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Over 100 Texas Organizations, Including 13 Fortune 500 Companies, Sign LGBT Equality Pledge

TexasCompetes

More than 100 corporations and other organizations — from American Airlines and Apple to the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee — have joined an impressive coalition of businesses pledging to support LGBT equality in Texas.

The coalition, called Texas Competes, launched Tuesday in Austin against the backdrop of 22 anti-LGBT bills in the state Legislature. 

From the Texas Competes website

Texas Competes' mission is to provide a unified voice for the Texas business community on the clear economic and business case for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers, families, customers, and tourists. That unified voice takes the form of the Texas Competes pledge.

Many of Texas' most successful businesses have policies and workplace cultures that are inclusive and welcoming to LGBT workers and customers. But the competitiveness of these businesses, and of the Texas economy, is impacted by the brand that the state of Texas projects on the LGBT issue. The Texas Competes pledge creates an opportunity for business leaders to clarify their shared economic interests in fair treatment for gay and transgender people.

More from The Texas Observer:

Texas Competes spokesman James Shackelford said the coalition won’t take positions on specific legislation and that the effort has been in the works for months, long before anti-LGBT religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas sparked historic backlash from the corporate sector.

“But obviously the timing, when it’s launching and when we’re going public with it, is important,” Shackelford told theObserver.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a license to discriminate against LGBT people in the constitution. However, dozens of other measures also target LGBT rights, from statutory religious exemption bills to proposals that would ban local nondiscrimination protections and transgender restroom use.

“Texas is an economic powerhouse because it’s a place where talented people, entrepreneurs and companies want to call home. But our competitiveness is in jeopardy if Texas does not become a place that is welcoming to LGBT workers and families,” Texas Competes advisory board member and former Dell CFO Tom Meredith said in a statement. “Businesses that embrace diversity are doing both the right thing and the economically smart thing.”

Interestingly, several business not otherwise known as LGBT-friendly have joined the coalition, while others long considered corporate allies have not. 

For example, Texas-based MetroPCS, which joined the coalition, has a score of 0 on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. But AT&T, which hasn't joined the coalition, has a score of 100. (AT&T was also a major supporter of anti-gay Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign last year).

Watch a report from KXAN-TV and check out the full list of organizations that have joined Texas Competes, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Over 100 Texas Organizations, Including 13 Fortune 500 Companies, Sign LGBT Equality Pledge " »


Texas Lawmakers May Have Set A Record For The Most Anti-LGBT Bills In The History Of Any State

Cake

Jon Stewart was dead on last night when he said Texas lawmakers are munching on some serious hate cake

The Texas Observer reports today that they've now apparently set a record for the most anti-LGBT legislation in the history of any state. 

At least 20 anti-LGBT measures were introduced prior to last week's filing deadline. That's more than what is believed to be the previous record of 16 in Oklahoma this year. 

But in the Sooner State, 15 of those bills have already died, and LGBT advocates in Texas say they're confident they'll have similar results. 

From the Observer

EqTxDaniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said the group is “well-positioned” to defeat every piece of anti-LGBT legislation. Williams called it the worst session for LGBT rights since 2005—when the state’s marriage amendment passed and a proposal to ban gay foster parents was defeated on the House floor.

“What’s different about this Legislature than 2005 is that Texas, like most of the nation, has evolved on LGBT issues, and that mainstream voice is emerging and is being heard in the Texas Legislature,” Williams said. “It damages the Texas brand, and I think that’s why you’re seeing so many business voices get involved. … We also know how this process works better than our opposition does.”

Bell.CecilThe anti-LGBT legislation in Texas ranges from proposals targeting same-sex marriage, to religious freedom "license to discriminate" amendments, to bans on local LGBT protections, to bills that would criminalize transgender bathroom use.

GOP Rep. Cecil Bell (right), who's leading the charge with four anti-LGBT bills, told the Observer

“Unfortunately, I think it gets couched as ‘anti.’ It’s not about ‘anti.’ It’s about being pro-states’ rights. It’s about being pro-traditional values,” Bell said. “We’re seeing the results of a federal court system that doesn’t seem to be respecting the rights, the sovereignty, of the states and of the people. Because of that, you see the state legislatures pushing back.”

Pena.GilbertAnd GOP Rep. Gilbert Pena (right), the author of two of the four transgender bathroom criminalization bills, said this:

“This bill really is trying to establish the students’ rights to privacy,” said Rep. Gilbert Pena (R-Pasadena), who wants to make schools liable for damages if they allow transgender students to use restrooms based on how they identify. “How many girls in our high schools are going to be willing to allow some transgender male into their bathroom? Would you allow that for your daughter? I would not allow it for my daughter.”

Apparently, Pena doesn't quite understand the concept of transgender, since his bill would actually require transgender males to use the restroom alongside his daughter. 

Ahh, Texas. 


Fort Worth's Daily Newspaper Publishes Its First Same-Sex Wedding Announcement

FWST

Marriage equality hasn't arrived in Texas, but in one possible sign that it's on its way, the daily newspaper in the state's most conservative big city has begun publishing same-sex wedding announcements. 

The Star-Telegram of Fort Worth today published its first-ever same-sex wedding announcement, according to David Mack-Henderson, president of the LGBT group Fairness Fort Worth:  

CONGRATS to DAVID HERNANDEZ & JOSHUA ROGERS on their wedding announcement in the FWST! Theirs becomes the first published in our local paper and serves as a testament that we are an integral part of this community. Who's next?! A generous anonymous donor has offered to pay for a handful of our marriage, engagement and anniversary announcement ($75 level) through March, based on need. If interested, please private message David Mack Henderson confidentially.

Last week, Mack-Henderson announced that the newspaper had finally agreed to begin publishing the announcements: 

Over the last several weeks FFW has held discussions with FWST senior management encouraging the paper to present a more realistic picture of our community throughout their coverage area. This has resulted in increased coverage of timely legislative and court actions, the announcement by our Tarrant County Clerk's office regarding issuing marriage licenses when courts clear the way and a superb article featuring two local same-sex families with children who represent the essence of what it means to be part of the integral fabric of our community. ... 

On Friday, March 7, Star-Telegram Publisher Gary Wortel confirmed with FFW President David Mack Henderson that the paper will begin carrying announcements from our community members that more accurately reflect our lives. Please note that the criteria for Marriage Announcements specifically is based upon legal place of ceremony.

These are paid announcements and are now available to ALL citizens, as they should be under the City of Fort Worth's non-discrimination ordinance regarding public accommodation. ... 

We encourage our community to actively promote their authentic, loving relationships, giving testimony to our lives truly lived and fostering an embracing environment for our youth in search of proactive role models and seeking their rightful place as they grow and develop into healthy adulthood.  

In related news, the clerk's office in Fort Worth recently announced it will issue same-sex marriage licenses if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down the state's marriage ban. The clerk's office previously said it wouldn't issue same-sex marriage licenses if a federal district judge lifted his stay of a ruling striking down the marriage ban. Meanwhile, Mayor Betsy Price still won't say whether she supports same-sex marriage. 


Fort Worth Will Recognize Same-Sex Marriages, Causing Gay Officer To Choke Up On Camera: VIDEO

Knight

Fort Worth will begin recognizing same-sex marriages on Feb. 1. The city announced Wednesday it is extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in other states. 

The city already offers health insurance to same-sex partners, but the decision to begin treating them as spouses will extend equal benefits to other areas, including pension plans. It will also bring the city into line with IRS rules issued in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Windsor v. United States.

From the city's employee newsletter

The City of Fort Worth will be extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples beginning Feb. 1, 2015.

This change will allow the city to follow the IRS's definition of "spouse" as defined for federal income taxes in the granting of survivor benefits.

Since the city's retirement ordinance does not specifically define "spouse," surviving spouses in a same-sex marriage will be eligible for survivor benefits if the survivor can prove, through documentation, that they were legally married to the employee/retiree in a state where same-sex marriage is legally recognized.

The news drew an emotional reaction from out lesbian police Cpl. Tracey Knight. From WFAA-TV

"When I got the news last night," she said, pausing, tears in her eyes... "When I got the news last night, it was very emotional. ...

"I told my wife and we burst into tears," said Knight, who serves as the department's LGBT liaison. "We're like any other family. And God forbid if I'm ever killed in the line of duty, I want her and our child to be taken care of."

The WFAA report goes on to mention that Fort Worth has made great strides on LGBT equality since the police department's infamous raid of the Rainbow Lounge gay bar in 2009. The department is also actively recruiting gay officers, and several employees recently appeared in a TV ad supporting marriage equality. 

While numerous other cities in Texas offer benefits to same-sex partners, it is believed that only one — Houston — has done so by recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages.

That decision from out lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker, which was designed to get around a city charter amendment prohibiting domestic partner benefits, prompted a lawsuit from anti-gay Republican activists. 

The lawsuit alleges that Parker's decision violated Texas' ban on same-sex marriage. The lawsuit is on hold, and the Houston same-sex benefits remain in effect, pending the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in a federal lawsuit challenging the the marriage ban. 

However, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see anti-gay activists — or perhaps the Republican attorney general's office — similarly challenge Fort Worth's decision. 

Watch WFAA-TV's report, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Fort Worth Will Recognize Same-Sex Marriages, Causing Gay Officer To Choke Up On Camera: VIDEO" »


Passenger Gets Slap On Wrist For Drunken, Anti-Gay Assault Caught On Video At Dallas Airport

Benham2

The passenger who went on a drunken, violent, anti-gay rampage that was caught on video at DFW International Airport in October will pay $474 in fines for the incident, according to a court spokeswoman. 

BenhamMcCleish Christmas Benham (right), now 28, of Shelbyville, Tennessee, assaulted two people while yelling anti-gay epithets, before other passengers tackled him to the ground and he was arrested on Oct. 23. 

A bystander captured the incident on video and posted it on YouTube, where it's been viewed more than 5 million times.

Benham was charged with public intoxication and simple assault, both class-C misdemeanors each punishable by a maximum $500 fine, but no jail time. The case was referred to the Municipal Court in the city of Grapevine, Texas. 

Cindy Eteaki, court manager for the city of Grapevine, told Towleroad on Wednesday that Benham posted a cash bond to get out of jail and entered a conditional plea of no contest at the time. Because Benham failed to appear in court, his bond will be forfeited and he will be convicted on both counts, Eteaki said. Benham's bond was $262 dollars on the assault charge and $212 on the public intoxication, for a total of $474.

The FBI has declined to comment on whether it is investigating the incident as an anti-gay hate crime under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act of 2009. 

Expert Pete Schulte, an openly gay criminal defense attorney and former police officer from Dallas, has said he believes authorities mishandled the case — and Benham should have been charged with class-A misdemeanor assault, punishable by up to one year in jail: 

“I’m sure the individual who was punched felt a little pain based on the video,” Schulte said. “Class-C assault is offensive contact without any pain.

“He could be charged with resisting arrest if they decide the person who broke his ankle was attempting to arrest him,” Schulte added. “It appears that DFW airport police may have not done a great job in this case.”

Benham had previously been in trouble for theft and animal abuse.  

Watch video of the attack, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Benham4

Continue reading "Passenger Gets Slap On Wrist For Drunken, Anti-Gay Assault Caught On Video At Dallas Airport" »


Gay-Rights Rivalry: As Dallas Celebrates Higher HRC Score, Fort Worth Aims To Get Back On Top

RainbowLounge

Anyone who's lived in the D-FW Metroplex knows there's sometimes a fierce rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth — and in recent years this has extended to the realm of LGBT equality. 

Following the infamous police raid on the Rainbow Lounge gay bar in 2009 (above), Fort Worth advanced several LGBT initiatives that resulted in the smaller, more conservative city receiving a higher score than Dallas on the Human Rights Campaign's first two editions of the Municipal Equality Index. 

But this year, Dallas jumped back on top, receiving a 91 on the MEI compared to Fort Worth's 83.  

One thing that hurt Fort Worth's score this year was the unexplained disappearance of LGBT issues from the city's official federal legislative agenda, even though they'd been included following the Rainbow Lounge raid. 

HendersonOn Tuesday night, the Fort Worth City Council rectified that problem, unanimously approving a resolution placing support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on its legislative agenda for this year. Given that ENDA seems largely dead, we're assuming the resolution will mean support for a comprehensive federal civil rights bill — which would roughly mirror Fort Worth's existing nondiscrimination ordinance. 

From The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The federal legislative agenda came up for a council vote on Dec. 9, but [City Councilwoman Ann] Zadeh made the motion to delay approving it after David Mack Henderson (right), president of Fairness Fort Worth, told her that legislation seeking nondiscrimination laws for the LGBT community was not on the agenda.

“We are just asking for what we already had,” Henderson said.

“We had been frustrated that it fell of the radar, though I’m told that it wasn’t intentional. Still, any constituency wants to know that they matter, and we do. Fort Worth and other major cities in Texas are best represented with legislative packets that put our best foot forward and are progressive both for our citizens and for economic development.”

Zadeh said she would like to see the nondiscrimination legislation added the city’s agenda for the Texas legislative session, which begins next week.

KingstonMeanwhile, on the other side of the Metroplex, Dallas was celebrating a 10-point increase in its MEI score this week, which allowed it to jump both Fort Worth and San Antonio and put Big D second behind only Austin (100) in Texas. 
 

In March, the City Council passed a resolution supporting equal rights for city employees, citizens and visitors and committing to address any unequal treatment of LGBT people. The city’s Human Resources department updated its plan to play for transgender psychotherapy and hormone replacement.

In May, the city updated its Family Medical Leave Act ordinance to allow care of a “designated care recipient” as a reason to utilize it. In June, the Dallas Public Library sponsored LGBT programs and a designated book section, which brought the city points for the “visibility” of its LGBT efforts.

City Council members on the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee Monday praised city employees for prioritizing the work.

“Staff has taken the ball and run with it so well,” Philip Kingston (right) said. “When you see an outstanding effort like this, you can tell people really bought into the idea.” 


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