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Democratic National Convention Coverage

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At National Convention, Texas’ LGBT Democrats Show Their Strength Tuesday, September 4, 4:32 p.m. EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—When the roll call came for Texas at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Caucus meeting in Charlotte at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the applause was louder and lasted longer than perhaps any other state.

With 33 LGBT members, Texas came behind only California (76), Florida (40) and New York (36).

The DNC has 551 total LGBT delegates, according to organizers.

Texas’s fourth-highest total didn’t come as a surprise to Eli Olivarez, president of the Stonewall Democrats, the official LGBT caucus of the Texas Democratic Party.

“We are united in Texas,” he said, and ticked off reasons why. In June, Texas became the first Southern state party to pass marriage equality in its Democratic Party platform. Also, the state party has a new chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, who has opened state Democratic Party programs to LGBT groups, which is a departure from years past, Olivarez said.

That’s led to an unprecedented LGBT statewide community outreach program between the Stonewall Democrats and the state party. The program, called “Come Out and Vote,” is registering voters and asking them to flood the polls on October 27, the only Saturday early-voting day Texas.

The group is hoping for 10,000 votes to come from the push.

“That will determine how strong we are, then we can go back to the party and the state and say ‘We can make a difference; we can also help you decide an election, so bring us to the table and speak to us,’” Olivarez said.

As Democrats from across the country milled around just before the LGBT caucus meeting began in an upstairs room in the Charlotte Convention Center, members of the Lone Star State delegation were hard to miss.

Omar Navarez, the 38-year-old president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, was working a corner of the room. His group is the largest LGBT Democratic club in the state. An elected delegate from Senate District 15, Navarez says the state’s 33 delegates representing the LGBT community (out of 288 total state delegates) is a record for Texas.

This year represents the first time Democrats have put a marriage equality plank in the national platform. Navarez said he’ll be proud to cast a vote tonight for it on the convention floor. (The national Republican Party platform approved last week in Tampa endorses a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.)

“We’re not there,” he said when it comes to equality rights nationwide. “But [Obama] is getting us to the steps where we need to go forward for full equality and the recognition of our civil rights.”

Johnny Shelton, a 65-year-old from Texas City, shook his head and chuckled when talking about how the Texas Democratic Party put a marriage equality plank in its own platform.

“It’s the first time in Texas anything like that has ever happened,” he said. “Obviously in Texas things are changing, whether the red-state people want to admit it or not.”

He has a point.

The sheriff of Dallas, Lupe Valdez, who took office in 2004, is openly gay. And in 2009, voters in Texas made history when they elected the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, Annise Parker, to run Houston.

Carol Cappa, a delegate from Fort Worth, says many LGBT members play a big role at the precinct level in Texas Democratic politics. “We have such a desire to go blue that we know that’s the way we’ve got to do it is get involved at the local level,” she says.

Daniel Graney, past president of the Stonewall Democratic Caucus, said he hoped San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro would mention marriage equality in his keynote DNC speech this evening. “I think he will,” Graney said.

Outside the caucus room was Dennis Coleman, former director of Equality Texas, a statewide LGBT lobbying organization. Coleman, who was not at the DNC as a delegate, says the LGBT community working within the state Democratic Party infrastructure is happening more now in Texas than ever before.

Democrats nationally worry that a presidential administration made up of Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will claw back rights for the LGBT community.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a similar point in her remarks to the LGBT caucus.

“The passage of the Affordable Care Act is the most significant health issue for LGBT Americans, no question about it,” she said, adding that a Romney-Ryan administration would attempt to repeal the healthcare reform law.

Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the U.S. government is beginning to collect health data on LGBT health needs, she said. And she had a question for the pro-LGBT crowd.

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” she asked to rousing cheers.

Corey Hutchins is a reporter for the Columbia Free Times covering South Carolina politics. He won the 2011 South Carolina Press Association’s award for Journalist of the Year. He last wrote for the Observer about Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman.