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

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

For Blenders’ consideration: GOProud Unveils 2011 Legislative Agenda

This just landed in my inbox. Submitted without comment, save I don't see anything that will help prevent discrimination against LGBTs in states where there are no state-level ENDAs or general anti-discrimination laws. You think the free market will fix the problems in those states? That seems more than a tad out of touch for those of us in “fly-over country.” Anyway, I'm sure you will have plenty to say about it.

Today GOProud, the only national organization representing gay conservatives and their allies, unveiled their 2011 Legislative Agenda. “Historic wins by conservatives last November mean new opportunities to move forward on critical legislative priorities,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director. “The stale failed big government agenda of the gay left is dead. Now is the time for the gay community and those who care about gay people to embrace conservative solutions to the challenges facing gay and lesbian families.”

In these past mid-terms, according to exit polls, 31% of self-identified gays and lesbians voted Republican. “The gay left would have you believe that gay conservatives don’t exist. The truth is that almost a third of self-identified gay voters cast ballots for Republican candidates for Congress in the mid-terms,” continued LaSalvia. “This should be a wake-up call for the out-of-touch so-called leadership of Gay, Inc. in Washington, D.C., which has become little more than a subsidiary of the Democratic Party. Your agenda has not only been rejected by the American people, it has been rejected by a substantial and growing portion of the gay community.”

…“It is time for a new approach for the gay community, which is why GOProud is unveiling our 2011 legislative agenda,” said Christopher R. Barron, Chairman of the Board. “We believe that this agenda offers common-sense conservative solutions that will improve the lives of all Americans, but especially gay and lesbian Americans.”

…“Our agenda is simple. We reject the big government approach of every other national gay organization,” said Barron. “We aren’t looking for special treatment or special carve outs for gay people – we support conservative legislative solutions that will help all American families – and that includes gay and lesbian families.”

“Our agenda is unlike that of any other national gay organization. We are unabashedly conservative and committed to the conservative movement. We look forward to convincing more Americans – gay and straight – of the need for real conservative policy solutions in the months and years ahead,” concluded Barron.

GOProud’s Conservative Agenda

The so-called “gay agenda” is defined by the left through a narrow prism of legislative goals.  In contrast to the approach of the left, GOProud’s agenda emphasizes conservative and libertarian principles that will improve the daily lives of all Americans, but especially gay and lesbian Americans. 



 – We support replacing the current tax code with the Fair Tax.  Until then, we support death tax repeal; domestic partner tax equity; cuts in the capital gains and corporate tax rates to jump start our economy and create jobs; and a fairer, flatter and substantially simpler tax code. 



 – Free market healthcare reform.  Allow for the purchase of insurance across state lines – expanding access to domestic partner benefits; emphasizing individual ownership of healthcare insurance – such a shift would prevent discriminatory practices by an employer or the government.



 – The only way to permanent solvency in the Social Security system is through the creation of inheritable personal savings accounts.  Personal savings accounts would give gay and lesbian couples the same opportunity to leave their accounts to their spouse as their straight counterparts. 





 – Standing up for all tax payers against wasteful and unnecessary spending to protect future generations from the mounting federal debt.



 – Standing strong against radical regimes that refuse to recognize the basic human rights of gays and lesbians, women and religious minorities.



 – Opposing any anti-gay federal marriage amendment.  Marriage should be a question for the states.  A federal constitutional amendment on marriage would be an unprecedented federal power grab from the states.



 – Package of free market reforms to encourage and support small businesses and entrepreneurship.  Such reforms would create jobs for all Americans – including gay Americans.



 – A package of urban related reforms; expanding historic tax preservation credits; support for school choice.



 – Protecting 2nd amendment rights.


Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Litigation Continues; Senate Consideration of Repeal Looms

Only last week, we saw a federal district court in California declare the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law unconstitutional.  Yesterday, another DADT case rose to the forefront of the national debate on DADT.  In opening arguments before a federal district court in Washington, the attorney for Major Margaret Witt, an Air Force reservist nurse who was discharged under DADT after 18 years of service, argued for Major Witt’s reinstatement.  Major Witt’s case is before the district court after being remanded by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2008.

In the 2008 decision of Witt v. Department of Air Force, the Ninth Circuit found that the government must prove that Major Witt’s DADT discharge was necessary to “advance an important governmental interest (this is often referred to as the “Witt standard”).  Under the Witt standard, the military is required to demonstrate that each individual discharged under DADT, such as Major Witt, has a negative impact on his/her unit because of his/her sexual orientation.  The district court will determine if Major Witt’s sexual orientation negatively impacted unit cohesion.  If it is determined that Major Witt did not negatively impact unit cohesion, she has requested to be reinstated in the Air Force.  This decision is expected to pave the way for how the Witt standard will be applied in the Ninth Circuit – and how discharges and reinstatements may be reviewed under the standard.

While DADT litigation continues in the courts, Congress is moving forward with legislation to repeal the failed law.  Late yesterday, it was reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to schedule a vote next week on the National Defense Authorization bill, which contains DADT repeal language.  The House of Representatives passed its DADT repeal-inclusive National Defense Authorization bill in late May.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright