Monday, March 7, 2011

Equality Texas Lobby Day 2011

I participated in my first ever Lobby Day today. After a bit of a rocky start where my group's leader never showed up and the only other group member left before we even headed to the capitol, I joined a group of really great women and one college student.

We visited Senators Steve Ogden and Kirk Watson and Representatives Mark Strama, Elliott Naishtat, Donna Howard and Larry Gonzales. Ogden and Gonzales are both Republicans that represent my districts.

Strama is the author of House Bill 224 that amends the Texas Education Code to require policy and program development, staff and parent training for the prevention and reporting of bullying, and amends the Education Code to include cyberbullying.

It's an important piece of legislation and one that our group focused heavily on in our meetings with staff members. The goal of Lobby Day is to place a human face on the issues and to let our legislators know the areas that concern us. We were also able to tell Representative Strama's staff member how much we appreciate his authoring of this bill.

The only legislator that we felt gave us any push back was my very own State Representative Larry Gonzales, or rather his Chief of Staff. When we spoke about the anti-bullying legislation he wanted to know how the bill would define bullying and said that many educators had voiced their concerns about the reporting portion of the bill and their fears that this would introduce an increased burden in a time of budgetary cutbacks and increased work load. We urged him to encourage Representative Gonzales to keep in communication with Rep. Strama about this bill and his concerns.

One of the most impressive things I learned today were the results of a survey commissioned by Equality Texas that asked 12 questions concerning LGBT issues. The results were striking and give lie to the idea that Texas is lost cause in this arena.

The poll found that 79.2% of Texans support uniform anti-bullying legislation to prohibit harassment in schools, including the children of gay/lesbian parents or teens who are gay. 75.4% support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and 69.7% would extend that employment and housing support to transgender Texans. Even when broken down by political party, a majority of Republicans support 9 out 12 of the rights issues in the poll. Here are the results by political affiliation:

Guaranteed right to visit their partners in a hospital 94.10% 87.60% 85.40%
Pass uniform anti-bullying legislation to prohibit harassment in schools 89.60% 78.80% 72.40%
Prohibit employment or housing discrimination based on sexual orientation 82.20% 73.50% 73.10%
Guaranteed right to make end of life medical decisions for a partner 88.80% 72.70% 68.90%
Prohibit employment/housing discrimination for transgender citizens 78.90% 67.60% 68.00%
Gays/ Lesbians have same legal rights with respect to their children 85.20% 68.20% 57.50%
Pass hate crime legislation for transgender citizens 79.30% 64.00% 57.50%
Partner's legal rights to inherit possessions if there is no will in place 83.70% 64.20% 54.30%
Allow gays and lesbians to get a civil union 76.80% 59.40% 57.60%
Extend domestic partnership benefits to government/public university employees 79.60% 62.60% 49.70%
Recognize same sex marriage if wed in another state that allows it 72.20% 50.40% 29.00%
Allow gays and lesbians to get married 65.20% 40.80% 27.90%

Those are hopeful numbers. They prove that even in Texas the group consensus is moving towards full LGBT inclusion.

Thank you to Equality Texas for organizing this event. Thanks to my group members. I especially thank all the staff members that took time out of their day to speak to us. 

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