Equality Texas announced Samantha Smoot has taken the helm as the interim executive director, following the departure of current CEO and longtime champion Chuck Smith.
“Next year is the 30th Anniversary of Equality Texas. I have been with the organization for half that time. The Board and I have decided it’s time for a new generation of leadership to take us to the next step in our fight for equality in Texas. I am honored to pass the leadership of the organization on to Samantha Smoot, a native Texan and global leader in the fight for equality,” said Chuck Smith.
As CEO, Smith led the growth in programs to help LGBTQ Texans, oversaw the expansion of staff statewide, created a business outreach program that is a model for the country, gave transgender people a visible voice, defeated the bathroom bill twice during the 2017 legislative session and passed anti-bullying legislation in 2011.
“We are at a critical chapter in our fight for equal treatment of all Texans,” said Elizabeth Myers, President of the Equality Texas Foundation Board. “For 15 years, Chuck has served our organization, establishing Equality Texas as a credible, successful, and relentless advocate in Texas state politics. We are confident that Sam will continue that momentum and lead us to future victories for LGBTQ Texans.”
Smoot brings 20 years of experience leading citizen advocacy campaigns to the Equality Texas organization. She has served as Political Director of both the Planned Parenthood Federation for America and the Human Rights Campaign, as well as the Executive Director for Texas Freedom Network. More recently, she has fought to support citizen groups and political leaders as they build more inclusive democracies through her work in the Middle East and North Africa, West Africa, and Eurasia with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
“I am honored to serve as the interim executive director of Equality Texas during the 2019 state legislative session, and I look forward to working with the leadership team, staff, volunteers and donors to ensure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Texans,” said Smoot. “Through political action, education, and community organizing, we will continue to drive positive change and fight against systemic discrimination.”
The Board of Directors expresses gratitude to Smith for his dedication and vital role as a pioneer for Equality Texas and welcome Smoot’s proven leadership for the 2019 Texas Legislative Session.
Source: Press release
Unite The Fight 2019
The Equality Alliance returns with its third annual Unite The Fight “black tie” gala event on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the Hilton Austin, complete with hostess Shangela, the red carpet, a huge silent auction, and the highly-anticipated main event as eight amateur drag contestants lip sync for their rights and the coveted title of Miss Unite the Fight. “Every year, The Equality Alliance hosts our Unite the Fight Gala to raise money for non-profit organizations who are on the front lines every day fighting for equality and basic human rights for the LGBTQ community,” explained Monica Painter, Executive Director of The Equality Alliance.
“At the gala, the charities briefly speak about what they do in our community and ways people can plug in and help,” Painter added. This year’s beneficiaries are:
- Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation
- KIND Clinic
- Out Youth
- Transgender Education Network of Texas
“To add some fun to the mix, eight people [who have never considered doing drag in their life] are paired with a professional drag queen,” explained Painter. “The amateur queens practice drag for months and then they perform on the night of the gala in front of 1,000 people to compete for the crown of Miss Unite The Fight. We always say: ‘People come all dressed up in their fanciest clothes to support charity and leave with laryngitis from screaming for their favorite contestant.’ We have found this combination to be a perfect mix of philanthropy and fun!”
This year’s contestants walking the catwalk and the chance at the title of Miss Unite The Fight, (along with their mentors) are:
- Veronica Castelo + Jack Rabid
- Bobby Cook + Sabel Scities
- Christopher Davis + Vylette Ward
- Kelvin Glover + Scarlett Kiss
- Cody Kinsfather + Colleen Deforrest
- Sandy McIlree + Vegas Van Cartier
- Matt Moffit + Alysha Pretty
- Emmanuel Winston + Maeve Haven
The title of Miss Unite The Fight isn’t the only award up for grabs. Thanks to red carpet sponsor, Chappy, judges will be on the red carpet with awards handed out throughout the night for attendees presenting head-turning looks upon arrival. Categories include:
- “The Beyonce” for sparkliest
- “The Grace Kelly” for classic beauty
- “The Gender Bender” for binary realness
- “The Cher” for most over the top
- “The OMGaga” for the Grand Prize
“Not only are LGBTQ+ events important as it raises awareness towards critical issues within our marginalized community, but Unite the Fight is near and dear to our hearts as it is an Austin-based event, which is now our hometown,” said Chappy Co-Founder and Head of Brand Sam Dumas. “We are so excited to participate in this event as a red carpet sponsor and we are honored to work side-by-side with an organization that aligns so closely to our core principals of equality, empowerment, commitment to safe spaces, and values that align across all sexualities and genders.”
