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

Incumbants fair poorly in runoff election

We now have results from all precincts:

District A
Helena Brown: 55%
Brenda Stardig: 45%

District B
Alvin Byrd: 49%
Jerry Davis: 51%

Place 2:
Kristi Thibaut 49.9%
Andrew Burks 50.2%

Place 5
Jack Christie  54%
Jo Jones  46%

Both incumbents, Jones and Stardig, seem to have lost their bid for re-election, Thibaut misses a council seat by only 212 votes and Davis becomes the only candidate endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus to win in the runoff.

—  admin

FEEDBACK: Looking at District 14

Looking at District 14

This spring’s Dallas City Council District 14 race should draw our community into the voting booth in far greater numbers than any prior municipal election. Angela Hunt, the incumbent, announced Feb. 9 that she would run again for her seat. Jim Rogers had previously announced with the stipulation that he would withdraw from the race if Hunt ran.

The Feb. 4 issue of Dallas Voice announced that Erin Lasseter and Victor Franko were also running. I do not know either of them, but I do know the final announced candidate, James Nowlin.

Frankly, I think the race will be between Hunt and Nowlin. They have important commonalities: Both are experienced attorneys, highly analytical, forthright and hardworking.

Their differences are just as striking. Hunt is straight and married; Nowlin is openly gay. Hunt has served three two-year terms; Nowlin would be a fresh face. Hunt considered a run for mayor; Nowlin announced early for the council seat.

And Nowlin is a Stonewaller — a long-time member and former board member of the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas — and a neighborhood activist.

Monday, March 14 is the last day for candidates to file. April 1 is the last day to register to vote or to change your voter registration if you have moved since your card was issued.

What happens in Dallas affects us at least as much as what happens in D.C. Your voice is your vote. So is mine. Let’s speak out loud and proud to assure that our community is heard.

Phyllis Guest
Dallas

—  John Wright

Angela Hunt isn’t running for mayor, and James Nowlin isn’t dropping out of the District 14 race

James Nowlin

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, a staunch LGBT ally who represents the heavily gay District 14, tells Unfair Park that she’s opted not to run for mayor in 2011, and will instead seek re-election to her council seat.

But James Nowlin, the openly gay candidate who announced plans to run for Hunt’s District 14 seat when it looked like she’d run for mayor, says he doesn’t plan to withdraw from the race and will challenge her in May.

“Angela made every indication that she was running for mayor, and our campaign team moved forward, and as we were moving forward we received tremendous support from voters across the district,” Nowlin said Wednesday. “Her waiting put the district and the potential candidates in a very awkward position. I’m in to to win it and I’m moving forward to the May 14 election.”

Another potential candidate in District 14, Jim Rogers, has said he won’t run if Hunt seeks re-election. But Nowlin, who was appointed to the Police Review Board by Hunt, said the seat belongs to the voters and he wants to give them a choice.

“I’m not running against anybody,” Nowlin said. “I’m running for the district, and this is about putting the district first.”

The filing period for Dallas city elections begins next week.

—  John Wright

District 14: Attorney Jim Rogers files to run but says he’ll withdraw if Hunt seeks re-election

Jim Rodgers

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Jim Rogers, a Dallas attorney and accountant, filed information on his campaign treasurer on Jan. 18 to begin his run for the Dallas City Council District 14, the seat now held by Angela Hunt. But at that evening’s Stonewall Democrats meeting, he said that if Hunt decides run for her council seat again rather than for mayor, he would withdraw.

Rogers said he only decided to get into the race two days earlier, after a meeting with friends.

“This isn’t a Jim Rogers decision,” he said. “It’s a neighborhood decision.”

One of those in the neighborhood who supports that decision is Neal Emmons, a Hunt appointee to the City Plan Commission.

Emmons cited Rogers’ years of experience working on neighborhood issues as his greatest strength, noting that Rogers has been active in Democratic politics in the city for years and has become a member of Stonewall Democrats.

Rogers has lived in Oak Lawn and East Dallas for 30 years and served on the Urban Rehabilitation Standards Board. He was one of the original Bryan Place homeowners.

When Bryan Place was built just outside of Downtown Dallas in the early 1980s, it was the first residential development built so close to the city center in decades and its residents were considered urban pioneers.

Rogers said developer Dave Fox told him, “Bryan Place wouldn’t have the atmosphere it has if it wasn’t for Jim Rogers.”

“We didn’t do what I wanted to do,” he said. “We found out what the neighborhood wanted to do.”

He said he went door to door to find out what his new neighbors thought would make this a better place to live. The neighborhood had no amenities and people wanted a swimming pool. They created a $300,000 budget that would include a clubhouse.

Developer Fox & Jacobs pledged $200,000 to the project if Rogers could raise $100,000 never believing they’d have to make good on their promise.

Rogers delivered his portion from money raised from the new homeowners. The developers pitched in their pledge and built the pool.

He said that story illustrates how he would approach his job on the City Council.

“I want to involve as many people from the district as possible,” he said.

He said he would listen and learn what issues are not being addressed. But he did have a three-point plan — smoother streets, safer neighborhoods and lower taxes.

While he followed and understood the budgeting problems that the council faced last year, Rogers said he wondered why Dallas has the highest tax rate of any major city in the state.

He said he wasn’t looking to slash services, “But more analysis needs to be done.”

He said he was driving near Northwest Highway and LBJ Freeway and he suddenly noticed a difference in the road.

“Then I realized I was in Garland,” he said. “Garland shouldn’t have smoother streets than we do.

Rogers promised to be an advocate for the LGBT community, just as Hunt has been. Although same-sex marriage is not an issue that faces a city council, he offered his opinion on it.

“Why not?” Rogers asked. “How’s it going to affect my marriage?”

He said he supports policies already in place in Dallas such as domestic partnership benefits for city employees and the nondiscrimination ordinance. On new issues that might come before the council, he said his door would be open for members of the community to come and educate him so he could support equality.

“I will always fight for the guy who is not being treated right,” he said.

He called the LGBT community “The most active political community on the face of the earth.”

“I want the support of that community,” he said. “It’s amazing how much work goes on there.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright