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Texas Wins

Does your JP still do marriages?

Some do and some don’t.

RedEquality

Last Wednesday, Judge Dale Gorczynski, a justice of the peace in Harris County, heard 19 eviction cases, sent 147 traffic and misdemeanor cases to trial and presided over five weddings: Three for same-sex couples and two for heterosexual couples.

It was the first time gay couples outnumbered straight ones in his north Houston office. The judge estimated that during the two peak wedding season months since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage about 10 to 20 percent of the couples he has married are gay or lesbian.

But that trend is not playing out with at least three of the county’s 16 justices of the peace who previously performed weddings but no longer do. Judges Laryssa Korduba, Russ Ridgway and Jeff Williams, all Republicans who officiated weddings prior to the decision, are taking down their shingles, although they have done so gradually. These judges, who operate in Humble, near Bellaire and Addicks, still adjudicate criminal, civil and traffic proceedings, but despite phone prompts and online links at their offices that indicate otherwise, marrying couples is no longer among services they offer, staff members confirmed last week.

Korduba performed her last ceremony Aug. 7, according to the county clerk’s data through Aug. 20. That data shows that Ridgway last officiated Aug. 11; and Williams held his last wedding Aug. 14. The county clerk, Stan Stanart, said Tuesday these JPs performed weddings after the Supreme Court ruling, but in a limited capacity. Stanart said Ridgway told him, “I had these commitments beforehand.” The others made similar comments: “That’s what Laryssa [Korduba] told me, too, and Jeff [Williams]. They had commitments. They booked them up beforehand. But there are no new bookings. That’s what I’ve been told at this time,” Stanart said.

[…]

To be clear, these JPs will not be breaking the law or shirking their duties by halting weddings, legal experts say. In fact, they are opting to forego thousands of dollars of personal income, based on the rates they charged in recent months. Justices of the peace may keep this income. They have complete discretion to set their rates. Costs range from $50 to $400 per ceremony.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion this month stating judges may not refuse to perform marriages altogether based on personal, moral or religious objections to same sex marriage, officiating weddings in Texas is a choice.

In other words, all JPs in Texas may marry same-sex couples, but the law does not oblige them to marry anyone, according to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

As far as turning away same-sex couples, Ryan said, “As long as they are not doing any weddings they can make that choice. If they do any marriages, they have to do all the marriages.”

Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, agreed: If you choose to opt out of marrying all couples, that is perfectly legal. If you marry anyone, you may not discriminate, she said.

“If they feel this strongly, at least they’re being fair about it,” said Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, adding he thought, “They are on the wrong side of history.”

Daniel Williams, spokesman for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender rights group Texas Wins, said he applauded judges who abstained from marrying anyone if their personal beliefs guided them to pick and chose who to marry.

“To the JP who says, ‘In order to follow the law, I need to set aside the optional power of my office to perform weddings,’ Kudos.”

I agree. I’m glad that at least around here none of the JPs have tried to be jerks in the way that some county clerks were, to their detriment. I think they’re missing out – my dad was a judge for 14 years in New York, and he always says that performing marriages was the best part of the job – but it’s their choice. I sincerely hope some of them come to the realization that they’re no better off this way and get themselves back in the game. Everyone would benefit if they do.

The next steps for equality advocates

Marriage equality will be a huge step, but there are many more steps to be taken.

RedEquality

The newly launched Texas Wins campaign—a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort—aims to increase the number of LGBT Texans protected by local nondiscrimination ordinances.

“We want to take the momentum for LGBT equality coming out of the session, build on it, and one way to do so is through these local ordinances, to where in a session down the road we look at a statewide bill,” Texas Wins spokesman Kevin Nix said. “We’ve really turned a page here in the state, and the playing field is sort of wide open now to make some real progress. … I think sometimes politicians can overplay their hands, and they probably did.”

Nix said one of the campaign’s biggest challenges will be educating people that anti-LGBT discrimination is perfectly legal in Texas outside cities that have banned it—Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Plano and San Antonio—which account for less than a third of the state’s population.

“So many people don’t even realize it’s legal to fire or evict gay and transgender people,” he said. “A lot of folks think it’s protected in law, and it’s not. That problem would persist no matter what the marriage decision is from the Supreme Court.”

[…]

One of the keys to passing nondiscrimination ordinances will be convincing elected officials they provide a competitive advantage for cities economically. Texas Competes, a sister organization of Texas Wins, has gathered signatures from more than 200 employers, including 16 from the Fortune 500, in support of LGBT inclusion. Texas Wins is funded by a combination of individual and institutional donors—including the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, the Texas Freedom Network and the Human Rights Campaign—while Texas Competes is funded solely by Equality Texas.

Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, said Texas was the first state in which the business community proactively spoke out en masse against anti-LGBT legislation before it reached the governor’s desk—protecting the state’s brand rather than having to repair it.

However, Shortall said she fears a loss of momentum in coming months due to a collective sigh of relief after the session, combined with a likely win on same-sex marriage at the high court.

“There could be kind of a drop the mic, spike the football thing,” Shortall said. “As we see in movement after movement, when you get a really big win, sometimes the wind goes out of the sails.”

Shortall is also looking ahead to the 2017 session, when she expects more anti-LGBT, religious freedom legislation similar to a bill that passed in Indiana in March.

Bringing non-discrimination ordinances to places that don’t currently have them, litigating when needed, and beating back the latest version of anti-equality measures and tactics – there will still be plenty to do. And even a sweeping ruling in favor of marriage equality from SCOTUS isn’t going to make that debate go away. Equality opponents may begin to reject the idea of civil marriage, and may push to give special status to religious marriage in response. Republican candidates, from the Presidential level on down, are likely at least in the short term to come under extra pressure to do something stupid in defiance of SCOTUS. And as anti-gay animus finally begins to fade a little into the background, at least in polite society, anti-transgender animus appears to be on the rise. We can’t let the wind go out of the sails. If we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward.

Moving equality forward in San Antonio

From the Rivard Report:

RedEquality

Members of San Antonio’s lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community want the city’s next mayor to follow the lead of Dallas and Houston and expand the 2013 non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) to include private companies.

The NDO now extends to city employment, public accommodations (restaurants, stores, public events), public housing, city contracts, and appointed officials, boards and commissions. There are significant religious exemptions to the rule. Unless they have an internal policy, private companies that operate outside the realm of public accommodations can fire an employee for being gay or choose not to do business with someone because of their sexual orientation.

The push to extend the NDO comes less than two years after then-Mayor Julían Castro and City Council voted 8-3 to pass an updated non-discrimination ordinance that extended greater protections to the LGBTQ community and to veterans. That vote, however, was not followed by any specific action.

This month, Mayor Ivy Taylor answered her critics by directing city staff to establish what is now called the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that will enforce the NDO and act on any complaints of it being violated. The updated NDO now covers sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status along with race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and disability.

Taylor voted against passage of the NDO in 2013, but since becoming interim mayor she has pledged to uphold the ordinance.

Taylor and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte are in a June 13 runoff for mayor, with early voting June 1-9. The Rivard Report reached out to both candidates to ask for their views on the subject of including private companies in the ordinance and related topics.

Click here to read the Q&A with Taylor. Click here to read the Q&A with van de Putte.

[…]

Robert Salcido, an Equality Texas field organizer and the local LGBT Chamber of Commerce board vice president, said putting real “teeth” to the NDO is a major goal, meaning it needs to be enforced and it needs to be expanded.

To date, only three complaints have been filed with the City based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation discrimination. Two have been dropped due to technicalities. One complainant backed out to pursue a civil suit.

Taylor and others have speculated that the newly established Office of Diversity and Inclusion might now have the legal authority to actively enforce the NDO, something city staff might have lacked until now.

Salcido said he is encouraged by Taylor’s move but wants to see San Antonio’s City Council follow their counterparts in Dallas and Houston to amend the ordinance to include private companies.

Christina Gorczynski, the Texas Wins campaign director based in Houston, agrees.

“Waiting for Washington D.C., or waiting for Austin to resolve local issues like this will keep us waiting for too long,” Gorczynski said. “People find discrimination now, so let’s resolve discrimination right now with the powers that are available to the mayor and city council.

“Local officials are empowered by their charter to create ordinances like the nondiscrimination ordinance and they should be able to take full advantage of that and be able to protect the values of its community.”

Taylor told the Rivard Report that she will not support expansion of the NDO into the private sector. Van de Putte said she would not support such an initiative at this time, either.

