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.

—  admin

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

LGBT candidates fare well across electoral spectrum

Houston’s lesbian Mayor Annise Parker leads the list of openly LGBT candidates, 75 percent of whom won in elections this week

Parker.-Annise

BIG WIN | Houston’s incumbent Mayor Annise Parker, who became the first openly LGBT person elected mayor of a major city when she won in 2009, addresses the crowd in Lee Park following Dallas’ 2010 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, for which she was honorary grand marshal. Parker took 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, avoiding a runoff and winning re-election to a second term.

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

Tuesday was a very good day for openly LGBT candidates around the country, with three in four of more than 60 winning their races, including Annise Parker, who secured a second term as mayor of Houston.

But the real excitement in the Nov. 8 results came in some of the low-profile races of the day, many in notoriously conservative places.

Four out of five openly gay candidates won in conservative North Carolina, including LaWana Mayfield, the first openly LGBT member of the Charlotte City Council.

Another lesbian, Caitlin Copple, became the first openly LGBT person elected to city council in Missoula, Mont. Attorney Mike Laster became the first gay man to be elected to the Houston City Council, and businessman Zach Adamson became the first openly LGBT member of the Indianapolis City Council.

Alex Morse, 22, won an upset victory over a long-time public official to become mayor of Holyoke, Mass. Steve Pougnet glided to a second-term as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., and attorney Chris Seelbach, who helped overturn Cincinnati’s anti-gay charter amendment seven years ago, won a seat on the City Council there Tuesday.

Data collected independently by Keen News Service and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund indicates there were at least 63 openly LGBT candidates on the ballot Tuesday: 47 of them won, 14 lost, and two outcomes remain uncertain.

Eight of nine openly gay candidates for mayor won Tuesday.

Parker in Houston

Parker in Houston secured 50 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates, though none of her five opponents had anywhere near the funding or organization that she did.

Still, going into the race, Parker had reason to worry. In mid-October, a local television news poll found that voters were split on her effectiveness. Fifty percent rated her job performance in her first two-year term as either “Fair” or “Poor,” while 47 percent rated it “Good” or “Excellent.”

In an interview with KHOU-TV, Parker attributed her poll split to people’s anxiety around the economy.

“We have the worst economy here in Houston that we’ve had in decades, and we have the worst economy that we’ve had nationally since the Great Depression,” Parker told KHOU.  “I understand completely why people are anxious, unhappy.  It is what it is.”

KHOU noted the bulk of the low job performance scores came from Houston’s unemployed and that mayors in other big cities around the country were polling similarly.

Right-wing groups that opposed Parker in 2009 tried again to portray her as a lesbian activist, creating a video they posted on YouTube that showed a slow-motion clip of her giving her partner-in-life a peck on the cheek after being sworn in.

It also showed a news clip of Parker appointing a transgender person, Phyllis Frye, to a local judgeship, and a news clip of an executive order Parker issued to ban discrimination in public restrooms on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.The video also showed a letter in which Parker referred to her partner, Kathy Hubbard, as “First Lady.”

Other mayoral races

In Holyoke, recent college graduate but longtime local youth and community activist Alex Morse won an upset victory against an incumbent who had been a top town official for many years.

The key issue had been over casinos — with Morse being against and incumbent Elaine Pluta being for.

Morse had served on the one-time governor’s LGBT commission and started a non-profit LGBT group. While attending Brown University in nearly Providence, R.I., Morse worked for openly gay Mayor David Cicilline, who is now in Congress.

In Palm Springs, incumbent Mayor Steve Pougnet, who is openly gay, won re-election over a field of six other candidates, taking 70 percent of the vote.

The only losing mayoral candidate Tuesday was Bevan Dufty in San Francisco, where, as of Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, Dufty had earned less than 4 percent of the vote in a field with more than a dozen candidates.

The apparent winner, acting Mayor Ed Lee, will become the first American of Chinese descent to be elected mayor of San Francisco. Lee became acting mayor by appointment of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, after Newsom was elected lieutenant governor.

Lee was only the third choice of San Francisco’s LGBT newspaper, Bay Area Reporter. (San Francisco voters were able to rank their choices — first, second, and third — among the 16 on the ballot.)

The paper endorsed Dufty first and the current City Attorney Dennis Herrara second.
One of the city’s LGBT Democratic Clubs endorsed Herrera first, Dufty as second choice, and Lee as third. The other LGBT Democratic Club endorsed Supervisor John Avalos, followed by Herrera and state Sen. Leland Yee.

More election news

In other interesting news from election day:

• An openly lesbian candidate, Caitlin Copple, has won a seat to the city council of Missoula, Mont. — a state with a very sparse LGBT population.

While Copple’s connections to the gay community were not consistently highlighted during the campaign, they weren’t hidden either. The local daily newspaper, the Missoulian, ran an article about her involvement “with the Pride Foundation, which works to connect and strengthen Montana’s gay rights movement.”

• Four of the 63 races Tuesday were for seats in state legislatures. One of the most important of those candidates was Adam Ebbin, who moved from the State House to the State Senate in Virginia, becoming the first openly LGBT person in that chamber.
Unfortunately, the Virginia Senate lost a number of Democrats Tuesday and is switching from majority Democrat to majority Republican, giving the state a Republican majority now in both chambers and the governor’s office.

• Two gay men won Assembly seats in New Jersey: Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora.

• The only loss on the state level was Patrick Forrest, who fell short in his bid for a Senate seat in Virginia.

• Two out of three candidates for judgeships won yesterday. The winners were Anthony Cannataro in New York and Hugh McGough in Pittsburgh. Daniel Clifford, a Republican, lost his bid for a judgeship in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

• All five candidates for local school boards won Tuesday, including Daniel Hernandez, with 60 percent of the vote, in Tucson. Hernandez was the openly gay aide to U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., credited with saving her life after a gunman shot and killed a number of people attending a meet-and-greet the congresswoman was hosting at a local grocery store.

• Of the 41 candidates running for city council or its equivalent in their cities, 28 won. Two others are still pending. Brad Bender’s bid for a Town Council seat in Southampton, N.Y., is too close to call. Lance Rhodes has been thrown into a run-off for a seat on the East Point City City Council in Georgia.    •

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas