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

Metro offers free bus rides on New Years Eve

Maybe there is such a thing as a free ride. Houston Metro is offering free bus and train fares starting at 6 pm New Years Eve and continuing through 6 am on New Years Day. Metro explains via press release that it “wants to help individuals celebrating the arrival of the New Year a safe option to get home rather than getting behind the wheel.”

As a bonus, the light rail is free on Sunday since it’s a game day, so if you are downtown and need to go to Reliant stadium, or at Reliant and need to go downtown, you’re set.

So when midnight rolls around on the 31st and it’s time to head home remember you have options. A DWI is a horrible way to start the new year.

—  admin

Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

Final bets at the finale of Team DV’s P-P-P-Poker Tourney

Ante up to the table

Team Dallas Voice and Pocket Rockets Dallas are raising money for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS by holding a P-P-P-Poker Tournament at clubs across town. After three weeks, the event has come to the grand prize final.

Because this is Dallas, not Vegas, the game play is free, so if you want to contribute to the LSR cause, bring cash to enter the raffle. Among the prizes available or that have been won are tickets to see Dolly Parton (we’ll resist the urge to call this one a “booby prize”), Ke$ha and Chelsea Handler,  tickets to the Texas Rangers and Lone Star Park horse races, Starbucks coffee, a set of poker chips, books, grooming supplies and much more … and the final grand prize: Two tickets on American Airlines anywhere in the contiguous U.S.

DEETS: Check out the Facebook event page here for details.

—  Rich Lopez

In Fehrenbach’s case, SLDN reports ‘negotiations’ are continuing with DOJ and Air Force

On Wednesday, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach went to federal court seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent his imminent discharge from the Air Force. The decision to discharge Fehrenbach had reached the desk of the Secretary of the Air Force. In addition to the TRO, Victor is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent his discharge. This news created a huge stir in the blogs and traditional media. People seem mystified that President Obama would allow the military to discharge a war hero Fehrenbach.

Well, there’s been no decision by the judge — yet. Just got this from SLDN:

“Negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Air Force and the legal team representing Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach are expected to continue through at least Monday,” said Trevor Thomas, spokesperson for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Interesting.

That DOJ is even negotiating reinforces my view that the decision to move ahead on the TRO was great work by Fehrenbach’s legal team of SLDN and Morrison & Foerster (seriously, the url for the law firm is mofo.com. You wanna mess with them?)

If the Obama administration’s DOJ actually thinks that DADT will be repealed by Congress (which was argued to the Judge in the Log Cabin case as a reason to postpone the trial), this should be a no-brainer. There should be no need for “negotiations.” But, we’ve seen time and time again that the Obama administration continues to defend DADT even as it discharges servicemembers using that discriminatory policy. Actions here don’t match the President’s words or promises. This has got to end.

SLND has a website dedicated to this proceeding here, which includes this key point:

The discharge of Lt. Col. Fehrenbach would dramatically underscore that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is still the law and all gay and lesbian service members should be on notice.

A couple weeks ago, Dan Choi was discharged. Absent this legal action, the same thing could happened to Fehrenbach. This has to end.

I hope someone at the White House — maybe the two people we were told by Melody Barnes are the tip of the spear for LGBT issues, Tina Tchen and Brian Bond — are paying attention. If Victor gets kicked out, it’s going to reflect badly on the President. After all, on June 29, 2009, Obama looked Victor “right in the eye and he said, ‘We‘re going to get this done.’” Still waiting.

Enough already, Mr. President. As Rachel Maddow said on Wednesday night:

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is going to end, the President could stop enforcement of the policy pending that change. Why isn’t he?”

When Robert Gibbs wonders why progressives are upset, this is one shining example.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright