Recap: Compilation of #HOUequality tweets

At a special City Council hearing on Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance that took place Wed., April 29, most residents who testified voiced their unequivocal support for the ordinance. Just 19 people spoke against.

Attend the public meetings on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. To sign up to speak at the Public Session on Tuesday, May 6, you must do so before 1 p.m. the day of the meeting by:

  • Calling the City Secretary’s office at 832.393.1100
  • Sending an email to
  • Coming by the office on the public level of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby, Houston 77002 by 1:30 p.m. that

Before you testify please download our guide (PDF), which is full of helpful tips for giving public testimony. If you can’t make it in person, tell your story online. You can submit text or a video link.

Show your support on social media!

June 12, “Loving Day,” May Be Joined by “Windsor Day”

Terri Burke
Executive Director

Romeo and Juliet weren’t the first, nor will they be the last, lovers to pursue their relationships in secret. Throughout the centuries, people have loved in the shadows, sometimes because of their ages, often because of parental objections, sometimes because they are married to someone else.

For the past 46 years, though, men and women of different races have been able to love – and importantly, to marry – in the daylight.

On June 12, 1967, “Loving Day,” the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ended the laws in the states of the Old South that made it a crime for whites and non-whites to marry. The Earl Warren Court declared miscegenation laws unconstitutional. “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause,” declared the majority opinion.

Mildred and Richard Loving married in Washington, D.C. in 1959 and returned to northeastern Virginia to make a home and raise a family. Mildred, an 18-year-old black woman, had no idea that she had committed a crime when she married Richard, a white man.

Arrested in their home – local police barged in late at night hoping to catch them having sex – they pleaded guilty to “cohabiting as a man and wife” and avoided jail time by moving to the District of Columbia. They wrote then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy who referred them to the ACLU (times have changed!).

Sometime in the next few weeks, the court will once again have the chance to bring love out of the shadows, when it releases its ruling in Windsor v. United States, a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It’s entirely possible that another June date, this one in 2013, will go down in history because the John Roberts Court echoes that earlier opinion: “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of sexual orientation violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause.”

June is the month we associate with love and marriage. Because of the work of the ACLU, for 46 years it has been a month for brides and grooms of all colors. We can only hope that, because of Edie Windsor and the ACLU, Loving Day will soon be joined by Windsor Day and June will be known as the month of brides and brides and grooms and grooms.

Equal Access to Prom

By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director

Jarrell High School senior, Allison Brawley, got to take the date of her choice to the prom as reported by Texas News Service. Although Allison first ran into roadblocks, she—with the help of the ACLU of Texas—was able to negotiate a resolution that allowed her to share a special night of celebration with friends and classmates.

The ACLU applauds the decision by Jarrell High School administrators to adopt a fair policy that treated all students the same, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Often doing the right thing isn’t easy or without controversy. By standing up for Allison’s rights in a measured and reasonable way, Allison and her mother set an example for other students and their parents to follow.

The ACLU of Texas is gratified that we were able to facilitate a positive outcome that showed respect for all parties involved.

Do Pervasive Homophobic Remarks Like “That’s So Gay” Create a Hostile School Environment?

By Gislaine Williams
Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator

The White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities brought together educators, law enforcement, social service providers and community advocates to talk about the strategies being used to address violence and harassment against the LGBT community. Check out our live tweets during the event below.

Learn what you can do in Texas to protect students against discrimination and bullying at Follow @youthrightstx on Twitter.

@whitehouse #lgbt conference starting in Arlington with Fairness Fort Worth, UTA president and Guatam Raghavan of whitehouse.

#whlgbt DOJ community relations Services helps build relationships between community and law enforcement

US Attorney Saldaño asks community to report incidents, violence against lgbt community often a hidden crime #whlgbt

#whlgbt Rupert of natl lesbian rights: still many challenges to reporting, transgender sex workers are scared to report violence

Rupert of @nclrights can’t separate racial justice from lgbt rights #whlgbt

#whlgbt conference Safe Schools panel includes @glsen @thejusticedept @usedgov and human rights campaign

#whlgbt Kosciw from @glsen says hostile school environment created by pervasive homophobic remarks like “that’s so gay”

#whlgbt Yudin of @usedgov: 90% LGBT students verbally harassed

#whlgbt Cummings of civil rights division, US DoJ bullying occurs because of overall hostile climate. Need training for all school personell

#whlgbt Cummings of DOJ: Proper to response to harassment not always discipline. Promote education & training.

Looking forward to hearing Joel Burns, Eric Holder at #whlgbt conference.

