BREAKING: Restraining order bars Houston from offering equal benefits

Houston-Mayor-Annise-Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

A district judge has ordered Houston to stop offering same-sex benefits to its employees. The order, found here, states that the city cannot issue benefits under the city’s charter and Family Penal Code because same-sex couples are not formally recognized by Texas.

“The city is preparing an immediate appeal.  Once that appeal is filed, today’s ruling will be stayed and a previous order issued at the federal court level allowing the city to implement same sex spousal benefits will continue in effect.  As a result, today’s action will have no impact on the status quo,” city spokeswoman Janice Evans said in a statement.

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—  James Russell

BREAKING: Houston Mayor Annise Parker withdraws sermon subpoenas

Annise ParkerHouston Mayor Annise Parker announced this morning, Oct. 29, that Houston will withdraw subpoenas of five pastors in the lawsuit over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Parker and the city came under national scrutiny when lawyers representing the city subpoenaed five pastors’ sermons in the lawsuit brought by pastors opposed to the ordinance. The request resulted in a national outcry. A  group of religious leaders sponsored by the Family Research Council plans to descend on Houston this coming Sunday, Nov. 2, to protest against the subpoenas.

Parker said at a press conference she met with national and Houston clergy members yesterday, Oct. 27, to “hear their concerns about religious liberties,” the Chronicle reports. But she did not indicate then whether or not she would withdraw the subpoenas.

“What is best for the city of Houston, not what is best for the litigation,” she said, but adding “I don’t want to have a national debate about freedom of religion” while trying to defend HERO.”

 

—  James Russell

HERO opponents granted temporary restraining order

Houston-Mayor-Annise-ParkerOpponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance won a small victory in a district court yesterday evening when a district judge granted them a temporary restraining order delaying implementation of the ordinance.

“[U.S. District Judge Gray Miller's] ruling was evidence of the abject lack of any credible legal basis for City Attorney David Feldman’s motion, leaving it clear that it was indeed just a delay tactic that did not work,” said the opposition group No UNEqual Rights Houston in a statement.

Mayor Annise Parker  previously announced that the city would delay the ordinance’s implementation.

Woodfill v. Parker was filed in the 152nd District Court shortly after the city rejected the opponents petitions calling for a November ballot referendum. Attorneys with the city of Houston must appear before the court on August 15 and make their case for why the order should be vacated.

The Equal Rights Houston campaign in a statement denounced the ruling. “It is unfortunate that the opponents of equal rights have taken this issue to the courts after first losing at City Council … [we are] confident the court will uphold the city of Houston’s decision that the repeal signatures were not collected in the clearly defined process.  The bottom line is that this state court decision is still just a TRO, and not a final ruling on the merits.”

 

—  James Russell

Wendy Davis applauds passage of HERO

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis a statement about passage of Houston’s equal rights ordinance on Wednesday that bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity:

All people should be treated equally in every way, and I applaud the City of Houston for passing a measure that will help ensure those in the LGBT community and all Texans are treated fairly.

After the passage of a similar ordinance in San Antonio last September,  Davis said she hoped such measures would become “commonplace.”

In fact, such ordinances are common. Houston was the only major city in the U.S. without a nondiscrimination ordinance in place.

—  David Taffet

Houston passes equal-rights ordinance

CITY_OF_HOUSTON_LOGO-325x294After nearly nine hours of chanting and tears from seas of opponents and supporters in color-coded T-shirts, Houston City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday extending equal rights protections to gay and transgender residents, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Despite weeks of discussion and dissent over the measure, the final vote was 11-6, a count that matched guesses made months ago, when Mayor Annise Parker— the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — said she planned to bring forward such a measure.

The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

“While much of the debate has centered around the gay and transgender section of the ordinance, it is a comprehensive ordinance,” Parker said after the vote. “It is a good step forward for the city of Houston.”

The measure bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

The ordinance applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. Religious institutions would be exempt. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

—  Steve Ramos

Houston continues to debate equal-rights ordinance

Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is expected to pass Wednesday evening.

Through the afternoon, the Houston City Council has been hearing public comments. Among the speakers was Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center, who said friends who are Houston activists asked him to attend. He told council members that in the 10 years since the Dallas ordinance passed, 53 complaints have been filed and all were settled or dismissed.

“Not one complaint went to adjudication,” he said.

He said the ordinance was designed to be a “golden rule.”

“If you know better, you do better,” he said. “It’s not designed to be punitive.”

Because the opposition came from churches, religious leaders who favor the ordinance spoke.

Gay Houston City Councilman Mike Laster’s pastor, Steve Wells, of South Main Baptist Church was among the speakers. Another speaker in favor was from the National Council on Jewish Women.

Former councilwoman Jolanda Jones said she often disagreed with Houston Mayor Annise Parker but completely agreed with her on this issue. She said that voting against the ordinance because of the LGBT issue would be like “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” Refusing to vote for equality for the LGBT community would also deny equality based on race, religion and a list of other characteristics.

A mother spoke about her transgender son and addressed the accusations that have been thrown at the trans community during debate on the ordinance.

“My son is not confused,” she said. “My son is not a predator. My son is a good student and a good person.”

Several speakers said they opposed the amendment and called it words like “unjust” without explaining what ways an equality ordinance was unfair.

