Fayetteville repeals nondiscrimination ordinance

map_of_fayetteville_arVoters in Fayetteville, Ark., repealed a nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the city council in August. The special election was held on Tuesday, Dec. 9.

According to the Fayetteville Flyer, the vote was 7,523 votes for repeal and 7,040 against.

The ordinance prohibited landlords from evicting someone or businesses from firing someone because of sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status or veteran status.

Voters in Fayetteville repealed a similar law in 1998, according to the city’s newspaper.

So it’s now legal once again to fire someone because he’s a veteran or deny housing to a couple who was legally married in Arkansas earlier this year.

—  David Taffet

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth top Texas cities in HRC Municipal Equality Index

MEI-2014-map-650x375The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual Municipal Equality Index today (Wednesday, Nov. 12) assessing LGBT equality in 353 cities across the nation, including 22 in Texas, according to a press release from HRC.

The MEI, the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy, assesses cities on a one to 100 scale.

The average score for the 22 Texas cities is 28 out of 100 points, far below the national average of 59. Only Austin achieved a perfect 100 score. Dallas came in second with 91 points and Fort Worth third with 83 points.

San Antonio, El Paso and Houston earned scores of 72, 52 and 54 respectively, the only other cities to score more than 50 points.

Other surveyed Texas cities included Amarillo: 14,  Brownsville: 20, Corpus Christi: 16, Killeen: 10, Laredo: 2, Lubbock: 0, McAllen: 0, Pasadena: 10, Waco: 24.

The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories: Non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage, contracting non-discrimination requirements, and other policies relating to equal treatment of LGBT city employees, inclusiveness of city services, fair law enforcement practices and leadership on matters of equality.

Check out the full list here and this week’s edition of the Voice for comments from local leaders.

—  James Russell

AMPA issues Veteran’s Day challenge to VA’s discrimination against LGBT vets

AMPAFor Veteran’s Day, The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America’s LGBT service members and veterans, once again called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to grant full and equal benefits to legally married LGBT veterans and their spouses.

“This is completely unacceptable and must be fixed now,” said Gene Silvestri, a U.S. Army veteran and AMPA’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator. “It’s unconscionable that legally married LGBT veterans are still being denied their full veterans benefits if they happen to live in a state that doesn’t respect their marriage. These are earned federal benefits, not benefits from the state.”

“How much longer do these families have to wait for the benefits they’ve sacrificed for and earned serving our nation?” asked Ashley Broadway, spouse of a U.S. Army officer and AMPA’s Director of Family Readiness. “More importantly, why does no one seem to care that these families are being treated differently? Where are the members of Congress who are supposedly champions of our veterans and their families?”

Even after the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to follow discriminatory language in Title 38 section 103c when determining the validity of marriages for veteran benefits purposes. As service members transition from active duty, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states are denied full and equal access to many earned veterans’ benefits from the VA. Legally married active duty service members living in non-marriage equality states are also denied access to the full backing of VA home loans.

In August, AMPA filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the VA challenging the VA’s regulations.

“Having weathered the federal government’s past, longstanding discrimination against them, lesbian and gay veterans and their families find themselves once again deprived of equal rights and earned benefits by the government they served and the nation for which they sacrificed.”

The challenge is now pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [AMPA v. McDonald, No. 14-7121 (Fed. Cir. 2014)].

—  David Taffet

Equality comes to the Equality State tomorrow

safe_imageEquality comes to Wyoming, whose nickname is The Equality State, on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights brought suit against Wyoming to come into line with the rest of the Tenth Circuit after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from Utah and Oklahoma, also in that circuit.

The state announced that it would not appeal, clearing the way for marriages to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Wyoming becomes marriage equality state No. 32 after AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV and WI, plus DC.

—  David Taffet

This week in marriage equality

marriage-scales-of-justiceIndiana:

A federal judge ruled that Indiana must recognize out-of-state marriages, the last of the five marriage equality cases in Indiana that had not received a ruling. All five cases struck down any ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling is stayed pending appeal. Read more here.

Idaho:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Idaho’s request to appeal en banc (or before all of the court’s judges) a recent ruling overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The case Latta v. Otter (otter–heehee!) was brought before the district court Judge Candy Dale this year by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and private attorneys. Dale ruled in their favor. Of note: the case will be heard concurrently with cases from Nevada and Hawaii, which also follow under the ninth court’s jurisdiction.

Florida:

Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional today for a fifth time. The difference is that this time, a U.S. District Court made the ruling, so it applies to the entire state. The previous four rulings were in county courts and those rulings applied only to those counties. The ruling is stayed pending appeal.

Department of Veterans Affairs:

Curve ball! The VA isn’t a state, but it’s being sued over not recognizing the partners of veterans in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. The case AMPA v. McDonald was brought by Lambda Legal and others, was filed on behalf of the American Military Partner Association.

Australia:

Waaaaaaay down south, Australia’s senate is considering a bill that would permit the country to realize recognition of foreign same-sex marriages, including Aussie couples who marry abroad. A recent ruling in their high court ruled that only Parliament could enact same-sex marriage.

—  James Russell

Love is love — Bollywood style

As a fan of Bollywood-style dance — and other forms of Oriental and Middle Eastern dance — I was tickled to find this video from United Nations Free and Equal, and I wanted to share.

Celina Jaitly

Celina Jaitly

UN Free and Equal officials said this week that since being released on April 30 this video — “The Welcome” — has become one of the most-watched UN videos ever, with more than a million views so far on YouTube.

