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Joaquin Castro: Ready for his close-up
QSanAntonio, January 14, 2012

When Congressman Charlie Gonzalez said he would not seek re-election, San Antonio's LGBT community lost a strong ally.

Not only was Gonzalez an advocate in Congress, he was a regular at Stonewall Democrat events, he helped raise funds for the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, he was honored by the Human Rights Campaign, he marched yearly in the Pride Parade.

Now that State Representative Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is running for Gonzalez' seat many in the gay community are wondering what type of ally he is going to be.

Unlike some of his fellow San Antonio colleagues in the legislature, like Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, Rep. Mike Villarreal or Rep. Joe Farias, Castro has never been a regular at LGBT events or participated in the Pride Parade, not even when his twin brother, Mayor Julian Castro, led the march as Grand Marshal in 2009.

While no one has questioned whether Castro will do the right thing if he's elected to Congress, his low profile has left many LGBT leaders wondering where he's been.

"I'm hoping and expecting to be very supportive and also more visible as we go forward," Castro told QSanAntonio in an interview.

"For the last decade or 11 years, I was burning the candle at both ends cause I was doing two jobs basically," referring to the legal practice with his brother and his work in the legislature.

"Then, when my brother ran for mayor, I was helping him and one of us was always running. It has been a bit of a whirlwind." Now that he's running for Congress, Castro has stopped practicing law because he wants to focus on "campaigning and public policy."

Castro does not recall being invited to participate in the Pride Parade because, he says, "I would have and I will." He adds that despite his low visibility at LGBT events, he has the community's issues at heart.

"I've made it very clear on the campaign trail that I would be somebody that would sign on to the bill that would repeal DOMA, that I support marriage equality. Certainly had I been in the Congress in the last few years, I would have supported the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell" he says.

Eight years in the Texas Legislature

In assessing Castro's time in the State Legislature, gay political activists point to two bills, one presented in 2003 and the other in 2005, that basically eliminated the possibility that same-sex marriage would be recognized in Texas.

In 2003, in the vote on SB7 (often referred to as the Texas DOMA), which barred Texas from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions conducted in other states, Castro was marked "Absent" for the vote and, unlike some of his colleagues, he did not offer any official remarks as to what his vote would have been.

In 2005, the legislature voted on HJR6 which put Proposition 2, the anti-gay marriage amendment, on the ballot. In that instance Castro voted "Present Not Voting."

In looking back on his 2003 vote, Castro says, "That was a very difficult vote for me. It was never a matter or question of whether I supported what the Republicans were trying to do. I never supported them. But as a freshman I do think I was worried about my standing in my district back then."

Castro was elected in 2003 to represent District 125, a swing district which he says is only about half Democrat.

Castro says that on the topic of marriage equality, "We're in a lot better place in terms of public policy now certainly more that we were in 2003 and 2005. I would point out that this issue has evolved a lot since then. And, credit for that really goes to the gay community and all of its work, both in educating the public and also in pushing the issue. That makes a big difference."

"If I could go back to '03 and '05, I would make those solid 'No' votes. I mean, that's always where my heart has been," he says. "But I can't go back, I can only go forward and I've been very clear about my commitments going forward."

Castro says he is asking that the LGBT community to do something he did not see happen as strongly back in 2003 or 2005.

"When somebody does make a commitment to you, and I would say this to any community on any issue -- when a politician makes a commitment to you, that you absolutely hold him accountable to that commitment before he votes."

In discussing Castro's run for Congress with QSanAntonio, Dan Graney, President of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus said, "Although I was disappointed that Joaquin did not have the courage to vote 'no' on both Texas DOMA and the anti-gay constitutional marriage amendment while he served in the state legislature, I am now convinced that he has evolved on the issue of marriage equality and am hopeful that he will emerge as a strong champion of LGBT equality if and when he is elected to Congress."

On other issues affecting our community, Castro has been decidedly pro-gay.

In 2004, when Reps. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, filed bills to ban the placement of children into gay or lesbian households, Castro cast his vote against the measure.

"In 2007, I carried a bill to expand the hate crime laws in Texas that had to do with punishment and what I perceived to be a loophole in the law," he says. "Of course that bill was not fated to turn out very well because of the majority in the legislature."

Castro also was active on an issue that emerged in the last session of the legislature. "This year, on the floor of the House of Representatives, I led the charge against Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) who, if you remember, wanted to defund not just gay and lesbian centers (at state colleges) but any centers that essentially did anything else besides address Christian values. I fought him on that twice this session."

Joaquin Castro with members of his campaign staff. (Photo by Lauryn Farris)

Unfinished work lies ahead in Congress

If Castro is elected to fill Congressman Gonzalez' shoes, he will have a lot of work ahead on two important issues: Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and passing and an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes gender identity and expression.

Six states currently allow same-sex couples to marry. However, because of DOMA same-sex couples married in those states are not eligible for federal benefits extended to heterosexual couples.

One issue that has emerged for same-sex couples is with adoption and foster-care agencies operated by religious organizations which get public funding and yet don't want to offer services to these couples. Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois decided to shut down most of the Catholic Charities' adoption agencies in the state rather than acknowledge gay couples.

"If they're taking public money, then the public sets the baselines through the law, and they should abide by it," says Castro.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act presents another set of challenges because many in Congress who would vote for such a measure are hesitant to include gender identity and expression as a protected class.

When asked if an inclusive ENDA could be passed, Castro replied:

"I support that legislation and I do think it's possible. A lot of it has to do with Americans' understanding of this issue. I really believe that this is a civil rights issue and over the years, just as other groups have pushed for full civil rights, I think that the gay community is getting closer and closer but not quite there yet, obviously. Along with that push comes greater understanding among not just the public but the politicians also. So I do feel that in the coming years, there is the potential to make that happen."

'There's two of us'

In speaking to Castro, one gets the impression that though he's been campaigning for six months, he's still adjusting to the added attention he gets now that he's running for Congress.

"It's not like being a city councilman or mayor," he says, explaining that since his work in the legislature took place in Austin and for only five months every two years, he never had to spend much time in the limelight.

"Before, people knew there were two of us," he says, referring to his brother. "Now, they're really gonna know there's two of us."

Mayor Julian Castro is much admired by San Antonio's LGBT community not only because he was the first mayor to march in the Pride Parade but also because he led the fight to give domestic partnership benefits to city employees including same-sex couples.

"Believe me," says Castro, "my heart is exactly where Julian's is. He and I talk about the issues all the time. You can imagine."

As he begins his run for Congress, Castro says he has a message for his LGBT constituents: "Anytime you think there's an issue that's bubbling up and you think it's something I need to know about, or Julian needs to know about, please let us know. Just reach out to us and we'll be responsive."

In run for congress, Johnson invokes memory of Henry B.
QSanAntonio.com, January 28, 2012
In an interview with QSanAntonio, District 20 Congressional primary candidate Ezra Johnson talks about strengthening Social Security, achieving marriage equality and why he's a better candidate than Joaquin Castro.