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It’s hard out here on a small theater company

It’s rough going in Houston right now.

Horse Head ended operations earlier this month. But it was far from an isolated case. Many other small theater companies in Houston are also fighting for survival, battling gentrification, donor apathy and increasingly competitive public grants.

In the past two years, one other professional company, 4th Wall Theatre, has announced its closure — before being rescued by a donor. Three others — Mildred’s Umbrella, Landing Theatre and Classical Theatre Co. — have been forced out from their homes. Established mid-tier theaters are seeing no growth. Rents inside the loop continue to rise, while revenue and fundraising have plateaued.

If theaters like these continue to shutter, it would be an enormous blow to the performing arts in Houston, leaving the scene without the vital second-rung of talent to supplement what’s available on the better-funded main stages. The trends have raised concerns among local artists.

“Small to mid-size companies can no longer survive in this climate,” said Matt Hune, artistic director of Rec Room, a theater in East Downtown founded in 2016. “We’re seeing dwindling or capped funding, while prices keep rising.”

Last December, Mildred’s Umbrella and Classical Theatre Company were forced out of their shared space in the Chelsea Market shopping center near the Museum District. The development was sold, to be torn down and replaced with high-end apartment complexes.

This has left both companies homeless, in a search for space. But the Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH), built in 2015 to address the need of Houston’s smaller galleries, music ensembles, dance companies and theater groups for affordable performance spaces, is at capacity. Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, Mildred’s Umbrella’s former home, became too expensive after then-co-tenant 4th Wall Theatre temporarily shut down in 2017.

Local theaters sometimes help by renting out their spaces to other companies at a discount — the Alley Theatre is housing Mildred’s Umbrella’s performances for two weeks. But artists say they need a permanent solution.

“Inside the loop, there’s nothing affordable,” said Jennifer Decker, artistic director of Mildred’s Umbrella.

Obviously, the sharp rise in property values in what were once cheap inner-city areas is a problem for these theater companies, all of which operate on tight margins. Audience sizes haven’t been great lately, either – one theory I’ve heard is that the type of people who go to smaller and independent theater productions are also the type of people who have been spending a lot more time and energy on politics lately, with the decline in theater-going being a casualty of that. Perhaps that will turn out to be a cyclical thing. I agree with the view that having a thriving local theater scene is a big deal for a city’s overall quality of life and ability to attract high-end jobs. People who have a choice for where to live want to live someplace where there are lots of things to see and do, and especially in a city without natural attractions a strong arts scene is a critical component. There’s still plenty of donor money available for arts, but it tends to be very concentrated at the top. We need to figure out a way to spread the wealth around more, to find more places where theaters can be, and to just generally keep the scene healthy. It will be bad for us all if this ecosystem collapses.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse problems

Some excellent longform reporting from the Chron, with more to come.

Thirty-five years later, Debbie Vasquez’s voice trembled as she described her trauma to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.

She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

“Listen to what God has to say,” she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. “… All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. … Please help me and others that will be hurt.”

Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.

The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hundreds more.

In the decade since Vasquez’s appeal for help, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with sex crimes, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals.

It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

Journalists in the two newsrooms spent more than six months reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews. They built a database of former leaders in Southern Baptist churches who have been convicted of sex crimes.

The investigation reveals that:

• At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.

• Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.

• Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.

There’s a lot more, so go read the whole thing. Along the way, it references the Paul Pressler scandal, which continues on. Here’s the index page for this series – there are two more stories coming – where you can also search their database of offenders. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the Catholic Church’s long-running scandal, it’s that no matter how much we think we know now, there will be more to come. And it can’t be emphasized enough that both the SBC and the Catholic Church have been among the biggest power players behind all of the main “morality” crusades in recent decades, most prominently restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom and LGBT equality (Paul Pressler was a big donor to the anti-HERO campaign). Never, ever forget any of that.

Santa’s employment agency

Good work if you can get it.

If you have had a picture taken with Santa Claus in San Antonio this holiday season, there’s a good chance he was booked through a local business run by a head elf.

That head elf is Renee Davis, CEO of San Antonio-based Santa Express Central, who manages more than 50 professional Santa Clauses across the state, a business Davis said keeps her busy year-round.

“In order to get a really professional Santa, retailers get on it a good 18 months to a year in advance, because it’s that competitive to get a good Santa,” she said.

All of the Santas with Santa Express Central have real beards, Davis said. She puts them through a background check, insures them, outfits them with Santa uniforms, and enrolls them into her own Santa school. There they practice their ho-ho-ho’s and learn how to style themselves properly, speak around children, preserve the magic of Santa Claus, and strike the best poses for the camera. Her training prepares them to be the best Santas they can be, she said.

“My Santas book out very fast, and it’s because of the difference we make,” she said. “They’re taking that extra moment and time, letting the child know, ‘I care, I see you, and I hear you.'”

Between November and December, Davis estimates she books more than 600 events with her Santa Clauses. She has 57 Santas across Texas, though the majority live in the San Antonio and Hill Country area.

Hey, Santa has better things to do than figure out where his next gig is. It’s good that he has someone to do this sort of thing for him. Visit the charmingly retro Santa Express Central webpage to learn more.

The Alley Theater debacle

What a mess.

More than a dozen current and former Alley Theatre employees say the outgoing artistic director, Gregory Boyd, created a toxic work environment at the city’s most renowned theater, describing him as a tyrant who frequently singled out young female actresses for verbal abuse.

The allegations against Boyd, who abruptly retired this week after a 28-year Tony-winning run at the Alley, focus primarily on bullying and abusive behavior directed at young women under his direction on the stage.

Emily Trask, a member of the company for nearly two years, said she quit the Alley in April after reporting to three members of management that Boyd had bullied her, screaming “What the f— is wrong with you?” at a rehearsal, called her a “stupid c—” while giving another actor stage direction and twice touched her buttocks inappropriately.

“I felt I had no choice but to leave what was my dream job,” she said, citing “harassment and what I felt to be an unsafe environment.”

Boyd did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

A second actress, who asked not be identified for fear of retaliation, shared a similar story.

The actress said Boyd pinched her buttocks once on stage and once while she was making coffee in a break room. He made sexual comments about her to other actors, she said, and talked about the way she dressed and screamed at her on stage for the smallest of missteps.

“It was a very scary place to work for me,” she said, “a very hostile place.”

Like Trask, she said she complained to management, but nothing happened. “It was like it just got swept under the rug.”

The theater’s administrators and board president declined to answer questions about the allegations against Boyd, 66, who was widely considered the most influential figure in Houston’s theater scene. Boyd was just one year into a five-year contract and was paid at least $420,000 in the fiscal year that ended in June 2016, according to the company’s tax records.

[…]

The Houston Chronicle started interviewing Alley employees in November as the “Me Too” movement spread nationally and current and former employees complained about Boyd . On Dec. 20, the Chronicle asked to review the Alley’s financial records under a state law that requires certain disclosures by nonprofits. The theater declined to produce the records electronically; a date stamp indicated it printed them out on Dec. 29, but the theater told the Chronicle they were ready on Jan. 4.

The Alley’s press release, issued Tuesday, said Boyd had planned to retire last fall but delayed the announcement because of Hurricane Harvey.

“Leading this extraordinary theatre company in this wonderful city for over a quarter century has been an artistic dream fulfilled,” Boyd was quoted as saying in the press release. “With the marvelous efforts of the artists, staff, and Board, we created a state of the art theatre-making complex with performance, production, and administration all in a brilliant, expansive space that welcomes theatre-goers in a unique and exciting way. The Alley’s achievements have been a great source of satisfaction for me and I look forward to new achievements to come in the next era.”

ABC-13’s Miya Shay has been reporting on this as well. The sudden retirement of a 28-year artistic director of the city’s best-known theater, without any fanfare of advance notice or plans for a sendoff by itself raises suspicions, and I suspect there’s still more to the story to come. First and foremost are the questions about how this went on for so long without anyone at the Alley taking action.

The board of the Alley Theatre announced plans Friday to create a special committee to evaluate “the workplace environment” after the Houston Chronicle reported that more than a dozen current and former employees said former artistic director Gregory Boyd had fostered a toxic, abusive culture for decades.

In a 79-word statement, the board did not mention Boyd by name and did not directly address the Chronicle’s report, published Friday, which included interviews with actors and actresses who said Boyd had screamed obscenities at them during rehearsals. Two actresses alleged that Boyd also touched them inappropriately on their buttocks.

“During this transition to new artistic leadership, the Board of Directors has renewed its commitment to providing a dignified and respectful workplace,” the statement said. “The Board has also appointed a special committee to assess the workplace environment and deliver recommendations to ensure the Alley Theatre continues to be a destination for world-class talent.”

[…]

“I think the Alley owes Houston a tremendous apology for misusing the community’s trust and for covering up reprehensible behavior,” said Michael Dragoni, who was Boyd’s assistant from 1996 to 1998 and described the job as “an almost non-stop abusive situation.”

He said he saw Boyd berate actresses and touch a former staff member on her thigh inappropriately until she stood up and left a rehearsal.

“They have known about the toxicity from the beginning, and multiple leaders over the years have turned a blind eye and allowed things to get completely out of control,” Dragoni said.

Greg Lasley, who worked at the Alley from 2006 to 2011 as a bartender, described a “conspiracy of silence there.”

“People would complain, the board would show up and squash the complaint,” Lasley said.

Tony Bradfield, co-owner of Tenenbaum Jewelers, a longtime supporter of the Alley, expressed dismay at the accounts of an oppressive environment.

“I don’t think anyone of either gender, women mostly, should have to go through any of that,” Bradfield said. “I feel strongly about that.”

The Alley’s administration has not offered any response to the allegations against Boyd beyond Friday’s statement.

Here’s the Alley’s board of directors. I agree with Michael Dragoni, but an apology isn’t enough. The Board was clearly part of the problem. If they really want to make amends and move forward, those who were part of the problem should not be part of the solution. Most if not all of them should make plans to step down and let someone else clean up this mess. I hate to see a cultural jewel like the Alley go through such turbulence, but they brought this on themselves by failing to take action on this long-standing and well-known-to-them problem. They need to take the resolution to this seriously. I hope they do.

Boy Scouts to accept transgender members

Good for them.

In a landmark decision, Boy Scouts of America announced Monday that it will now allow transgender Scouts in its boys-only program.

Although it’s not clear how that move will play in the Lone Star State, the news signals the reversal of a century-old position that restricted membership to children listed as males on their birth certificates.

“It’s about time,” said Houston Municipal Court Associate Judge Phyllis Frye, the state’s first openly transgender judge.

The historic change is effective immediately and comes less than two years after the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on openly gay troop leaders and employees.

“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application,” the organization said in a statement obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

“The BSA is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family, and this is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible – all while remaining true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.”

The Scouts had previously allowed gay members and gay Scoutmasters, and the earth continued to spin on its axis. I’m generally not much for making predictions, but I feel confident saying that that will be the case this time as well, no matter how much of a fuss some people make out of this. ThinkProgress has more.

The GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey

A lot of the stuff we talk about when we discuss Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill is business – the opposition from businesses, the political ramifications of a GOP/business schism, the economics of the bathroom bill, etc etc etc. But schools and students are a big piece of the picture here, as the lawsuit against the US Department of Education directive on student access to bathrooms and other facilities shows, and the effect of a bathroom bill on schools and students has been in the background. With that in mind, let me direct you to the GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey, for which a much more easily read executive summary is here. Let me quote a bit:

In 1999, GLSEN identified that little was known about the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and that LGBTQ youth were nearly absent from national studies of adolescents. We responded to this national need for data by launching the first National School Climate Survey, and we continue to meet this need for current data by conducting the study every two years. Since then, the biennial National School Climate Survey has documented the unique challenges LGBTQ students face and identified interventions that can improve school climate. The survey documents the prevalence of anti-LGBT language and victimization, such as experiences of harassment and assault in school. In addition, the survey examines school policies and practices that may contribute to negative experiences for LGBTQ students and make them feel as if they are not valued by their school communities. The survey also explores the effects that a hostile school climate may have on LGBTQ students’ educational outcomes and well-being. Finally, the survey reports on the availability and the utility of LGBT-related school resources and supports that may offset the negative effects of a hostile school climate and promote a positive learning experience. In addition to collecting this critical data every two years, we also add and adapt survey questions to respond to the changing world for LGBTQ youth. For example, in the 2015 survey we expanded upon the types of discriminatory practices we explore by including questions related to extracurricular activities, school athletics, and gender segregation in school activities. The National School Climate Survey remains one of the few studies to examine the school experiences of LGBTQ students nationally, and its results have been vital to GLSEN’s understanding of the issues that LGBTQ students face, thereby informing our ongoing work to ensure safe and affirming schools for all.

[…]

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their sexual orientation:

–Were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (62.2% vs. 20.1%);

–Had lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education (e.g., college or trade school) than those who experienced lower levels (10.0% vs. 5.2%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (54.9% vs. 32.1%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their gender expression:

–Were almost three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (59.6% vs. 20.8%);

–Had lower GPAs than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any postsecondary education (e.g., college or trade school; 9.5% vs. 5.4%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (52.1% vs. 32.7%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

42.5% of LGBTQ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.

I highlight this for three reasons. One is that we as a state and as a society put high expectations on our students, which are reflected in the never-ending and continually-increasing academic standards we demand that they meet. It is therefore on us to ensure that we are doing all we can to remove barriers to their success, of which harassment and discrimination are two of the most pernicious. Two, Dan Patrick presents his bill as a way of “protecting” children. I would challenge him and his minions to explain why this “protection” of some undefined set of children must come at the direct cost of so many other children. And three, to remind the business lobby that is now doing the hard work of opposing this travesty that it is not just about how their employees and customers are treated, but also how the children of their employees and customers are treated, or to put it another way, how their future employees and customers are treated. The Supreme Court is about to hear a case that may force the issue nationally, or it may punt it back to the states. We need to be ready to respond appropriately and compassionately.

You are still free to discriminate against LGBT people

Just a reminder.

RedEquality

Campus Pride usually highlights the best colleges for LGBT youth, as expensive as they may be. But for the first time today, the advocacy group is calling out the worst campuses for queer students.

“Most people are shocked when they learn that there are college campuses still today that openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth,” said Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer in a statement accompanying the Shame List released today. “It is an unspoken secret in higher education, how [schools] use religion as a tool for cowardice and discrimination.”

That secret has been spoken about more openly in the past several months, as the U.S. Department of Education announced in January that it was creating a searchable database listing every U.S. college and university that requested a waiver from the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections outlined in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (including gender identity) in schools that recieve federal funds.

In order to qualify for a religious exemption to Title IX through the Department of Education, an institution must prove that following the law conflicts with specific tenets of that school’s stated religious affiliation, and it must be operated by a religious institution, among other requirements. Schools must outline the specific policies that would be affected by Title IX requirements and explain how the institution’s religious doctrine conflicts with the legal requirement not to discriminate based on sex or gender identity.

The Shame List features 102 schools from across the country, including postsecondary schools with historically anti-LGBT policies, along with those that requested officials exemptions from Title IX. Any school that met either or both of these requirements was placed on the list, which Campus Pride calls a roll of “the absolute worst.”

Campus Pride spent six months combing over the the  Department of Education’s database on schools that have requested and received faith-based Title IX waivers, cross-referencing that list with additional research on schools that have policies viewed as hostile to LGBT students.

“Our job as Campus Pride is to make sure that every person in the country knows that these campuses decided that they are going to openly discriminate against LGBT young people,” Windmeyer told The Advocate via phone. “This list uncovers the religion-based bigotry that is harmful and perpetuated against LGBTQ youth on these campuses.”

Texas, California, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma, and Kentucky all have more than four colleges on the Shame List, Windmeyer said, adding that the South has the highest density of schools on Campus Pride’s list. The 102 schools on the list account for roughly 2 percent of the 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., according to the Department of Education.

The Human Rights Campaign previously shed some light on the growing number of schools requesting religious exemptions in 2015 with its “Hidden Discrimination” report. In that year, 55 colleges either applied for or were granted the exemption, effectively arguing that their faith doctrine required them to allow discrimination in admissions, housing, athletics, facilities, and rules of behavior based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Ultimately these campuses are dangerous for vulnerable LGBTQ youth and others,” said Windmeyer. “All families and youth deserve to know this information — and so do corporations who do business with these campuses — from those who hire and recruit, vendors who contract food service, sell books, make donations and in any other way provides goods or services to a college or university.”

Nine of those 102 schools are here in Texas. Despite the bluster from certain circles, existing law shields these religious institutions from having to deviate from their belief that some classes of people are inferior to others. That’s not going to change, though I certainly hope that some day the institutions themselves will decide on their own to change. Just keep this in mind when the Legislature is in session next spring and the bluster about “religious liberty” being “under assault” is in full flower. The DMN has more.

Paxton’s dinner with the Briggle family

So he did go, and he managed to behave himself.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Lots of preparation led up to the moment, but Amber and Adam Briggle still exchanged nervous looks when their doorbell rang about 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

“I was terrified,” Amber Briggle said.

They had invited Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, Angela, to come over for dinner and spend a little time with them and their transgender son. The Briggles occupy a much different political space than Paxton, a conservative Republican who has opposed expanding civil rights for gay and transgender people.

A lot of the usual insecurities went through Amber Briggle’s mind — worrying about the food she prepared, whether she would spill her drink, what they would all talk about over dinner.

She needn’t have worried.

“Honestly, it was a very pleasant evening,” Amber Briggle said.

[…]

The Briggles called their invitation to Paxton an act of diplomacy. He has opposed gay marriage, and he is against the idea that transgender people be allowed to use a public restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The Briggles see the state’s latest political battle with the federal government over transgender civil rights as one that directly affects their child.

“I’m concerned that the lawsuit, and all these injunctions, and the legislation that’s coming our way is putting my son in danger,” Amber Briggle said.

Many families of transgender children don’t draw attention to themselves out of self-preservation. But that also feeds ignorance, the Briggles say.

They weren’t sure whether the Paxtons had ever knowingly met a transgender person before. The Briggles wanted to show that they are an ordinary Texas family and that they really aren’t alone.

[…]

The couple didn’t ask Paxton for anything specific in relation to the politics surrounding LGBT rights in Texas. Instead, they asked the attorney general to remember them and their son when considering future actions.

See here for the background. The Briggles are better people than I would be in this situation. I wish I could say that I believe Paxton will become a better, more empathetic person as a result of the Briggles’ hospitality, but alas, I can’t. I expect he won’t say, do, or feel anything different. Worth the effort, but this audience wasn’t ready to hear the message.

Texas Monthly long read on transgender issues

Mostly about someone I know, as it happens.

Colt Keo-Meier

Boy. Girl. Man. Woman. These terms reflect a binary view of gender. Our language doesn’t allow for the in-between. And yet there are girly girls and tomboys; fey men and macho ones. As the trans community has become more visible, it has become clear that gender, like sexuality, can exist on a spectrum.

Nevertheless, the very first thing that Colt’s parents, Bob and Pam Meier, learned about their only child was which distinct category he fell in. “It’s a girl!” the obstetrician announced as she delivered Colt into the arms of his mother one August day in 1983. And it was on this bit of information that Bob and Pam—a psychologist and an ob-gyn, respectively, both admired in their community—began hanging their dreams and expectations.

Colt’s understanding of himself would turn out to be considerably different. Like many who are transgender, he felt the devastating disconnect between, as he put it to me, “the gender others tell you you are and the gender you know yourself to be.” In keeping with Colt’s wishes, I will refer to him only as Colt, even though his parents gave him a more feminine name when he was born. And I will refer to him only as a “he,” even though it took him quite some time, growing up in Beaumont, to embrace his masculine identity.

As a child, Colt hated Barbie dolls, long hair, and anything overtly feminine. When the family’s real estate agent said that he was a pretty little girl and that she would nominate him to be a princess at the annual Neches River Festival once he was old enough, three-year-old Colt replied, “No, thanks. I want to be king.” Because he wriggled out of dresses as soon as his mother had slipped them over his head, Pam got permission from the principal of his Catholic school to fashion him a modified school uniform: overalls made out of the same plaid fabric used for the girls’ pleated skirts. Once he ran around his ballet class giving girls loving kisses. “Ew, that’s gay!” said another four-year-old, leaving Colt hot with shame. Before his first confession, at the age of seven, Colt prayed in his pew: God, please don’t make me a lesbian. He didn’t know what a lesbian was, but he got the sense that it wasn’t good.

In high school, Colt was a straight-A student, a Eucharistic minister, and a black belt in tae kwon do. He still refused to wear dresses, but to avoid scrutiny, he grew out his hair. Though he had boyfriends, he never wanted to be intimate with them. It wasn’t until the summer after his sophomore year at Rice University that his best friend, a girl in his Catholic youth group, helped him figure out why. Standing in the upstairs hallway of Colt’s parents’ house late one night, the friend leaned in and kissed him. Then she ran down the stairs, afraid of how he might react. He stood in shock for a good minute, his body lit. Then he ran down the stairs to kiss her back.

Colt was ashamed of what this meant, because the church had taught him to believe that homosexuality is a sin. Yet the love he felt suggested otherwise. More than a year later, when he told his parents about the relationship, they were accepting, though Bob was certain it was a passing phase. Then twenty, Colt made a similar assumption; he was not a lesbian, he believed. He just loved this one girl. But after they broke up, he fell for another woman. A fellow student at Rice, she was proud to be a lesbian and encouraged Colt to be proud too.

In 2006, several months after Colt graduated with a degree in psychology, he and his girlfriend attended a one-man show at the Rice Student Center. Scott Schofield, now an actor on The Bold and the Beautiful, took to the stage to dramatize how he had come out as a lesbian and then later as a trans man over the course of several Southern debutante balls. Sitting in the dim hall, Colt was transported back to his forced appearance, as a sixteen-year-old in a poufy white dress, at the Neches River Festival. Colt had only ever heard the word “transgender” used as a slur, but looking at Schofield—who was blond, Texan, and transgender—Colt saw himself.

Read the whole thing, it’s well worth your time. I knew Colt when he was a student at Rice – we both played saxophone in the MOB. I haven’t seen him since then, but we’re friends on Facebook and have a lot of friends – some from Rice, some from local politics – in common. I’m happy to see him doing well and helping others walk the same path he did.

The challenges transgender children face

At least now we’re starting to talk about those challenges openly.

One month after voters in Houston rejected an equal rights ordinance that proponents say would have protected transgender people from discrimination, Ben and his parents, Ann and Jim Elder of Friendswood, are among families nationwide challenging their communities to respect the identities of kids who feel their true gender doesn’t match their bodies. Their experience, and Houston’s, illustrate the gap in understanding gender identity issues and the divide over how best to deal with them in places such as public restrooms, courthouses, day care centers and schools. As much as the country has changed in accepting gay marriage, transgender rights remains a new frontier, rife with uncertainty.

Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she expects to see a tipping point as more transgender children like Ben express themselves, just as gay rights gained momentum after families began supporting openly gay children.

Until then, misunderstanding reigns.

Take the case of two former Katy child care workers. A week after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was defeated following the airing of TV ads alleging the law would permit transgender men to assault girls in women’s bathrooms, the workers said they were fired by the Katy center for refusing to treat one of their students as a transgender boy.

Accepting the child’s assertion at such a young age “just didn’t make sense to me,” said one of the workers, Madeline Kirksey, who argues that she had the child’s best interests at heart. Kirksey has filed a federal discrimination complaint challenging her dismissal and is represented by an attorney who fought to bring HERO before voters, leading to its ultimate defeat.

“I still believe that, at that age, they’re exploring,” Kirksey maintained. “It’s innocence. … Let her explore for herself until she gets older and then decide.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Association of School Boards describes transgender issues as “relatively new in public discourse, understanding and the law.”

While state law does not explicitly protect students who are transgender, it says students are safe from discrimination “based on their gender identity and their free speech expressions of that gender identity,” including choice of clothing, name and gender, according to a written explanation from the association’s legal division.

The association provides sample policy documents to protect against discrimination based on gender. Districts like Houston ISD have taken the language further, to explicitly cover “gender identity and/or gender expression.”

Conflict in the state regarding bathrooms and locker rooms, however, “is not legally settled,” the explanation reads, concluding that schools should “assess each situation as it comes … to reach a resolution that protects the learning environment for all.”

[…]

While the medical community doesn’t have clear data on why individuals identify with a certain gender, kids as young as age 3 may begin to understand “what their preferred gender roles are, what their gender expression will be,” said Robert McLaughlin, a clinical psychologist and dean of the school of allied health sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.

Early on, features that may indicate gender dysphoria can manifest in a preference for the clothes, toys, games or even peers of the other gender, said Meredith Chapman, a psychiatrist with Children’s Health in Dallas. In more severe cases, children might say they wish to be the other gender, express unhappiness about their body or try to harm their genitals.

There isn’t a clinical consensus on specific treatment methods for gender variant kids, Chapman said. But experts agree that denying a child’s claims or trying to coerce him or her to be one way or another likely has dangerous ramifications.

“We never know a child’s outcome,” McLaughlin said. “All we know is the child we have before us. We can make that child’s path miserable and tragic, or we can make that child’s path supported and affirmative.”

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Katy child care workers, because not that long ago I would have thought the same thing. I know more now, which (along with their choice of attorney) limits the amount of sympathy that I feel. Gay and lesbian kids generally have an easier time of it than they did even 10 or 20 years ago because we all know more as a society about who they are and what they’re experiencing. There’s still a long way to go, and far too many gay and lesbian kids still encounter hostility and rejection, but the progress is obvious and the direction we’re going is clear. We need to get there for trans kids as well, and the sooner we do the fewer of them we will lose to violence, drugs, and suicide. A year ago at this time blogger/pundit Nancy Sims wrote about her experience as the parent of a transgender child. Go read that and remind yourself why this matters. Every kid deserves a chance to grow up and be loved and accepted for who they are.

Pancho Claus keeps on going

Always a pleasure to hear.

Pancho Claus [Richard Reyes] works year-round, looking for sponsorships and running an ongoing toy drive, so he can have enough to hand out each December. His day job involves driving a promotional vehicle for Taxis Fiesta, a local company that sports the colors of the Mexican flag on its fleet of cabs.

Reyes says he tries to look out for the underdogs.

It’s something his mother instilled in him while he was growing up in Houston. Help out, give back.

Now, at 64 and with a slew of health problems, it might seem a good time for Reyes to hang up his sunglasses and put away the suit. But he doesn’t think so.

“Retire from what?” he says emphatically, as he sits in the theater of Talento Bilingue on a recent afternoon, waiting for a television crew to capture his seasonal spirit. “I come in every day. When you love something, you just do it.”

I blog about Pancho Claus every time I see a story about him. The man himself suffered a heart attack six years ago, but it clearly hasn’t slowed him down. We should all be as full of the Christmas spirit as Pancho Claus. Feliz Navidad, y’all.

Violence against transgender people

There’s way too much of it.

For a few transgender Americans, this has been a year of glamour and fame. For many others, 2015 has been fraught with danger, violence and mourning.

While Caitlyn Jenner made the cover of Vanity Fair and Laverne Cox prospered as a popular actress, other transgender women have become homicide victims at an alarming rate. By the count of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, there have been 22 killings so far this year of transgender or gender-nonconforming people — including 19 black or Latina transgender women.

The toll compares with 12 last year and 13 in 2013, and is the highest since advocacy groups began such tallies a decade ago.

“Most Americans think it’s been an amazing year for transgender rights,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “But for the transgender community, it’s been one of the most traumatic years on record.”

Death by death, the details are horrific. Kiesha Jenkins was beaten and shot dead by a cluster of assailants in Philadelphia. Tamara Dominguez was run over multiple times and left to die on a Kansas City street. Police said the most recent victim, Zella Ziona, was shot dead in Gaithersburg, Maryland, last month by a boyfriend embarrassed that Ziona showed up in the presence of some of his other friends.

There’s no question that anti-transgender hatred fueled many of the killings, yet activists and social-service professionals say there are multiple factors that make transgender women of color vulnerable. They have documented that numerous victims were killed by intimate partners and many while engaging in prostitution.

“For many of these women, it’s chronic unemployment or participation in survival sex work,” said Louis Graham, a University of Massachusetts professor who has studied the experiences of black transgender women.

Many are beset by homelessness and economic desperation, sometimes ending out in coercive and violent relationships, Graham said.

Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said that for many perpetrators of the violence, “there’s a sense of transgender people being less than human.”

See here for some background. So often it is the case that a population that is demonized and marginalized is at a much greater risk for crime and violence than the larger population that fears them. We still have a long way to go to get to a society that treats everyone equally.

Transgender acceptance

I have a question to ask about this.

The trans civil rights movement began with stacked odds because it represents such a minority, less than 1 percent of the population, according to various studies. The movement is seen as the frontier beyond gay marriage rights, and trans activists “have moved so much faster than any of these other social justice movements,” said Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It’s because they’ve all laid the groundwork for us.”

She expects to see a tipping point as more transgender children come out, just as gay rights picked up support from families with openly gay children.

Minneapolis became the first city to pass protections for transgender people 40 years ago, and more than 225 other municipalities and 19 states have followed suit. Houston is one of the only major U.S. cities without such a law.

Despite those ordinances, the rights of transgender people are being disputed in court or considered by federal authorities.

[…]

In 2013, the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 9 percent of Americans had a close transgender friend or family member. In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign said 17 percent of American survey respondents knew or worked with a transgender person, increasing to 22 percent this year.

It jumps to about 80 percent when the question is about gays and lesbians.

Remember those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets that were all the rage a few years back? I always thought they were obnoxious, but it seems to me they might serve a purpose these days. What would Jesus do with transgender people? Would he spit on them and call them perverts and refuse to let them use public restrooms, or would he embrace them as his brothers and sisters under a just and loving God? I’m just asking. I guess you can tell how I feel by the way I framed the question. I also know that this is a matter of life and death for a lot of people. I know that we will become more accepting as a society over time, but for too many people that won’t be soon enough.

Counting the number of same sex marriages in Texas

Fewer than I’d have guessed, but still a decent amount percentage-wise.

Statewide, an estimated 2,500 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in Texas since the [Obergfell] ruling.

There is no exact accounting of how many same-sex marriage licenses have been issued in Texas or Tarrant County because gender is no longer listed on licenses.

But the Star-Telegram’s review of marriage licenses issued in Tarrant County the past two months shows that almost 9 percent of the licenses appear to have been issued to same-sex couples. Statewide, 5.7 percent of marriage licenses appear to have been given to same-sex couples.

“There are many same-sex couples who simply waited until it was legal to seek licenses,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “As a result, there have been a number of folks who might have gotten married years ago had it been possible to do so who are taking advantage of their opportunity to gain legal recognition for their committed relationship.

“My guess is that the overall percentage will shrink over time from this initial data once the ‘pent-up demand’ has been satisfied.”

[…]

Officials stress that state estimates of same-sex marriage licenses are just that: estimates.

“Since the application no longer has gender identifiers, this ballpark number is based on what we can assume from the applicants’ names,” said Carrie Williams, director of media relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which maintains vital records for the state, including marriage applications.

Overall, the state has received 43,522 marriage license applications since June 26, including the estimated 2,500 for same-sex couples, she said.

To get an idea of how many marriage licenses Tarrant County has granted to same-sex couples, the Star-Telegram reviewed a list of 3,427 applications from June 26 to Sept. 8.

The county does not keep a “breakdown of same-sex marriage license applications versus non-same-sex applications,” said Jeff Nicholson, chief deputy for Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia. “Since June 26, the forms and our software have been modified so there is no way to discern this. It simply refers to applicants.”

The review shows that at least 296 licenses — or 8.6 percent — appear to have been issued to same-sex couples.

On the one hand, I thought the “pent-up demand” might have been higher. On the other hand, a lot of couples in Texas that really wanted to be married went and got married in other states rather than wait. Either way, I do think the number will decline some as a share of all marriages, then level off. We’ll get a much better handle on the real numbers when the 2020 Census is done. One hopes that by then the whole subject will be considered little more than a statistical curiosity. The Current has more.

Boy Scouts rescind ban on gay adults

About time.

The executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America has unanimously approved a resolution that would end the organization’s blanket ban on gay adult leaders and let individual Scout units set their own policy on the long-divisive issue. Units sponsored by churches opposed to the change could maintain the ban if they choose.

In a statement Monday, the BSA said the resolution was approved by the 17-member executive committee on Friday, and would become official policy immediately if ratified by the organization’s 80-member National Executive Board at a meeting on July 27.

The committee action follows an emphatic speech in May by the organization’s president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, declaring that the long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable. He and other BSA leaders said the ban was likely to be the target of lawsuits that the Scouts were apt to lose.

In 2013, after bitter internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as scouts, but not gay adults as leaders.

Under the new resolution, local scout units would be able to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation — a stance that several scout councils have already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.

“This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families,” the BSA statement said. “This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.”

See here for the previous update. I was never a Boy Scout and honestly don’t really care very much about them, but I’m always glad to see an organization make progress. Took ’em long enough, but better late than never.

On to the benefits

Now that same sex marriage is the law of the land, Texas employers need to make sure that the spousal benefits they offer apply to all spouses.

RedEquality

“If an employer provides benefits to anyone who is currently married, they must now treat gay and lesbian employees the same and offer them the exact same benefits,” said Neel Lane, a San Antonio lawyer at corporate law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

“The ruling has an enormous impact on employers and employees in Texas,” said Lane, who represents on a pro bono basis a gay couple in Texas who have challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

[…]

Lawyers said they have been inundated with calls – mainly from small- and medium-sized business owners – seeking legal advice on updating employment and benefits forms but also asking if there are ways under Texas law to avoid having to make changes.

James Griffin, an expert on employment benefits and federal tax law at Jackson Walker in Dallas, said the legal advice he is giving his business clients is simple.

“Don’t waste your time looking for ways to defeat this,” Griffin said. “The Supreme Court decision is very broad. This issue is done. Make the changes and move on.”

Griffin and other lawyers say most large corporations implemented policies years ago that extend benefits to same-sex couples.

But they say some Texas-based companies that operate exclusively within the state have not addressed the issue because they have never had employees come forward and say they are gay and want benefits for their partners. Lawyers say that because Texas political leaders have been adamantly anti-same-sex marriage and benefits, many workers were afraid to step forward.

“Now, because of the Supreme Court ruling, a lot of people who have been reluctant are going to raise their hand for the benefits and the companies have to address it,” said Mark Shank, an employment law partner at Gruber Hurst Elrod Johansen Hail Shank in Dallas.

Among the employers who have already taken action is the state of Texas.

The state’s bureaucracy is moving forward to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision, even as state elected officials – including Gov. Greg Abbott – have lambasted the landmark ruling.

Starting Wednesday – less than a week after the decision – the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System will extend benefits to spouses of gay and lesbian employees.

That means the state’s largest employer, the State of Texas, will join the list of those providing equal benefits to same-sex partners.

The decision is latest sign that state government is accepting the ruling, which struck down gay marriage bans in Texas and other states. And that bureaucratic churn provides a notable counterbalance to the saber-rattling by Abbott and other top Republicans.

“This is all kind of new for us,” said Catherine Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Employees Retirement System of Texas. “We’re just looking at what other employers have seen.”

The state employees some 311,000 people, according to the state auditor’s office. Terrell said ERS, which handles benefits for most state employees, was anticipating that about 1,500 spouses of gay employees would now enroll for benefits.

A “notable counterbalance to the saber-rattling”. I like that. When you consider all the county clerks who ignored Ken Paxton’s legal “advice”, it’s quite clear who’s really out of touch here. That doesn’t mean they’re going to acknowledge it any time soon.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is also providing these benefits now; they weren’t included in the Trail Blazers post. Regarding the UT and A&M systems, I like the quote in this Trib story about that:

Professors at Texas’ public universities celebrated the extension of benefits, saying the policy change will offer relief for many gay and lesbian employees and reduce the rate at which they leave Texas institutions in search of schools that accommodate same-sex couples.

Patrick Burkart, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, said extending benefits for same-sex couples will put the university on the “same competitive footing” as other research universities across the country because it will help retain and recruit top faculty and staffers.

“What we’re going to find out is how expensive it’s been to keep a discriminatory policy on the books as we have,” said Burkart, the secretary and treasurer of the A&M chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which has pushed for the benefits for years.

Burkart, who has served on several faculty search committees, indicated that the previous policy denying benefits to same-sex spouses or partners kept potential candidates from applying for posts at the school.

Hundreds of colleges across the country offer benefits to same-sex spouses or same-sex domestic partners.

”I think our university has suffered for it, and now is a great time to catch up and gather our strengths,” Burkart said.

I’m willing to bet none of our “saber-rattling” state leaders ever considered that, and if any of them did, I seriously doubt they cared. It is of course one big reason why so many private employers have been doing this for so long – you’ve got to keep up with the competition. Burying your head in the sand never works.

Let’s go back to the first story for a minute to see an example of another place where they can demonstrate that:

Legal experts also say the first major domino likely to fall will occur in federal court in Wichita Falls, where a federal judge in March, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Paxton, issued an injunction that prevented the federal Family and Medical Leave Act from applying to same-sex couples in Texas.

Because of the ruling, Texas was one of four states in the U.S. where FMLA benefits have been denied to gay couples involved in civil unions.

“That decision will almost certainly be reversed right away,” said David Coale, a partner at Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox. “State political leaders may try to fight it, but they are going to lose, and then they are going to have to pay a lot of money to lawyers for pursuing frivolous legal claims.”

See here and here for the background. The lawsuit involved federal employees in Texas, who were covered by an Obama executive order extending employment benefits to same-sex spouses. In the face of Obergfell v. Hodges, the injunction that was granted is clearly out of order. I presume a motion to lift the injunction will be filed shortly, and will be granted right away. Any other outcome is unfathomable.

Moving on, all the newly-married couples in Texas can now sign up for health insurance if they need to.

Same-sex couples who marry have had what the Affordable Care Act considers a “qualifying life event.” And that triggers a special 60-day enrollment period to purchase health insurance from Texas’ federally run, online marketplace, a group promoting enrollment said Tuesday.

Enroll America, a nonprofit supporting Obamacare, said in a release that under the health law, marriage is one of the unusual phenomena that allow consumers a mid-year bite at the apple. The others are having a baby, moving to a different coverage area, getting divorced and experiencing certain changes of income that would affect tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

“People don’t know that the special enrollment period exists,” Enroll America spokeswoman Annette Raveneau said in an interview.

[…]

Newly married same-sex couples and others with qualifying life events can sign up all by themselves, using HealthCare.gov.

Raveneau, though, strongly recommends that shoppers meet in person with a certified assistance counselor or Obamacare navigator. They can schedule appointments using Enroll America’s “Get Covered Connector.”

“The people who use an in-person assister, which are free, are twice as likely to finish the enrollment process and actually get a plan,” she said.

How many people might be able to do this? We can only guess, in part because the state has no plans to count how many same-sex couples get hitched.

Though Texas collects detailed data on marriages by county and age, getting better information on same-sex marriage rates in Texas could take years since the state has no plans to separately track those unions. Following Friday’s ruling, the Department of State Health Services released a new gender-neutral marriage application for counties to use. The application does not ask for the sex of either of the applicants.

“We are not specifically tracking those at this time,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the department. “The application asks for Applicant One and Applicant Two and currently does not ask for gender.”

States in which same-sex marriage was legal before Friday have taken different record-keeping approaches. Oregon, Vermont and Washington track marriage licenses specifically issued to same-sex couples. California and Florida simply track all marriages, and do not differentiate between same-sex and opposite-sex unions.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated in 2013 that there were 252,000 married same-sex couples in the country, but later said that was likely an overestimate, citing flawed data. A recent paper from a census researcher put the figure at closer to 170,000.

The patchwork of data collection means reliable numbers on how many same-sex couples are getting married in different states may not be available until the next census in 2020, said Drew DeSilver, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center who has researched the issue.

I guess I’m not too bothered by this, since there doesn’t seem to be a single standard practice nationwide. It would be nice to know, but given the way the updated form is worded, I understand the reasoning. I’m sure there will be a million ways to come up with reasonably accurate estimates – new Obamacare enrollments will be one data point – and we’ll have Census data soon enough.

Once again, drowning doesn’t look like drowning

Time again for this public service announcement:

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine; what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not 10 feet away, their 9-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know—from 50 feet away—what the father couldn’t recognize from just 10? Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew know what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.

Here’s a video to help illustrate the concept:

I’ve said it before, I read this story every time I see it, and it scares me out of my wits. Both my girls love the water, and though they’re good swimmers, anything can happen and it only takes a minute for catastrophe to strike. Educate yourself, keep your eyes open, and your summer will be that much better.

On being transgender in Texas

Good story.

As celebrities like Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner and actress Laverne Cox seek to bring transgender issues to the mainstream, Texas is battling against the movement toward acceptance.

There is no single definition for “transgender.” Broadly, it refers to someone who identifies as a different gender than their sex at birth. How someone exhibits his or her gender depends on the individual. Some people make no outward physical changes, while others undergo extensive hormone therapy and surgery to change their sex to match their gender identity. People identify as a transgender man, meaning they were not born male but identify that way, transgender woman, or as “gender fluid” – somewhere in between. Sexual orientation is a separate question. For example, a trans woman may be attracted to men, or consider herself a lesbian and be attracted to women.

It is nearly impossible to estimate the number of transgender Americans. A 2011 study put the number at somewhere around 700,000, a number that is likely to grow as Americans develop a greater understanding of what it means to be transgender.

As their numbers grow, so do their support networks, especially in large urban areas. Houston has a number of locations, like the LGBT clinic The Montrose Center, that offer counseling for issues such as substance abuse and domestic violence specifically for transgender Texans. There are also a number of support groups across the state that cater to trans Texans and their families, and the Dallas Children’s Medical Center in February unveiled the region’s first pediatric program for transgender children.

[…]

Texas still has a long way to go to catch up to the likes of California and other states whose local and state leaders actively work to extend equal rights to their transgender citizens.

“I would say that we’re probably in the middle, towards the bottom,” said Lou Weaver, the transgender outreach specialist for LGBT rights group Texas Wins. “Obviously, it could be worse, but we’re not doing well as a state at all.”

Many agree one of the greatest barriers for many transgender Texans at this time is finding employment. Texas is one of 33 states in which it is legal to fire, or refuse to hire, someone for being transgender, Weaver said. There also are no state laws protecting transgender Texans from school bullying or housing discrimination. Many do not have access to necessary physical and mental health services, or the funds or insurance coverage for medical services to assist with transition.

“Rates of discrimination were alarming in Texas, indicating widespread discrimination based on gender identity,” read a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality. One in 10 respondents reported living on less than $10,000 a year, with one in four reporting they lost a job or were denied a promotion because they were transgender. Nearly half reported physical assault at school and verbal harassment in public places; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide at least once, 26 times the average for the general population.

The statistics are even bleaker for transgender Texans of color, who are far more likely to experience violence in their everyday lives. The Texas transgender community is actively working to reverse this trend, this weekend convening its annual conference in Dallas for black transgender men and women from across the county.

“The absolute, most prominent issue is our black and Hispanic transgender women being murdered and nothing being done about it,” said Colt Keo-Meier, a transgender man and licensed psychologist practicing in Houston. “That’s our No. 1 issue, keeping our people alive.”

State law does not include gender identity in its hate crime statute, making it impossible to track how many Texans are targeted for being transgender.

“Right now, there’s no consistency in justice,” said Bow, who said the “disproportionate treatment” transgender Texans receive largely is due to conflicting protections under the law. Transgender people are “tolerated,” she said, often because they’re ignored.

What I liked about this story, beyond the useful information in it, was that there were no “balancing” quotes from the Dave Welch/Jonathan Saenz crowd. Lord knows, that would not have added anything worthwhile. As we are doing nationally with gay rights, we will get to a point where transgender folks are an accepted and unremarkable part of mainstream society. I don’t know how long it will take, and I’m not saying it’s just going to happen without a lot of work from a lot of people, but it will happen.

Cheating at chess

Scandal!

Gaioz Nigalidze’s rise through the ranks of professional chess began in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released. In hindsight, the timing might not be coincidental.

On Saturday, Nigalidze, the 25-year-old reigning Georgian champion, was competing in the 17th annual Dubai Open Chess Tournament when his opponent spotted something strange.

“Nigalidze would promptly reply to my moves and then literally run to the toilet,” Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian said. “I noticed that he would always visit the same toilet partition, which was strange, since two other partitions weren’t occupied.”

Petrosian complained to the officials. After Nigalidze left the bathroom once more, officials inspected the interior and say they found an iPhone wrapped in toilet paper and hidden behind the toilet.

“When confronted, Nigalidze denied he owned the device,” according to the tournament’s Web site. “But officials opened the smart device and found it was logged into a social networking site under Nigalidze’s account. They also found his game being analyzed in one of the chess applications.”

Nigalidze was expelled from the tournament, which is still ongoing and features more than 70 grandmasters from 43 countries competing for a first-place prize of $12,000. The Georgian’s career is now under a microscope. His two national titles are under suspicion. And under recently tightened rules against cheating, he could be banned for up to 15 years.

But the scandal threatens to spread far beyond the gleaming white Dubai Chess and Culture Club, which is shaped like a giant rook. Nigalidze’s expulsion is a nightmare scenario for chess: proof positive that technologically enabled cheating, rumored about for more than a decade, is now pervasive. Thanks to smartphones, the game of kings is starting to look like the game of crooks.

“The basic problem is that it’s incredibly easy to cheat with a phone,” says Nigel Short, an English chess grandmaster who once was ranked third in the world and is now 60th. “You can have some application running on your phone, and it’s quite easy to conceal. … My dog could win a major tournament using one of these devices. Or my grandmother. Anybody could do this.”

I’d say chess doesn’t have a technology problem so much as it has a security procedures problem. How is getting up to use the bathroom after every single move not suspicious on its face? I presume that Nigalidze had to be doing something like that in other matches as well – surely no one test drives their cheating methodology at such a high level event. Basic measures such as limiting bathroom use to something a bit less frequent, and requiring a chaperone for competitors who get up from the table for any reason during a match would have sniffed this out quickly or prevented it in the first place. The World Chess Federation needs to hire a security consultant, stat.

My game is bridge, and the tournament bridge scene has had its share of cheating scandals over the years. The main difference is that successful cheating at bridge generally requires some form of surreptitious communication between partners, which as those examples show can be ingeniously low-tech. Still, the American Contract Bridge League does regulate the use of electronic devices at its tournaments. There are programs available to analyze the play of the hand, which I’m sure would be as useful as Nigalidze’s app, I just can’t imagine anyone getting up from the table during the play of a hand to use the bathroom and try to consult with such a program. But hey, I could be wrong about that. I hope the powers that be at the ACBL and the World Bridge Federation are paying attentio to this brouhaha.

The scourge of selfie sticks

Presented (mostly) without comment.

The Blanton Museum, in Austin, as well as the Dallas Museum of Art and the Perot Museum of Natural Science, in Dallas, all have bans on tripods and monopods that extend to selfie sticks, leaving visitors to settle for mediocre, arm-length-only selfies. Bummer! Most museums have rules against bringing tripods into their exhibition halls anyway—taking a family portrait in front of your favorite Pollock piece is a tad disruptive to other visitors—and these three museums are following a recent pattern of outlawing selfie sticks in places where they might infringe upon another person’s experience.

There are plenty of people who argue that taking selfies in museums is great, and you should just do you when it comes to enjoying some of the world’s greatest works of art. Selfies are cultural artifacts too! There are entire Tumblr blogs dedicated to memorializing some of our time’s greatest moments of digital self-portraiture, think pieces have been written, and Kim Kardashian is releasing what could be the definitive piece of selfie literature. Take all the selfies you want—just check to make sure your new selfie stick is allowed before you head out for your next museum day.

I have taken a selfie or two, although they have so far all been group shots. To be honest, I’m of a sufficiently advanced age that I probably couldn’t see the screen clearly enough at greater than arm’s length to know if the picture I’m lining up is worth taking. I’d probably feel a little ridiculous carrying a selfie stick around with me anyway. If neither of those conditions apply to you, then go ahead and knock yourself out. Just don’t, you know, knock over any priceless works of art.

Cleo and Nicole

You should read this Texas Monthly feature story on Cleopatra de Leon and Nicole Dimetman, two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to overturn Texas’ ban on same sex marriage.

RedEquality

But it is children— their children—that prompted Cleo and Nicole to file a lawsuit in the first place. Their suit argues that “responsible procreation” ignores the fact that gays and lesbians have children too, through adoption or because one partner is a biological parent. (Though legislators have tried repeatedly to bar gays and lesbians from adopting, nearly 19,000 children in Texas are being raised by same-sex couples, with San Antonio boasting the highest percentage of such families in the nation.) Because of the state’s ban, Cleo and Nicole lack many basic rights as parents. In most parts of Texas, an individual can be fired for being gay, which puts same-sex couples’ ability to provide for their children at risk; should one partner die, the other would be left to raise their children without the help of Social Security benefits. When Nicole gives birth to their daughter in March, only she—not Cleo—will be listed on the girl’s birth certificate. (Heterosexual married couples who use an anonymous sperm donor, as Cleo and Nicole did, face no such penalty.) This means that should the worst happen—should Nicole have serious complications during labor that leave her incapacitated, or should she die during childbirth—Cleo has no legal right to their child.

For these reasons, Cleo and Nicole told me when we settled in to talk, steaming mugs of cocoa in hand, they felt they had no choice but to sue the state. “People on the other side of this debate say we should slow down and leave this up to the Legislature, and we should try to change hearts and minds in the meantime, however long that takes,” Nicole told me. “What they don’t understand is the urgency we feel. This isn’t an abstract argument; these are real issues affecting real people, right now. All we really want is to live the very best lives we can.”

Much of what is in Pamela Colloff’s story will be familiar to anyone who has followed this case closely. De Leon and Dimetman are highly sympathetic plaintiffs, and the arguments that the state has made against their marriage and so many others’ is utterly ridiculous. I find myself getting angry as I read this, even knowing so much of it beforehand. Angry at the people who are fighting this pointless, hateful battle against people who just want to be a family. (For a brief look at these not-at-all-sympathetic people, read this Observer piece.) I couldn’t agree more with plaintiffs’ lawyer Neel Lane, in his argument before the Fifth Circuit.

When the solicitor general’s time was up, Lane rose to address the judges. “What you heard from this lectern is an incredibly narrow, blinkered view of marriage that would be unrecognizable, really, to anyone who’s experienced it, witnessed it, or aspires to it,” he said. “It’s quite amazing, because one of the consistent accusations has been that we are attempting to redefine marriage. And I have never seen as radical a redefinition of marriage as I heard at this lectern [from] the State of Texas.”

After mostly friendly grilling from the judges, Lane posed the most thought-provoking question of the hour. “If marriage is good for children, why deny marriage to same-sex couples with children?” he asked. “The reality is that this law depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry is not intended to modify or guide the behavior of opposite-sex couples at all. Everyone knows that this law is really about the moral disapproval of homosexuals. But since the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected that as a rationale that can support the law, counsel for the state has to come up here and attempt to redefine it with this somewhat, I would suggest, half-baked justification that narrows what actually marriage is … and convince you that this is what the people of Texas believe marriage is.”

Amen. The story suggests we may get a ruling from the Fifth Circuit this spring. There is as you know a motion before that court to lift the stay on the ruling that overturned the same sex marriage ban. Nicole Dimetman is due to give birth in March. It sure would be lovely if Nicole and Cleo’s daughter could be born to parents whose marriage is officially recognized, however grudgingly, by the state of Texas.

Oklahoma, where the same-sex weddings come sweeping down the plain

One of the most commonly made arguments for expanded gambling in Texas is that as long as we don’t have casinos, Texans will travel to neighboring states to spend their gambling dollars there. Well, that same argument can be made for same sex weddings, too.

More than 3,000 same-sex couples have married in Oklahoma since overturning the ban on gay marriage. Many in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, but one Texoma town has become a hot spot for gay weddings, and it’s doubled the number of marriage licenses issued.

Thousands of names are bound in these leather books and by law of marriage at the Bryan County Clerk’s office. The records from 1904 are written in columns sorted by bride and grooms’ name.

The stack gets bigger each year and with October’s court ruling legalizing gay marriage — even bigger yet.

“Since we started issuing same sex marriage licenses it’s probably nearly doubled the number of licenses we issue every month,” said Donna Alexander, Bryan County District Court Clerk.

She said she does not think extra staffing will be needed to rush.

Oklahomans for Equality surveyed most of the state, and found Bryan County issues a disproportionate number of marriage licences to gay couples like Carla Nelson and Liz Blackwell.

“We had to come here because in Texas, they do not support the gay marriage,” Blackwell said.

Her story is becoming the norm.

“We’ve had some local couples, but most of them are from Texas,” Alexander said.

Durant is a quick drive for those in love from the Lone Star state, where a ban on same sex marriage stands.

There’s a seal-the-borders joke in there somewhere for the professional homophobes, but I’ll leave it to them to work it out. You’d think Oklahomans of all stripes would be happy to be stealing so much business from Texas, but apparently some of them just can’t abide that kind of fortune. One hopes that the Fifth Circuit and/or the Supreme Court will make this kind of road trip unnecessary soon, but in the meantime, if you just can’t wait, the flowers on the prairie where the june bugs zoom will be there to greet you.

I sense a remake opportunity here.

Promote equality, promote the economy

It’s a simple enough formula.

RedEquality

When the courts finally declare Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage illegal, which most people think they will, it could mean a boost for the wedding and hospitality industry as 23,200 couples tie the knot, according to a new interactive by the Williams Insititute at UCLA and Credit Suisse.

Whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage, there is money to be made from weddings.

Gay and lesbian Texans are expected to spend $181.6 million on weddings and receptions within three years of same-sex marriage becoming legal, adding $14.8 million in tax revenue and creating 523 jobs, according to an extrapolation of the experience in states where same-sex marriage is already allowed.

My colleague Lauren McGaughy wrote this in October and how 18,700 children in Texas are being raised by same-sex couples.

California saw 51,319 couples marry in the first three years after the ban there was lifted, and they spent $392.3 million dollars. More than 24,000 couples married in New York since it became legal there in 2013, spending $228.6 million and generating $19.4 million in tax revenue for the state.

The study is here if you want a closer look. This subject has come up before, and New York’s relatively early entry in marriage equality business was definitely good for them. Florida is estimated to have about the same economic benefit in store as Texas, so now that same sex marriage is legal there we should look to them for a good approximation of what we’re missing out on. The longer we take to get around to this, the more likely we’ll see a significant portion of this boon going to other states as Texas’ same-sex couple opt for destination wedding rather than wait it out. But hey, if Greg Abbott and the rest of the Texas GOP are happy to send that business off to California or wherever else, I guess that’s just the way it is. Wonkblog has more.

Texas’ first same-sex marriage

Fascinating story.

More than 40 years ago in a small chapel off the Gulf Freeway, a hulking ex-tackle from Brownsville slid a ring onto the finger of his partner, transforming the slight man wearing a blond bouffant wig standing opposite him into his husband. In their hands they clasped the first marriage license ever given to a same-sex couple in Texas.

The story of Antonio Molina and William “Billie” Ert is full of firsts. It marked Texas’ first gay marriage and the first recorded instance of a same-sex couple receiving a license to wed in the Lone Star State. It was also stained by finality, a quixotic love story that set back the Texas gay marriage movement 40 years while also helping to inspire a generation of civil rights advocates.

By 1970s standards, Molina and Ert’s story went viral, making front-page headlines from El Paso to East Asia. “Two men seal vows with a kiss,” the Denton Record-Chronicle reported on Oct. 6, 1972. The Straits Times of Singapore’s headline read, “And then they were wed … HE to HIM.”

Molina’s hometown newspaper, the Brownsville Herald, ran a photo of the beaming couple holding their marriage certificate, he in a suit and tie and Ert in a white beaded dress, elbow gloves and wig. That wig, it turns out, was what separated their success from the handful of gay couples who already had attempted to get married.

“We wouldn’t have issued any license if we’d known he wasn’t a female,” Wharton County Clerk Delfin Marek said at the time. His deputy said Ert’s “frosted shoulder length wig” fooled her.

[…]

The couple had been together for a number of years when they exchanged rings in a small ceremony at Houston’s Harmony Wedding Chapel, Rev. Richard Vincent, who officiated the ceremony, told The Advocate two days after their wedding.

“We marry souls, not bodies,” said Vincent, an activist minister who helped found the gay-friendly Dallas Metropolitan Community Church. “They met the requirements as set forth by the church; they love each other, and they had a license, as I signed it. As far as I’m concerned, they are married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of Texas.”

The timing of the marriage was perfect for homosexual activists.

The U.S. Supreme Court was poised to hear the case of another gay couple who sought and failed to receive a license in Minnesota, Jack Baker and James McConnell. While awaiting on the High Court to rule, Baker and McConnell quietly went to another Minnesota county, obtained a license and were married in 1971.

By the time Molina and Ert tied the knot, a handful of other same-sex couples from Washington State to Kentucky had tried unsuccessfully to follow in Baker and McConnell’s footsteps. The nascent gay rights movement, born in the wake of a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay club known as the Stonewall Inn, seemed poised for a breakthrough.

The public and the courts, however, were not ready.

“When Antonio and Billie tried to marry, the medical profession considered homosexuality a mental illness. Most states, including Texas, criminalized it, and there were no legal protections for gays and lesbians anywhere,” said Mark Phariss, who currently is challenging Texas’ gay marriage ban with his partner, Victor Holmes.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. I had no idea about any of this. Kudos to Chron reporter Lauren McGaughey for digging it all up. In 1973, the Legislature closed this loophole in the law by changing the wording that allowed “any two persons” to get married to “a man and a woman”; the Lege made another change in 1997 to make this more explicit, and then of course there was that awful constitutional amendment of 2005, which I call the Double Secret Anti-Gay Marriage amendment since it made illegal something that was already illegal. Now of course we have a judge’s ruling against said amendment, and a motion to lift the stay on that ruling, which would allow modern couples to formally and officially do what Molina and Ert wanted to do all those years ago. I’d love to know what those two thought about all this, but Molina died in 1991, and Ert could not be found. We’ll just have to leave that part to our imaginations, but there is this to guide us:

Ert and Molina had no way to know what, if any, effect their actions could have on future same-sex couples. In a letter to the gay publication DAVID 41 years ago, however, Ert echoed the hopes and arguments of today’s same-sex marriage advocates.

“This is 1973 and not 1956,” Ert wrote. “I see no reason why the gay community should have to hide behind closed doors to live and love who they wish, be them two females or two males. The U.S.A. is the Land of the Free, so they say, and tell us.”

Thankfully, it’s not 1973 any more, either. Wherever you are, Antonio Molina and Billie Ert, I hope you’re happier now. Swamplot has more.

The marriage equality economic boost

From Equality Texas:

RedEquality

The Williams Institute released a report today estimating that marriage for same-sex couples in Texas would add $181.6 million to the state and local economy over a three-year period. The report predicts that 23,000 Texas couples would marry, spending an average of more than $6,000 per wedding. Up to 1,500 jobs would be created in the state.

“Overall these numbers seem, if anything, conservative for the long run,” said Dr. Daniel S. Hamermesh, Professor in Economics, Royal Holloway University of London, and Sue Killam Professor in the Foundation of Economics, University of Texas at Austin. “Further, marriage for same-sex couples allows couples to be better off – creating what economists call a ‘marital surplus’ which provides an even greater economic benefit.”

The Williams Institute utilized state-level data, as well as the 2010 U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, to conservatively estimate the impact of extending marriage to same-sex couples in Texas.

“The Williams Institute report affirms that the freedom to marry is good for business in Texas,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “Allowing gay couples to marry here would give an economic boost to caterers, florists, event venues, and others who make a living through wedding planning. Our economy is already one of the strongest in the country, and marriage for same-sex couples would only add to that prosperity, while doing the right thing morally and constitutionally.”

You can see the study here. It’s a three-year projection that includes things like spending on the wedding itself by the couples, spending by out of state guests, and sales taxes. One item they don’t single out is the fees for marriage licenses, which provided a nice little boost for New York City in the first year that same sex marriages were allowed there. Every county clerk in Texas ought to be in favor of this if they know what’s good for them. Now to be fair, in the context of an economy the size of Texas’, this is pocket change. But given the many, many other good reasons for marriage equality, it’s another cherry on top of the sundae. There’s no good reason not to support it.

(I must note that there is one reason professed to disagree with this study and oppose same sex marriage, given by usual suspect Jonathan Saenz. It’s so incredibly stupid and bizarre that I can’t even bring myself to quote it. It’s here if you want to see for yourself. Don’t blame me if your head explodes.)

Along those lines EqTX is also calling on AG Abbott to drop the appeal of the ruling that tossed Texas’ ban on same sex marriage, on the grounds that plaintiffs have won 26 straight rulings. I totally agree on the merits, but it must be noted that in the recent Tenth Circuit ruling, one of the three judges bought the bogus traditional argument, and Abbott gets to plead his case before the Fifth Circuit, which as we know sucks. (Well, he’ll eventually get around to pleading his case.) As such, I can’t claim this is a slam dunk for the good guys, even though it should be. By the way, just as a reminder, Sam Houston would drop the appeal if he were AG. Just saying.

Finally, last week’s Houston Press had a cover story about being a same-sex married couple in Texas, which was similar in nature to the Observer article from earlier this month. I’m pretty sure every publication in Texas could do their own story and not repeat any of them. Texas Leftist has more.

It really is about more than just marriage

Jo Ann Santangelo writes for the Observer about what it means to be in a same-sex marriage that isn’t recognized as legal by the state of Texas.

RedEquality

In 2012, my wife, Kate, and I traveled more than 3,400 miles from Austin and back to marry legally in New York City. Seven years earlier, in November 2005, our fellow Texas voters had approved Proposition 2, amending the Texas Constitution to declare that “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman,” thereby banning same-sex marriage within the state’s borders.

Like other same-sex couples who live in Texas, we are denied access to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and privileges because our marriage is not recognized here. That list, tallied in a 2003 report by the General Accounting Office, includes Social Security, military and veterans’ benefits, employment rights, and immigration and naturalization privileges.

In the eyes of Texas, Kate is not my next of kin. To approximate the status that a legally recognized marriage would confer, our attorney has recommended that we file six different contracts: a medical power of attorney and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act release; statutory durable power of attorney; declaration of guardian; directive to physicians; appointment of agent to control disposition of remains; and a last will and testament.

We have recently begun trying to become parents. Kate will be the birth mother. A lawyer has been necessary in this process as well. Months ago we started discussing the paperwork that will be required for me to adopt our child. We discovered that even after I file this paperwork, am screened and declared a fit mother by Child Protective Services, and appear in front of a judge, my name can never appear on our child’s birth certificate due to Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, which states, “The supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.”

You can see that GAO report here; it’s actually an update to a report from 1997, prepared after the passage of the now-unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act that listed a mere 1,049 “federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor”. All these rights that the rest of us get to take for granted were a part of the argument against Prop 2 in 2005, but unfortunately they fell on deaf ears. The courts are likely to grant same sex couples the right to have their marriages recognized and to get married wherever they want, but a lot of those “benefits, rights, and privileges” are codified into state laws as well, and their practical effect won’t disappear overnight when and if SCOTUS makes a favorable ruling in the Utah case. As the Riggs and Hanna case showed, there are lots more issues to be sorted out, and this will take time because the Lege is unlikely to deal with the business of repealing these soon-to-be-unconstitutional laws. I mean hell, the anti-sodomy statute struck down by the Lawrence ruling of 2003 is still on the books. It’s going to take a lot of court cases clear these matters up one by one, which will mean a lot more harm and hardship to many same sex couples.

In her essay, Santagelo talked to six other same sex couples about their experiences, including one of the two couples that served as plaintiffs in the case that struck down Texas’ marriage law, which is now pending appeal.

Nicole: “[When we were discussing having children] we thought, ‘Do we get married now even though it’s not legal in our own state?’ We knew we wanted to have kids, but we didn’t want to have kids and not be married. We’re both pretty traditional people. There’s just no way we’re going to have kids out of wedlock, and I wanted to be able to tell [our son] that we’re as married as we can possibly be. … She had an inordinately hard labor, a C-section that wasn’t planned. It became an emergency. For about 30 minutes we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Cleo: “It only comes up in some of the most vulnerable times. During the labor and delivery—you can’t adopt a child while he or she is in utero, so if something had happened … they become essentially orphans, they don’t have a second parent. The [legal arrangements] that we had, she could make decisions for me. She couldn’t make health decisions for him. We didn’t even think of that. You don’t think about those things. You think that you’re covered, you talk to your lawyer, you’ve got everything filed and prepared and ready, and then you’re in this situation and all of a sudden it dawns on you, ‘Oh my God.’ It really drove home the need to change the laws in this state. … So we are vulnerable, and that’s one of the reasons why we feel so strongly about the lawsuit that we’re in. We want to make sure that all the default laws that are afforded to different-sex couples are given to us as well, because we’re a family and we feel that if the state really wants to promote responsible procreation, then why are you making it harder for us?”

Nicole: “You don’t have an accidental kid in a gay relationship. There is so much intention and planning that goes into having a kid. There’s nothing irresponsible about that.”

Reading that just kills me. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the hell that Nicole Dimetman and her son would have faced if tragedy had struck, but the point is that she shouldn’t have had to think about that. The sooner we as a society fix this injustice, the better.

Hands off a hardbody

This is the most interesting theater-related story involving a canceled play that I’ve ever heard about.

Theatre Under The Stars and director Bruce Lumpkin kicked up a heap of dust with the company’s production of “Hands on a Hardbody,” which had to shut down early on June 20, after the show’s creators protested extensive unauthorized changes.

Everyone even remotely involved in theater should know that when they lease the rights to produce a play or musical, they must present it exactly as written and licensed. Any changes, large or small, must first be approved by the authors or their representatives.

“This is the most brazen violation we have had in a very long time,” said Bruce Lazarus, executive director of Samuel French Inc., which controls the show’s performance rights.

Based on a 1997 documentary and produced on Broadway in 2013, “Hands” depicts 10 Texans competing to win a new truck. Behind the scenes at TUTS, another competition apparently was playing out between the intentions of the show’s creators and those of Lumpkin, director of the production and artistic director of TUTS.

Amanda Green, who wrote the show’s lyrics and co-wrote its music, attended opening night on June 13, at TUTS’ invitation. Shortly after the performance began, and increasingly as it progressed, she became aware that songs had been moved to different places in the action, that solo sections had been reassigned to different characters, that some of the music was missing and new music had been added, among other changes.

“The director had used our script and score as puzzle pieces, to rearrange as he thought they should be put together,” Green said. “So many things, both big and small, had been changed around that it was not at all the show that we’d written.”

Green decided to skip the opening night party – but she says Lumpkin approached her after the performance, wanting to talk.

“He told me, ‘I know you’re angry, but you have to admit, it works better,’ ” Green said. “I asked him why he hadn’t contacted us and asked us about his ideas. He said, ‘Because I knew you would say no.’ He was trying to get me to say that I liked the show better his way. He also tried to say he’d made all these changes just the night before, but then I learned from other sources that he had come in on the first day of rehearsals with his version of the script and a CD of the songs in a new order.”

[…]

In a June 19 letter to Lumpkin, Ralph Sevush of the Dramatists Guild of America issued a reprimand on behalf of the guild’s 7,000 member playwrights, lyricists and composers, “expressing our collective outrage.” The letter reminded Lumpkin that TUTS’ agreement with Samuel French contained a “clear and standard prohibition” against changing the show without the authors’ permission.

Soon after the Dramatist Guild expressed of its displeasure, Samuel issued its cease-and-desist order. TUTS canceled remaining performances a couple of hours before the June 20 show was to start, offering ticket holders refunds or credits for other shows. As for the amount TUTS would lose because of the canceled shows, Breckinridge said “I don’t have that figure.”

See here for a Chron story about the cancellation. I can’t imagine this was good for TUTS’ bottom line. I have to say, at first I didn’t quite get what the big deal was. I guess I’d seen enough productions of plays that are in the public domain, like Shakespeares and “A Christmas Carol”, that it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be anything odd about tinkering with a script. I’ve also seen plenty of performances of contemporary shows by touring companies that included topical jokes and pandering local references. Those are done with the blessing of the copyright owner, which is the piece I’d been missing. The more I read about this, the more obvious it became to me that you just don’t change the story without the permission of the author or the author’s representatives, because if you do it’s not their work anymore. Not a hard concept to grasp, I know, I had just never thought about it before. Given how seriously this principle is taken, it’s kind of amazing anyone thought they could get away with it, especially with the author right there to see it for herself. Lesson learned, I suppose, though others needed to learn it, too. Congratulations for inserting yourself into the curriculum of every stage directing class from now until the end of time, TUTS. CultureMap, Art Attack, and Howard Sherman have more.

Reminder: Drowning doesn’t look like drowning

I’ve posted this twice before, and with summertime officially upon us, it seemed like the right time to post it again.

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine; what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not 10 feet away, their 9-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know—from 50 feet away—what the father couldn’t recognize from just 10? Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew know what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.

Go read the whole thing, which was reprinted at Slate as well. There’s video here and a Today Show clip worth watching here. I read this story every time I see it, and as a parent of two water-loving children it scares the crap out of me every time. Stay safe, y’all.

Darsh Preet Singh

Very cool.

Darsh Preet Singh

Basketball courts didn’t care that Darsh Preet Singh wore a turban.

Or that he is Sikh.

Hardwood is a great equalizer. The court’s 10-foot-high rim does not discriminate. If you can handle the rock, you’ve got a place.

Even better if you can dunk. Singh could do both.

And his turban always suited up with him.

Blessed with a 6-foot-4-inch frame and a 6-foot-8-inch wingspan, he was a lock-down defensive specialist at Trinity University from 2004 to 2008. As such, he was also the first turban-wearing Sikh to play in the NCAA.

And now, the Smithsonian Institute is displaying his No. 32 jersey in its “Beyond Bollywood” exhibit, which showcases contributions of Indian-Americans. It opened last month and lasts through August 2015 at the National Museum of Natural History.

That his jersey is in the halls of one of the world’s most famous museums baffles him. He said his parents and other first-generation Sikh Americans sacrificed and contributed much more.

“When I reflect on the accomplishments of the Sikh community in the United States, I don’t feel like I did much. I was just playing basketball,” he said. “I didn’t think I was doing anything special other than doing what I loved. … I think I was just at the right place at the right time.”

I’m just delighted that it was my alma mater where this trail was blazed. I salute you, Darsh Preet Singh, as a fellow alum and as someone who respects what you accomplished. Here’s the Smithsonian‘s page about the exhibit, a WaPo review of it, and a nice interview in Faith Street with Singh. Well done, sir.

Annise Parker’s journey

The Chron reviews how Mayor Parker went from activist for the LGBT community to Mayor on the occasion of her wedding.

Annise Parker circa 1991

The country’s first openly gay mayor became the country’s first openly gay married mayor this week. A wedding wouldn’t seem the sort of event to justify partisan commentary, yet at least one critic questioned the timing: Why, the Harris County Republican Party chairman asked, did Mayor Annise Parker marry longtime partner Kathy Hubbard after her re-election?

But Parker has spent more than half of her life working to advance civil rights for homosexuals. The union is just a formality for a life lived outside the closet, years before popular culture began to catch up.

Parker first met Hubbard at Inklings, Parker’s gay and feminist bookstore in Montrose, in 1990. The 23 years they’ve spent together span a period of notable change in gay culture in our country. Parker, 57, had been out since high school.

To give their meeting cultural context, she and Hubbard met two years before singer k.d. lang came out of the closet, three years before singer Melissa Etheridge did so, and seven years before Ellen Degeneres received a toaster from Etheridge when Degeneres’ popular character said she was gay on prime-time TV.

Unlike those performers, Parker didn’t have a paying audience to consider. Instead, she had a constituency to represent. Parker in 1990 was just beginning to think about advancing her career in public service, which eventually would lead to her mayoral election. She began that work at a time when gay rights hit a flashpoint in Houston following two fatal hate crimes.

