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

NOM’s Brian Brown Hates (The Particular Way) That DoJ Is Defending DOMA

The DOJ brief amounts to collusive litigation, failing to even offer to the court, much less vigorously defend, the reasons Congress laid out in the statute when it passed DOMA—especially responsible procreation. This is an attack not only on marriage, but on the prerogatives of Congress. The Executive branch should not attempt to exercise this kind of retroactive line-item veto over a bill passed by Congress.

—Brian Brown, the adorable Smiling Bigot of the National Organization for Marriage, happens to be just as furious with the Obama administration defending DOMA as you. But for very different reasons: While you hate seeing the White House's attorneys continue to find reasons to say the law is constitutional, Brown thinks DoJ is throwing the case. Now you go! [via]


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—  admin

Rep. Lamar Smith Is Afraid Obama’s DoJ Isn’t Defending DOMA Enough. So He Wants In

Rep. Lamar Smith has The Sads about the Defense of Marriage Act. He sees you radical homosexuals attacking a perfectly reasonable law, and now the the Texas Republican wants to do something about it. Like protect it!

CONTINUED »


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—  John Wright

Robert Gibbs, DNC Chairman?: From Defending Obama To Raising Cash For His Buddies

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs could become the next DNC chairman, according to "insiders," who say sitting chief Tim Kaine would get bumped to an administrative post, perhaps in the Cabinet. They just have to check with DNC's donors first. Not you.


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—  John Wright

Baptist Press is psyched that Obama admin. is defending DADT

Finally, the apologists and job-seekers who rationalize the Obama administration’s ongoing defense of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have an ally. Yes, Baptist Press, which was “Formed in 1946 by the Southern Baptist Convention,” seems quite pleased that the Obama administration is defending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the courts:

The Obama Justice Department is asking a federal judge to keep the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on homosexuals in place, arguing that rulings in other circuits upholding the ban prevent the judge from issuing a nationwide injunction against the 17-year-old policy.

BP adds a few choice tidbits about why defending DADT is so important:

Supporters of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) warn that reversing it would have a negative impact on military readiness, cohesion, recruitment, retention and religious freedom.

And:

Supporters of the policy say recent news events only strengthen their belief that Christian conservatives and other traditionalists will suffer if the policy is overturned.

Perhaps, the Southern Baptist Convention will file an amicus brief in support of the Obama administration’s defense of DADT when the appeal moves forward. And, I’m sure they’ll all be helping Jim Messina with the reelection campaign’s fundraising and get-out-the=vote efforts, too.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright