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

28th Annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade today

It only gets better

That’s this year’s theme of the Pride parade which features Honorary Grand Marshal, Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns and VIP guest, rugby star Ben Cohen. The parade is followed by the festival at Lee Park featuring live music and speakers. And it’s looking like the perfect day for a parade. Happy Pride.

DEETS: Parade starts at 2 p.m. $5 for festival. For details, click here.

—  Rich Lopez

UPDATE: Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle appear headed to runoff for Dallas mayor

With 426 of 555 precincts reporting at 9:25 p.m., it sure looks like former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings and former Police Chief David Kunkle are headed to a June runoff.

Rawlings leads with 42 percent of the vote, and Kunkle is second with 32 percent. City Councilman Ron Natinsky is third with 24 percent, and he now trails Kunkle by more than 4,000 votes.

Rawlings has 25,245 votes to Kunkle’s 19,023 and Natinsky’s 14,683. Edward Okpa has 1,321 votes, or 2 percent.

 

—  John Wright

Burns honored for anti-bullying efforts

Fox 4 News is reporting that Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief tonight presented gay Councilman Joel Burns with a special award in honor of his efforts on ending bullying.

Joel Burns

Moncrief said: “I salute Joel’s courage. It takes someone that has a little something extra to be able to share their personal pain in order to benefit others.”

Burns made national headlines last October after video his emotional speech during a Fort Worth City Council meeting about his own experience as a gay teen bullied by schoolmates went viral.

I don’t have any other details about tonight’s award, but I will update this post when I find out more.

—  admin

Light a Fire tonight at The Mac

Time to light a fire under people

When a group of friends came together to take a stance against bullying, Light a Fire was born. Now they hope to encourage many others to continue to raise awareness and educate on the issue. Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns guest speaks along with Dottie Griffith, Mike Rawlings and more at the Light a Fire inaugural event, with donations given to Youth First Texas.

DEETS: The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. 6:30 p.m. $25. The-Mac.org. Search “light a fire” on Facebook.

—  Rich Lopez

CORRECTION: All major candidates for Dallas mayor vied for LGBT vote in 2002

In my cover story for this week’s paper, I made a minor mistake. Actually it was fairly major. The opening paragraph of the story, as originally written, stated that 2011 marks the first time in history that all major candidates for Dallas mayor have actively courted the LGBT vote.

As former DV staff writer David Webb pointed out in the comments to the story, that’s not true. In 2002, Laura Miller, Tom Dunning and Domingo Garcia — the three major candidates for mayor — all courted the LGBT vote.

From The Dallas Mornings News on Jan. 15, 2002:

Dallas gays and lesbians, who used to hope that they could just find a candidate who wouldn’t be hostile to their interests, find themselves for the first time being wooed from all directions in what boils down to a three-way citywide race – and disagreeing about whom to support.

“It’s the first time I haven’t had to go vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Deb Elder, a Laura Miller supporter and political organizer. “Nothing has piqued my passion like this mayoral vote.”

Put another way, with major candidates Ms. Miller, Tom Dunning, and Domingo Garcia all touting their support for including gays in a nondiscrimination ordinance, a sector of voters that was shunned not long ago can’t lose this time around.

“It’s historic. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t know it would be this soon,” said Michael Milliken, one of the city’s first publicly identified gay appointees. “The gay community is in a unique position this year.”

I had based my report on statements by openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who called the 2011 mayoral election “a watershed moment for the community” and “unprecedented.”

While that may be true in some other respects, this isn’t the first time all major mayoral candidates have sought the LGBT vote, and I apologize for the error.

—  John Wright

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

Natinsky opts not to screen for Stonewall

As John Wright reported earlier here on Instant Tea, Dallas mayoral candidate Ron Natinsky was scheduled to participate in the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ screening and endorsement process on Saturday, even though, as a Republican, he’s not eligible for the group’s endorsement.

Now, however, according to an email to Stonewall — and copied to Dallas Voice — from Natinsky supporter Craig Holcomb, Natinsky has decided not to participate in the Stonewall screening. Holcomb, of course, is an openly gay former Dallas city councilmember.

Gentlemen,

Councilman Natinsky had been looking forward to participating in Stonewall Democrats’ screening tomorrow. However, since your bylaws clearly state that someone who has voted in a Republican primary is not eligible for endorsement, he will not be submitting a questionnaire or taking part in Saturday’s screening process.

Councilman Natinsky is opposed to disccrimination based on sexual orientation. That will not change when he is elected Mayor.

I am grateful for your prompt responses to my questions today.

Sincerely,

Craig Holcomb

UPDATE: Natinsky sent over this email addressed to “The Readers of Dallas Voice,” further explaining his decision:

I respect the GLBT community and had looked forward to participating in the Stonewall Democrats screening process.

However, when I learned that their bylaws would prevent me from receiving their endorsement because I have voted in a Republican primary, I decided it was more important to communicate directly with the community through The Dallas Voice.

Accordingly I am releasing my answers to their questionnaire to The Voice.

Stonewall Democrats, according to the email they sent, will be shredding all the other candidates’ questionnaires.

Sincerely,
Ron Natinsky

We’ve posted the completed Stonewall endorsement questionnaire supplied by Natinsky after the jump.

—  admin

History isn’t on Leppert’s side

Mayor Henry Ervay is buried in Oakland Cemetery near Fair Park.

The following Dallas mayors have run for governor or senator and won:

• ______________

That’s right. None.

Mayor Ron Kirk (1995-2002) is actually the only Dallas mayor ever to receive his party’s nomination for Senate, but he lost the general election. None has ever run for governor. However, a few Dallas mayors have gone on to serve in other offices.

John McClannahan Crockett, Dallas’ second mayor who served from 1857-58, became lieutenant governor from 1861-63 after Texas joined the Confederacy. After the Civil War, he served as mayor again in 1866-67.

But that’s the highest office a former Dallas mayor has ever held — lieutenant governor of a seceded state, something Mayor Tom Leppert could still achieve if Gov. Rick Perry gets his way.

Mayor John William Lane (1866) became a state representative and then a state senator.

Mayor Henry Schley Ervay (1870-72) went on to serve as a city alderman (councilman) from 1873-82. By the way, the reason one of the city’s main streets is named after him isn’t his 12 years of service. He became a Dallas hero because after becoming mayor, Ervay was considered not loyal enough to the Union (even though the guy was from New York) and thrown in jail in 1870 by the military governor. The state supreme court ordered Ervay released and he was allowed to serve.

Mayor Earle Cabell (1961-64) was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The only other mayor to run for the House was Mayor Wes Wise (1971-76) but he lost that race. Mayor Steve Bartlett was already a congressman when he became mayor (1991-95).

Houston’s mayors have fared even worse. Mayor Joseph Chappell Hutcheson Jr. (1917-18) became a federal judge. Mayor John Browne (1892-96) later was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Bill White (2004-10) was the first to run for governor and, like Kirk who ran for Senate, he lost. In fact, none of Texas’ governors or senators has ever been a mayor of any Texas city.

So if Mayor Tom Leppert resigned to run for Senate, good luck. History’s not on his side.

—  David Taffet