AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Laster becomes first out gay man on Houston City Council

Mike Laster

Mike Laster

With 57% of precincts reporting Mike Laster is the presumptive victor in the Houston District J City Council race. Laster, an out gay candidate endorsed by the Victory Fund and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has a commanding lead with 67% of the vote. His nearest opponent Criselda Romero trails with 22%.

Laster is the first out gay man to be elected to the Houston City Council.

From the Victory Fund website:

A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin’s Plan II Honors Program, Mike earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston Law Center. While at the Law Center, Mike distinguished himself as the National Vice Chair of the American Bar Association Law Student Division.

Today Mike is an attorney specializing in real estate with the firm of Williams, Birnberg & Andersen, L.L.P. in Houston, where he has practiced for the past thirteen years. From 1989 to 1995, Mike served as a Senior Assistant City Attorney in the Real Estate Division of the City Attorney’s Office, where he handled many aspects of a general real estate and development practice for the city.

—  admin

WATCH: Fox 4 on Dallas’ failure to enforce ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination

 

I’m on vacation this week but I couldn’t resist putting this up. Before I left on Friday for an undisclosed location, I got a call from Peter Daut at Fox 4. He wanted me to put him in touch with Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, the local gay couple that filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement. Peter had seen our post on Friday saying that despite 53 complaints file in nine years, the city has never prosecuted a single case under its ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. So I connected Peter with Mark, and above is the result. It’s a good story that brings needed attention to the issue, but I should note that there is a fact error: The report says the case isn’t going anywhere because sexual orientation isn’t a protected class. Not true. Sexual orientation is a protected class in the city of Dallas, and that’s the whole point. There’s an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and people have been filing complaints under it, but the City Attorney’s Office isn’t doing anything with them. Peter is right when he says the complaint isn’t going anywhere. But he’s wrong about the reason why. Also, he should have given us credit.

—  John Wright

Top 10: FW changes continued in wake of Rainbow Lounge

Rainbow.Lounge
FROM PROTEST TO PARTY | The Rev. Carole West, left, and David Mack Henderson, right, both of Fairness Fort Worth, are shown with Chief Jeffrey Halstead during a barbecue at the Rainbow Lounge on June 28 to mark the one-year anniversary of the raid. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

No. 8:

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When the Fort Worth Police Department  and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage raided the Rainbow Lounge on June 28, 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion — it sparked outrage around the world and enough headlines to fill newspapers for the rest of the year.

But the story didn’t end with 2009, as repercussions from the raid continued this year.

Publicity from the raid undoubtedly helped punch up business for the Rainbow Lounge, enough so that by January, the bar’s owner, J.R. Schrock, announced that he had a second bar — Percussions — in the works, as well as a third club and possibly a fourth.

In February — despite acknowledgments from both TABC and FWPD that the raid should never have happened — officials with the Fort Worth city attorney’s office said they were going ahead with efforts to prosecute those arrested in the raid, including Chad Gibson, the young man who suffered a lasting brain injury while in TABC custody.

One of Fort Worth police Chief Jeff Halstead’s first acts after the raid was to appoint openly gay officer Sara Straten as his department’s first full-time liaison to the LGBT community.

On June 28, as a way of highlighting the progress the city had made in the year since the raid and improved relations between the police department and the LGBT community, Rainbow Lounge held a party attended by Halstead, Straten and many of the officers who patrol the area in which the bar is located.

Despite the progress though, in July anti-gay forces packed the City Council chambers to once again protest the council’s vote the previous November to amend Fort Worth’s nondiscrimination ordinance to offer protections to transgenders and other initiatives proposed by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.

At the end of the public comments section of the meeting, Mayor Mike Moncrief told the crowd that while “there is room for all of us” in Fort Worth, “What’s in the Bible or what isn’t in the Bible, that’s not our job. Our job is to maintain the quality of life in our city, and that’s what this [diversity] training is all about.”

As the year continued, more examples of the changes in the city emerged: The police department reached out to the LGBT community in looking for new recruits. Halstead announced plans to start a hate crimes unit. The annual Tarrant County gay Pride celebration expanded, adding a block party and holding a parade and picnic far larger than in years past.

In September, the council quietly approved adding domestic partner benefits for lesbian and gay city employees, and in mid-November, the city attorney’s office announced that all charges against those arrested in the raid were being dropped.

Perhaps one of the most welcome results of the Rainbow Lounge raid, however, was the emergence and continued growth of Fairness Fort Worth.

Formed quickly in the wake of the raid to offer assistance to witnesses who wanted to testify during investigations into the raid, the group has morphed into an active LGBT advocacy organization complete with officers and a strategy for the future — filling a void that has long existed in Tarrant County’s LGBT community.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

City drops charges stemming from Rainbow Lounge raid in July 2009

Man who suffered brain injury in raid had been facing public intoxication, misdemeanor assault charges

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — The Fort Worth City Attorney’s office announced last week that it had dropped all charges against Chad Gibson and other individuals arrested in the June 28, 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge.

Gibson was hospitalized for a head injury he incurred during the raid, although questions remain about whether Gibson was injured when an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission slammed him against a wall in the club and then threw him to the floor, or when Gibson fell on the sidewalk outside while he was handcuffed.

Gibson was charged with misdemeanor public intoxication and misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer after TABC Agent Chris Aller said Gibson groped him while he was attempting to arrest Gibson.

However, Aller and the second TABC agent involved in the raid, as well as their supervising sergeant, were fired after TABC officials conducted an internal investigation and determined that the agents should not have raided the bar in the first place.

An internal investigation conducted by the Fort Worth Police Department also indicated that FWPD officers involved in the raid had violated procedures, and three officers were suspended for a total of five days as a result.

A second Rainbow Lounge patron, George Armstrong, said he suffered severe bruising and a muscle strain when police arrested him. He was charged with misdemeanor public intoxication.

Adam Seidel, attorney for both Gibson and Armstrong, said he had received a notice from the court in the first part of last week that Gibson’s case had been set for jury trial on Dec. 7. Shortly afterward, however, he was notified by the court clerk that the charges had been dismissed.

“I am glad they did the right thing and dropped their charges against these two victims. It shows a commitment to move forward,” Seidel said.

City officials issued a statement Friday afternoon, Nov. 19, saying that Class C misdemeanor charges stemming from the Rainbow Lounge raid against Dylan Brown and Jose Macias, as well as Gibson and Armstrong, had been dropped, but declined to comment further.

According to the statement, the charges that have been dismissed were public intoxication charges against Jose A. Macias, Dylan T. Brown, Armstrong and Gibson. A charge of assault by contact against Gibson was also dropped.

Gibson suffered bleeding in his brain and is still receiving treatment for his injuries, according to Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth.

FFW was formed in the wake of the raid initially to help witnesses give testimony for both FWPD’s and TABC’s internal investigations. The organization has since become more formally organized and has been directly involved in negotiations with city officials that played a role in the vote to add protections for transgenders to the city’s nondiscrimination policy and in the recent vote to offer partner benefits to the city’s LGBT employees.

Anable said Thursday, Nov. 18, that Fairness Fort Worth is pleased with the city’s decision to drop the charges against Gibson and Armstrong.

“I think they finally just realized that the facts of the case didn’t support the charges,” Anable said. “I think this is a real positive step forward. It’s a show of good faith as we continue to resolve the issues related to the incident at the Rainbow Lounge.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay couple married via Skype files complaint against DMN for not publishing announcement

Mark Reed-Walkup, left, and Dante Walkup

A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.

Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C. via Skype.

Reed- Walkup said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section. But the newspaper has refused due to a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy reportedly is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Texas.

The couple filed the complaint under a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, constitute a public accommodation.

“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, said she didn’t receive the complaint until Monday.

“We just got it,” Davis said Monday afternoon. “I haven’t had time to make an assessment yet.”

The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.

Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Fort Worth city attorney drops charges against Rainbow Lounge patrons

This photo, taken by Chuck Potter inside Rainbow Lounge on June 28, 2009, is believed to show TABC agents arresting Chad Gibson

A spokesman in the office of Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief has just confirmed reports we received earlier this morning that the city attorney’s office has dropped all charges against Chad Gibson and George Armstrong in connection with the June 28, 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge.

The spokesman said the city would release a statement later this afternoon, so watch Instant Tea for updates.

Gibson was hospitalized for a head injury he incurred during the raid, although questions remain about whether Gibson was injured when an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission slammed him against a wall in the club and then threw him to the floor, or when Gibson fell on the sidewalk outside while he was handcuffed.

Armstrong, who said he suffered severe bruising and a muscle strain when police arrested him, was charged with misdemeanor public intoxication.

Gibson was charged with misdemeanor public intoxication and misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer after TABC Agent Chris Aller said Gibson groped him while he was attempting to arrest Gibson. However, Aller and the second TABC agent involved in the raid, as well as their supervising sergeant, were fired after TABC officials conducted an internal investigation and determined that the agents should not have raided the bar in the first place.

An internal investigation conducted by the Fort Worth Police Department also indicated that FWPD officers involved in the raid had violated procedures, and three officers were suspended for a total of five days as a result.

Adam Seidel, attorney for both Gibson and Armstrong, said he had received a notice from the court earlier this week that Gibson’s case had been set for jury trial on Dec. 7. Shortly afterward, however, he was notified by the court clerk that the charges had been dismissed.

“I am glad they did the right thing and dropped their charges against these two victims. It shows a commitment to move forward,” Seidel said.

Gibson suffered bleeding in his brain and is still receiving treatment for his injuries, according to Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth.

FFW was formed in the wake of the raid initially to help witnesses give testimony for both FWPD’s and TABC’s internal investigations. The organization has since become more formally organized and has been directly involved in negotiations with city officials that played a role in the vote to add protections for transgenders to the city’s nondiscrimination policy and in the recent vote to offer partner benefits to the city’s LGBT employees.

Anable said Thursday that Fairness Fort Worth is pleased with the city’s decision to drop the charges against Gibson and Armstrong.

“I think they finally just realized that the facts of the case didn’t support the charges,” Anable said. “I think this is a real positive step forward. It’s a show of good faith as we continue to resolve the issues related to the incident at the Rainbow Lounge.”

—  admin