In addition to the silent auction with over 100 items up for mobile bidding, this year features a raffle for a 3-year lease on a 2019 Mercedes C-300 Cabriolet (or a $20,000 credit towards the purchase of a new car) from Mercedes-Benz of Austin. The raffle is limited to only 500 tickets.
The official after party for the Unite The Fight gala will be hosted by Oilcan Harry’s on 4th Street, in the Warehouse District.
El Paso Democrat Sen. José Rodríguez Announces Retirement
Rodríguez, who was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29, said he would retire from the Senate at the end of this term in January 2021.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune
Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout
State Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection to the upper chamber in 2020.
Rodriguez informed El Paso colleagues of his decision in a text late Thursday night that was obtained by The Texas Tribune. He said he would make the announcement at “noon tomorrow at my office.”
“I started my tenure in the Senate with one of the worst budgets in the state’s modern history,” Rodríguez said in a written announcement on his retirement. “Fortunately, my last session was one where state leaders finally gave long overdue attention to our public schools.”
Rodríguez was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29. The district, which hugs the Texas-Mexico border, is considered historically Democratic; it covers El Paso, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.
The senator’s retirement announcement comes a day after the Senate Democratic Caucus announced that Rodríguez would step down as chair at the end of the year. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, will replace him at the post.
It’s unclear who all will announce bids for Rodríguez’s seat. One potential candidate could be state Rep. César Blanco, a fellow El Paso Democrat who serves as chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
More Algae Tests Positive for Neurotoxins
Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week.
Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present.
In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.
“Barking Springs” at the spillway of Barton Springs Pool is upstream of this area. Water at Barking Springs is cold and flows from Barton Springs and Barton Creek. At this time, we believe people and pets can continue to swim in this area at their own risk. They should avoid going downstream to areas with floating algae. They should be aware that bacteria is always a concern in smaller waterways where there is a high concentration of dogs.
Previously, algae in Barton Creek downstream of Barton Springs appeared to be a mix of harmless green algae. However, the most recent samples showed a low presence of blue green algae in the Barton Creek area of Lady Bird Lake. These samples did test positive for neurotoxins. This is a reminder that the situation is evolving and can change rapidly. Watershed Protection will be taking more samples for testing tomorrow.
The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks.
On Sunday, August 4, the City of Austin warned residents not to allow their pets to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after being told that a dog had died from possible exposure to harmful algae. Since then, the City has been told about three other dogs who have died after swimming in the lake.
On Monday, August 5, the City was able to confirm the presence of algae that could produce a neurotoxin.
Drinking water remains unaffected by this situation. Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.
Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:
- Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
- Foaming at the mouth
- Jaundice, hepatomegaly
- Blood in urine or dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Photosensitization in recovering animals
- Abdominal tenderness
- Progression of muscle twitches
- Respiratory paralysis
The amount of toxins the dog ingests and licking of the fur are factors.
In people, possible health effects include:
- Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
- Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
- Respiratory signs or symptoms
- Neurologic signs or symptoms
- Ear symptoms
- Eye irritation
Austin Public Health routinely tracks emergency department visits. We have not seen any increases in unusual conditions that may be related to exposure to the water. APH will continue to monitor.
If members of the public have questions or concerns, please have them call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000.
Source: City of Austin website
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