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

AP: ‘The rejection was a defeat for Obama… in recent weeks the White House has done little to push’ repeal

Associated Press:

The rejection was a defeat for Obama, who campaigned promising to overturn the law and later called it one of his top legislative priorities for the year. But in recent weeks the White House has done little to push the legislation, focusing its influence instead on tax cuts and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Can’t say we didn’t warn them.

Obviously, this is resonating at the White House. Jake Tapper just did a two-part tweet that reads:

WH spox: POTUS “committed to working with Congress to achieve a repeal of #DADT this year

and:

and is “willing to explore all legislative options to reach this goal during the lame duck session.” 2/2 #DADT

We need to see the President sending this message — not a spokesperson. And, we need to see hear and see the President make the statement, not get it by email.

President Obama should know by now that the disillusionment is justified.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Dela-What?! How to help defeat Christine O’Donnell from your computer

Christine O'Donnell

She crusaded to ‘cure’ gays through prayer, insinuated her primary opponent was gay, supported a group who smeared an openly gay Ambassador candidate, thinks the government spent too much fighting AIDS, and called homosexuality an “identity disorder.”  She’s Christine O’Donnell, the Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware – and Chris Coons is the only person standing in her way.

Chris Coons is an innovative, twice-elected county executive and a steadfast supporter of equality who has pledged to be a voice for fairness in the Senate. We can’t afford for him to lose.

In the 1990’s, O’Donnell founded an organization which sought to cure homosexuality and “sexual brokenness” through prayer – a practice debunked as harmful by the American Psychological Association. And only four years ago, she said, “Homosexuality is an identity adopted through societal factors. It’s an identity disorder.”

Mitch Crane, U.S. Senate candidate Chris Coons and HRC organizer Karl Bach

With every step she takes toward the United States Senate, Christine O’Donnell’s fringe, hateful views threaten to become more legitimized. What’s worse, she could win: In the two weeks since she upset a popular incumbent congressman in the Republican primary, she’s raised .6 million.

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Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright