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

Former GLBT Political Caucus President to lead Harris County Democratic Party

Former HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg gives new chair Lane Lewis the keys to the party office

Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus president and longtime Democratic party activist Lane Lewis was elected to serve as the Harris County Democratic Party interim chair by the County Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 20. Lewis will serve the remainder of outgoing chairman Gerry Birnburg term, which expires in April. Birnburg announced earlier this year that he would step down after the November general elections.Lewis has also completed his filing as a candidate for HCDP chair on the April 2012 primary ballot.

Lewis previously served as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 1997. He has a long history of advocacy on LGBT issues.

“Words cannot express the profound sense of responsibility I feel right now,” said Lewis moments after his election as HCDP Chair.  “I am grateful so many fellow Democrats have entrusted me to lead during such a pivotal time. We have much work to do over the next several months to get our county and our candidates ready for the November 2012 election.  This enormous task will take the work of current elected officials, precinct chairs and activists working in unison.  My job will be to foster a new vision for our party and work to keep us all focused on our common goal.”

During Lewis’ acceptance speech, he spoke briefly about the direction and his vision for the party.

“A unified effort from every Democrat is the key to winning elections,” Lewis said.  “It’s plain and simple.  The middle class is under attack; the work we do in 2012 will be key to protecting the future and the promise that the American Dream provides.”

Lane Lewis was elected by an overwhelming majority.  He will begin operating the HCDP immediately.

—  admin

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

WATCH: Annise Parker wins second term as Houston Mayor

Annise Parker

Annise Parker greets the crowds at her victory party

Before a cheering crowd at Houston’s Union Station Annise Parker thanked her supporters and family for making her reelection as mayor of Houston possible. With 50.86% of the vote Parker narrowly avoided a runoff, but handily defeated her nearest opponent, Jack O’Conner, who received less than 15% of the vote.  The reelection to the office of mayor marks Parker’s eighth victory in a citywide election as she previously served three terms as an at-large city council member and three terms as city comptroller.

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East coast victories for LGBT candidates

While we’re waiting here in Houston for the results of today’s municipal elections the Victory Fund reports of victories for LGBT candidates on the East coast where polls closed an hour earlier than Texas.

State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-District 30) was elected to Virginia’s state Senate today, making him the Commonwealth’s first openly gay senator.

“I am honored by the trust the voters have showed in me,”  Ebbin said in a statement. “During the campaign, I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment. I will make sure their voices are heard…”

“Alex Morse, a 22-year-old graduate of Brown University, has just been elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass., a city of nearly 40,000 residents near Springfield…”

“Zach Adamson has won his race for city council in Indianapolis, giving the city its first openly LGBT city council member.”

“An incumbent on the Largo, Fla., City Commission who attacked her openly gay opponent over his sexual orientation has lost her reelection bid to him tonight. Michael Smith defeated Mary Gray Black, who has a history of anti-gay and anti-trans activism on the commission.”

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Texas: A not-so-great state

As Perry eyes the presidency and Dewhurst makes a bid for the Senate, let’s look at the story the numbers really tell

Phyllis Guest | Taking NoteGuest.Phyllis.2

It seems that while David Dewhurst is running for the U.S. Senate, Rick Perry — otherwise known as Gov. Goodhair — is planning to run for president. I wonder what numbers they will use to show how well they have run Texas.

Could they cite $16 million? That’s the sum Perry distributed from our state’s Emerging Technology Fund to his campaign contributors.

Or maybe it is $4.1 billion. That’s the best estimate of the fees and taxes our state collects for dedicated purposes — but diverts to other uses.

Then again, it could be $28 billion. That’s the last published number for the state’s budget deficit, although Perry denied any deficit during his last campaign.

But let’s not get bogged down with dollar amounts. Let’s consider some of the state’s other numbers.

There’s the fact that Texas ranks worst in at least three key measures:

We are the most illiterate, with more than 10 percent of our state’s population unable to read a word. LIFT — Literacy Instruction for Texas — recently reported that half of Dallas residents cannot read a newspaper.

We also have the lowest percentage of persons covered by health insurance and the highest number of teenage repeat pregnancies.

Not to mention that 12,000 children have spent at least three years in the state welfare system, waiting for a foster parent. That’s the number reported in the Texas-loving Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has agreed to put several amendments to the Texas Constitution before the voters. HJR 63, HJR 109 plus SJR 4, SJR 16, and SJR 50 all appear to either authorize the shifting of discretionary funds or the issuance of bonds to cover expenses.

Duh. As if we did not know that bonds represent debt, and that we will be paying interest on those bonds long after Dewhurst and Perry leave office.

Further, this spring, the Lege decided that all voters — except, I believe, the elderly — must show proof of citizenship to obtain a state ID or to get or renew a driver’s license. As they did not provide any funds for the issuance of those ID cards or for updating computer systems to accommodate the new requirement, it seems those IDs will be far from free.

Also far from free is Perry’s travel. The Lege decided that the governor does not have to report what he and his entourage spend on travel, which is convenient for him because we taxpayers foot the bill for his security — even when he is making obviously political trips. Or taking along his wife and his golf clubs.

And surely neither Rick Perry nor David Dewhurst will mention the fact that a big portion of our state’s money comes from the federal government. One report I saw stated that our state received $17 billion in stimulus money, although the gov and his lieutenant berated the Democratic president for providing the stimulus.

And the gov turned down $6 billion in education funds, then accepted the funds but did not use them to educate Texans.

The whole thing — Dewhurst’s campaign and Perry’s possible campaign, the 2012-2013 budget, the recent biannual session of the Texas Legislature — seems like something Mark Twain might have written at his tongue-in-cheek best.

We have huge problems in public school education, higher education, health care, air pollution and water resources, to mention just a few of our more notable failures.

Yet our elected officials are defunding public education and thus punishing children, parents, and teachers. They are limiting women’s health care so drastically that our own Parkland Hospital will be unable to provide appropriate care to 30,000 women.

They are seeking a Medicaid “pilot program” that will pave the way for privatized medical services, which will erode health care for all but the wealthiest among us. They are fighting tooth and nail to keep the EPA from dealing with our polluted environment. They are doing absolutely nothing to ensure that Texas continues to have plenty of safe drinking water.

They are most certainly not creating good jobs.

So David Dewhurst and his wife Tricia prayed together and apparently learned that he should run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat. Now Rick Perry is planning a huge prayer rally Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

God help us.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

2012 GOP Clown Car Bigot Tim Pawlenty: if elected President, he’ll reinstate DADT

It’s nice to know that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is telegraphing his priorities for the country early on as he prepares to jump in and fasten his seatbelt to ride in the 2012 GOP Clown Car.

He kneels before the gay-hating Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association and talks about GOProud attending CPAC, his views on “traditional marriage” and other bootlicking maneuvers to please the fundie listeners. (Right Wing Watch):

Fischer: Now the Left, and homosexual activists and organizations like GOProud, one of their stated agendas is to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage in federal law and for federal purposes as a union of one man and one woman. The Obama administration has made a tepid and pretty ineffective defense of that law – if you become president and that law faces a challenge under your administration, how vigorously will you defend DOMA? What will you do to make sure it’s defended?

Pawlenty: I believe strongly in traditional marriage. I was co-author of the law in Minnesota that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. I’ve been a vocal supporter of an amendment in Minnesota that would put that into our constitution. I hope that the day comes when it is put before the voters of Minnesota. And it’s not just a legal issue; it’s also an important cornerstone for our society and our culture. I mean, families and traditional marriage is so important to that and I don’t believe all other domestic relations should be on the same platform as traditional marriage, I just don’t buy and so I’ve been a strong supporter of traditional marriage. I also think who you appoint to courts in this regard is important and we don’t have litmus tests, so to speak, but we want strict constructionists and people who take a conservative view toward the interpretation of our laws.

…Fischer: One last question, got about forty five seconds left, put you on the hot seat one more time: we just saw the ban on homosexual service in the military repealed, overturned. Conservatives will be working over the next couple of years to see that that ban is reinstated. If you become president in 2012, will you work to reinstate the prohibition on open homosexual service in the military? Would you sign such a prohibition if it got to your desk?

Pawlenty: Bryan, I have been a public and repeat supporter of maintaining Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but if you look at how the combat commanders and the combat units feel about it, the results of those kinds of surveys were different than the ones that were mostly reported in the newspaper and that is something I think we need to pay attention to. But I have been a public supporter of maintaining Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and I would support reinstating it as well.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan Elected President Of All American Homophobic Catholic Leaders

dolanbw

New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who's long insisted he's not anti-gay (just anti gay-marriage), and that homosexuality is a compulsion that needs controlling, and that we are born with the knowledge gay relationships are gross, was just elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — a surprise move, given vice president Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson was in the running, and the Catholic Church's American leadership body usually chooses the next in line. (Kincanas beat Dolan three years ago for the VP slot by two votes.) Which means Dolan will now lead the way … in the church's political issues, like railing against Obamacare (because it uses taxpayer dollars for abortion!) and branching out from his campaign against legalizing same-sex marriage in New York to every other state.


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Out Lesbian Elected to Germany’s Highest Court

Germany is getting its very first lesbian Constitutional Court justice: Susanne Baer. She is a currently a professor for Public Law and Gender Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin, and has been an advocate for equal rights for women and sexual minorities. The Green Party nominated her for the position, and a committee of the German parliament elected her.

The Constitutional Court’s purpose is to interpret the Grundgesetz, i.e. the country’s constitution. Sixteen judges sit on the court, and each serves a twelve-year term.

I could only find stories about this development in German.
That is probably because the process for becoming a high court justice in Germany is uncontroversial compared to the U.S., and isn’t followed with much detail even there. Nevertheless, Germany’s commitment to sexual diversity at the high court is notable and important, especially considering that Germany still treats same-sex couples unequally under its tax laws.




AMERICAblog Gay

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Focus on the waffle: Same date, opposite elected duty

Focus on the Family, today:

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is making news because she said that, if elected governor, she will uphold the law. This is a headline in California.

I wonder if it’s also shocking that she will uphold the law even if it means that she will not have the support of major Hollywood stars. Shocking.

Weirdly, upholding the law is a crazy tangent from the what California voters have come to expect of current Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown—at least as it concerns Prop. 8.



Even if a person disagrees with a law, there’s something amiss in America when elected leaders refuse to uphold the law and the will of the people. This should concern every American, not just those who support Proposition 8.

Candidate makes news with promise to uphold the law [FOtF Citizenlink]

Focus on the Family, in a piece posted a year ago to the date:

A decision not to defend a bad law is good news for marriage supporters in Wisconsin.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen — who ordinarily would defend a duly-enacted law — announced Friday he will not defend the state’s domestic-partner law from a legal challenge brought by a pro-family group.

Under that law, which passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Jim Doyle earlier this year, same-sex couples began applying for domestic-partnership recognition this month. Wisconsin Family Action has asked that the registry be declared unconstitutional under the 2006 amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.



Jim Campbell, legal counsel for ADF, said he hopes the Wisconsin Supreme Court takes note of Van Hollen’s position.

“We believe that it’s very clear here. The people of Wisconsin said that they do not want the government creating anything that is substantially similar to marriage, and that is exactly what they’ve done here,” he said.

Campbell would like to see the state’s high court strike down the law.

“It would set good precedent for other states,” he said.

Wisconsin Attorney General Will Not Defend Domestic Partnerships [FOtF Citizenlink]

So on August 24, 2009, it’s totally awesome when an elected official decides to not defend a law that he finds out of line. But on August 24, 2010, there’s apparently “something amiss in America when elected leaders refuse to uphold the law and the will of the people.” Interesting how that works.

Now, FOtF would surely argue that the only “will of the people” rests with a direct vote (as in Prop 8), and that WI voters are the ones being undermined because the legislatively-enacted DP system supposedly trumps the marriage ban they enacted at the polls. But this is of course hogwash. “The people” elect their representatives and their governor. This is how it works in America. And both that state’s legislature and that state’s governor put Wisconsin DPs into law, knowing that domestic partnerships are a separate system from marriage that do not, in any way, fool anyone into believing the two institutions are one and the same. AG Van Hollen is failing to defend the DP system because he personally thinks it’s unconstitutional, just like Jerry Brown and Gov. Schwarzenegger think Prop 8 fails the legal smell test.

Regardless of where anyone stands on the principles and facts behind the individual refusals, it’s completely errant to condemn one elected official’s right as unconscionable, while calling the other “good news” and “good precedent.” And it’s equally disingenuous to act like Meg Whitman is the calm, cool head because she sees a responsibility to defend a law as dependent more on the bare majority number that put it into place rather than the merits of the law itself.




Good As You

—  John Wright