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

Dave Wilson robo-calls Houstonians, warns of Annise Parker’s ‘alternative lifestyle’

Houston mayoral candidate Dave Wilson has stepped up his homophobic attacks against incumbent Mayor Annise Parker with a recent robo-call targeting Houston voters:

“Hello Houstonians, this is Dave Wilson, candidate for mayor. In 2009 I warned voters that Annise Parker would use her position to promote her alternative lifestyle, and she’s done that. Her very first executive order was to allow men dressed as women to use the women’s restroom. Her appointments have been based on sexual orientation, rather than ability. She appointed George Greanias, head of Metro, who was caught viewing porn sites such as rentaboy.com. Dave Wilson would have fired him on the spot. Join me in taking our city back, vote Dave Wilson, paid for by the Dave Wilson for Mayor.”

Wilson’s call contains several misleading, or outright false, claims, such as saying that Parker’s first executive order was to allow “men dressed as women to use the women’s restroom.” The first executive order Parker signed after being sworn in (E.O. #1-50), clarified the process for filing sexual harassment claims for city employees. The second (E.O #1-25) dealt with city operations during a natural disaster, the third (E.O. #1-42) with city credit cards, and the fourth (E.O. 1-14) with the city’s procurement procedure. The fifth and sixth executive orders signed by Parker (E.O. 1-8 and E.O. 1-20) dealt with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression and the use of hate language by City of Houston employees while on the job. Both order were signed on March 25, 2011, 2 months and 23 days after Parker took office. These are is the ones that chafe Wilson. Under order 1-20 access to public accommodations in city buildings, including restrooms, cannot be denied to any member of the public because they are LGBT. While Wilson fears “men in dresses” discretely handling their business in the stall next to his wife, he seems to miss that it also allows burly, bearded men who happened to have been assigned a female identity at birth to use the men’s room. One wonders if he’s ever thought about that.

Executive Order 1-20 is about basic courtesy and access to public facilities that most of us take for granted. No one should be put in the position of risking arrest for using a public restroom (which happened shortly after E.O. 1-20 went into effect), and it is humiliating to expect trans Houstonians to have to ask “which bathroom do you expect me to use” every time they’re in a city building.

The situation with George Greanias, CEO of Houston’s public transit system Metro, is far more complicated than Wilson describes it. To hear the robo-call you’d think Greanias was simply caught looking at pornography, a constitutionally protected right. The issue is that Greanias was caught looking at porn on Metro’s internet wi-fi, all be it accidentally. According to the Metro investigation Greanias accessed sites containing gay oriented adult material on 14 separate days between February 9, 2011 to July 1, 2011. The access was from Greanias’ personal computer and he believed through his personal internet access. In a letter to Metro employees he explained that “the violation was unintentional. I thought I was using my own computer, but was in fact in Metro’s system — but it was a violation all the same. The sites I accessed were of a sexual nature — to say the least, highly inappropriate, and embarrassing.”

Typically a violation of this nature by a Metro employee would have resulted in a verbal warning. Because of the high profile nature of Greanias’ job he received a much harsher punishment. According to Metro’s official statement “Chairman Gilbert Garcia has concluded that, as president and CEO, Mr. Greanias must be held to a higher standard, and decided instead of a warning Mr. Greanias would receive a more stringent punishment of one week suspension, without pay.”

None of that matters to Wilson. He “would have fired [Greanias] on the spot,” bypassing the review process guaranteed to all Metro employees and likely subjecting the city to a very expensive lawsuit. More than his overt homophobia, it’s Wilson’s blind ignorance of the procedural facts of running a city that should frighten Houstonians.

Early voting in Houston municipal elections (including mayor) continues through Nov. 3 at all early voting locations. Election day is Nov. 8. Early voting turnout continues to lag; votes cast during the first four days of voting have trailed the 2009 municipal election turnout by 21%.

—  admin

Los Lobos tonight at the Winspear

Latin legends grace Dallas

After 34 years, the iconic three-time Grammy winners, Los Lobos continues to top the charts with inventive and inspiring hit music.

Los Lobos was formed in 1974 by David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Prez and Cesar Rosas, four friends from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Though they started out as a rock-and-roll band, they soon chose a more traditional Mexican acoustic style. In time, the band adopted music from Tex-Mex, country, folk, R&B and blues, as well as the traditional Mexican songs from their roots. The band has won Grammys for its 1988 Spanish-language album, and for its contribution to the film Desperado. They have collaborated with artists such as Dave Alvin, Ruben Blades, Elvis Costello, Little Willie G, Mavis Staples, Richard Thompson, Bobby Womack and Tom Waits.

Wildly popular, talented and fun, the Los Lobos invites you to the ultimate Deiz y Seis celebration.

(from TITAS.org)

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 8 p.m. $12–$125. TITAS.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Griggs knocks off Neumann in District 3

With 52 of 56 precincts reporting, challenger Scott Griggs leads incumbent Dave Neumann in the District 3 Dallas City Council race.

Griggs, endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, appears well on his way to pulling off a rare upset of an incumbent.

With only four precincts left to be counted, Griggs has 57 percent of the vote to Neumann’s 43 percent. This one’s over.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Rawlings continues to lead Dallas mayor’s race; Kunkle pulling away from Natinsky

With 202 of 555 precincts reporting, former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings continues to lead in the race for Dallas mayor. And it’s looking more and more like Rawlings will face former Police Chief David Kunkle in a runoff.

Rawlings has 43 percent of the vote, Kunkle has 30 percent, and City Councilman Ron Natinsky has 25 percent. Edward Okpa has 2 percent. Kunkle now leads Natinsky for second place by almost 2,000 votes, but there’s still a ways to go. Remember, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June runoff assuming Rawlings doesn’t eclipse 50 percent.

In other Dallas races, with 20 of 56 precincts reporting, challenger Scott Griggs has expanded his lead over incumbent Dave Neumann in District 3. Griggs now has 59 percent to Neumann’s 41 percent, and appears well on his way to a rare upset of an incumbent. Griggs is endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

In District 14, with 11 of 59 precincts reporting, incumbent Angela Hunt maintains a hefty lead over gay candidate James Nowlin. Hunt has 63 percent to Nowlin’s 20 percent.

—  John Wright

Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, on why she’s going to the Log Cabin Republicans Convention

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

The Log Cabin Republicans will hold their National Convention in Dallas this coming weekend, and we’ll have a full story in Friday’s print edition. But because the convention actually begins Thursday, we figured we’d go ahead and post the full program sent out by the group earlier this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the program is a scheduled appearance by gay Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is of course a Democrat.

Valdez, who’ll be one of the featured speakers at a Saturday luncheon, contacted us this week to explain her decision to accept the invitation from Log Cabin (not that we necessarily felt it warranted an explanation). Here’s what she said: 

“We have more things in common than we have differences, but it seems like in politics we constantly dwell on our differences,” Valdez said. “If we continue to dwell on our differences, all we’re going to do is fight. If we try to work on our common issues, we’ll be able to accomplish some things.”

On that note, below is the full program. For more information or to register, go here.

—  John Wright

JMG Thanks Reader Dave Evans!

As a very active week on JMG comes to a close (almost 200 posts!), I’d like to take a moment to thank reader Dave Evans of Cleveland, who via his video news clipping work provides us with many breaking items of LGBT interest. Dave scours the cable outlets and chat shows for relevant items and often has them posted to his YouTube channel many hours (or days) before the networks themselves.

Best of all (for us) he can often track down clips upon my special request, even if it means the kid stays up half the night waiting on a news show rerun. And as some of you have noted, some proprietary video players (CNN, Vevo, Logo) can cause browsers to crash, but Dave is always there to repost the clip to the relatively browser-friendly YouTube. So snaps to gay news junkie Dave Evans from us all for helping keep JMG as up-to-the-minute as possible.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

News: Football, Armistead Maupin, Bravo, Iowa, Dave Salmoni

Road Gay Chicago philanthropist Martin Gapshis dies at 63.

Maupin RoadThe most-anticipated LGBT books of the fall season.

RoadMatthew McConaughey reappears to hawk cologne.

RoadApple censoring Gaga tweets?

RoadDan Savage on gay rights progress: "So here's where we're at: everyone who cares about gay issues is mad at the Democrats. The homophobes are angry because the Democrats suggested that they might do something about gay rights; gays and lesbians are furious with the Democrats for failing to do something—failing to do anything—about gay rights. Since doing nothing pisses off the gay haters just as much as doing something, perhaps the Dems should've have done something and won the enthusiastic support of someone. Heckuvajob, gang."

RoadJensen Ackles looking mighty fine playing some shirtless soccer.

RoadDave Salmoni is a single man again.

RoadAlan Cumming, Audi, and Brittany Snow to be honored by Point Foundation.

Beef RoadThe Wall street Journal investigates college football teams eager to show off their beef.

RoadLil Kim says she is not playing Atlanta's Black Gay Pride: "Lil Kim says a 'psycho lunatic' has been representing himself as her booking agent and conned the promoters out of ,000. She also said there was no way she could show up to perform now."

RoadLourdes gets walk-on role in Madonna film.

RoadResearcher: Weight loss in straight women and gay men driven by competitive instinct. "Li said that, evolutionarily speaking, it would have been good to remain young and nubile-looking as long as possible to attract mates. "These findings support the idea that the ultimate explanation for eating disorders is related to intrasexual competition," the study reads. Interestingly, the effect was cancelled out for straight men and lesbian women, though no reason for the anomaly was offered in the study."

RoadOn that note, lasagna sandwich anyone?

RoadMetro NY takes on moob shame.

V RoadLady Gaga and Marc Jacobs pair up for V.

RoadGay Iowa lawmaker Matt McCoy: Boycott anti-gay radio host Jan Mickelson's advertisers.

RoadAndy Cohen on Bravo's sexuality: "I always saying we’re bi, but I think it’s kind of how I view myself being gay—it’s just one of things that I am. So Bravo may or may not be gay, but I think there’s a lot of other things going on. I think for the gay people on Bravo, it’s one of the things that they are—they’re not on Bravo because they’re gay." 

RoadGay teen saves swimmer's life.

RoadSF Weekly names their top 10 closeted conservatives.

RoadGay journalists to face union picket line at SF convention this weekend: "The San Francisco chapter of Pride at Work, an LGBT labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, joined the city’s hotel workers union, Unite Here! Local 2, in calling on NLGJA to honor the union-initiated boycott of the Hyatt in an effort to win a long-delayed union contract for hotel employees. 'Although NLGJA understands the importance of collective bargaining and recognizes that worker actions are not to be blithely ignored, it is simply impossible at this late date for us to move this year’s convention to another hotel,' NLGJA President David Steinberg said in a statement."


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

Citing ‘Biblical Truth’, Iowa GOP Senate Candidate Dave Leach Agrees That AIDS is God’s Punishment for Homosexuality

Earlier in the week Iowa GOP Congressional candidate Jeremy Walters apologized for remarks written on his Facebook page saying that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality.

Leach Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn denounced Walters.

Yesterday, Dave Leach, a GOP candidate for the state senate there, came to Walters' defense, the Iowa Independent reports:

Leach, who is running against Democratic state Sen. Matt McCoy in Senate District 31, said Walters statement was 'theologically clumsy, but it seemed close enough to Biblical truth to not merit a censure from the Republican Party.'  … 'GOP head Matt Strawn is right in saying HIV does not discriminate; in other words, the fact that someone has HIV by no means proves they got it through sodomy,' Leach said in an e-mail to Strawn and The Iowa Independent. 'But I don’t see that that is what Jeremy said.'

Whether the Bible says there is a connection shouldn’t matter, he said, since, 'everyone knows there is this connection.'"

Said Leach:

"Everyone knows sodomites suffer [HIV/AIDS] far more than the rest of the population, and that sodomy’s practices, which are so embarrassingly unsanitary that you dare not detail them in one of your articles, would inevitably create such a disease if it did not already exist. It seems 'inappropriate,' to use Strawn’s word, to apologize for saying what the Bible says, with which everyone agrees. It is 'inappropriate' for anyone to ask such a thing. I am sorry that Jeremy gave up his ground, although at least he stood it for awhile, which is more than most will do."

And on a side note — that hat. Seriously?


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright