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Smithsonian Receives Matthew Shepard Collection

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The Smithsonian‘s National Museum of American History received a donation of papers and personal objects from the parents of Matthew Shepard, a young, gay college student who died of severe injuries following a vicious attack in October 1998 when he was a student at the University of Wyoming, Laramie.

Judy and Dennis Shepard donated papers, photographs and notebooks representing the everyday life of their son from elementary school through college, as a participant in local theater productions and as an international traveler. The collection also includes condolence cards and correspondence the Shepards received following his death. In addition to the archival materials, a number of objects serve as a poignant reminder of Shepard’s life as an average American boy: a child-sized Superman cape, sandals, a purple ribbon award he received at school and a wedding ring he purchased in anticipation of one day meeting his soulmate.

“Twenty years is a long time in human years but only a blink in history. Yet it seems like only a moment ago that the country was shocked by the brutal killing of Matt Shepard,” said Katherine Ott, curator at the museum. “The materials donated by his parents, Judy and Dennis, will allow a deeper understanding not only of that time and how people responded and grieved but also the historical vulnerability of LGBTQ people.”

“For 20 years, we have tried to share the meaning of our son’s life, as well as his dreams for a kinder, more accepting and loving world,” said Judy Shepard, speaking for the Shepard family. “While we always have our family memories, it is deeply comforting to know the Smithsonian will preserve his story for future generations. We cannot think of a better way to honor Matt’s life and legacy.”

Matthew Wayne Shepard was born Dec. 1, 1976 in Casper, Wyoming. Shepard spent his childhood and teenage years in Casper and participated in various local theatrical productions. In his junior year of high school, the family moved to Saudi Arabia for his father’s new job with ARAMCO. Shepard returned to the United States after graduating from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and lived in North Carolina and Colorado before attending the University of Wyoming during the 1998-1999 school year.

On Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard became the victim of a vicious attack during which he was taken from a bar, tied to a fence, robbed and pistol-whipped. Abandoned in near freezing temperatures, he was discovered 18 hours later by a cyclist. Shepard succumbed to his injuries on Oct. 12.

His killing made headlines around the world and resulted in an outpouring of grief and anger that people channeled into poetry, songs and musical compositions, a major motion picture, The Matthew Shepard Story, and at least two plays, The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Materials related to these are included in the collection.

Students from The School of Theater, George Mason University College of Visual and Performing Arts presented a brief selection from The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project during the donation ceremony.

Materials from the National Museum of American History’s LGBTQ collections date back to the 19th century. Objects in the collections include a selection of protest signs from gay civil rights activist Frank Kameny, Billie Jean King’s tennis dress, the first transgender pride flag and HIV- and AIDS-related lab equipment and medications. The archival collections are rich in ephemera, oral histories, photographs, posters and entertainment publicity materials. The museum has mounted a number of LGBTQ history displays over the years, including two marking the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, and a showcase exhibit on the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

This donation will join the museum’s permanent holdings of some 1.8 million objects and three shelf-miles of archival collections. While there are no immediate plans for an exhibit, the materials will preserved for future generations. They will be available to researchers and filmmakers, and may be included in future exhibitions.

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Texas

Amazon Picks Crystal City and New York for HQ2, Snubbing Texas

The long-awaited decision comes more than a year after Amazon announced the public bidding war in September 2017.

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Illustration by Todd Wiseman / Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

In the end, there were two, and neither was in Texas.

Amazon announced Tuesday morning that it will build its second and third headquarters in New York and Crystal City, Virginia — a blow to Texas, a state fiercely proud of its business-friendly reputation that boasted two cities on the tech giant’s short list of 20 potential picks.

Since September 2017, when the tech giant announced it was searching for a home for its “HQ2” — a multi-billion dollar capital investment expected to create as many as 50,000 new jobs — Texas pledged to compete aggressively, and some cities went “all-in” on the wooing efforts. Austin and Dallas made the January 2018 cut for Amazon’s shortlist, a trim that eliminated some 200 other bids, including one each from Houston and tiny Milam County in Central Texas.

Ultimately, the company opted to split that prize into two, with 25,000 jobs each intended for New York’s Long Island City and Virginia’s Crystal City. Nashville will also become a home to an Amazon “operations center of excellence,” with more than 5,000 jobs, Amazon announced Tuesday.

Throughout the 14-month bidding war, Texas officials had projected confidence about the state’s ability to attract top businesses; in March, the state won a Site Selection magazine award for attracting investments, its sixth consecutive victory. In television interviews, Gov. Greg Abbott boasted about the state’s “built-in” advantages for attracting big tech.

Both Austin and Dallas were considered top contenders for HQ2, winning top billing in a host of rankings. Austin, a burgeoning tech hub in its own right, boasts the state’s flagship university campus and a relaxed culture attractive to young professionals — but its relatively small airport, poor transit system and rising rents may have hurt its chances. Dallas, on the other hand, is a bigger city with a world-class airport. Experts expected it could more easily absorb the enormous influx of new workers — but some speculated that it lacked a “cool factor” Amazon sought to attract top talent.

And experts had cautioned since the beginning of the bidding process that Texas’ conservative social policies might hurt its chances with the young, largely liberal tech company, whose owner, Jeff Bezos, has championed gay rights. A group of activists launched a “No Gay No Way” campaign, calling on the tech giant to reject any states with policies unfriendly to the LGBTQ community.

After the news broke Tuesday morning, Austin’s chamber of commerce said in a statement that “the fundamentals that made Austin a top 20 finalist and have helped our city be a leader in job generation — our incredible talent and lifestyle—haven’t changed.”

“Make no mistake, this has been a ‘win’ for our region regardless of the outcome,” said Dale Petroskey, CEO and President of the Dallas Regional Chamber. “Our business community grows and expands by the day, and our momentum as a destination of choice has only increased as a result of being a finalist for HQ2.”

Amazon said in its announcement that it may receive more than $2 billion in tax incentives from the two locations. Dallas offered the company up to $600 million in incentives, not including the state’s contribution, according to a summary of the bid the city released Tuesday. Austin has not disclosed its offer.

Abbott told Fox News earlier this year that Texas would “be stepping up and providing some incentives,” though it would not “give away the farm.”

Those state-level incentives have not been disclosed publicly, but likely fell in the nine-figure range. Documents released as part of Houston’s failed bid showed the city had offered $268 million in incentives, including the state’s contribution. Arlington, which released its bid after being eliminated from contention, had offered $921 million, a figure that did not appear to include a contribution from the state.

Disclosure: The Austin Chamber of Commerce has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Elections 2018

In Texas, “Rainbow Wave” Outpaces the Blue One

Fourteen of 35 LGBTQ candidates won their races Tuesday night, and activists say the 2018 election will carve a path for a future “rainbow wave” in Texas.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Fourteen of the 35 gay, bisexual and transgender candidates who ran for office in Texas during the midterms claimed victory Tuesday night — a 40 percent success rate in deep-red Texas — and national and state activists say they’re confident this election cycle carved a path for a future “rainbow wave” in Texas.

The historic number of Texas candidates who ran for offices from governor down to city council positions joined a record-shattering rank of more than 400 LGBTQ individuals on national midterm ballots this year.

“It shows that politics are changing and that more LGBTQ people feel comfortable to step out and run openly,” said Sean Meloy, political director at Victory Fund, a Washington D.C.-based LGBTQ group that fundraised for several Texas races.

LGBTQ candidates had plenty of fuel to inspire their campaigns and galvanize supporters, from Texas’ controversial “bathroom bill” to the Trump administration’s plans to eliminate “transgender” from legal terms.

Julie Johnson, a lesbian candidate from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, defeated Republican incumbent Matt Rinaldi of Irving; LGBTQ candidate Jessica González ran uncontested for a Dallas-area seat after defeating state Rep. Roberto Alonzo in the Democratic primary; and Erin Zwiener, a bisexual House candidate, won a Central Texas seat by defeating Republican Ken Strange. They will more than double the number of openly LGBTQ women in the Texas House of Representatives.

In Harris County, five LGBTQ judicial candidates defeated Republican incumbents Tuesday. Jason Cox, Jerry Simoneaux, Shannon Baldwin, James Kovach and Beau Miller will join the three openly gay judges in Houston. Charles Spain, a gay man, also won a seat on the 14th Court of Appeals over Republican incumbent Marc Brown.

“I think we are on a new path,” said Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, an Austin-based LGBTQ nonprofit. “[One] that demonstrates equality is a mainstream value and that extremists who seek to oppose equality are not in the mainstream.”

Perhaps the most recognizable LGBTQ candidate in Texas, Lupe Valdez, garnered national attention as the first openly gay candidate and first Latina to win a major party nomination in a Texas gubernatorial race. Valdez, a Democrat and former Dallas County sheriff, lost to Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott by 13 points on Tuesday.

Valdez talked frequently about her race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic background during the election.

“I’m Hispanic, female, lesbian, Democrat,” Valdez said in an interview with the Tribune in May. “Diversity is what made this country strong. Diversity is what will make Texas strong.”

In Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones — a former Air Force intelligence officer, Iraq War veteran and lesbian candidate — fought incumbent U.S. Congressman Will Hurd to a virtual tie. Hurd remained less than a percentage point ahead of Ortiz Jones on Wednesday morning and the race is still too close to call.

Meloy, whose Victory Fund organization contributed nearly $9,000 to Ortiz Jones’ campaign and raised more than $53,000 on her behalf, said Ortiz Jones’ run represents a historic moment that gives hope to those fighting for equality.

“I think it represents not only her perseverance but that a queer woman of color who is also a veteran should not be underestimated,” Meloy said.

Below is the complete list of winning candidates (candidates with an asterisk won re-election).

  • Erin Zwiener, Texas House, District 45
  • Celia Israel, Texas House, District 50*
  • Mary González, Texas House District 75*
  • Jessica González, Texas House, District 104
  • Julie Johnson, Texas House, District 115
  • Charles Spain, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 4
  • Shannon Baldwin, Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 4
  • Jerry Simoneaux, Harris County Probate Court-at-Law No. 1
  • Jason Cox, Harris County Probate Court-at-Law No. 3
  • James Kovach, Harris County Civil Court-at-Law No. 2
  • Rosie Gonzalez, Bexar County Court-at-Law No. 13
  • Tonya Parker, 116th Judicial District, Harris County*
  • Beau Miller, 190th Judicial District, Harris County
  • Sara Martinez, Dallas County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1*

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Austin

Austin Lifts City-Wide Boil Water Notice

After seven days of boiling their water, Austin Water customers are once again allowed to consume water directly from the tap.

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The Ullrich Water Treatment Plant is one of three City of Austin plants that draws water from the Colorado River. Photo credit: Bob Daemmrich/The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

After seven days of requiring residents in America’s 11th largest city to boil water and warning them of a potential shortage without reduced consumption, Austin Water officially lifted its boil water notice Sunday afternoon. The notice went into effect following heavy rain and flooding in Central Texas. The severe weather caused elevated levels of silt and debris in the water supply and treatment systems could not keep up. 

The city warned residents that “immediate action” was necessary to avoid running out of water. Customers were asked to stop outside water use, such as watering their lawns or washing cars, and were encouraged to limit indoor use as much as possible. 

On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality determined that the turbidity — or the water’s cloudiness — exceeded standards. Austin Water was officially required by TCEQ regulations to issue a boil water notice, a precaution the utility had already taken. 

Mary Jo Kirisits, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said Austin Water was right to issue a boil water notice when they did. She said the intensity and duration of recent storms contributed to increased sediment levels entering the city’s water treatment plants. 

“These plants were designed to handle a certain, reasonable range of water quality, but the quality of the water entering these plants in the last several days represents an extreme event,” said Kirisits, an expert in drinking water treatment. “This is a situation that we do not see very often, where the concentration of particles entering the plant is much higher than usual for multiple days.” 

By Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler signed a formal disaster declaration for the city, which formalizes collaboration among local and regional entities. Adler tweeted that he issued the declaration “to help with reimbursement & procurement.” 

That includes reimbursement for any costs incurred as a result of the emergency, such as overtime pay for first responders, according to the Travis County Judge’s office. Costs would be recouped from the state and federal level. The declaration will continue for one week from Oct. 25, unless it is renewed by the Austin City Council. The disaster declaration will still continue even when the boil water notice is lifted, according to Angel Flores, a spokesman for the city. 

“It is up to the federal government whether we qualify for reimbursement,” Flores said. “At this time, it is too early to tell how much we may be reimbursed.” 

In the same declaration, Adler also activated the City of Austin Emergency Operations Plan. Activation of the plan brings all necessary parties under one roof at the Combined Transportation and Emergency Communications Center on Old Manor Road. This allows city, state and federal officials to better coordinate emergency response efforts. 

During the boil water notice, the City of Austin set up water distribution centers for people unable to boil water, those who needed it for work and those with special needs. Sites included Dick Nichols Park, the Onion Creek Soccer Complex, Circuit of The Americas and Walnut Creek Park, among other locations. 

With no rain in the immediate forecast, the city’s water treatment plants are now able to process more water, according to a city statement issued Thursday. It is unclear how long it will be until the plants are running at full capacity. Normally, Austin Water can process more than 300 million gallons per day. 

Disclosure: Steve Adler and The University of Texas at Austin have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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