Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Go with the flow

Trying yoga for the first time can be an intimidating experience. But that misses the point of this ancient practice that combines stretching, breath … and peace

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer

Some do it for their mind, some do it for their body, some do it for both. But all yoga students have one thing in common: Making the first step and taking up the practice. And while this age-old combination of stretching and breathing is meant to calm the mind and strengthen the muscles, a maiden voyage into a posterior-lifting position like downward-facing dog in a room full of strangers can send one’s heart racing. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

“People new to yoga should remember that everyone in class was a beginner at one point,” says Petri Brill, manager of YogaSport Dallas on Lemmon Avenue. “Yoga is a journey, not a destination. There is no perfect practice or perfect yogi or perfect yoga body. I think people worry about they’ll look [or] feel foolish in their first down-dog [and] that they’ll be judged. Our [yoga] community is diverse, encouraging and accepting: no judgment here!”

Mary Pierce Armstrong, who teaches at MarYoga, agrees that you should always look inward. “Yoga will come to meet you no matter where you are starting from. As long as you take the breath and the breaks you need, you will be doing awesome.”

For Wendy Moore, a 44-year-old yoga newbie, has taken these words of wisdom to the mat — literally. Moore recently completed her second MarYoga class as part of her new year regime. Any inhibitions she had about the experience were dispelled during her first visit.

“[I was] concerned about my general lack of bendy-ness, and not knowing where to put what arm and leg,” she says, “but if you look around you will figure out where your limbs are supposed to be by what others are doing.” Moore has continued to work on poses between classes with some slight variations mimicked by “what her cats are able to do.”

Keith Murray, a 37-year-old registered nurse, tried yoga for the first time more than eight years ago and was immediately hooked. He was taking classes three times a week before long. “I was a little intimidated about the whole thing at first,” he says, “but after my first couple of sessions my intimidation grew into excitement.”

A busy work schedule has kept Murray from his regular routine over the years, but he is trying to change that. “I still maintain a crazy life and work routine, but building yoga back into my life has really helped me to find balance again.”

According to yoga teacher Jennifer Lawson of SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing, it’s not just busy schedules and bundled nerves that keep people from the practice of yoga; it’s also our cultural fixation on success. “There tends to be so much emphasis on achievement and perfection that many of us are becoming accustomed to playing it safe in order to avoid the possibility of shame.”

Lawson recommends coming together as a group in a class with experienced and inexperienced yogis to create an environment that emphasizes the experience and process of yoga and not the destination or end result.

For Anisha Mandol, a 42-year-old business development manager who has been practicing yoga for about two years, these words ring true. “Once you understand your expectation from practicing, no one else’s matters. The benefits of yoga are fluid and dynamic, and each person has their own unique experience. Own yours,” she says.

And so it would seem that just as the journey of a million miles begins with one step, the journey toward a yoga-filled life begins with a single stretch on the matt (and maybe a little Namaste for good measure).

………………………………………………….

SAY NAMASTE: WHERE TO GET YOUR YOGA FIX

Options are plentiful for the budding yogi looking for a class. Get your stretch on at these studios in and around the gayborhood. You can also find information on their class offerings and schedules on their websites.

Yoga Sport Dallas
4140 Lemmon Ave, Suite 280
214-520-YOGA
YogaSportDallas.com

SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing
611 N. Bishop Ave.
214-843-3372
SyncDallas.com

MarYoga at Chi Studio
807 Fletcher St.
ChiDallas.com

Sunstone Yoga
2907 Routh St. (and other locations)
214-764-2119
SunstoneYoga.com

Gaia Flow Yoga Uptown
3000 Blackburn St., Suite 140B
214-235-1153
GaiaFlowYoga.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Houston Aeros’ Justin Fontaine suspended for anti-gay tweet

Justin Fontaine

Houston’s American Hockey League team, the Aeros, has suspended player Justin Fontaine for two games after a homophobic tweet from the right winger.

The suspension was handed down from the Aeros’ parent NHL team the Minnesota Wild, who issued a press statement apologizing for Fontaine’s “inappropriate” comment.

Fontaine has since removed the offending tweet and tweeted an apology, saying “Twitter rookie and it came out totally wrong. It was a roommate battle, nothing more.” Missing from Fontaine’s apology was any recognition that it is cruel to use a term for queer people to deride something.

The issue is not that Fontaine used a naughty word, or that he did it in a public venue. The issue is that Fontaine seems to think that words meaning LGBT people are synonyms for “a thing I don’t like.” It’s hard to imagine that that equation does not stem from a dislike for LGBT people.

—  admin

Canasta for a good cause, this Sunday at Tony’s Corner Pocket

The American novelist Mary McCarthy once quipped that Canasta has the advantage of “doing away with the bother of talk after dinner.” But the classic Uruguayan card came popular among the aged and experiencing a rebirth among hipsters has much more to offer. While Canasta may not have the high-stakes glamor of Baccarat, or the back-room luridness of Poker it harkens back to the halcyon days of the 1950′s when it was first introduced to the United States, with smartly dressed men and more smartly dressed cocktails. It’s that paen for a more stylish age that has caused this once nigh-forgotten game to experience a rebirth of late.

If you’ve caught the Canasta bug there’s an opportunity this Sunday, Feb. 12, to indulge in all the melds your heart can muster at Tony’s Corner Pocket  (817 West Dallas). Brunch and registration start at noon with “Pick a Partner” at 12:30. Then at 1 pm single elimination tournament play kicks off. Canasta is played with teams of two, but don’t worry if you don’t have a partner to come with you. Single players are welcomed. Registration is $10, with half of the proceeds going to the tournament winners and the other half benefiting Montrose Grace Place, a non-profit helping homeless youth.

Register early by e-mailing houstonglbtcanasta@yahoogroups.com

—  admin

Rev. Amy Delong, tried by Methodists for being a lesbian, to preach at Bering Memorial Methodist Church

Rev. Amy DeLong

Paperwork can be the bane of any job. For Rev. Amy Delong a simple annual report catapulted her into the maelstrom of the United Methodist Church’s debate on accepting LGBT people. DeLong visits Houston’s Bering Memorial United Methodist Church (1440 Harold) on Sunday, Feb. 12 to preach at both the 8:30 and 10:50 service.

In 2009 DeLong was approached by two women who wanted to get married. After conducting premarital counseling with the couple Delong agreed to perform the ceremony. As a clergy person, DeLong was required to report on her activities at the end of the year, including any weddings she had performed. She knew that the Methodist Church did not allow same-sex marriage but thought “I don’t know if anybody even reads these.” Boy, was she wrong!

With-in three days she was hauled into the her boss’s (the bishop) office. DeLong’s relationship with her partner Val was well known to her colleagues. “I’ve never had a bishop or a leader in the church or a pastor who didn’t know that I was gay,” says DeLong. “Everyone knows Val.” But the church was determined now to make an example of her, and DeLon’s relationship would now be an issue.

In 2011 DeLong was tried in the church’s court with violating the Methodist “Book of Discipline” by being in a same-sex relationship and by performing a same-sex wedding. During the trial she refused to answer pointed questions about her and her partner’s sex life. “No heterosexual couples are ever asked if they
still engage in genital contact in their marriages,” says DeLong. That refusal left the court with no evidence against her on the first charge.

She was convicted of performing the wedding and suspended from ministry for 20 days. The court also required DeLong to work with a group of ministers to prepare a statement on how to “help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an advesarial spirit or lead to future trails.” “This sentence is complicated,” says DeLong. “It doesn’t lend itself well to media soundbites. So a lot of folks have been saying to me ‘I can’t tell, is this penalty good?’” DeLong responds with a resounding “Yes!” Saying that she welcomes the opportunity to write, teach and study on a topic dear to her heart.

DeLong recalls that during that initial meeting in the bishop’s office one of the bishop’s assistants referred to her as a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” To which she responded “Val and I aren’t practicing any more… we are pretty good at it by now.” The assistant laughed. More than anything that is the impression one gets of DeLong: someone with a lot of humor and aplomb who is unwilling to back down from a fight for justice.

After the jump watch a clip of DeLong talking about her experience.

—  admin

Five queer alternatives to the Super Bowl

Yes, Yes… I know… plenty of gay men enjoy football, are fans even, and there are lots of LBT fans as well, but if you’re like me you greet all the hoopla over the Super Bowl with a resounding “meh.”

So if you’re looking for a way to avoid a (morning) afternoon (and evening (seriously, how long are football games supposed to be?)) of indecipherable sports jargon, over-hyped commercials and disproportionate passion for the accomplishment of moving dead pig parts 300 feet here are some alternatives with a decidedly queer bent you might enjoy (don’t worry, you can Tivo Madonna’s half time show):

1. ¡Women Art Revolution at The Museum of Fine Arts

Starting from its roots in 1960s in antiwar and civil rights protests, the film ¡Women Art Revolution details major developments in women’s art through the 1970s. The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston presents this documentary at 5 pm on Sunday at the The Museum of Fine Arts’ Brown Auditorium Theater (1001 Bissonnet). Artist Lynn Randolph and U of H art history professor Jenni Sorkin will be on hand to provide insight into the film

!W.A.R. features Miranda July, The Guerilla Girls, Yvonne Rainer, Judy Chicago, Yoko Ono, Cindy Sherman, and countless other groundbreaking figures. Tickets are $7 and are available at mfah.org.

2. The Rape of Lucrecia at Houston Grand Opera

Written by gay composer Benjamin Britten and scored by Ronald Duncan, The Rape of Lucrecia is set during the decline of the Roman Empire. When a group of soldiers unexpectedly returns home to Rome they find that their wives have all been unfaithful, with the excpection of Collatinus’ wife Lucretia. Later that night the king’s son, Prince Tarquinius, accepts a drunken dare to seduce Lucretia. After she rebuffs his advances Tarquinius forces himself on her spurring Collatinus to rebellion against the king.

The dialogue of the Opera (which is in English by the way) is punctuated by two choruses, one male and one female, who engage the audience in the emotional responses of the male and female characters respectively.

The Rape of Lucretia plays at the Houston Grand Opera (510 Preston) at 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets start at $38 and may be purchased at HoustonGrandOpera.org.

4. The Drunken City at the Rice University, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts

“The city’s like a monster, like a sleeping dragon or some dark creature in the night that cracks open an eye, and whispers dark dangerous dark ideas into your ear.”

The Drunken City is populated by thoroughly unpleasant people, the kind of loud sequin-wearing party girls who can immediately turn a hip bar passe and the men who hunt them. Marnie, the alpha-female and soon-to-be bride, has taken her co-worker bridesmaids out on the town for a ladies night. Seriously inebriated, they soon run into Frank and Eddie. Frank quickly takes a shine to Marnie, despite her girlfriends objections. Eddie, on the other hand, isn’t interested in any of the girls but seems to know their shared boss quite well (if you catch my drift). The play is sprinkled through with warnings about human desire and the dangers of consumption.

The Drunken City is presented by the Rice University College of Visual and Dramatic Arts at Hamman Hall on the Rice Campus (6100 Main) at 3 pm. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door or by calling 713-348-PLAY .

Steve Bullitt as Hay and Mitchell Greco as Gernreich

4. The Temperamentals at Barnvelder Movement/Arts Complex

The off-Broadway hit The Temperamentals, by Jon Marans, explores the events surrounding the founding of the Mattachine Society, one of the first “gay rights” groups in America (although the Society for Human Rights has it beat by a quarter of a century). The story centers on Harry Hay (Steve Bullitt), a communist and Progressive Party activist and his lover Rudi Gerneich (Mitchell Greco), a Viennese refuge and costume designer. Set in the early 1950′s in Los Angeles, the play is an intimate portrayal of two men who created history and the epic struggle they overcame.

Sunday’s curtain for the Celebration Theater produced play is at 3 pm at the Barnvelder Movement/Arts Complex. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased at buy.ticketstothecity.com.

5. Closing Night of Bring It On: The Musical at Theater Under the Stars

Bring It On: The Musical finishes up its run at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (800 Bagby Suite 300) on Sunday. Theater Under the Stars (TUTS) presents this musical re-imagining of the 2000 film with a matinee at 2 pm and an evening showing at 7 pm.

Two rival cheer-leading squads are out for the national championship, and neither is going to give up without a fight. The ensemble for the show features some of the nation’s most skilled competitive cheerleaders led by Taylor Louderman and Adrienne Warren as the leaders of the rival squads.

Tickets start at $24 and are available on-line at TUTS.com, by phone at (713) 558-TUTS (8887), or in person at the Theatre Under The Stars Box Office (800 Bagby).

—  admin

“Confessions of a Mormon Boy” at Theater LaB

Steven Fales

Steven Fales

Steven Fales (ironically pronounced “fails”) was born Mormon, sixth generation in fact, what he calls “Mormon DNA.” As a good Mormon boy he grew up, became a missionary, went to Brigham Young University, got married and had kids. The only problem being that Fales is gay. After a failed attempt at “reparative therapy” he was kicked out of the Mormon church, got divorced, moved to New York, became a prostitute and developed a crystal meth problem. If the story ended there Fales would be like any number of queer people injured by their intolerant upbringing and lost to a world only too willing to offer alternatives to healing, but the story didn’t end there. Fales, a trained actor, got his life together and started doing a stand-up comedy routine that eventually became his hit one-man play Confessions of a Mormon Boy.

More than just another tear-jerking coming out story, Confessions of a Mormon Boy connects the behaviors learned by growing up in an environment that tells people they will never be worthy of God’s love with the allure of chemical abuse. The play mixes pathos and tragedy with a very healthy dose of comedy (and it doesn’t hurt that former call-boy Fales is quite easy on the eyes).  Fales has written a story not just for the LGBT community, but also for the Mormon community of his youth (it’s played four times in Salt Lake City). For a play about prostitution and drug addiction Confessions of a Mormon Boy is neigh-on family friendly, containing no nudity or cursing.

Fales performs Confessions of a Mormon Boy at Theater LaB (1706 Alamo) Feb. 8-12. Tickets start at $25 and may be purchased by calling 713-868-7516.

After the jump watch Fales perform the opening monologue:

—  admin

If you like it build a museum to it, Houston may get Beyoncé monument

I'm sure the plans for the failed 555 ft "Spirit of Houston" statue are still in a drawer somewhere. Just make it more bootylicious and put a ring on it.

Hometown heroes have always been honored with monuments; from Hannibal, Missouri’s Mark Twain Museum to Cleveland’s memorial to President Garfield, from Atchison, Kansas’ Amelia Earhart museum, to Concord, Ohio’s John Glenn historic site. Pity Houston! Which scion of our fair burg will rise up from the shackles of obscurity to clasp the liberty of immortality that only a dedicated monument can bring?

Beyoncé Knowles, that’s who, at least according to two men who skyped with Fox 26 and are expecting the Mayor to endorse their plans any day now. Steve White and Marcus Mitchell of Armdeonce Ventures say they want to honor the newly minted musical mother with a “statue or museum.” According to Mitchell,

““Our biggest thing is a lot of people get honored when they die, so our goal is to why not honor people why they’re still here? We felt as though it’s her time to be honored. We wanted to construct, like, a massive hall so as the doors open, if you donated to the monument, you’ll have a separate nameplate.”

Armdeonce Ventures has offices in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Houston according to it’s website. The Beyoncé Monument is the only project currently listed on the site.

Watch the Fox 26 interview with the visionary twosome after the break.

—  admin

“Gen Silent” explores challenges facing the elderly LGBT community

Gen Silent PosterThere are almost 38 million LGBT Americans over the age of 65. This number is expected to double by 2030. Yet in a Fenway Institute study fifty percent of nursing home workers said that their co-workers are intolerant of LGBT people. That collision of a rapidly aging queer population and a nursing home system ill-prepared to serve them is explored in Gen Silent, a documentary showing at the GLBT Cultural Center (401 Branard) on Thursday, January 26, at 6:30 pm.

Gen Silent, from award-winning director and documentary filmmaker Stu Maddux, follows six LGBT seniors as they struggle to make decisions about their twilight years. These seniors put a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors so afraid of discrimination in long-term health care that many go back into the closet.

Gen Silent startlingly discovers how oppression in the years before Stonewall now leaves many elders not just afraid but dangerously isolated and at risk on not receiving medical care. The film shows the wide range in quality of paid caregivers –from those who are specifically trained to make LGBT seniors feel safe, to the other end of the spectrum, where LGBT elders face discrimination, neglect or abuse, including shocking bed-side attempts by staff to persuade seniors to give up their “sinful” lifestyles.

This free screening will be followed by a call-to-action and panel discussion with some of Houston’s GLBT senior leaders.

View the trailer for Gen Silent after the break.

—  admin

Araguz booking raises questions about Harris County jail’s treatment of transgender inmates

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

According to the Houston Chronicle, Nikki Araguz has been booked into the Harris County Jain after arriving 40 minutes late for a scheduled court appearance on Friday. The court date was to allow Araguz to plead guilty to charges that she stole a watch from an acquaintance last year. Under the proposed plea bargain Araguz would have paid $2,600 in restitution and served 15 days in county jail. State District Judge Vanessa Velasquez, a Republican first appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry, responded to Araguz’ apologies for her tardiness with “It’s too late for sorry,” ordering bailiffs to escort her to a hold cell next to the courtroom.

Araguz is the widow of firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz who died in the line of duty last year. Capt. Araguz’s ex-wife and mother have sued to claim the portion of his survivor’s benefits reserved for the spouses of slain firefighters, claiming that since Nikki Araguz was identified as male at birth the marriage was invalid under Texas’ laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriage. Mrs. Araguz’s birth certificate identifies her as female, as does her state issued identification.

Araguz’s booking has raised questions about the Harris County’s treatment of transgender detainees. The Sheriff Department’s Public Information Inquiry System listed Araguz using her male birth name on Friday. They have since removed the name from the site’s searchable database but have retained the record, listing it under the department’s “special person number” (SPN) filing system. The SPN record includes Araguz’s birth name. The Sheriff’s office has not returned calls from Houstini asking why the department is not using Araguz’s legal name and if this is common practice.

According to a friend who has visited Araguz at the jail her identity bracelet correctly identifies her gender as “F” – but reflects Araguz’s birth name, not her legal name. Araguz is segregated from the general jail population, but can receive visitors during regular visiting hours.

Araguz will remain in the Harris County Jail until Jan 25 when she is scheduled to appear again before Judge Velasquez.

—  admin