughout their life even if they have a sex change.
Most states allow transgender people to get married using a court order that also allows them to change their driver’s license, experts said. Some advocates for the transgender community say the Texas proposal would not only prevent future transgender marriages but also open up the possibility that any current marriage could be nullified.
“It appears the goal is to try to enshrine a really horrifying ruling and making it law in the state of Texas,” said John Nechman, a Houston attorney whose law firm does work for the LGBT community.
Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, said the governor never intended to allow transgender people to get married. He said the three-word sex change provision was sneaked through on a larger piece of legislation Perry signed two years ago regarding marriage licensing rules for county and district clerks. Perry, a Republican, supports efforts to “clarify the unintended consequences” of that law, Miner said.
“The governor has always believed and advocated that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Miner said.
Williams said he understands that some people’s gender cannot easily be determined when they are born and they later have an operation that could change the originally assigned gender. “It is an emotional issue,” Williams said. “I can appreciate that.”
But when asked about claims of discrimination, Williams insisted his goal is to simplify marriage licensing for clerks who are trying to balance the 2009 law with the 1999 Texas appeals court ruling. “They shouldn’t have to resolve these issues,” Williams said. “We have confused them.”
Williams’ legislation has cleared a committee vote and now awaits approval by the full Senate, which is predominantly Republican. The version in the GOP-dominated House has not yet been given a hearing.
Some advocates for the transgender community say that even if the legislation is passed, transgender people could still get marriage licenses using other state and federally issued documents such as a driver’s license or passport. But without the weight of a court order officially recognizing their gender reassignment, they worry any legal challenge, such as a divorce or estate dispute, would nullify the marriage. —Jim Vertuno, Associated Press
Maryland Attack Witness Lauded for Assistance
A WITNESS WHO TRIED TO HELP a transgender woman who was being beaten at a McDonald’s in Maryland said she was overwhelmed by the response from people who have praised her for intervening.
Vicky Thoms was embraced by strangers at a rally Monday night outside the McDonald’s in Baltimore County where the assault took place. The victim, 22-year-old Chrissy Lee Polis, decided not to attend, but Thoms said she wished she had come so she could give her a hug.
Thoms said she walked into the restaurant April 18 and saw two teens beating Polis. No one was helping the woman and one bystander was even recording the attack with his cell phone camera, she said. Thoms told The Baltimore Sun she watched for about two minutes but decided to step in because she thought Polis would be killed. When she stepped up and asked the girls to stop, Thoms ended up getting punched in the face herself, she said.
“She hit me like a man would hit, and she was 14 years old,” she said.
Afterward, a man behind the counter asked Thoms if she realized the person being beaten was not a woman and was transgendered. “I told him, ‘No I didn’t and I don’t care,’” she said. “He said he worked with her and she had a smart mouth—in other words, she deserved it.”
Teonna Monae Brown, 18, was arrested Friday and charged with first- and second-degree assault. A 14-year-old girl has been charged as a juvenile. Prosecutors are reviewing if other charges are warranted, including hate crimes counts.
Polis told The Baltimore Sun that before she was attacked, she heard a teen say Polis was a man using the women’s restroom and accused Polis of talking to her man. The 14-year-old told police she and Brown fought with Polis over using the restroom, according to charging documents. Video of the attack shows Polis being beaten, dragged though the restaurant by her hair, and then apparently having a seizure.
Since the attack, Thoms said her nerves are shot and she can’t stop crying. She told her family about it, but they didn’t understand how bad the situation was until they saw the video on television last week. “They couldn’t watch it,” she said.
More than 200 people gathered in the parking lot of the McDonald’s for a rally following the incident. The restaurant had closed for the evening in support, and the roads around it were clogged. Michael Strebeck, 43, came with his 15-year-old daughter, Lindsay, who was upset by the attack. He grew up blocks away and had worked at the McDonald’s briefly, and the Jiffy Lube next door, for years. “I think [the attack] should never have happened, but it should have been stopped and the police called sooner. That’s why I’m here.”
Crimes against transgender people are included in the state’s hate crime law, but advocates who pushed for a bill that would have extended housing and employment protections say this shows that discrimination against the group is real. The bill passed the House, but was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote. —Associated Press
Virginia Social Services Board Upholds Discrimination in Gay Adoption
VIRGINIA’S SOCIAL SERVICES BOARD voted in April to reject proposed regulations that would have prohibited adoption agencies from discriminating against prospective parents because they’re gay.
The state’s Board of Social Services voted 7–2 to strip that protection from proposed regulations. The vote came despite objections from some board members who said they didn’t have enough time to examine the issue after the state Department of Social Services removed the provision late last week under the advice of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli advised the board last week that it did not have the authority to prohibit private—often faith-based—agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation because state and federal laws do not offer such protections.
The provision was added to proposed regulations in 2009 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s administration, but only
recently became an issue when conservative legislators and organizations said they feared it would allow same-sex couples
Virginia allows adoption by married couples and singles, regardless of sexual orientation, but it does not allow unmarried couples to adopt.
Rob Keeling brought his six-year-old son to the meeting. Keeling, who is gay, adopted the boy from Guatemala in 2005.
“I did not hear anybody…talk about the best interest of the children,” he told the board before the vote. “I heard them talk about their own religious beliefs.
“Children don’t come into the world wanting homes that have specific religious beliefs,” he continued. “I think they come into the world wanting love—and I know that I have that to offer.”
Keeling said 3,350 same-sex couples in Virginia are raising more than 6,000 children, based on data from the Family Equality Council.
Department officials said there are 1,300 children in foster care statewide who are eligible to be adopted. “We have more than enough homes to go around,” he said. “We have red tape and prejudice in the way.”
Representatives from Baptist and Catholic organizations and from several faith-based adoption services urged the board to strip the provision, because requiring them to adopt to gay individuals goes against their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, said including the prohibition would have forced faith-based organizations to decide whether to adhere to their missions and beliefs or obey the law.
“Faith-based agencies play a vital role in the fabric of our commonwealth, and their right to carry out their mission in the services they provide must be respected and preserved,” Caruso said.
Department officials could not say how many of the state’s 81 licensed child placement agencies were faith-based. Supporters said most are, and that some may decide to quit providing the service rather than allow gays to adopt. —Dena Potter, Associated Press