The evolution of this particular civil rights issue has been urgently debated and has evolved greatly in recent years. The tenor of the debate suggests how far it is from resolution. But it’s also easy to lose sight of how far gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights have come since Parker served as president of Houston’s Gay Political Caucus in 1986, which was one year after actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS after living out for years to close friends but closeted to the public.

Mayor Parker’s story is well known, but it’s always worth taking a look back and reminding ourselves that there was never any guarantee that any of us would wind up where we did. The fact that she is able now to marry the woman she loves and has been partnered with for 23 years would have seemed like a crazy, alternate-universe idea even five years ago. That happy occasion is unfortunately also an opportunity for the usual squadron of small-minded pecksniffs, from anonymous commenters on newspaper websites to public officials that have nothing better to do, to make nasty remarks. Whether they realize it or not, their whining is just a reminder that they’ve lost. They’ve lost in Utah, they’ve lost in Oklahoma, and perhaps as soon as next month, they’ll lose in Texas. The laws may take awhile to catch up, and as with all things some will never give up their fight for the wrong side, but they have lost. Our country is a more joyful place for it.

It’s now officially OK to be gay in the Boy Scouts

Progress. Slow and incremental, but progress nonetheless.

The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications — ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.

Yet despite their be-prepared approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event, comparable to another New Year’s Day in 2000 when widespread fears of digital-clock chaos to start the new millennium proved unfounded.

“My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare,” said Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee. “It’s business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward.”

Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven’t materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of fallout,” said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. “If a church said they wouldn’t work with us, we’d have a church right down the street say, ‘We’ll take the troop.'”

The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.

Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely on the basis of sexual orientation.

[…]

The membership debate was closely followed by local Scouts on both sides; some carried signs and held rallies outside the meeting place. But in subsequent months, the debate has quieted.

Bill Helfand, scoutmaster of Troop 55 in Houston, said membership in his troop has remained steady at about 225 boys.

“We never considered sexual orientation, and I don’t think many troops really did,” Helfand said. “I don’t know whether we had Scouts who are homosexual. I don’t inquire … It’s not a matter of concern.”

Helfand said the membership debate, while closely covered in the media, did not extend into his meetings with leaders and parents, besides occasional discussion of the policy at camp-outs. He says he hasn’t talked to any Scout about his sexual orientation and doesn’t intend to.

“I know that this is something that people felt was a momentous turning point for Scouting,” Helfand said. “Everybody I know has made Scouting available to every boy who wants it, and that’s what we continue to do.”

See here and here for previous blogging. I have to say, this less-than-full change has been less contentious than I thought it would be. That said, it’s also the case that the Sam Houston Area Council is not going along with the change, so the effect is is somewhat limited locally. And there’s still that ban on gay adults affiliating with the BSA, the justification for which eludes me, so there’s still work to be done. But credit where credit is due, this is a step forward and it does matter.

And on a related note:

However, some Texas parents and leaders have decided to switch to Trail Life USA, an alternative which declares itself “a Christian adventure, character, and leadership program for young men.” Among them is Ron Orr, a business consultant from the Fort Worth area who is signing up local units for the group.

So far, he said he has 25 groups “pre-chartered” for a Jan. 1 launch date in the territory covered by the BSA’s Circle Ten and Longhorn councils. That’s modest compared to the 39,000 Scouts served by the Circle Ten council alone.

Orr is part of a family with four generations of Eagle Scouts. His older son recently earned his Eagle rank and his younger son was on the verge of doing likewise. But Orr said he could not stand by after the policy change.

“As Christians, from a scriptural basis, we love all folks, but the scripture is very clear that being homosexual is a sin,” Orr said. “We’ve got to be able to hold a strong line and set a consistent example for our young men.”

Mr. Orr is quite wrong about what scripture says. I’m sure that he has been told that about scripture all his life, and clearly he is now passing that bit of folklore along, but it’s wrong. It’s true that there are a handful of clobber verses, which I’m sure Mr. Orr would point to if challenged on this. It’s also true that there are vastly more verses about wealth, possessions and the poor, including some strict prohibitions against lending money at interest, which folks like Mr. Orr tend to overlook. If you’re going to cite scripture as a rulebook, then it’s on you to follow all of the rules, not just the ones you like. If you’re going to pick and choose, I see no reason to take you seriously about it.

Mayor Parker to get married?

According to CultureMap, the answer is Yes.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Although Mayor Annise Parker has vowed that she and her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard, will not wed until gay marriage is legal in Texas, in recent interviews the mayor has softened her stance.

“The world is changing so fast, maybe I won’t wait that long,” Parker said last week in a year-end interview with CultureMap when asked when she would marry. “I’m no longer worried that (gay marriage in Texas) is not going to happen in my lifetime. After the Supreme Court ruling and the number of states that now have equal marriage, it’s coming.”

Since then CultureMap has learned that Parker and Hubbard are making wedding plans. Several sources close to the couple said they hope to marry in mid-January in a low-key ceremony and are strongly considering Palm Springs, Calif., for the nuptials.

California is one of 18 states that currently recognize gay marriage. Couples who wed in a state that allows gay marriage are treated as a married couple for federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes, no matter where they reside, and also receive the same rights for immigration purposes. The policy on Social Security and other federal benefits has not been determined.

The couple would also be eligible for city of Houston health and life insurance benefits. In November, Parker announced that same-sex couples who have legally wed in a state that recognizes such marriages and work for the city of Houston can receive the same health care and life insurance benefits as straight couples. Harris County Republicans are challenging the ruling in court.

As we know, there’s now another lawsuit in this matter. One hopes the injunction will get lifted after the hearing on the sixth. The Chron adds a couple of details.

Parker, recently elected to her third and final term as Houston mayor, long has pledged that she and Hubbard would not marry until Texas legalized same-sex marriage.

In recent public statements, though, the mayor has suggested she might reconsider her position. She said developments such as the Supreme Court’s striking down of the federal Defense of Marriage Act have prompted her to consider the message her inaction might be sending to the couple’s two adopted children.

[…]

Mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Michan said in a statement via email: “The mayor very much appreciates the interest in the 23-year relationship she has shared with her life partner, First Lady Kathy Hubbard. However, marriage is a private matter and she has no announcements she wishes to make at this time. If that changes, we will let you know.”

With the recent ruling in Utah and the injunction hearing coming up in Texas, it’s not out of the question that the Mayor could have her wish to get married in Texas as soon as February. I understand the desire for a bit more certainty, and Lord knows there’s nothing wrong with a destination wedding. I don’t know who CultureMap’s source is, but if this information is accurate I wish Mayor Parker and Kathy Hubbard all the best. Mazel tov, y’all.

Texas Monthly on transgender marriage in Texas

It’s way more complicated than it needs to be.

Nikki Araguz and William Loyd

Here’s a stumper: Is it legal for a transgender person—say, someone whose original birth certificate says “male,” but who identifies as a woman—to get married to a man who identifies as a man?

The law in Texas is unclear in ways that have been a nightmare for Nikki Araguz, a transgender Houston woman whose husband, Thomas Araguz, died in 2010 while serving as a volunteer firefighter in Wharton County. Araguz has been fighting in court since her husband’s death for survivor’s benefits, and [recently], her case was heard by the 13th Court of Appeals.

Why is the law unclear?

In 2005, Proposition 2 passed in Texas. That constitutional amendment said that “marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” Some folks, including 329th District Judge Randy Clapp (using precedent established by the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals decision in Littleton v. Prange, look at Nikki Araguz and see a man; thus, the marriage for which she seeks benefits as her husband’s widow was a same-sex marriage that is not recognized in Texas.

This is complicated, though, by legislation authored by State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). That legislation, which passed in 2009, allowed that a court order establishing a change in sex was an acceptable document when presenting identification to obtain a marriage license. If proof of gender reassignment surgery is sufficient to grant one a marriage license, then it stands to reason that the marriage of Nikki and Thomas Araguz is legal in Texas.

[…]

The hearing on that appeal happened last week, but the ruling has no timetable yet. And in the meantime, confusion continues to reign. In 2010, Sabrina Hill, a woman who was born intersex (that is, with both male and female genitalia) and declared male on her birth certificate though she identifies as female, applied for a marriage license to marry her girlfriend. A judge’s order, following gender-reassignment surgery, recognized Hill as a woman, but when applying for the license, Therese Bur, the El Paso clerk couldn’t determine whether to use Hill’s birth certificate and issue a license as a heterosexual marriage, or to use the court order and deny it as a same-sex marriage. The clerk turned to Attorney General Greg Abbott for direction, and Abbott declined to weigh in. (Hill and Bur instead went to San Antonio,where they were granted a license.)

It’s probably for the best that they did—if they’d waited for a final decision on Nikki Araguz’s case to settle things (she’s on her second appeal, having lost once in 2012), the now 63-year-old Hill would have no end in sight, regarding how long she’d be waiting.

The article in question is from a few weeks back; I had it in my queue but never got around to publishing my post. I’ve written about this subject before. As the story notes, Rep. Kolkhorst has made two attempts to amend her 2009 bill in a way that would essentially forbid transgendered folks from getting married. To me, it’s very simple: If two adults love each other and one or the other is not engaging in fraudulent behavior, they should be allowed to get married. That would clear up this confusion once and for all. Until that enlightened day arrives, I fully support any couple that wants to take advantage of the situation as it now stands. Congratulations, Nikki and William. May the courts and the Legislature not rain on your happiness.

Bishop Gene Robinson coming to Houston

From the Inbox:

Bishop Gene Robinson

For Immediate Release
September 20, 2013

Contact:
Houston Americans United
Toni Medellin
832.868.4586

FIRST OPENLY GAY EPISCOPAL BISHOP TO ADDRESS HOUSTON CHAPTER OF AMERICANS UNITED 

Bishop Gene Robinson Will Weigh In On Religious Liberty, Tolerance At Meeting of Church-State Watchdog Group

Retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church in the United States, will speak next month at a meeting of the Houston Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The event, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee: Religious Liberty in a Religiously Zealous Society,” will be held at 7:30pm on Oct. 3 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Robinson, a vocal supporter of church-state separation, will discuss the idea of religious freedom in America and explain how the Religious Right misconstrues that concept.

Tickets for the main event are $10 for students, $20 for Americans United members, $35 for non-members and $40 for a special package that includes a ticket and a one-year AU membership.

Robinson will also be available for a special ticketed reception at 6:15pm.

To purchase tickets, please visit: http://robinson.eventzilla.net/. For more information, contact Toni Medellin.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

See here for more, and here for an interview in the current issue of OutSmart that includes a brief preview of what to expect from his talk.