Watch it Live! #WHLGBT Conference on safe schools and communities at @utarlington

Joel Burns shares personal experience with bullying. Celebrating 19th wedding anniversary with his husband today. #whlgbt

Valerie Jarrett, senior Obama advisor: schools have moral and legal obligation to protect students from harassment #whlgbt

Holder: schools failing to address bullying are ignoring civil rights protections #whlgbt

“We look forward to progress that we can and must achieve,” Holder at #whlgbt conference

Small group discussion: both adults & students need education about bullying & we need holistic approach like PBIS to end bullying #whlgbt

DeptofEd and DOJ recognize role of school-to-prison pipeline. “Discipline is just part of answer-goal is to stop harassment.” #whlgbt

Judy Shepard closes #whlgbt conference

You are 10 and Chewing Gum at School. Your Punishment: Class C Misdemeanor

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

When I was a kid, a student caught chewing gum in class, or throwing a paper airplane across the classroom got a reminder from the teacher to stop disrupting class, or was maybe sent to the principal’s office for a lecture about proper behavior.  But never did any of my classmates ever get slapped with a Class C Misdemeanor for our misbehavior at school.  Today, this is no longer the case.  Some kids, before they are old enough to understand what it means to have a criminal record, are dealing with court dates and judges. And their families, who are often barely making ends meet, are blasted with harsh fines.  Wonder which kids are ticketed?  Statistically, children of color and special education students are disciplined at much higher rates than their peers.  Not quite fair, or smart.  Once a child is ticketed, their chance of dropping out of school and ending up in jail increases.

This week, the ACLU of Texas launched its Youth Rights Campaign, and student ticketing, part of the “school-to-prison pipeline” is one of our major priorities.  Youth misbehavior is a serious issue, but the way Texas schools are dealing with it isn’t the right answer.  Youth need support, and it benefits society as a whole to keep kids in school and out of the criminal justice system.  Our campaign calls for an end to these counterproductive discipline policies; instead, we call on Texas schools to implement evidence based behavior systems that have been shown to create a more positive school environment,

That’s not the only issue Texas youth are facing.  Our Youth Rights Campaign also works to ensure equality for all Texas children.  Unfortunately, students often face bullying, harassment, and discrimination because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  As a result, these students do not feel safe at what should always be a safe place – school.  Our campaign calls on school administrators to be more aware of and responsive to allegations of bullying, harassment, and discrimination at school and to ensure students are treated with equality and dignity that all humans are entitled to.

The last issue that the ACLU of Texas Youth Rights Campaign focuses on is the placement of juveniles in solitary confinement.   Children, some as young as 14, who are certified to stand trial as an adult may be held in solitary confinement before they even have their day in court.  Many are found innocent, yet have spent a year or more of their young lives in solitary confinement.  Far from rehabilitative, this treatment is inhumane and leads to severe psychological distress and damage in adults; it is unconscionable that children are subjected to this abuse.  In addition to suffering extreme mental anguish, these children are also denied the opportunity to participate in religious services and school, and our counties waste scarce tax dollars on costly segregation schemes.

How does our campaign work? To be successful, we are reaching out to students, parents, teachers, and community members at the local level throughout Texas.  We are depending on the involvement of people who care about the wellbeing of their communities, who see the challenges and injustices that youth are facing, and who want to make Texas a safer and more productive state for everybody.  In fact, to be successful, we need you.  Texas’ youth needs you too.  To learn more about our Youth Rights Campaign, visit  To learn more about the ACLU of Texas, visit

ACLU of Texas: The “Best Activist Organization” in Austin!

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

It’s that time of year again – The Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin ballots are ready for submission – and we are looking for your vote for “Best Activist Organization”!  

As you ponder over what lucky organization will get your vote, you might be asking “why you, ACLU of Texas”? We’ll tell you why: For starters, we are the only activist organization that advocates for all civil liberties issues – no picking and choosing for us.  Beyond that, just listen to some of the great things we got done over the past year!  By the time you are done reading, voting for yours truly will be the only logical choice.

  • We fought to keep kids in schools and out of jail.  Schools now have clear steps to follow to protect their students from bullying at school; parents now have the right to tell schools that the school cannot corporally punish their child; less kids will be ticketed as a result of their childish misbehavior; and before ticketing truant students, schools are now required to first implement preventative measures.  Better yet, students under 12 or over 17 can no longer be given tickets for being truant. 
  • In support of student Nikki Peet, we successfully persuaded the Flour Bluff High School to allow a Gay-straight Alliance (GSA) Club to be formed on its campus. Denying a GSA club the ability to meet, when the school allows other non-curricular clubs to meet, violates the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act. Schools around Texas took note that we won’t stand for this discrimination!
  • We advocated before the State Board of Education, and told them that scholarship, not politics must determine our children’s public school curriculum. 
  • We got Austin youth involved in activism! Our youth advocates made office visits at the Capitol, testified on behalf of their peers, and helped us with our “Know your Rights” manuals for students.
  • It was an uphill battle, but we fought tooth and nail against the anti-immigrant legislation at the Capitol this session.  And, we are glad to report that the ‘Sanctuary Cities” bill has finally died!

That is just a sampling of the ways we fought to defend your civil liberties this past year. Please show your support by voting the ACLU of Texas as the “Best Activist Organization” in the Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin contest!  Click here for the ballot, make sure you fill out all the required information, and find the “Best Activist Organization” under the “Politics and Personalities” Section.  And remember, you don’t have to live in Austin to vote!

Thanks y’all!

The ACLU of Texas Welcomes Summer Law Clerks, Policy Interns, and Youth Advocacy Interns!

With the arrival of summer, the ACLU of Texas is excited to welcome a talented group of summer law clerks, policy interns, and youth advocacy interns! Our legal and policy departments depend on these students for their high quality research and analyses that allow us to further the ACLU’s mission in the great state of Texas. Learn more about our interns below!

Get involved, join the an ACLU of Texas Community Action Network.

Law Clerks

“Summer law clerks are an absolutely invaluable resource for the ACLU of Texas. Under the supervision of ACLU of Texas attorneys, law clerks investigate complaints, research the relevant law, and help us bring civil rights cases all across the state. The energy and enthusiasm summer law clerks bring to the office inspires the whole staff.”
Lisa Graybill, Legal Director, ACLU of Texas

Alissa Parsley
Alissa was born and raised in Austin, and attends the University of Texas School of Law, where she is focusing on immigration law. This summer, Alissa’s tasks include writing a legal memo on the Equal Access Act and students’ right to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in public secondary schools; drafting a report on religious entanglement in Texas public schools; and preparing a Know Your Rights presentation to students participating in Texas GSA Network’s Youth Activist Camp on how to successfully set up GSAs at their schools.
Tassity Johnson
Tassity grew up in Houston, and attends Yale Law School. Her interests include literature, cultural theory, buying too many used books, and spending too much time on the Internet. This summer, Tassity is investigating legal issues relating to the solitary confinement of juveniles, and researching the grievance and exhaustion procedures used in different Texas state and federal prisons pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
Tim Neal
Tim was born in New Jersey, grew up in Dallas, and currently attends the University of Texas School of Law. Tim is a devoted Longhorns fan, is a movie buff, and a comic book geek. This summer, Tim is assisting in the drafting of a report on conditions of confinement for immigrant inmates held in privately run facilities used exclusively to house noncitizens serving criminal sentences. These facilities, like the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) in Pecos Texas, are infamous for providing substandard medical care to inmates, many of whom have committed no crime beyond illegally re-entering the country. The ACLU of Texas is currently litigating a federal civil rights case on behalf of the family of an epileptic inmate who died in solitary confinement after being denied access to life-saving medical care at RCDC.


“Working under the Policy and Advocacy Department, our policy interns and youth advocacy interns are creating a Know your Rights curriculum designed to educate Texas students about their rights guaranteed under the US Constitution and the laws of Texas. Their expertise, fresh ideas and dedication are key in our efforts to advance the civil rights and liberties of all Texas youth.”
Matt Simpson, Policy Strategist, ACLU of Texas.

Hannah Zimmermann
Hannah grew up in Northampton, MA, is currently a student at the University of Texas School of Law, and hopes to pursue a career in immigration and international human rights law. This summer Hannah has been drafting a comprehensive summary of civil-rights-related developments in the 2011 legislative session, as well as reviewing and analyzing bills related to the School to Prison Pipeline.
Sara Myklebust
Born in Tucson, AZ, Sara is a student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT, focusing on immigration policy and social issues. She like to play disc (frisbee) golf, camp, swim and cook in her free time. Sara has been advocating for humane immigration policies at the legislature, and also helping to write Youth Rights trainings.
Elizabeth Stephens
Elizabeth is a candidate for an MA in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University. She is interested in a career applying a human rights approach to international development. This summer she is creating a Know Your Rights Curriculum for youth and public school students and piloting these trainings with partner organizations in Austin.


“From advocating for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline at the Legislature earlier this year, including testifying for the ACLU of TX before both Senate and House Committees, to their current work researching and drafting Know Your Rights presentations to educate their peers throughout Texas, Ian and Solveij have been and continue to be invaluable assets to the ACLU of TX.”
Frank Knaack, Policy and Advocacy Strategist, ACLU of Texas.

Solveij Praxis
Solvei will be a senior at Westlake High School and before this internship she worked with the ACLU of Texas as a member of the youth legislative team. She is glad to have this opportunity to expand her knowledge of youth rights and responsibilities.
Ian McCurley
Ian will also be a senior at Westlake High School, and was a member of the youth legislation team with the ACLU of Texas. He is currently working on Know Your Rights trainings, and is glad for the advocacy experience he has gained from working with the ACLU of Texas.

Prom Season!

Get out your corsages and sappy love songs… it’s prom season!

This might be the highlight of your year if you’re a cheerleader dating the star quarterback. But many students – especially LGBT students – feel left out. Teachers and administrators send the message that in order to attend prom, they have to leave who they are at the door.

Well, you don’t.

Gay students, do you know you are allowed – under federal law – to bring a same-sex date to prom? Two years ago, we helped an Alabama student bring her girlfriend after the school threatened to cancel the prom. Transgender students, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t come in if you’re not dressed “like a girl.” It’s your gender identity, and it’s your choice whether you want to wear a frilly dress or a fancy tux.

If your school is being bigoted, here are some tools to help. It’s 2011 and LGBT students shouldn’t have to sit out the prom, or stay in the shadows.

Two other ways you can stand up for equality in your school:

  1. Stop Anti-Gay Filtering. Did you know that many school computers block websites with any supportive LGBT messages? See if you can access sites like the Texas GSA Network, the Trevor Project, and from a school computer. Let us know what you find. Be a part of our Don’t Filter Me campaign.
  2. GSAs. Gay Straight Alliance clubs are one of the best ways for students to organize for a safer, more supportive school environment. If you or someone you know is trying to start a GSA, check out these tips. You may remember a few weeks ago we helped Nikki Peet at Flour Bluff High prevail when her school tried to shut down all student clubs rather than let a Gay Straight Alliance form. If you need backup, let us know.

Here’s to a happy, productive, safe end of the school year. Remember, it’s your prom and you can dance if you want to.

Hey Texas, What Century Is This?

By Frank Knaack
Policy and Advocacy Strategist

What year is it again? By the looks of the public health education program – the curriculum we teach school-age children – it surely can’t be 2011. You’d think, in 2011, it would simply be unacceptable for the state to teach kids that, “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”

What century are we living in? Not the one where same-sex couples can get married in six states, and engage in civil unions and domestic partnerships in a host of others. No, this can’t be the century where the American public has generally agreed to remove the scarlet letter from anyone who is not straight and agrees to abstain until marriage. The one where we realized, through a spate of teen suicides, that teaching kids that being gay is wrong does irreversible damage. Surely, this is not the same year of Lady Gaga’s hit single Born This Way, yet another voice in a growing body of evidence that being gay is not about people embracing a “lifestyle” at all, but simply being who they are.

No, it can’t even be 2003. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court – in Lawrence v. Texas – ruled against our law making “homosexual conduct” a crime. (Yes, yet another category where Texas can be proud to be last in this country, the last to undo our backwards, antiquated laws targeting gay people.) The Court found that, under the 14th Amendment, people have a right to engage in consensual sexual conduct in the privacy of their own homes without cops banging on their doors. The law was declared unconstitutional. But it is still on the books in Texas.

It’s despicable that the Legislature has yet to remove this anti-gay, unconstitutional law from the Penal Code. But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Two bills were recently introduced that would bring us back into the 21st century. HB 604, sponsored by Representative Farrar and HB 2156, by Representative Coleman, would undo the law criminalizing homosexual conduct and would take the homophobic statements out of our public health education program.

Please, call your Representative today and demand that they support these bills. It’s time for Texas to show that it respects our Constitution and our individual liberty. Take action today!

Yesterday, President Obama instructed the justice department to quit defending the “Defense of Marriage Act” from Constitutional challenges. That’s fine by the ACLU which was part of a lawsuit challenging this unfair law.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “”The president did the right thing and just propelled gay rights into the 21st century, where it belongs. Our government finally recognizes what we knew 14 years ago — that the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ is a gross violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection before the law. DOMA betrays core American values of fairness, justice and dignity for all, and has no place in America. Our Constitution promises that the government will treat everyone equally. Today’s announcement is a recognition that gay people, too, are promised equal treatment under the law. Now it is only a matter of time before LGBT people in the United States will finally have full equality in our society.”

For the full post, go to President Obama says discriminatory defense marriage act unconstitutional.