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Bullied Gay Student And LGBT Activist Isaiah Smith Sues Texas School District

Smith

Isaiah Smith was 16 when an episode of "What Would You Do?" inspired him to petition the City Council in small, conservative Keller, Texas, to add LGBT protections. He would go on to speak repeatedly at council meetings, including calling on the mayor to sign a pledge in support of marriage equality. 

A year later, Smith was suspended from Birdville High School for carrying a Bible from which he'd ripped out pages containing anti-gay passages. Smith, a Christian, said his decision to carry the Bible was a silent protest against bullying, after other students told him being gay is a sin and he was going to hell. 

After the American Humanist Association sent a complaint to the school district alleging it had violated Smith's First Amendment rights, the suspension was overturned, and he was allowed to continue carrying the Bible. Which brings us to this week, when the AHA filed a lawsuit on Smith's behalf against the district and its board over its practice of promoting Christian prayers. Fort Worth Weekly reports: 

According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of a former student, Isaiah Smith, the school board has had a longstanding policy of choosing students to offer Christian prayers at the beginning of public school board meetings. Smith claims that the prayers made him feel unwelcome at the public meetings and that the school board endorsed Christianity. Students and teachers also regularly attend the meetings. ...

The lawsuit asserts that the Birdville District is a repeat offender of the separation of church and state, including school sponsorship of religious baccalaureate ceremonies, school overnight trips to churches, and inclusion of Christian iconography in classrooms. In addition, Smith was wrongfully suspended from his high school for carrying a ripped Bible as an act of peaceful protest against students who bullied him because of his sexual orientation. The legal center successfully convinced the school district to expunge his record, but it so far refused to cease prayers in school board meetings.

In addition to enduring bullying at school, Smith was kicked out of his home by an unaccepting parent, according to his Facebook page. Last year, he launched a petition calling on the US to cut off all aid to Uganda over the country's anti-homosexuality law. And earlier this month, Smith received the AHA's Humanist Pioneer Award.   


Number Of Anti-LGBT Hate Groups Increases 10 Percent

Romero

Anti-LGBT hate appears to be on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The overall number of hate groups of all types dropped 17 percent last year, from 939 to 784. But the number of anti-LGBT hate groups increased 10 percent, from 40 to 44, according to a report in The Texas Observer.  

Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said she's unsure whether anti-LGBT hate is actually increasing or SPLC is simply doing a better job of tracking it.

“The rhetoric is becoming much harsher for sure,” Beirich told the Observer. “I think some of the groups are becoming harder-line, whether we’ve listed them or not, because they’re losing on a lot of fronts.”

The four anti-LGBT hate groups added to SPLC's list in 2014 were ATLAH World Missionary Church, Jewish Political Action Committee, Probe Ministries and Stedfast Baptist Church. 

Stedfast Baptist Church, of Fort Worth, was added based on a sermon by Pastor Donnie Romero (above), a disciple of Arizona Pastor Steven Andersen. Romero called for gays to be put to death in a clip from the sermon posted online by Right Wing Watch in December.

More from the Observer:  

Beirich said SPLC maintains a high bar for the hate list. It’s not enough to oppose same-sex marriage or espouse Bible-based views about homosexuality. Rather, groups must use slurs or engage in demonization and propaganda, tactics that make the LGBT community more vulnerable to hate crimes.

“We don’t want to just list everybody in the world,” she said. “We want to point out what is particularly damaging.”

Here's SPLC's summary of anti-LGBT hate groups in its 2015 Intelligence Report

It was another bad year for anti-LGBT groups, as a series of court decisions made same-sex marriage legal in 36 states, up from 18 a year before. At the same time, the Supreme Court was expected to rule on the issue by mid-summer, and most analysts expected the justices to come down on the side of national legalization.

Many of these groups turned their energies abroad, seeking to criminalize homosexuality in other countries after failing in this one. At home, meanwhile, the groups worked to get "religious liberty" laws passed in a dozen states that would allow some businesses to discriminate against certain people if they have religious objections. Although most did not explicitly say so, they were aimed at allowing businesses not to service same-sex weddings. But despite these efforts, only Mississippi saw the proposal actually become law.

The National Organization for Marriage illustrates the dilemma of many of these groups as they lose support in an increasingly uphill battle. The group's 2013 tax returns showed it had fallen $2.5 million into debt after raising only $5.1 million (a 50% drop from 2012), with two donors accounting for half that amount.

Early this year, the American Family Association, listed by the SPLC as an anti-gay hate group, was the prime sponsor of an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for an estimated 60 members of the Republican National Committee. But the group came under fire by the SPLC and others for its history of extremist remarks, to the point that, two days before the trip, it repudiated its best-known spokesman, Bryan Fischer, and a whole series of his comments. In response to a letter from the AFA, SPLC President Richard Cohen wrote that "it’s difficult to see the AFA's disavowal as anything other than an effort to quell the negative press attention you're receiving in connection with your sponsorship" of the trip for RNC members.

View SPLC's full list of active anti-LGBT hate groups here


Texas Lawmakers Advance 'Pastor Protection Act,' Continue Full-Fledged Assault On Same-Sex Marriage

Bellalert-450w

Last week, we told you how witnesses compared same-sex marriage to bestiality and pedophilia when they testified in support of a bill that would prevent churches and pastors from being forced to participate in gay weddings. 

On Monday, the Texas Senate responded by advancing the bill in a 21-10 vote, with one Democrat joining the chamber's 20 Republicans. 

The Texas Tribune reports on passage of the so-called "Pastor Protection Act": 

State Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat who voted against the measure, questioned whether it could be used to justify a refusal to perform interracial marriages — shielding religious officials from prosecution "no matter how extreme [their] views are."

Pointing out that same-sex marriage is banned in Texas, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked what problem the bill was trying to fix. 

Whitmire said it was "unheard of" that a same-sex couple would try to force a pastor to perform a wedding ceremony if that pastor did not accept their marriage. 

"They just want to be left alone to love their partner, they want to get married with clergy in a setting that embraces that union," he said.  

More from the The American-Statesman

The legislation also stipulates that clergy, religious organizations and people employed by a religious group could not be sued for damages, prosecuted for criminal violations, lose tax-exempt status or forfeit a government contract or grant for refusing to provide services, open facilities or sell goods related to same-sex marriages.

“I think the language is awfully broad,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, adding that a clause protecting groups supervised and controlled by a religious organization would seem to allow for-profit health care, nursing home and other companies to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

The Texas House is set to vote on an identical bill Tuesday. 

Also Tuesday, the House will vote on a far more dangerous bill, by Rep. Cecil Bell (above), that seeks to undermine a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. 

The Texas Observer reports: 

The bill would bar state and local employees from issuing, enforcing or recognizing same-sex marriage licenses—and prohibit public monies from being used to do so—regardless of any court order.

LGBT advocates say if the high court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, HB 4105 would set up a showdown between state and federal law, costing Texas millions of dollars in litigation and potentially delaying the effectiveness of the decision by years. They say the bill would unleash chaos similar to what’s been seen in Alabama over same-sex marriage, and generate the type of business backlash associated with passage of an anti-LGBT religious freedom law in Indiana. ... 

Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Texas, said HB 4105 is designed to give Texas another legal basis for challenging same-sex marriage in court: state sovereignty. And she said it could be used as a model by other states for resisting the Supreme Court ruling.

“The last time that we saw similar efforts to undermine court rulings about what the Constitution requires was when Southern states attempted to use the power of the purse to avoid having to comply with federal court orders ordering school desegregation,” Robertson said. “Those tactics were rejected, but obviously it took years of litigation to get to that point. HB 4105 is trying to do the same kind of end run around the Constitution.”

Despite comparisons to Indiana's religious freedom law, few businesses have come out publicly against the Texas anti-gay marriage bill, according to The Washington Blade

As Texas lawmakers prepare to vote on legislation aimed at circumventing an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the state's business leaders are largely keeping quiet.

The business community's opposition in Indiana helped ignite a media firestorm against a religious freedom law there that is so far absent in the Texas debate. ... 

Robert Wood, spokesperson for the Texas Association of Businesses, said his organization hasn't "taken any position, nor testified" on the legislation and doesn't have any comment at this time.

You can take action against House Bill 4105 here and here


Anti-LGBT Activist Who Once Tried To Burn Koran Sues Fort Worth Over Treatment At Gay Pride: VIDEO

Gresham

David Grisham, leader of the hate group Repent Amarillo, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth alleging police violated his civil rights at last year's gay Pride festival, where he and his family were distributing anti-LGBT leaflets.  

Repent Amarillo, a militant evangelical group that describes itself as “the Special Forces of spiritual warfare," once called for a boycott of Houston over out lesbian Mayor Annise Parker's election, and has staged controversial protests outside a swingers club, liberal churches and gay bars.  

IsomBut Grisham is perhaps best known for his unsuccessful attempt to publicly burn a Koran in 2010, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The stunt was foiled by a skateboarder (right) who snatched the Muslim holy book away and told Grisham, "Dude, you have no Koran" — which later became the subject of a hilarious autotune video remix.

Grisham later ran for mayor, garnering 1 percent of the vote, and lost his job as a security guard at a nuclear power plant over the Koran-burning attempt. Since then, he's apparently been traveling the country to protest at gay Pride events. Last year at gay Pride in Pittsburgh, a police officer assaulted an apparently drunken woman who tried to attack Grisham. 

Grisham was undoubtedly hoping to cause a similar disturbance at Fort Worth's gay Pride in October, but police wisely wouldn't let him close to festival-goers. Now, Grisham — who's represented by the Center for Religious Expression — is claiming his free speech rights were violated. 

The Star-Telegram reports: 

The lawsuit alleges that two Fort Worth officers approached Grisham’s wife and daughter as they handed out Gospel tracts at General Worth Square, where the festival was taking place.

The officers ordered the mother and daughter to leave under threat of arrest, stating that the gay pride association had a permit for the festival and controlled activity in the area, according to the lawsuit. The officers then escorted the mother and daughter to a sidewalk on the other side of 8th Street, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that Sgt. Rachel DeHoyos later approached Grisham’s wife to warn her to stay away from the area. Witnessing the interaction, Grisham said he went over to join in the conversation, telling DeHoyos that he took issue with the ban.

DeHoyos told Grisham he could stand only in a designated free speech zone, and when he insisted on going to the opposite side of the street, the sergeant found a festival organizer to issue a trespassing warning against him: 

[Tony] Coronado, a board member with gay pride association, said Grisham and his supporters had worn rainbow-colored T-shirt to apparently blend in at the festival and were handing out anti-LGBT literature.

He said the location where Grisham wanted to stand was covered as part of the group’s event area by the city-issued permit.

“He was not denied his public speech,” Coronado said. “He could have just as well stood in the next block, on that corner. Nobody prevented him from handing out those pamphlets.”

Fort Worth police — infamous for their raid of the Rainbow Lounge gay bar in 2009 — have cracked down on protesters at Pride in recent years, including making numerous arrests

Watch a 2010 interview with Grisham, as well as the autotune remix of the Koran-burning attempt, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Anti-LGBT Activist Who Once Tried To Burn Koran Sues Fort Worth Over Treatment At Gay Pride: VIDEO" »


Students At Texas Christian University Make 'Faithfully Gay' Doc About Religion, LGBT Rights: VIDEO

Martin.Drew

Three journalism students at conservative Texas Christian University in Fort Worth have created a powerful documentary about the intersection of homosexuality and faith.

Romero"Faithfully Gay: A Documentary" begins with clips from a hateful sermon by Donnie Romero, pastor of Stedfast Baptist in Fort Worth, in which he says gays should be put to death. 

From TCU360.com:  

Rev. Todd Boling, an associate chaplain at TCU, said Romero doesn’t represent the majority of the community though.

"I think people in Fort Worth tend to be pretty accepting and kind," Boling said. "But I don't see Fort Worth being a place where people in the LGBTQ community feel celebrated." ... 

To Boling, people who criticize homosexuality by using the Bible need to understand the historical and cultural contexts of when the text was written.

"Knowing who's saying something, who they're saying it to and what's going on in society that makes those words relevant at that point in time are important if we're going to fully understand what scripture is communicating to us," Boling said.

In addition to Boling, the documentary features interviews with two openly gay students and associate athletic director Drew Martin, as well as two brothers who oppose homosexuality, one of whom is Mitchell Traver, a star pitcher for TCU's baseball team:  

Traver.Mitchell"Never, in anything that you do, like in any sort of sin on any kind of spectrum, should you actively walk in sin and then say you're pursuing Christ," Mitchell Traver said. "The cross of Christ can heal anything...but it also takes time. God's time."

"Homosexuality is an area of struggle," Spencer Traver said. "Whether it' seen that way or not, it's sin and sin is where we're gonna struggle. It's human's biggest battle."

Watch "Faithfully Gay," AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Students At Texas Christian University Make 'Faithfully Gay' Doc About Religion, LGBT Rights: VIDEO " »


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 " »


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