Civil rights lawyers, from left to right, Rebecca Robertson, Christine Henry Andresen, Ian Pittman and Elizabeth Brenner held a panel discussion at the School of Law on Friday.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

During a panel discussion at the School of Law on Friday, civil rights lawyers warned of backlash if Texas’ constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is lifted.   

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Austin LGBT Bar Association and family law firms said a backlash from conservative political forces could adversely affect Texas’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, even if the Supreme Court rules that state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.

Lawyers discussed the ways that the state legislature could still use loopholes in anti-discrimination laws and new laws to hurt the LGBT community in areas such as housing, employment and adoption.

“If you were to poll people and ask if they thought LGBT Texans have protection against employment discrimination, you would find most people think they already exist because they are so fundamental to being a full participant in our society,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Texas. “In reality, we do not have any protections for LGBT Texans in our state.”

Ian Pittman, a partner at the family-law and estate-planning law firm Jorgeson Pittman LLP, said state government could also use the “power of the purse” to control state employees to prevent them from following Supreme Court precedents.

Robertson said an example of this practice is Rep. Cecil Bell’s (R-Magnolia) bill, HB 623, which entered the Texas Legislature on Jan. 8. The bill says any employee of the state who acts against Texas’ ban will be deprived of salary and any other employment benefits.

Panelists and members of the audience said there were several opportunities for lawyers and law students to help expedite the LGBT movement in Texas.

“In our current session, there are three LGBT lobbying days scheduled, and I cannot overemphasize the importance to have attorneys and law students appear before the legislature and talk about these issues,” said Gary Schumann, founding partner of Savrick, Schumann, Johnson, McGarr, Kaminski & Shirley LLP.

Robertson said she thinks the backlash will create additional movement towards equality.

“When we hear about people who returned happy from their honeymoon, came to work the next morning, shared their story with their boss and got fired without recourse, it may create some momentum for an employment nondiscrimination act on the state level and federal level that would finally extend those protections,” Robertson said.

Rudy Corona, computer science junior and vice president of the Secular Student Alliance, said the next step for the LGBT community is transgender rights. He said members of the transgender community face a litany of problems that might be beyond the attention of the public.

“[Even] public bathrooms can be an uncomfortable place for transgender people because they might not be welcome to the bathroom of their choice based on their gender,” Corona said.

Mary Ann Kaiser has been in the ordination process for seven years. Kaiser was told this month she could not be a deacon because she is a lesbian.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

After about seven years of enrollment in the process to become an ordained minister, Mary Ann Kaiser of the University United Methodist Church was suddenly removed from candidacy because of her sexual orientation. 

“I was very surprised when I found out that the board met and decided to remove me from the ordination process, even though they had not yet interviewed me or otherwise met me, solely on the basis of my identity as a lesbian,” said Kaiser, a youth director and justice associate at the church on UT’s campus.

The Board of Ordained Ministry decided at the Southwest Texas Annual Conference earlier in June to remove Kaiser from the ordination process. Kaiser had previously been voted and recommended for ordination in full acknowledgement that she is gay. The decision to remove Kaiser from the ordination process wasn’t made locally, but instead by church leaders who oversee multiple churches in Texas.

United Methodist Church‘s policy that does not allow openly gay clergy to be ordained was met with opposition from Austin churches. In addition, the board has been accused of mishandling Kaiser’s process of removal from ordination. The final decision could have a lasting impact on the church’s relations with the LGBT community and it could cause greater divisions among the liberal and conservative elements within the church.

Rev. John Elford, the pastor at University United Methodist Church, spoke on behalf of Kaiser and argued that Kaiser should be ordained. He said the board failed to follow proper procedures that are outlined by United Methodist Church’s own rulebook, the Book of Discipline. Elford said the Book of Discipline requires the board to interview all candidates before denying the ordination process.

“On what grounds can [Kaiser] be removed from candidacy if she has not been interviewed?” Elford asked.

Kaiser was voted and recommended for ordination by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry in April 2013. This committee, among other responsibilities, recommends and votes for candidates to be ordinated. Her meeting and interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry was scheduled for January 2014, although she was removed in early June.

Kaiser said she has been deeply disappointed by the board’s decision and their handling of it. 

“I was shocked at the Board’s decision to act preemptively,” Kaiser said. “I didn’t expect anything at all to happen with my ordination process until my next scheduled interview.”

Bishop James Dorff, the area provost of the North Texas Annual Conference, has 30 days to investigate the matter and revise his previous decision to remove Kaiser. The denomination’s judicial council will automatically review the decision.  

“My decision will be based on my understanding of the Book of Discipline, which I have pledged to uphold,” Dorff said in a statement. 

After the 30 period, Dorff’s ruling will be posted on UMC’s Annual Conference website,

“The ordination of gay clergy members is a really hot topic that has fractured the church,” said Eileen Flynn DeLaO, a former journalism professor who taught religious reporting at UT and a former religion reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. 

The UMC Book of Discipline has a few lines declaring that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” cannot be ordained.

“These are the declarations that are guiding the board’s decision to remove Kaiser,” DeLaO said.

Back in April, the Reconciling Ministries Network announced that Kaiser would be married to her lesbian partner, Annanda Barclay, in August at the network’s convocation. The network, a supporter of Kaiser’s ordination, is a pro-LGBT Methodist organization that mobilizes United Methodists to create full inclusion of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A woman who privately identifies as a lesbian but does not pursue a same-sex relationship would likely be eligible for ordination, according to church policy,” DeLaO said. 

Because of her public relationship, Kaiser is not subject to the exception anymore, hence the removal from the ordination process. 

According to DeLaO, the ordination of gay clergy has divided other Christian dominations as well, and she believes it is highly likely that it would have the effect of causing great disruption within the United Methodist Church. 

“While many liberal Methodists are working to overturn the ban on gay clergy, other Methodists would feel betrayed because they believe the Bible is clear in its teaching on homosexuality,” DeLaO said. “And many conservative Methodists might leave the church and form a new denomination.”  

Supporters of gay ordination have a different biblical interpretation, as they believe that if a person feels called by God to the ministry then that call should be answered, DeLaO said.

“I think the tide is turning in favor of openly gay clergy,” DeLaO said.

Kaiser also believes the general sense of acceptance for the LGBT community in the church has shifted greatly over the years.

“There is still a long way to go but the fact that conversations are happening and that so many churches are standing in opposition to the United Methodist Church laws hostile to the LGBT community reveals how much things have changed and must continue to do so” Kaiser said. 

Kaiser is not the only one who is happy about this issue being discussed publically and raising awareness. She said she has received emails and Facebook messages from LGBT members in the United Methodist Church from all over the country who have been rejected from the ordination process because of their sexual orientation.

The board’s decision also resulted in a call for action by Kaiser’s supporters. According to the Reconciling Ministries Network’s website, Southwest Texas Annual Conference’s meeting was preceded by a Twitter blast with more than 240 participants defending Kaiser. This was in addition to emails and letters written to Dorff. 

Kaiser and the LGBT community are currently awaiting Dorff’s decision.

“It is hard to imagine, if this decision is upheld by the bishop and the judicial council and made final, the vocation I have spent years, money, school and passion working toward being thwarted,” Kaiser said. “I can still work in churches as someone who is not ordained (as I do now) but it is limiting — both vocationally and theologically.”

To conclude National Coming Out Week, student organization StandOut will be hosting a “Closet Door Signing” event meant to garner support for LGBT students Thursday.

Over the course of the week, various organizations hosted events aimed toward education on LGBT issues. Tuesday, the Gender and Sexuality Center hosted a panel discussion about disclosing sexual orientation in the workplace. Wednesday, Shane Whalley, the center’s education and outreach coordinator, led a talk on how heterosexual students can support and serve as allies for LGBT students. The week of pro-LGBT events will culminate Thursday with the door signing.

The Closet Door Signing, which will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the East Mall, features a painted pink-and-purple wooden door students can sign to advertise their support for the LGBT community. According to StandOut secretary Matt Gracia, the signatures send a message to LGBT students on campus.

“Over the course of the day the closet door becomes a symbol of coming out for LGBT rights,” Gracia, a women’s and gender studies junior, said.

Although the door signatures serve a primarily symbolic purpose, the event will also involve political action. StandOut will have several computers set up so that students can contact legislators to communicate their support.

“We want students to call representatives in their district and say, ‘I support gay and transgender rights and you should too,’” Gracia said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights group, LGBT activists Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded the first-ever National Coming Out Day in 1988. UT student organizations started sponsoring celebratory events on campus more recently. Ana Ixchel Rosal, Gender and Sexuality Center director, said National Coming Out Day has been celebrated in some way at UT for at least eight years.

“This event has happened at least every year since I’ve been here,” Rosal said. “It’s coordinated differently every year.”

Although all of the week’s activities are meant to support LGBT students in general, they are also geared toward encouraging heterosexual students and elected officials to “come out” as allies in support of community issues. 

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: StandOut hosts Closet Door Signing

Protesters from an unidentified organization picket outside the Texas Union Wednesday. The protesters, whose messages included slurs, were quickly joined by counter-protesters from LGBT and Islamic student organizations (Contributed Photo).

A small group of unidentified protesters using homophobic and anti-Islamic slurs demonstrated Wednesday afternoon outside the Texas Student Union and were quickly joined by counter-protesters from LGBT rights groups and members of the Muslim Students’ Association.

The unidentified protesters, who remained on campus for approximately two hours, attracted a group of spectators when they brought out picket signs and shouted various slurs.

Eyewitness Nick Mitchell, a biology senior, said a group of between four and six people arrived around 1 p.m. Mitchell and other witnesses said the majority of the protesters simply held protest signs, but one man shouted anti-homosexual, anti-feminist and anti-Islamic slogans at the surrounding crowd.

The largest sign the protesters used included a list of “ideal traits” for men on the front and a similar list of traits for women on the back. The list for men said that “Men should ...” and included suggestions like “have short hair,” “be masculine” and “bring up children for the Lord.” The other side, which began with the phrase, “Women should be ...” provided suggestions including “quiet,” “submissive to their husbands,” “modestly dressed” and “silent in church.” Another sign read, “Why would you reject the one who died for you?”

As the size of the crowd increased, the vocal male protester began shouting parts of his message, including condemning gay marriage and advocating the importance of following the word of the Bible. Additionally, he stated that “the prophet Muhammad is a pedophile,” and used homophobic slurs at several moments.

Mitchell, a member of LGBT rights student organization StandOut, said he encountered the protest just after 1 p.m. He and others immediately went to the Gender and Sexuality Center in the Student Activity Center, where he found members of StandOut and other organizations that aim to promote LGBT equality. After a brief conversation, the members decided to head to the protest with banners and iconic rainbow flags.

“We wanted to draw attention away from them, because we didn’t want a hateful organization to have so much power,” said Matt Gracia, a women’s and gender studies junior and secretary of StandOut.

By the time the counter-protesters arrived, UTPD had arrived on the scene.

“They told us they were there just to make sure things stayed peaceful,” Gracia said.

The protesters left at approximately 2:45 p.m., when the crowd had begun to disperse. However, several spectators lingered to talk to members of the LGBT organizations.

“People said they realized that discrimination still exists, is still powerful and is something we need to actively fight against,” Mitchell said.

Although the protesters were shouting homophobic slurs, Mitchell said the protest ultimately yielded positive results for the LGBT organizations that counter-protested.

He said the group attracted more new listserv members Wednesday than they usually receive in a week.

Human Rights Campaign members Erin Gurak, Glenn Bagley and Anna Powell were part of the Austin Pride Parade last Saturday to bring more awareness on LGBT equal rights issues. The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the country, supported by more than one million people.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Through the flurry of Gay Pride parade preparations, including building a four-foot-tall sparkly equal sign, the Human Rights Campaign members held strong to the issues they value. Even though the parade was a fun spectacle, awareness of the organization increased greatly through participation in the event.

Erin Gurak started a little over a year ago with the Human Rights Campaign as a volunteer for the Membership Outreach Committee and within five months she moved up to co-chair.

“If I wasn’t going to be able to work with an LGBT organization as a career, I knew I had to be involved at least in a volunteer fashion,” Gurak said. “My interest was piqued when I started looking into Prop 8. I then decided to just show up to a HRC meeting where I ended up meeting my future co-chair Glenn Bagley.”

Founded in 1980, the Human Rights Campaign is currently the largest LGBT equality rights advocacy group in the nation. In 1995 Stone Yamashita developed the current logo of a yellow equal sign on a blue background as a symbol for equality for all.

“I had seen the sticker with the equal sign everywhere but didn’t know exactly what they worked towards,” Gurak said. Now she works to make sure people know exactly what the Human Rights Campaign does.

The local HRC chapter holds many events in Austin. The Membership Outreach Committee’s main goals are to sign up and renew members so they can add to the 1 million nationwide supporters and use that number to lobby Congress for LGBT legislation.

Anna Powell, a Membership Outreach Committee member, shares the Human Rights Campaign’s desire for equality education in the workplace.

“In 30-plus states, including Texas, you can be fired for being a homosexual. You can lose your livelihood just for your boss not liking that you are gay. I have friends and members of our organization that have been fired for being gay,” Powell said.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, initiated through a local LGBT rights organization, Equality Texas, is legislation that would prevent this from happening to anyone else.
Glenn Bagley, Membership Outreach Committee co-chair, was discharged from the U.S. Navy for, according to military documents, “homosexual acts.” “HRC works locally to work nationally, that way our grassroots work makes a strong case for such legislation as ENDA to go national,” Bagley said. “No matter where people are, if they are like-minded, we will get involved with them because by volume and by number we can make a difference. I believe we are on the right side of history.”

Gurak said it is incredibly easy to get involved, either by volunteering or becoming a member for $15. By visiting or the local Facebook page,, you can sign up to volunteer or check out what local events are coming up.

“I started out as a volunteer and got more involved quickly,” Gurak said. “Actually, a UT junior is our newest member of the steering committee. Since steering committee members aren’t forever, we roll off eventually, it’s a great starting point for beginners.”

Gurak, Powell and Bagley each have a personal connection to the cause of LGBT rights.

“I’m a straight ally, so a big inspiration to me is my friends and family,” Gurak said. “My aunts got married in New York last year after being together for 23 years. They called me and said part of their inspiration to get married was the work HRC does and my involvement with them, it was very meaningful.”

Powell finds that the work the Human Rights Campaign does toward marriage equality is not just about the cake cutting or ceremonies but about how it affects families’ everyday lives.

“If I were to have a kid get sick in the hospital, I legally could not visit them,” Powell said. “I would have no legal recourse. If a partner were to die, I would not get their benefits. I’m involved so the families get a fair shot.”

The most poignant and astounding thing Bagley has heard came from straight ally and co-chair Gurak.

“I asked her why she did this and she said, ‘The rights and privileges I enjoy mean nothing if everyone cannot enjoy them,’” Bagley said. “That’s what we do, we fight for the underdog.”

Printed on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 as: HRC localizes tolerance

Anne Wynne, founder of LGBTQ rights group Atticus Circle, discusses the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Tuesday afternoon in the Charles I. Francis Auditorium. The lecture covered the obstacles that affect gay and lesbian veterans after being discharged from the military.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell almost a year ago has been a huge civil rights victory for the LGBT community, but legal issues still challenge LGBT soldiers and veterans, said Danny Hernandez, communications and development assistant for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Hernandez was invited along with Anne Wynne, the founder of Atticus Circle, to speak about the legal issues facing LGBT service members on at a Tuesday afternoon talk hosted by OUTLaw, an LGBT community organization for students attending the UT School of Law. Both Atticus Circle and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network advocated for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell through national litigation, and OUTLaw hoped to bring more awareness of the ongoing legal struggle, OUTLaw president Samuel Rettew said.

“After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed, it’s very easy to think that LGBT in the military isn’t an issue, but there’s still a lot to address,” Rettew said. “There’s a sizable LGBT population and soldier population at UT and they have a vested interest in seeing the soldiers serving next to them having the same rights. It’s very powerful when people come here to join the discussion, and they realize there’s still a problem.”

Hernandez and Wynne related personal stories along with the stories of their plaintiffs in addressing the wide variety of LGBT issues following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. While the repeal has ended the dishonorable discharge of soldiers, the repeal does not prevent discrimination by making LGBT soldiers a protected category or guarantee benefits for LGBT couples.

“You have to put it in context,” Wynne said. “If you were in the military and you had a partner, you couldn’t talk about your partner. You couldn’t have pictures of your partner. You had to tell a big fat lie, and if you had children, you had to tell them to tell a big fat lie, too.”

Members were also interested in incorporating these legal struggles into the day-to-day classwork of law students at UT.

“Intellectually, it’s interesting,” website and newsletter director for OUTLaw, Daniel Collins said. “If we are aren’t talking about these issues in our law class, then maybe that’s a sign that we may need more discussion, and that’s why OUTLaw holds forums like these.”

Outside the classroom, work by UT students is also important and can result in important repercussions for the LGBT community, Rettew said.

“What finally pushed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was that 50 percent of the U.S., and all segments of the military except for the Marines supported it,” Rettew said. “In a broad sense, everyone can have an impact. If you bring up discourse, you’ll be exposed to something you never knew, and occasionally, you’ll have the chance to influence people who can really make an impact.”