BREAKING: Texas Supreme Court halts enforcement of Houston ERO

Houston-Mayor-Annise-Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

The Texas Supreme Court released an opinion today (Friday, July 24) halting enforcement of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

The court stated the city council overstepped its boundaries when it invalidated a petition to repeal the ordinance via ballot referendum. The city ruled petitioners did not gather enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

“Any enforcement of the ordinance shall be suspended, and the City Council shall reconsider the ordinance. If the City Council does not repeal the ordinance by Aug. 24, 2015, then by that date the City Council must order that the ordinance be put to popular vote during the Nov. 2015 election,” according to the decision.

The opinion additionally faulted city staff for not verifying differing signatories not having an appeal process when a petition is rejected.

The measure bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also numerous other classes currently protected at the state and federal levels.

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.

The decision is just the latest hurdle facing the embattled ordinance. The Houston ordinance passed in May of last year by an 11-6 vote. After its passage opponents halted the law’s enforcement through lawsuits and appeals. It has been in a legal tug of war ever since.

You can read the full decision here.

Last year, Dallas voters added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the nondiscrimination clause of the city charter with 77 percent of the vote.

—  James Russell

Annise Parker to be honored by Family Equality Council

Houston-Mayor-Annise-Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker will be honored Saturday, Feb. 28 by the Family Equality Council in Los Angeles for her trailblazing career in public service.

Family Equality Council’s Los Angeles Awards Dinner honors distinguished individuals in the worlds of arts, entertainment, politics and the LGBT movement for their efforts to advance equality for all families.

According to a press release, “Mayor Parker has embodied our values and has been a powerful voice in her community and now on the national stage. She and her family have continued to work toward a world where all families are respected, celebrated, and loved.​”

Parker, who is term limited and unable to run for re-election this year, was recently the only mayor in the country included in the City Mayors Foundation’s bi-annual top mayors list. Parker came in seventh overall according to the international think tank dedicated to urban affairs. Last year, she married her longtime partner.

Also being honored are two television shows and a snack brand. The television shows — Modern Family and Glee — for portraying complex and realistic LGBTQ characters and celebrating LGBTQ individuals and families.

Honey Maid will be honored for its #thisiswholesome campaign in 2014, which featured families who fall outside of traditional definitions of family. Matt Bomer and others will also be present at the event.

—  James Russell

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.

Follow the Voice for more information.

—  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