It’s probably safe to say the highly contentious battle that ended with the 8-3 vote in 2013 is fresh enough in everyone’s memory locally that few officeholders would be eager to see the issue come up for another debate and vote.

The wording in that penultimate paragraph is a little misleading. Taylor’s full answer to the question whether she would support “either now or in the future – expanding the NDO to include private companies that operate outside of public accommodations?” was “I would not vote to further expand the ordinance”, while VdP’s answer was “No, not at at this time”, followed by a discourse on her record in the Senate. I’d prefer an affirmative commitment to expanding the NDO at some point during her Mayoral tenure, but at least “Not at this time” allows for that, while a flat “No” does not. Taylor to her credit created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to enforce the NDO, but between her record and her pandering to anti-equality voters during the campaign, I just don’t trust her. Your mileage may vary. Early voting in the San Antonio runoff elections begins today, so those of you who are there, be sure and make your voice heard/

That brings up a point about Houston’s Mayoral race, since everything comes back to the Houston Mayoral race. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is now being enforced by the city. Yes, the opponents are appealing their loss in the lawsuit – they’re also requesting a new trial in the district court, because Andy Taylor has bills to pay – but as of Judge Schaffer’s ruling, the ordinance is in effect. It’s too early to ask anyone what they think of the process, since I doubt there’s been an opportunity to test it yet, but an opinion about how it was designed and what if anything they’d have done differently if they had been Mayor in 2014 would not be out of line. At some point, we will need to know how they think it’s working and what their level of commitment to it is. Doesn’t have anything to do with potholes, I’m afraid, but it is an issue the next Mayor will have to deal with.

Texans oppose LGBT discrimination

From Texas Wins:

Nearly two-thirds of likely voters in Texas support protecting gay and transgender Texans from discrimination, according to a new poll released today. The statewide survey also found that a strong majority of voters believe that discrimination against gay and transgender Texans is a problem.

View the findings of the poll here: http://TXWins.org/PollingMemo

“Texas lawmakers have filed a flurry of bills to enshrine discrimination against gay and transgender people under the guise of religious liberty. But it’s clear that Texans don’t support allowing people to use religion as a weapon to harm others,” said Christina Gorczynski, campaign director for Texas Wins. “No matter what questions we asked, a strong majority of Texans favored equality, regardless of political party.”

More than 20 bills have been introduced in the Legislature targeting gay and transgender Texans for discrimination, despite growing national outrage and negative economic consequences in other states, such as Indiana and Arkansas.

“Our poll shows that while Texas voters value religious freedom, a majority oppose ‘religious exemption’ laws,” said Greg Strimple of G Squared Public Strategies, the pollster who conducted the statewide survey on behalf of Texas Wins. “Nearly 80 percent of voters believe that religious freedom does not give individuals license to hurt others.”

Key findings:

  • More than half of the poll’s respondents identified as conservative and three-quarters said religion is extremely or very important to them personally.
  • A strong majority of voters believe that discrimination against the gay and transgender community is a problem.
  • Nearly 63% of voters would also support a law protecting these individuals from discrimination.
  • A majority of Republicans are concerned about discrimination and support efforts to protect gay and transgender individuals from employment discrimination.
  • Despite their personal commitment to religion, when asked about religious exemption laws generally, more than 52% of voters opposed such laws.
  • Voters overwhelmingly believe that religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that protecting religious freedom has fostered healthy diversity in American culture.
  • While they value religious freedom, 79% of voters believe that this freedom does not give individuals license to hurt others.
  • A strong majority of voters reject the notion that gay marriage threatens religious freedom.

The pollsters for G Squared include Greg Strimple and Robert Jones. Strimple served as a senior advisor to the John McCain for President campaign. Before joining G Squared, Jones worked for two cycles at the National Republican Congressional Committee, mostly recently as the West Regional Political Director.

Here’s the Chron story that recaps this, and as noted you can see the polling memo here. The encouraging news here is that the state is more enlightened than you might think, as was the case with the 2015 Houston Area Survey. The discouraging news is that our government – specifically, our Legislature – does not reflect that. That’s a problem rooted partially in a lack of participation in elections, and partly in the brutal efficiency of our gerrymandering, where most elections are decided in March and the winners on the Republican side tend to strongly favor the retrograde perspective. Nothing is going to change until those things do. But at least we know the goal we’re working towards is achievable.

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.