Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Moni's Excellent Texas Freedom Advocacy Lobby Day

Equality TexasYesterday I got up at the crack of dawn to make the two hour ride from Houston to our state capitol to join other TBLG Texans in opposing the GOP controlled legislature's attempts to legislate anti-BTLG hatred in the Lone Star State.

After scooping me up at Casa de Monica, TS Williams, Lou Weaver and I made that journey to our state capital and joined over two hundred people from across Texas, student leaders from the Texas Freedom Network, LGBT advocates from Equality Texas,  HRC supporters and volunteers and other concerned Texans for Freedom Advocacy Day in Austin.

While there have been over 20 anti-GLBT bills filed by Teapublican legislators in this 2015 Texas Legislative session, on the plus side there are also 12 pro-TBLG bills that deserved our support.

After TS, Lou and I arrived at the Capitol Visitors Parking garage, we walked across the south capitol grounds , we headed to the First Methodist Church for a training session and our group assignments.   Because I've been coming to Austin since 1999 to do lobbying trips, and was just in the city last month to hit some offices, I was given the responsibility by Cavan O Raghallaigh to lead a lobby team.

Rep Ron ReynoldsAfter the training by Daniel Williams of Equality Texas, some role playing and lunch, we headed to a noon rally on the north steps of the capitol in which openly gay Rep. Mary Gonzales (D-Clint) and Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) spoke before we headed off to hit our assigned offices.

“When we humanize policy, we create good policy,” Rep. Gonzalez said during the rally. “When we disconnect it from people’s lives, we negatively impact people’s lives. … I know sometimes they are extremely personal, but today is a day to be brave, to share, to not let people not recognize the negative consequences of these laws.”

Before I could do that, a problem developed with my team.  One member couldn't come to Austin, another local member had a meeting she had to attend, and another person who was part of a social justice org got immediately called back to her office.   My team had dwindled down to just me until Heather Ross joined me off the other trans centric team.

Heather and I were tasked with hitting the Pink Dome offices of Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) , Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston)  Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) and Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) to talk about Rep Gilbert Pena's unjust HB 2801, the 'Trans Kids Bounty Bill' that is getting a hearing tomorrow.

All of these reps and senators have seniority, are longtime supporters of the TBLG community, but need varying levels of education on trans issues along with their staffs.  I was a constituent of Sen. Ellis and Rep Coleman until I moved in November.   So I had more than a few personal cards to play as Heather and I walked into these offices.

After clearing security on the east side of the capitol building, we started with Sen. Ellis' office, and Heather and I had a pleasant conversation with his LA Liliane Bedford as we pointed out the problems with HB 2801 and got out initial visit out of the way as we got a feel for each others lobbying styles

Sen. Garcia's office was a few short steps away down the hall, and as we talked in the hallway with Sam Robles, Sen Ellis stopped literally feet away from us talking to another citizen lobbyist..  

Arrgh.  Opportunity lost to talk to him directly.  

But what the lobbying fates take away, they giveth as well.   A few minutes later Sen. Garcia walked up, and I took that moment as Heather continued chatting with Sam to thank the senator for standing up for our human rights this session.

After finishing up with Ms. Robles, it was time to see Rep. Coleman.   But where Sen Ellis and Sen Garcia's offices are in the Capitol building is in what is called 'The Secret Hallway' because you have to cross the senate gallery to get to it from the rest of the capitol

Once we remembered that point from our training, we crossed the Senate gallery and headed to Rep. Coleman''s office

A few minutes into our ,pleasant visit sitting on the patio with a beautiful view of the north capitol grounds and parts of the nearby University of Texas campus, Rep. Coleman walked into the office. I thanked him for continuing to push for the streamlined name and gender change bill, and told him the story of how it took me nine months to get my TDL with the help of his Houston office.   He also made it clear that he didn't want what happened in Indiana repeated in Texas.

Heather and I then headed to Rep. Oliveira's office, and continued to point out to his LA's how this bill was problematic not only to trans schoolkids, but would also impact  ISD's, teachers and administrators before we headed to Rep Dawnna Dukes office.

Because Heather was from Austin, I thought it was better for her to lead on this one.  If any issues came up that were Austin-centric, she'd be better able to answer them than I would be, and we had another pleasant chat with Na'Asiaha Simon.   

Her boss is on the powerful Appropriations Committee and the fiscal argument resonated with her.  Rep. Dukes is also on the State Affairs Committee that the unjust HB 2801 will get a hearing in.

Our final visit happened in Rep Sylvester Turner's office, and Heather and I both had a wonderful time talking to Erica Smiley and Emma Oliver.    They relayed to us that Rep. Turner was concerned about the unjust bills.

Heather and I completed our mission at 3:30 PM, and ran into my ride back to Houston in Brandon Mack and Ashton Woods near the Capitol Rotunda.   After having lunch at a wonderful Cajun place on Rosewood St in East Austin, we headed to the legendary Scholtz Garten to connect with the rest of our fellow lobbyists to hear how their day went and let some of Austin's infamous rush hour traffic on I-35 die down before we headed back to Houston.

Got a feeling I may have to make one more trip to Austin before this session ends. 

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