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

GLBT Community Center offers Christmas Dinner

GLBT Community CenterFor many, Christmas is a time for family, but as we all know, not everyone in the LGBT community is on the best terms with their family, and for others financial concerns keep them from traveling during the holidays. For those of us spending the holidays alone (or those of us who just enjoy a good potluck) the Houston GLBT Community Center, in cooperation with the AIDS Housing Coalition Houston, is hosting a Christmas potluck at the Center’s offices at  the Historic Dow School (1901 Kane). There is no charge for the Potluck and Turkey and Ham will be provided. Those attending may bring a side dish to share but should not feel obligated to bring anything if they are not able.

“The Center family is thrilled to partner with Matt Locklin and AIDS Housing Coalition Houston on this Christmas luncheon,” said Tim Brookover, president of the center. “We hope people will join us who don’t have plans for the holiday — or maybe need a break from the plans they have! Christmas and your GLBT family. Now that’s festive!”

If you would like to volunteer or make a contribution to offset expenses, contact AHCH executive director Matt Locklin at ahch@wt.net.

—  admin

25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at texashiv.org

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

Local Briefs

CCGLA surveys candidates, sets meet-and-greet events

As municipal elections approach, the Collin County Gay & Lesbian Alliance has sent an online survey to city council, school board and mayoral candidates in Allen, Frisco, Plano and McKinney, and “meet-and-greet” sessions for candidates are planned in Frisco, Plano and McKinney in April.

The organization will also create and distribute a voters’ guide.

The Plano “meet-and-greet” will be held on Friday, April 8, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at a private residence. For more information, go online to CCGLA.org.

Results of CCGLA’s candidate surveys will be posted on the CCGLA website prior to each event. The events are informal, non-partisan, and all candidates are invited.

Oak Cliff Earth Day to feature vendors, info booths and more

Oak Cliff Earth Day, which has become the largest all-volunteer-run Earth Day since it started five years ago, will be held on Sunday, April 17, from noon to 5 p.m. at Lake Cliff Park, located at the intersection of Colorado Street and Zang Boulevard in Oak Cliff.

There is no charge to attend the event, which will include art, food, plants and other environmentally-friendly products available for purchase.

There will also be educational booths on topics such as how to save energy and clean up the environment, along with locally-grown honey, animals to adopt and native plants for gardens.

Parking at the park is limited, however, free parking is available at Methodist Hospital, in Lot 10 only, located at 1400 S. Beckley Ave. across from the hospital entrance on Beckley Ave. Methodist Hospital is providing a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the event.

Participants are also encouraged to take DART to the event or walk or ride a bicycle. There are a number of bike racks, funded by Oak Cliff Earth Day, at the park.

Mayoral candidates to speak Sunday on animal issues in Dallas

Dallas’ mayoral candidates will participate in a forum on animal issues in the city of Dallas on Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. at the Central Dallas Library, 1515 Young St., in downtown Dallas. The Metroplex Animal Coalition is sponsoring the forum, with is free and open to the public. Journalist Larry Powell with Urban Animal magazine will moderate.

The mayoral candidates are former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Councilman Ron Natinsky, real estate consultant Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and Dallas homeless czar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Guest column by Jake Goodman: A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)

A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)

by Jake Goodman

This past Thursday, a broad coalition of Jewish and queer New Yorkers gathered on in sub-freezing temperatures for a protest march through the heart of the Jewish neighborhood in Flatbush.  The event, titled “In God’s Name,” was organized by grassroots activist group Queer Rising – of which I am a proud member.

“In God’s Name” turned out to be one of the most powerful, effective events I’ve experienced.  I’d like to take a moment to explain why.


Why We Fight:  October 2010

Who could forget October 2010?  Suicides by queer youth made headlines every day.  Young people faced harassment, terror and shame so extreme that they felt compelled to take their own lives.  At the same time, reports of hate crimes against LGBT people surfaced.  In New York City alone, gay men were attacked in Chelsea and at the historic Stonewall Inn, of all places.  Most horrifying to me, in the Bronx a group of kids ages 16-23 calling themselves the Latin King Goonies tricked, trapped, then tortured three men for being gay.  

On October 10th, at the very height of this violent epidemic, NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, in an anti-gay speech written by Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the infamously homophobic fringe rabbi of Flatbush, Brooklyn, said,  ”I don’t want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equal valid and successful option.  It is not.”   I watched, mortified, as the media repeatedly replayed the video of ultra-Orthodox Jews applauding and approving this inciting speech.

In that moment, the link between anti-LGBT rhetoric and the recent rash of suicides by queer youth became tragically clear for me.  Radical-Right religious and political leaders, role models to many, spew hateful speech that strips queer people of their humanity and dignity.  Others hear this rhetoric (aided by an ill-informed media machine) and internalize it as tacit permission to enact violence onto individuals who are, not to mince words, called abominations.

The fact that such vitriol was coming from the mouth-or rather, the pen-of someone who purported to be a spokesperson for my religion was beyond the pale.  As was stated by the always-eloquent Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), “As Jews, we are horrified at the anti-LGBT bigotry coming in the name of Judaism at many of our youth, Jewish and non-Jewish.  We want religion to be a force of liberation, not a force of oppression.”

How We Fight: Building Coalition “In God’s Name”

When planning “In Gods Name,” we had a choice.  Initially, we wanted to do an action that directly attacked Rabbi Yehuda Levin on his home turf, shaming him for his vicious homophobic rhetoric, accusing him of having blood on his hands for the deaths and wrecked lives of people who listened to and internalized his words.  After speaking with many people within diverse Jewish communities (Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, unaffiliated, queer), we quickly realized this was not the right tack to take.

Yehuda Levin is a fringe rabbi.  Despite the picture the media paints, he has very few actual followers-maybe 14?-and we do not want to elevate him.   Oftentimes, protesters simply compare homophobic Jewish leaders to Hilter, inciting a community that is hyper-sensitive to attacks of anti-Semitism and dashing any support that might otherwise exist. Finally, and most importantly, what would an angry protest accomplish?  We would have made our point, sure, but what would change?  Nothing.

So we decided instead to build a coalition. We communicated with over 100 rabbis from every denomination.  We visited support groups for ex-Orthodox gay Jews.  We partnered with other organizations and communities that were doing related work.  We mobilized both Jewish and queer organizations to collaborate.

In the end, the success of “In God’s Name” can be measured by who showed up:  people of every sexual orientation, Jews of every denomination (including the unaffiliated), non-Jews, atheists, old people, young people, white people, Latino people, African Americans.  Rally speakers included a lesbian rabbi (Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum), an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum), an Israeli nonprofit executive (Idit Klein) and a gay union leader (Stuart Appelbaum).  We were endorsed by synagogues large and small, queer and AIDS-related activist groups, hospitals, arts youth groups, community centers, etc.

Together, in solidarity, we demanded an immediate end to anti-LGBT rhetoric spoken “in God’s name.”  We vowed that we would no longer stand idly by when we personally heard such hateful speech.  We proved that there is strength through community.  This community will rise up again and again, growing larger and more diverse, into a mass movement affirming that HATE IS THE ABOMINATION: NOT QUEER PEOPLE.

In God’s Name – Hate Is the Abomination from David Wallace on Vimeo.

Endorsing Partners:  Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), Keshet, Storahtelling, Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Jewish Chicks Rock, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, Nehirim, The Power, Project ACHIEVE & Columbia University Medical Center

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin