Public input sought on non-discrimination amendment effort

Fairness Works Houston, a new organization formed to pass a proposed non-discrimination charter amendment in Houston, will hold a public meeting this Saturday, Feb. 25, to seek public input. As previously reported by Houstini, the proposed charter amendment, which is still being drafted, will remove discriminatory language added to the city charter in 1985 and 2001 and make it a crime to deny employment, housing or public accommodation to a person because of their “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The meeting, scheduled for 1 pm at the GLBT Cultural Center (401 Branard) in rooms 112/113, looks to identify community resources that can be used both topass the amendment and to gather the 20,000 signatures that will be needed to place the amendment on the November ballot. Scheduled speakers include Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and Jenifer Rene Poole who chairs the Caucus’ committee on the proposed amendment.

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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

What’s Shakin’ – Siriano at Galleria, Voter turnout continues to lag

Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano

1. As previously reported by Houstini, Project Runway Season 5 winner Christian Siriano’s coming to the Houston Galleria Payless Shoe store today to show off his expanded Payless collection, including an assortment of shoes and handbags. Siriano will be available for photos with his “fierce” -ly loyal fans. The posing and pouting kick off at 5 pm at the Galleria, 5061 Westheimer Road.

2. Voter turnout continues to be paltry. So far 40,189 people have voted, only 71% of the 55,152 who had voted by this point during the 2009 municipal elections.  Early voting continues through November 4.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

3. Yesterday Rep. Todd Akin, R – MO, who successfully introduced an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year which would prohibit same-sex marriages from being performed on U.S. military bases, delivered a letter to the Senate calling on them to pass similar legislation.  The letter was signed by 86 members of the 435 member House, including 7 Texans, all Republicans: Mike Conaway, Francisco Canseco, Louie Gohmert, Ralph Hall, Sam Johnson, Michael McCaul and Randy Nuegebauer.

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Focus now on Indiana Senate after House passed anti-gay constitutional amendment

While Hawaii moves forward in attempting to be more fair to its LGBT citizens, Indiana remains firmly entrenched in the past.

Yesterday, the Indiana House took the first step towards putting an anti-gay amendment into the state’s constitution. Hoosier Bil Browning reports:

The bipartisan vote of 70-26 took marriage equality supporters by surprise – especially with the defection of Minority Leader Pat Bauer.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, called on the Indiana Senate to rise above the actions of the House and to “reject House Joint Resolution 6, a constitutional amendment that would ban not only marriage, but any measure of protections or support for same-sex couples and their families in Indiana.”

“Freedom to Marry calls on the Indiana Senate to reject this punitive amendment, which would write discrimination into the state constitution. Government should be on the side of all families, not putting barriers in their paths as they seek to care for their loved ones,” Wolfson said.

The resolution would have to be approved by two consecutive legislatures and then go to the voters, so it would take three years. Unfortunately, this is the kind of legislative circus most states can ill afford when so many remain unemployed.

Indiana obviously doesn’t have enough on its plate with the state’s joblessness? Then again, maybe that is the motivation. Keep your eye on all the bills enacted to punish the gay scapegoats, and you won’t notice the fact you can’t afford to feed your kids.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  David Taffet

NC: Sen. Jim Forrester plans to file marriage amendment bill

From Equality NC:

NC Sen. Jim Forrester is planning to file a bill (he’s done it 8 years in a row) to amend our state constitution to discriminate against LGBT North Carolinians soon. As he works to get other senators to sign on as co-sponsors, Equality NC calls on supporters of fairness to contact their senators in opposition to this bill.

The bill, as proposed in previous sessions, would deny same-sex couples access to marriage and any other form of relationship recognition, including partner benefits from private employers. Equality NC has already been working to stop this amendment from passing. Nearly 200 supporters from across the state met with legislators at yesterday’s Day of Action at the General Assembly.

“This hurtful bill would do real damage in North Carolina,” said Ian Palmquist, Executive Director. “It harms couples who seek the most basic protections of their families. It hurts LGBT young people who are told they are unworthy of being treated equally with their peers. And it harms our North Carolina businesses who want to operate in a state that attracts and supports a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

“It’s telling that Sen. Forrester has gone back on his word,” said Palmquist. “Just a few weeks ago, he told his hometown paper that he would not file the anti-gay amendment this year to focus on jobs, but instead he’s busy trying to put bigotry and discrimination into our constitution.”

In order to become part of the constitution, the bill must pass both the House and Senate with a 3/5ths super-majority, and would then go to the ballot for approval by a simple majority of voters. The Governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment.

North Carolinians can email their state Senator here.

I attended the Day of Action yesterday, and we not only face an amendment with the GOP now in control, we have to deal with the fact that North Carolina doesn’t have any non-discrimination laws on the books that protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Ian Palmquist:

Here are some photos of the event. I’ll have more on the conference later; in the meantime, read Jake Geller-Goad’s fine diary. QNotes coverage is here.  
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

NC: GOP lawmaker – need marriage amendment; cut HIV $ for adults ‘living in perverted lifestyles’

“I’m not opposed to helping a child born with HIV or something, but I don’t condone spending taxpayers’ money to help people living in perverted lifestyles.”

Rep. Larry Brown (R-Forsyth) who ran unopposed in the November election to win a fourth term.

The 2010 midterm turnover of our legislature here in NC — it will now be under GOP control for the first time since Reconstruction — is such a horrific development that it is no surprise that the emboldened good old country boys are going right for the throats of the LGBT community.

Out of the box there is talk not about jobs and the economy, but cutting funding for HIV/AIDS and pushing a marriage amendment, which has been killed repeatedly in committee when the GA was under Dem control.

Witness additional commentary from bigoted lawmaker Rep. Larry Brown, as reported by the Winston-Salem Journal. Brown was being interviewed about his goals for the upcoming session of the lege.

He began by discussing his support for a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a union between one man and one woman, which would forestall any efforts to allow same-sex marriage.

…Brown said Tuesday he’s not trying to say how people should lead their lives but that it is a higher priority to treat people who have diseases “with no fault of their own.” He said he doesn’t oppose those with HIV or AIDS getting treatment, but he doesn’t think the government should pay for it.

“I think people with HIV have legitimate fears and probably need support, but when it comes down to priorities, my priorities would be in other directions,” he said.

Brown drew criticism in October for an e-mail he sent to other state Republican lawmakers in which he used disparaging language about gays. After lawmakers were told about a legislative leadership award being given to then-House Speaker Joe Hackney, Brown sent his e-mail to House Minority Leader Paul Stam saying: “I hope all the queers are thrilled to see him. I am sure there will be a couple legislative fruitloops there in the audience.”

Sadly, Brown is not alone when it comes to bigotry. The Republicans cannot wait to put a marriage amendment on the table. Expect NOM to pour money into the effort.

Email: Larry.Brown@ncleg.net

Phone: 919-733-5607

Related:

* NC legislator e-blasts a bigot eruption referring to ‘queers’ and ‘fruitloops’

* NC: wingnut – ‘save’ marriage or there will be man-robot nuptials

* NC: Catholic bishops and legislators foment anti-gay hate at presser

* NC braces for introduction of a marriage amendment bill…AGAIN

* NC: PHB exclusive video of NOM’s Brian Brown at Raleigh rally – plus I am mistaken for a fundie (!)
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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McConnell blocked in last-ditch effort to add ‘poison pill’ amendment to DADT repeal

We’ve known since last summer that Republicans wanted to offer a “poison pill” amendment to the DADT language. The long-expected amendment would add all the Service Chiefs to the certification process. Last night, Mitch McConnell tried — and failed:

A last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complicate the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was blocked Tuesday night after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) objected, Senate aides said.

McConnell attempted to add an amendment to the so-called stripped-down defense authorization bill that would have required the consent of the military service chiefs to proceed with “don’t ask” repeal. Under legislation passed by the Senate last week, certifications are required from the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. All the incumbents in those positions support repeal.

“It was a McConnell proposal,” a GOP aide confirmed. “There was an attempted to get unanimous consent for it to be included in the defense bill and someone objected.”

The haters never stop trying.




AMERICAblog Gay

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Antonin Scalia: The 14th Amendment Should Not Apply To Homosexuals

Speaking on Friday at the University of Richmond, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia denounced the concept of a “living Constitution” and said the 14th Amendment was not written with the intent of granting equal protection to ALL Americans. Just the heterosexual ones.

“The due process clause has been distorted so it’s no longer a guarantee of process but a guarantee of liberty,” Scalia expounded. “But some of the liberties the Supreme Court has found to be protected by that word – liberty – nobody thought constituted a liberty when the 14th Amendment was adopted. Homosexual sodomy? It was criminal in all the states. Abortion? It was criminal in all the states.” “The way to change the Constitution is through amendments approved by the people, not by judges altering the meaning of its words,” he added.

Scalia made similar comments in September when he told a San Francisco law school that the Constitution offers no protection whatsoever to homosexuals or females. Gay people and women, he said, should go to their state legislatures and see if “current society wants to outlaw discrimination” based on gender or sexual orientation. In the landmark 2003 Supreme Court ruling overturning laws against sodomy, Lawrence vs. Texas, Scalia was the most vehement dissenting vote.

The famous “Equal Protection Clause” of the 14th Amendment, upon which entirely hangs the hopes of the federal marriage equality movement, reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

RELATED: At 74 years old, Scalia is the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice, having been appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986. He is thought to be in relatively good health and most court watchers expect him to remain on the bench for as long another decade.

Joe. My. God.

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What exactly does ‘fair and open amendment process’ actually mean to Senators Collins and Lugar?

We keep hearing that some GOP Senators will support bringing the Defense Authorization bill to the floor. Via Kerry Eleveld’s report on the Senate Press conference yesterday:

I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the defense authorization with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we’ll take enough time to do it,” Lieberman told reporters at a press conference, naming GOP senators Susan Collins and Richard Lugar as yes votes. “Time is an inexcusable reason not to get this done.”

Here’s my question: What exactly does “fair and open amendment process” mean to Senators Collins and Lugar? Are they going to tell us in advance — or will they keep moving the goal line (think Grassley and Snowe during the health care debate.) And, what happens when Mitch McConnell brings down the hammer on them? Let’s be clear: The Senate Republican leaders have already made their decision — they will filibuster the Defense bill over DADT. Will Collins, Lugar and the other allegedly pro-repeal GOPers cave, like they usually do, but offer some lame-ass procedural excuse?

One has to wonder if Lugar, Collins and other GOP Senators want to face the wrath of John McCain. He’s known for his extremely volatile temper and he’s become obsessed with blocking the DADT language from passing. Look at how quickly he got his wife to flip-flop on DADT after she told the world it’s one of the reasons gay kids are killing themselves.

We need a transparent process here. Obviously, this blog has been unabashed about holding Democrats accountable — and we will continue to do that. But, we need to know the specifics of what Collins and Lugar want the process to look like. Then, we can gauge if they’re playing fair, too.

And, I included this paragraph from the NY Times in the post below, but it bears repeating:

Leaders of the new House Republican majority have indicated that repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not a priority for them, making it unlikely they would approve the bill again. That means if the repeal language is not approved by the end of this year, it will be effectively dead.

That’s right. And, it will be dead for a long time. This is our best shot. Those are the stakes. That is what Obama, Reid, Collins, Lieberman, Lugar and the rest need to remember.




AMERICAblog Gay

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