Gay Rights Hub

Bigoted Mississippi School District Officials Fighting to Stop Formation of Gay-Straight Alliance

A school district in central Mississippi is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to prevent students from creating a gay-straight alliance on campus, The Clarion-Ledger reports:

Weathersby[Rankin County Superintendent Lynn] Weathersby (pictured right) brought up the issue at Wednesday's school board meeting, making clear his intentions to limit such organizations in Rankin County schools.

"I talked to (board attorney) Freddie (Harrell) and several administrators about what we could legally do to limit organizations like that on campus that we don't want to endorse and don't want," Weathersby said.

Although school board members and officials said they were not aware of any attempt to form a club in the district, Brandon High School theatre teacher Janice Weaver said she was approached by a student in December who expressed a desire to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA), or a student-led, student-organized club aimed at combating anti-gay discrimination and bullying in schools. Weaver said the student submitted the proposal for the club to school administrators. 

At the meeting, Weathersby said the best way to stop the "gay club" would be to require parents to sign a consent form allowing their children to participate in the club.

The paper continues:

School board attorney Freddie Harrell echoed Weathersby, saying a gay club might violate educational standards and principles adopted by the school district such as abstinence-only sexual education.

Newly appointed board member Ira Singleton asked Harrell what would happen if parents did consent to their children participating in such a club. Harrell responded that at that time, it would be up to the school's principal to decide whether the club meets school requirements.

In a statement, HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill blasted the district's actions, saying:

“The policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus. The board’s actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers. Keeping our children safe is critical. We demand the Superintendent, and the board, reverse its decision to publicly humiliate, degrade and embarrass young LGBT people."

The ACLU of Mississippi, meanwhile, has already sent a letter to Weathersby letting him know that the district could land in legal hot water if students are blocked from forming GSA clubs. You can read the letter below:

San Antonio GOP Rejects Resolution Calling For Repeal Of 'Pro-Homosexual Policies'


Last month, we reported that a Republican Party committee in San Antonio had submitted a resolution to the county GOP calling for "the repeal of our local governments’ pro-homosexual policies." 

The resolution, authored by anti-gay activist Jack Finger (above), demanded that GOP elected officials roll back the city's LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, as well as domestic partner benefits for city and county employees. Otherwise, the proposal threatened, voters would "'throw the rascals out' and elect officials who will carry out the resolution." 

On Jan. 8, the Bexar County GOP Executive Committee rejected the resolution, according to San Antonio gay Republican Justin Nichols. OutInSA reports:  

“The resolution in question was the last agenda item,” says Nichols. “After Mr. Finger’s fear mongering presentation, the floor was opened for discussion. Not a single precinct chair spoke in favor of the resolution, with at least four other people speaking against it on various grounds. I spoke last, and the question was called. I don’t recall the exact vote, but it was approximately 54-21, a margin of nearly 2 to 1, rejecting the resolution, which was then declared to have failed.”

Nichols says he told the assembly that the resolution did not reflect the “true priorities of the party” but reflected “one man’s peculiar obsession with the topic of sexuality.”

Nichols added that Finger was alone in spreading his anti-LGBT message. “Beside Jack’s befuddled scrambling to hand out his classic bush-league leaflets, and his own absurd explanation of the NDO, not a single person at the meeting spoke a word of disdain or disrespect for any LGBT person or group.  I was really very pleased at the speed with which the party ended Jack’s charade and got on to real business.”

Although it's commendable that the precinct chairs rejected the resolution, it's still disturbing that one-third of them voted in favor of it. Sadly, it's this one-third that is most active in party primaries and maintains a virtual stranglehold on the Texas GOP. Which explains why Republican state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would ban local LGBT protections and punish county clerks for issuing same-sex marriage licenses. 

But hey, baby steps, right? 

Outrage, Protests Ensue After Colorado Church Cancels Lesbian's Funeral: VIDEO


Vanessa Collier, a lesbian Coloradan who died on December 30 while cleaning her gun, was denied a funeral service at Denver’s New Hope Ministries because her family refused to edit out pictures of Collier kissing her wife in a video tribute to the departed, BuzzFeed reports. Collier was 33 and is survived by two girls, 7 and 11, and her wife, Christina Higley.  

The video in question had been provided to the church 48 hours in advance, however, the church lost the copy and did not review a copy until the morning of the ceremony. The result was that when the family refused to give in to Pastor Ray Chavez’s ultimatum to remove the photos of Collier and Higley kissing from the video, the service was cancelled after it had already begun:

“People started taking their seats at 10 a.m.,” [Collier’s friend Jose] Silva said. “At 10:15, the pastor said, ‘Due to technical difficulties, the funeral is being moved.’” He thought it was a joke. “I thought we were being punked.”

Friends and family had to pick up Collier’s open casket, flowers and other arrangements and move it to the Newcomer Funeral Home across the street.

“They don’t want overt, open homosexuality in their sanctuary,” said Gary Rolando, the chaplain who eventually conducted Collier’s service at the Newcomer Funeral Home, across the street from the church.

RallyHigley later posted an emotional update on Facebook (below), asking, “Please I am begging anyone to help explain to our children why our life together as a family is any less than anyone else’s and inappropriate in a house of God?”

Collier’s friends and family were quick to organize a “Dignity in Death Rally” to show their outrage over New Hope and Pastor Chavez’s decision to expel Collier and her mourners. 

Nearly 1,600 people have signed a petition calling on Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to “protect the rights of gays and their families in death.”

Watch a news report from ABC 7 News, AFTER THE JUMP…

Continue reading "Outrage, Protests Ensue After Colorado Church Cancels Lesbian's Funeral: VIDEO" »

Texas Republican Lawmakers Aim To Nullify LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections Covering 7.5 Million People


Texas GOP lawmakers plan to introduce a bill that would nullify LGBT nondiscrimination protections covering 7.5 million people. 

The bill is being drafted in response to the Plano City Council's passage of an LGBT inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance last month. It's expected to be introduced by four Republican Plano-area lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Shaheen, above. 

The Texas Observer reports: 

Texas Pastor Council Executive Director David Welch, whose group is leading efforts to repeal equal rights ordinances in Plano and Houston, told the Observer the legislation would prohibit political subdivisions of the state from adding classes to nondiscrimination ordinances that aren’t protected under Texas or federal law—neither of which covers LGBT people.

“It should be a uniform standard statewide, and cities can’t just arbitrarily create new classes that criminalize a whole segment of the majority of the population,” Welch said. “It’s just self-evident that they’re going to try to do it city by city. We’re dealing with a broad public policy that creates criminal punishments. That’s a pretty serious issue, and when it’s based on a special agenda by a small, tiny fragment of the population … that’s a legitimate need and reason for the state Legislature to act.”

The bill reportedly will be modeled after a law that passed in Tennessee in 2011.

In the landmark 1996 case Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law that banned nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation. However, the Tennessee bill attempted to get around Romer v. Evans by simply prohibiting any protected classes that aren't included in state law, rather than specifically targeting the LGBT community. The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the Tennessee law, but it was dismissed for lack of standing. Now, NCLR reportedly plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the Tennessee law. 

NCLR Shannon Minter said the Tennessee bill passed in part because the business community was too slow in voicing its opposition to the measure. 

From The Texas Observer

“Hopefully this time in Texas the response will be more immediate, and I hope the legislators listen to the business community and do not do something that’s going to really hurt the Texas economy,” Minter said.

It’s been widely speculated that Plano passed its equal rights ordinance in response to Toyota’s decision to relocate a major facility to the city, after the company’s employees expressed concern about the lack of LGBT protections in Texas. Plano-based Frito-Lay also sent a letter to the City Council in support of the equal rights ordinance.

But Welch dismissed the argument that efforts to undo local nondiscrimination ordinances will hurt business, calling it “a red herring.” He said one of the engines of Texas’ strong economy is its “family-friendly” climate.

“We’re not going to let corporations, Toyota or anybody else, come in and dictate to the community what our standards are going to be on a moral level and religious level,” Welch said. “Companies like Frito-Lay had better take thought of who their customers are before they start trying to step up and ramrod these things though, because we will remember.”

The Texas legislative session didn't begin until Tuesday, but three other anti-LGBT bills have already been filed — two "license to discriminate" measures, as well one that aims to reban same-sex marriage in the event it becomes legal. Representatives from Equality Texas say they're expecting even more attacks fueled by backlash against the spread of same-sex marriage. 

States Defending Gay Marriage Bans Costing Taxpayers Millions In Attorney Fees


Plaintiffs in successful same-sex marriage lawsuits have been awarded more than $800,000 in attorneys fees' from states that defended the bans, with another $2.6 million in requests pending, according to a new report from The National Law Journal: 

Federal district judges across the country have issued nearly three dozen rulings since late 2013 declaring state same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Attorney fee petitions haven't been filed yet in the majority of those cases as they go before circuit courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. The fee awards, agreements and requests to date offer an early snapshot of what these landmark civil rights cases could cost taxpayers. ... 

Plaintiffs who prevail in federal civil rights cases can collect legal fees from the losing side. Congress set up the fee-shifting rule as an incentive for lawyers to take on time-consuming and expensive civil rights litigation, said Deborah Ferguson, lead counsel for the couples who fought Idaho's gay marriage ban.

In Idaho, the plaintiffs' attorneys were awarded a whopping $410,663 — the most in any state thus far. But that hasn't stopped Republican Gov. Butch Otter from continuing his futile defense of the state's marriage ban in court. The other states where plaintiffs' attorneys fees have been awarded or agreed to in same-sex marriage cases are Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon and Virginia. Requests are pending in Alaska, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Of course, the plaintiffs' attorneys fees don't include the cost to taxpayers of states paying their lawyers or hiring outside counsel to defend the bans — or, for that matter, lost revenue from wedding-related spending where same-sex marriage is still not legal. 

All told, it seems that defending discrimination isn't cheap, and states that continue to fight same-sex marriage better be prepared to pay up. And the irony is, many of the same folks who advocate lower taxes are the same ones fighting hardest to deprive same-sex couples of the freedom to marry.  

Did Anti-LGBT Groups Forge Signatures On Petition To Repeal Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance?


The above image, via The Houston Press, shows numerous signatures that appear to be in the same handwriting on a petition to repeal Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance. 

After the Houston City Council passed the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance last summer, opponents launched a petition drive seeking to place a repeal on the ballot. However, the city ultimately rejected the petition, saying it didn't contain enough valid signatures, prompting a lawsuit from the anti-LGBT groups. 

The lawsuit is set for trial on Jan. 20. And according to The Houston Press, attorneys for the city allege in court filings that some of the signatures were not only invalid for technical reasons — but also quite possibly forged: 

WoodfillSo far, most of the City's challenges to the petitions' validity has centered around technical -- and pretty boring -- matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators' signature. What's really intriguing, though, is the City's more recent contention that many names were forged, and that [plaintiff Jared] Woodfill "is no stranger" to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill -- then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party -- accepted "facially valid" election petitions that "turned out to involve 'forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation."

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn't buy Woodfill's argument that "the truthfulness of a circulator's affidavit is strictly a criminal matter."

The November motions include a sampling of the HERO signatures that City attorneys say were "purportedly from many different people, all of whom have the same handwriting." OH SNAP.

Herotrial-excerpt-image, a website created by supporters of the ordinance, also recently posted evidence, including the above image, of possible fraud related to the repeal petition: 

We have included a publicly available document from the Harris County District Clerk's website with regards to the upcoming trial. These are excerpts of a deposition from an individual who gathered signatures for the opposition's petition efforts.

In short, he admits under oath, that he committed fraud and perjured himself by attesting that the signatures he turned in were all collected by him when, in fact, they were not.

The court document makes for an interesting read and certainly is not an isolated case.

As we have seen since the first public discussions about the ordinance, opponents have been willing to use dishonest tactics to achieve their end goal of eliminating the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. 

We will post another interesting court document this week that continues the trend of rooting out the rampant fraud in the petition process. 

Make no mistake, the opponents of HERO are not victims, they are calculating fear-mongers with little regard for ethics or the law.

As we mentioned last week, opponents of the ordinance are seeking a jury trial in the case, claiming it's their constitutional right, but the city is asking for a judge to decide the matter. The judge heard arguments on that issue last Friday, The Houston Chronicle reports: 

During a brief but lively hearing in the 152nd District Court in Houston, Judge Robert Schaffer said he will likely issue that decision Monday or Tuesday. Barring any delays, the trial is set to start Jan. 20.

Equal rights ordinance opponents are pushing to take the case before a jury instead of allowing Schaffer, as originally planned, to issue a decision from the bench. Attorneys for the city are strongly opposed to that format, saying it violates state election law to send the case to a jury. ... 

If nothing else, attorneys on both sides came away from Friday's hearing with the distinct impression that regardless of the form the trial takes, it will be a long one. Schaffer said he expected the trial to last between four and six weeks and that it will require the court to scrutinize the disputed petition pages and signatures. The plaintiffs submitted a 5,199-page petition. 


Towleroad - Blogged