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

City unveils planned Cedar Springs improvements

Hunt, Medrano present plan to Merchants Association; will include new crosswalk lights, red lights

CedarSprings

GETTING THE SIGNAL | A pedestrian runs to avoid traffic as he crosses Cedar Springs Road at Knight Street on Thursday, Jan. 12. The intersection will get a traffic signal under a pedestrian safety plan unveiled by the city this week. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL CEDAR SPRINGS PEDESTRIAN SAFETY PLAN

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

In the wake of two pedestrian fatalities on the Cedar Springs strip in November, Dallas officials have unveiled a host of planned safety improvements ranging from crosswalk lights to a new traffic signal to, eventually, the possibility of narrowing the street to two lanes.

Dallas City Council members Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, along with city staff, unveiled the changes during a closed-door meeting at the Round-Up Saloon on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 12, with representatives from the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, the Dallas Tavern Guild and other community groups.

The city’s Cedar Springs pedestrian safety plan calls for new flashing lights at crosswalks on Cedar Springs by the end of this month. A new traffic signal at Knight Street — where one of the pedestrians was killed — is scheduled to be installed by June.

“They did come with concrete solutions and things that they’re starting immediately, which is pretty exciting,” Merchants Association Executive Director Scott Whittall said after the meeting. “This is a big deal, and we’re excited about it. It’s a situation where we’re taking something unfortunate and we’re going to get as much out of it as we can to improve the street.”

Hunt said prior to Thursday’s meeting that the improvements have already begun with the recent addition of three streetlights on Cedar Springs.

“I think it’s pretty aggressive,” Hunt said of the plan, “which it needs to be, given the fatalities and accidents we’ve had there.”

In addition to the two fatalities in November, two pedestrians were seriously injured when they were struck on Cedar Springs in December.

Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said the pedestrian safety plan represents “some great work from the city and those in attendance were most impressed with the ideas.”

“We had a great turn-out,” Doughman said. “Some ideas may need some tweaking but generally speaking, it was very well received. We will be doing an education campaign soon that we will ask the Dallas Voice to participate in. This will include pedestrian safety rules as well as driver safety issues.”

whittall.scott

Scott Whittall

According to a copy of the plan provided by Doughman, yellow warning flashers will be installed in both directions at four crosswalks on Cedar Springs, near Knight Street and Reagan Street. The two Reagan street crosswalks will remain in their current locations. The existing crosswalk at Knight Street will be moved to the south in front of Bank of America, while a crosswalk will be added between ilume and the city library.

Whittall said the flashing crosswalk lights will be at motorists’ eye level — and will be similar to the ones in place where Knox Street crosses the Katy Trail a few miles away. For the first 30 days, the crosswalk lights will flash around the clock, but after that pedestrians will have to activate them.

The city will also install a traffic signal at Cedar Springs and Knight Street by June, and begin an engineering study Feb. 1 to determine whether a traffic signal is warranted at Reagan Street. Also by June, the city will remove the right turn lane and island on the southeast corner of Cedar Springs and Douglas Avenue.

Other possible additions to the plan include banning left turns onto Cedar Springs from Reagan Street eastbound.

According to the plan, police have already increased traffic enforcement in the area, and Whittall said the Merchants Association has signed off on issuing jaywalking citations once the crosswalk improvements are in place.

“If we’re going to provide you with multiple safe crosswalk areas, they need to be utilized,” Whittall said. “You put your life at risk in an entertainment district if you try to cross somewhere that is not marked.”

Long term, the pedestrian safety plan calls for a “complete street” assessment of Cedar Springs, which could include revising the width of the street and reconfiguring lanes over the next three to five years.

“We’ve been harping and harping and harping on going to two lanes for a long time,” Whittall said. “Anything that would increase foot traffic on Cedar Springs and decrease traffic speed on Cedar Springs, we’re all for.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Councilmembers line up to ride in Pride parade

Jones Hill again fails to RSVP, has said religious beliefs prevent her participation; Greyson cites scheduling conflict

RIDE IN PRIDE | Members of the Dallas City Council ride together on a float in the 2009 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade as then-Mayor Tom Leppert walks alongside. This year all but two of the 15 councilmembers have said they will participate in the Pride parade.

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Thirteen of the 15 Dallas City Council members, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, are expected to ride on the city’s float at gay Pride later this month, according to Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild.

Doughman, chief organizer of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, said this week that Vonciel Jones Hill and Sandy Greyson are the only councilmembers who didn’t RSVP affirmatively for the 28th annual event set for Sept. 18.

Jones Hill, in her third two-year term representing District 5, has indicated in the past that she won’t attend gay Pride because of her religious beliefs.
Greyson, elected to represent District 12 earlier this year, reportedly has a scheduling conflict.

Rawlings, who also took office this year, will become only the third mayor in Dallas history to appear at gay Pride, after Tom Leppert and Laura Miller.

“The mayor looks forward to being in the gay Pride parade and being part of the festivities,” Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said this week.

Greyson, meanwhile, hadn’t responded to a phone message from Dallas Voice by press time.

“It’s a scheduling conflict,” Greyson’s assistant, Lorri Ellis, said when asked why the councilwoman won’t be attending Pride.

Michael Doughman and Sandy Greyson

Greyson, who served on the council from 1997-2005, voted in favor of a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2002. And in 1995, as a DART board member, she voted to add sexual orientation to the transit agency’s nondiscrimination policy.

Greyson also signed a letter from the council that appears in this year’s Pride Guide — distributed inside today’s Dallas Voice — congratulating organizers on the event.
The only councilmember who didn’t sign the letter was Jones Hill.

“I won’t be participating [this year], and based on my present beliefs, I won’t be participating in the future,” Jones Hill told Dallas Voice in 2008, when she was the lone councilmember who didn’t RSVP affirmatively for the parade. “There’s no reason I should be castigated for that.”

Asked what those beliefs are that stop her from attending Pride, Hill said: “I believe that all people are loved by God, all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless.

“It does not mean the person is any less God’s child. I’m entitled to stand for what I believe, and I don’t appreciate anyone castigating me for standing for what I believe,” she said.

For the last several years, Jones Hill’s absence has thwarted a longtime goal of openly gay former Councilman Ed Oakley, who’s sought to have all 15 councilmembers attend the parade. Before that, former Councilman Mitchell Rasansky was often the lone holdout.

Doughman said he thinks having 13 of 15 councilmembers attend Pride is “exceptional for a city of this size.”

But he added that the Tavern Guild doesn’t pay much attention to the subject.

“I’m trying very hard to keep the politics out of this parade,” he said. “People want a celebration.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

What’s Brewing: Obama unveils LGBT website

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The White House has launched a website, called “Winning the Future,” to highlight President Barack Obama’s LGBT accomplishments.”In honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) History Month, The White House launched our first ever LGBT specific constituency webpage: http://wh.gov/lgbt . This webpage is designed to keep you updated on how the President and the Administration are Winning the Future for LGBT Americans,” White House gay liaison Brian Bond wrote in an email.

2. Four of the five openly gay former Dallas City council members, along with 11 of 14 current council members, have now endorsed Mike Rawlings for mayor. Gay ex-Councilmen John Loza, Craig Holcomb and Chris Luna were among those who appeared alongside Rawlings at a news conference Wednesday, and Ed Oakley previously said he’s backing Rawlings. That leaves Craig McDaniel, Dallas’ first out gay councilman, as the only one who hasn’t publicly endorsed Rawlings in the runoff against David Kunkle.

3. Razzle Dazzle Dallas is in full swing.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Fort Worth mayoral candidates discuss the issues — but not LGBT ones


WFAA Channel 8  over the weekend hosted a debate — well, they call it a debate but it is, to me, more of a question-and-answer session — with the five candidates campaigning to succeed eight-year Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, who is not running for re-election.

The debate, moderated by Channel 8′s Brad Watson and Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy, is a little over 20 minutes long and features the candidates answering questions on topics like the city’s budget, urban oil drilling and the city’s pension and benefits plans. Despite the fact that LGBT issues have played a very prominent part in Fort Worth city politics over the last 18 months, neither Watson nor Kennedy asked the candidates any LGBT-related issues.

Still, if you live in Fort Worth, then you most likely care what the candidates have to say on the issues they did discuss. So I am posting the video here. (I live in Fort Worth, by the way, and I do care about the issues.)

The candidates are former city council members Cathy Hirt and Jim Lane, former state Rep. Dan Barrett, current Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Betsy Price and filmmaker Nicholas Zebrun.

—  admin

Lone Star Ride training begins; 2 councilwomen receive scholarships to Velo-City conference

Lone Star Ride 2010
Lone Star Ride 2010

The Lone Star Ride held its first training ride of the year this weekend. A group of about a dozen cyclists met at the Oak Cliff Bike Shop in Bishop Arts and headed out on a 40-mile ride toward Lakewood and back.

LSR is held the last weekend in September and covers about 150 miles over two days. The ride raises money for Resource Center Dallas, AIDS Services of Dallas and the AIDS Outreach Center.

Meanwhile, the group Bike Friendly Oak Cliff announced that Dallas City Councilwomen Delia Jasso and Pauline Medrano received scholarships to attend this week’s Velo-City Conference in Seville, Spain. Only 10 city council members nationwide received full scholarships to attend.

Who knows, maybe Jasso and Medrano can be convinced to ride in this year’s Lone Star Ride.

And speaking of biking in Oak Cliff, getting a parking space in Bishop Arts on a Saturday morning is getting difficult. Oh, plenty of car parking. But the bike racks in front of Oddfellows — the new coffee shop that took Vitto’s old space — fill up fast.

 

—  David Taffet

Burns, Hicks unopposed in FW council bids

Joel Burns

5 candidates vying to replace Moncrief as mayor; Zimmerman is only other incumbent unopposed

TAMMYE NASH   | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — With the filing deadline passed for the Fort Worth City Council elections in May, the city’s LGBT community is assured of having its two strongest allies — openly gay District 9 Councilmember Joel Burns and District 8 Councilmember Kathleen Hicks — back in their seats in the council chambers since neither drew any challengers in their re-election bids.

It will be Burns’ second full term on the council after being elected in a December 2007 runoff to replace Wendy Davis when she stepped down to run for the Texas Senate.
Hicks is going into her fourth term representing District 8.

The only other uncontested seat on the council is in District 3 where W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, one of six councilmembers who voted in favor of adding transgender protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance in October 2009, is running unopposed for his second council term.

But at least two candidates are running for each of the six other seats at the council table, including mayor where five candidates are vying to replace Mike Moncrief, who decided to retire after serving four terms.

Mayoral candidates include two former city council members Cathy Hirt and Jim Lane, Tarrant County Tax Assessor/Collector Betsy Price, former state Rep. Dan Barrett and experimental filmmaker Nicholas Zebrun.

Fort Worth attorney Jon Nelson, one of the founders of the LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth, said this week said that while “it’s really still too soon to tell, I have heard that people supposedly knowledgeable in the area of Fort Worth politics” predict that the race to replace Moncrief will come down to Hirt and Lane.

Nelson said he is supporting Hirt, because he believes she is a “very intelligent … nuts-and-bolts kind of person who will get things done” and because “her stance on equality is very solid.”

But Nelson said that he believes Lane and Barrett “would have supported what the mayor and City Council did” in the wake of the June 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by adding trans protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance and establishing a diversity task force to address LGBT issues.

Nelson acknowledged that he knows little about Price and said he has “never heard of Zebrun.”

Council races

In District 2, incumbent Sal Espino, an attorney is running for his fourth term on the council against Paul L. Rudisill, who is in the healthcare industry.

Espino provided a positive vote on LGBT issues in the months since the Rainbow Lounge raid, including voting for adding transgender protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

Rudisill, on his campaign website, describes himself as a conservative who will work to “steer City Hall in the direction you, the taxpayer, desire, not the way liberals have in the past.”

In District 4, incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Scarth is running for his fourth term. Scarth was one of the three councilmembers to vote against adding trans protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance.

Scarth, executive director of Hope Media, is being challenged by businesswoman Lupe Arriola, who with her husband owns a string of fast-food restaurants. On her website, Arriola promises she will “not rubber stamp the wants of the special interests groups.”

Real estate broker Frank Moss in District 5 is the only incumbent running for re-election to draw more than one challenger. Moss, running for his third term, voted favorably on LGBT issues, including the transgender nondiscrimination measure. He is being challenged by designer Charles Hibbler and school administrator Rickie Clark.

Dallas Voice was unable to locate campaign websites for either Hibbler or Clark. However, webs searches indicate both have previously run unsuccessful campaigns for public office.

In District 6, incumbent Jungus Jordan, who voted against adding transgender protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance, is running for his fourth term. Jordan, a retired economist, is being challenged by civic advocate Tollie Thomas, who has no campaign website available.

District 7 incumbent Carter Burdette, the third councilmember to vote against trans protections, is not running for re-election. Five candidates are vying to replace him on the council.

Burdette is backing Dennis Shingleton, senior associate dean of finance and administration at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Also running in District 7 are bank officer Jonathan Horton, Jack Ernest who works in business management, Merchant Services Inc. CEO Jon Perry and consultant Lee Henderson.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Resource Center Dallas calls for investigation of city’s handling of gay discrimination complaints

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the city to investigate whether the intent of its ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination is being honored.

In a letter today to three city council members, Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell points to Dallas Voice reports saying that in the nine years since the ordinance was passed, more than 40 complaints have been filed, but none has ever been prosecuted.

McDonnell’s letter to Councilwomen Angela Hunt, Delia Jasso and Pauline Medrano was triggered by reports on this blog last week about anti-gay discrimination by the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has repeatedly refused to sell family memberships to same-sex couples.

The city ordinance, passed in 2002, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Gender identity is included in the definition of sexual orientation under the ordinance. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

A Dallas Voice investigation in 2008 concluded that at the time, 33 complaints had been filed under the ordinance. In 22 of those cases, the City Attorney’s Office determined that there was no cause to prosecute.

Of the other 11 cases, three were successfully resolved through mediation; three people withdrew their complaints after signing statements indicating that defendants had taken actions necessary to address their concerns; five complaints were found to be nonjurisdictional, meaning the incidents occurred outside city limits or defendants were exempt from the ordinance; and in one case the party filing the complaint couldn’t be located.

Here’s the full text of McDonnell’s letter:

Dear Councilmembers Jasso, Medrano and Hunt,

As you three know, Dallas is one of a handful of cities in Texas that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy. Resource Center Dallas is proud to be in a city offering such protections. We assume that you, like us, are disturbed by last week’s stories on the Dallas Voice’s blog.

The Voice reported that a gay couple who recently moved to Dallas sought to join Baylor’s Tom Landry Center under the family membership program. The couple was advised that Baylor only offers family members to people who are married as defined by Texas law. There is no same-gender alternative, which, to us, is monetized discrimination.

The Voice’s blog also reported that since the ordinance became law in 2002, more than 40 complaints have been filed. Yet, shockingly, the City has not prosecuted one of those complaints. Is this correct? Are complaints being resolved through mediation, settlements, or are the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people filing these grievances walking away empty-handed?

We write to ask for your help. We would like for you to call for an investigation of whether or not the intention of the ordinance is being honored. As we know you will agree, enacting an ordinance is only the first step in addressing discriminatory practices. The critical second step is its enforcement. From the Voice’s reporting, it sounds like the ordinance we all worked so hard to put in place may not be as effective as we thought.

Sincerely,

Rafael McDonnell
Strategic Communications and Programs Manager, Resource Center Dallas

—  John Wright

Angela Hunt kicks off her re-election bid as possible ‘battle royale’ for mayor looms

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt will host a re-election kickoff tonight at the Stoneleigh Hotel, and not surprisingly several members of the LGBT community are listed as platinum, gold and silver hosts. Hunt is a solid LGBT ally who represents heavily gay portions of the city including half of Oak Lawn. She has announced that she’s seeking re-election to her District 14 seat but hasn’t said whether she’ll run for mayor if Tom Leppert decides not to seek a second term. Leppert is considering a bid for U.S. Senate in 2012 if Kay Bailey Hutchison doesn’t seek re-election, as Gromer Jefffers at The Dallas Morning News reiterates this morning:

Unless Hutchison gives him a heads up that she’s running, chances are Leppert won’t seek re-election as mayor.

That means another battle royale election in Dallas, much like the one that elevated Leppert in 2007. That year, nearly 20 candidates expressed an early interest in the job. But this time, there is no reliable list of contenders, not even a short one. Just one candidate has announced he’ll run: Jim Moore, a little-known Dallas lawyer.

Park Board member and former city homeless czar Mike Rawlings has been frequently mentioned as a contender. Other names include City Council members Angela Hunt and Ron Natinsky.

Hunt’s re-election kickoff will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Stoneleigh, 2927 Maple Ave. in Dallas. For more info, visit her website.

—  John Wright

Dallas City Council resolution condemns bullying, notes that LGBT students are often the victims

As Unfair Park first reported last week, the Dallas City Council on Wednesday will consider a resolution to condemn all bullying, harassment and intimidation at schools in the city. The two-page resolution, submitted by seven council members, notes that “children and youth with disabilities and children and youth who are lesbian, gay, or trans-gender, or who are perceived to be so, [are] at particularly high risk of being bullied by their peers … ”

The resolution was submitted by Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano, Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Steve Salazar and Tennell Atkins. If you’ll remember, Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, addressed the City Council and requested just such a resolution three weeks ago (you can watch video of Piazza’s remarks here). Since then, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees has opted to move forward with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. So at this point the City Council resolution is like icing on the cake. And just in case you really like icing, we’ve posted the full text below.

—  John Wright