—  David Taffet

Opponents threaten Parker with recall

Houston City Council

Houston City Council. Mayor Annise Parker in red front, center.

The debate on the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance in Houston just got nasty.

Mayor Annise Parker’s perennial adversary Dave Wilson said he’s planning a recall vote against the mayor and several council members, according to CBS affiliate KHOU.

Recall in Houston isn’t easy. Signatures of 25 percent of voters who voted for the official must be collected in 30 days. Reasons allowed for recall in the city charter are incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office. Wilson claims passing an ordinance that contradicts state law amounts to incompetence.

Houston is the only major city in Texas with no nondiscrimination ordinance and the only major city in the U.S. without one.

According to KHOU, more than 42,000 signatures would have to be collected to a recall of Parker up for a vote. Some council members could face recall with less than 2,500 signatures.

Wilson was elected to the Houston Community College District Board of Trustees in a majority black district by insinuating he was black in his campaign literature.

Former Dallas City Councilwoman Veletta Lill who served when Dallas passed its nondiscrimination ordinance more than a decade ago commented on the controversies in San Antonio and Houston during her appearance on LGBT talk show Lambda Weekly last week. She said when Dallas debated its ordinance, several people did voice opposition and concerns. She said those concerns were taken into consideration and addressed and the ordinance passed without controversy.

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Creating Change 2014 in Houston

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

 HOUSTON — Thousands of LGBT advocates departed from Houston Sunday as the 26th annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change came to a close.

The annual five-day conference set records for the amount of attendees and workshops in its first year in Houston. And the inspiration of the weekend was all around during the conference, from Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s welcome to trans actress Laverne Cox’s keynote speech and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey’s State of the Movement address. (If you missed any of the speeches, you can watch them here.)

And, like any celebration in the LGBT community, it ended with a bang as bisexual singer Nona Hendryx rocked out on stage on Sunday after brunch.

More photos below.

—  Dallasvoice

Annise Parker touches on importance of elections, unity at Creating Change

Houston Mayor Annise Parker addresses the Creating Change conference in Houston Thursday night. Jessica Borges/Dallas Voice)

Houston Mayor Annise Parker addresses the crowd at the national Creating Change conference in Houston Thursday night. (Jessica Borges/Dallas Voice)

HOUSTON — Mayor Annise Parker was cheered to the stage by thousands of people when she was introduced Thursday evening as Mrs. Annise Parker at The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.

Parker married her longtime partner earlier this month in California. She welcomed the applause during her welcome address at the conference, now in its 26th year, which is in Houston for the first time.

“You’re acting as if you’ve never seen a lesbian before,” Parker said. “And, yes, this what a lesbian mayor looks like.”

While conference organizers had hoped to hold the event in Houston when Parker was mayor — she’s now in her third and final term — Parker said she wanted to be a part of the experience that happens when thousands of LGBT activists and advocates converge for the national gathering.

“It was important for me to be here tonight because one, you’re my family,” she said. “Two, it is important for the rest of the United States and the rest of the state of Texas to experience what we do here at Creating Change, and I wanted to be a part of that.

“And I get to home to my new wife,” she added.

Parker, who said she lit up City Hall in rainbow colors for the conference, touched on her citywide elections and how LGBT people can create change by electing the right people to any office.

“I’m here to tell you elections matter,” she said. “And when you put someone in the state house or in the city council chamber or in the mayor’s office, you can make a difference in the lives of people that you will never meet and never see, but you know that you are transforming people’s lives. And those mayors might do something like penning the most comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance in the United States as their third executive act.”

Parker has said this term she plans to have the council pass a nondiscrimination ordinance similar to those in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

She also said people could elect a mayor who supports marriage equality. Parker is a co-chair of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, and she encouraged attendees to go by Freedom to Marry’s booth and email their mayors to support marriage equality.

And with such a diverse representation of the LGBT community, Parker ended by encouraging the community’s strength to focus on common goals instead of divisive factors.

“The most important thing that we can do here today, this evening and at this conference, is to look around at who’s here with us, look at the strength we have as a community, recognize that the differences that divide us are so much less than the things that unite us,” she said. “Our strength is powerful.”

—  Dallasvoice

NOH8 Campaign comes to Dallas for Wednesday photo shoot

 

VeaseyThe NOH8 Campaign is coming to Dallas on Wednesday to photograph the LGBT community and its allies.

The last photo shoot in Dallas in October 2011 holds the record for the largest NOH8 photo shoot to date with over 840 participants, NOH8 organizers state on the Facebook event page. So far, more than 1,000 people have indicated via the page that they plan to attend.

People planning on attending should wear white and come camera ready. Solo photos are $40, with couple and group shots costing $25 per person. Fees cover processing fees and one retouched digital print on NOH8Campaign.com, available about eight weeks after shoots.

Funds raised by the NOH8 Campaign are used to promote marriage equality and antidiscrimination efforts for the LGBT community.

Many famous people have had NOH8 photos taken, including those from Texas like Houston Mayor Annise Parker and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, pictured, who both participated in NOH8 photo shoots last year.

The event is 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, located at 14115 Hillcrest Road.

People in line by the end of the photo shoot are expected to have their photo taken.

—  Dallasvoice