Friday, March 09, 2007

Lobby Day Attracts 210 LGBT Activists To Austin

By David Webb
Staff Writer, Dallas Voice
Mar 8, 2007, 20:36

Transgender activists account for almost one-fourth of people visiting legislators to discuss issues

The turnout for Lobby Day in Austin this year was smaller than in some previous years, but the enthusiasm of the lobbyists made up for the shortage, according to some of the participants.

An estimated 210 members of the LGBT community showed up at the Texas Capitol to visit with legislators and voice their concerns about discrimination in the workplace, housing and schools, said Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas. The lobbyists also advocated for the rights of gay and lesbian people who want to adopt children or be foster parents.

“It was very effective,” Scott said. “We were not refused by any office. There were some offices where the conversations were shorter, but that was to be expected.”

Scott said Equality Texas leaders had reached out to the state’s transgender community to participate in the effort, and they were gratified by the response.

“They backed it 100 percent,” said Scott, who noted that almost one-fourth of the lobbyists were transgender people. Scott said the inclusion of transgender people in the lobby effort was useful to the overall LGBT community as well.

“There were many gay and lesbian people who had never had interaction with transgender persons before,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of work to do in our own community on transgender issues as well as within the general community.”

Dallas resident Jessica Davis, a member of Gender Education Advocacy Resources, said transgender lobbyists talked to legislators about a bill allowing gender mark changes and adding transgender language to the state hate crimes law.

“It was empowering,” Davis said. “I’ll be back in 2009, and I’ll be encouraging others to go with me.”

Shannon Bailey, president of Texas Stonewall Democrats, said it was his sixth time to participate in Lobby Day. He first started attending the biannual events in 1997.

“We certainly could have used more people, but I think it was the most successful that I’ve been to,” Bailey said. “To me it was a little more friendly than it has been in the past — even in the less-friendly legislators’ offices. It was not the less-friendly legislators themselves, but their staffs that were certainly willing to listen to our issues.”

Bailey said the staff members today tend to be younger and more open to dialogue than the legislators they represent.

“The staffs seem to have a little softer ear on our issues,” Bailey said. “It’s been interesting over the years to see them change. They ask us to come into the offices and sit down and talk.”

Bailey said he is hopeful that the 2009 Lobby Day will include a large rally to draw more people to Austin.

“I’m sort of a grassroots type,” Bailey said. “I love a good rally and protest. I think it energizes people — makes them feel part of something.”

Protests also help educate the public, Bailey said.

Scott said a rally might be a possibility in 2009.

“We do respect and understand the need for us to come together publicly as a community,” Scott said.

“We’re looking at some ways we can possibly accomplish that in 2009.”

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