The video stars Indian actress Celina Jaitly, who last year was nominated by the UN high  commissioner for human rights as a “UN equality champion” in recognition of her support for LGBT equality. The video marks her musical debut as she sings a new version of the 1979 Bollywood classic, Uthe Sab Ke Kadam. The song was recomposed and remixed by Neeraj Shreedhar of the Bombay Vikings, and produced in association with the music company Saregama India.

The video’s dance sequences were choreographed by Longi (Slumdog Millionaire), who worked on the project for free. The concept was developed by creative agency Curry Nation.

“For the UN, using a Bollywood tune to advocate for human rights is a novel approach that’s paid off,” said Charles Radcliffe, chief of global issues at the UN Human Rights Office. “The video’s message of love, family and acceptance could not be timelier. We are enormously grateful to everyone who worked for free to create this video, especially our starring equality champion, Celina Jaitly.”

Jaitly said, “It has been an honor for me to partner with the UN and contribute my musical debut to this cause, which has been a very important part of my life as an activist for LGBT rights. … I have been overwhelmed by the positive response [the video has] been generating, including from many gay people in Asia who tell me they have shown it to their own parents, or to their brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers. Change often begins with difficult conversations and this was our attempt to bring forth a difficult conversation in a wonderful light hearted way through the universal language of music.”

The UN’s  Free and Equal campaign aims to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and encourage greater respect for the rights of LGBT people. The campaign, which had its global launch in South Africa in July 2013, is led by the UN Human Rights Office and has strong backing from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The campaign also benefits from the support of a several celebrity UN Equality Champions, including South African singer and “Princess of Africa” Yvonne Chaka Chaka, American hip hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury, and members of the U.S. band fun.

—  Tammye Nash

Anti-gay factions challenge Houston equal rights ordinance

Parker

Mayor Annise Parker during the HERO debate

Opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance turned in 50,000 signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. Only 17, 269 are needed. The city secretary’s office has 30 days to validate the signatures.

The ordinance passed on May 28. The Houston city charter allows a recall election on an issue if 10 percent of voters in the last election sign a petition. A recall against a mayor or council member requires 25 percent of voters in that election to sign a petition.

Until HERO was passed, Houston was the only major city in the United States without an equal rights ordinance of any sort. In addition to protecting the LGBT community, the ordinance puts into place protections based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information or pregnancy. None of these categories were protected by the city before the ordinance was enacted.

The anti-HERO forces have claimed the law allows men to dress as women so they may enter women’s restroom and attack little girls. There is no mention of bathrooms in the ordinance.

The city plans to defend the ordinance.

“The Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or whom you choose to love. I am confident voters will soundly defeat any challenge to the ordinance.”

—  David Taffet

Nondiscrimination ordinance passes in Mississippi city

map_of_bay_st.louis_ms“As an elected official, we should not and must not discriminate against anyone,” said Joey Boudin before voting for a nondiscrimination resolution that passed unanimously Tuesday.

Boudin is a city councilman. From New York? L.A.? No, he’s the Ward 5 Councilman from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

This is the sixth Mississippi city to pass a similar ordinance this year after Starkville, Hattiesburg, Greenville, Magnolia and Oxford, according to the Biloxi Gulfport Sun Herald.

Bay St. Louis resident Pat Robinson said, “It sends a very clear-cut message to everyone — particularly the gay youth — that everyone is valued in the Bay. We don’t discriminate against gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.”

The ordinance follows the recent signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bans the state from doing anything to limit the practice of religion. Apparently, in Mississippi, religious groups were being prevented from fully practicing their religious beliefs.

Like 150-year-old Beth Israel Congregation, the large Reform synagogue in Jackson that some of my relatives attend. Rabbi Valerie Cohen has been prevented from performing same-sex weddings. I’m sure the “restoration” of her “religious freedom” will allow her to freely practice her Judaism and perform same-sex weddings at her temple.

—  David Taffet

SMU students vote down LGBT Senate seat, post anti-gay rants

yikyak

A revote on an LGBT Southern Methodist University student Senate seat failed this week.

“The results were 1,107 votes in favor and 1,025 against — meaning it lost by an even larger margin than it did last time,” Spectrum co-President Shelbi Smith said. Spectrum is the university’s LGBT student organization.

“We have been doing a social media blitz, talking to strangers, and emailing all of the supporters who signed our petition,” former Spectrum President Harvey Luna said.

After trying to pass a bill in the student Senate since 2009 to add an LGBT special interest seat, the Senate approved the measure this year for the first time and passed it overwhelmingly. That entailed a change to the student constitution, which takes a two-thirds vote of the student body.

On the initial vote, the measure failed. Students had a week to collect signatures of 10 percent of the student body to bring the issue up for a revote. Spectrum members were successful in collecting enough signatures, but they failed to convince enough students to participate and did not receive two-thirds of the vote.

An anti-gay campaign seems to have raged on YikYak, an app that allows someone to post anonymously.

Luna sent a copy of some of the comments that included statements like, “Yeah, I’m homophobic so what?” and “I hope the gay community uses yik yak because yeah we do hate you and we do want you to know it.”

Others were collected by SMU student Dillon Chapman and can be found here.

—  David Taffet

Former U.S. Senate candidate Craig James goes to work for hate group

Craig.James

Former U.S. Senate candidate Craig James

Former SMU football player and candidate for U.S. Senate Craig James has taken a job with Family Research Council, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He will become assistant to the hate group’s President Tony Perkins.

In his Senate campaign, James was best known for his attacks on fellow candidate former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who rode on a float with the Dallas City Council in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. Leppert participated in Pride until he decided to run for the Senate seat.

Leppert came in third in his Senate bid, ahead of James, who came in fourth. Sen. Ted Cruz won the election.

At a campaign debate at Dallas Country Club attended by Dallas Voice, James made this homophobic comment:

“You have to make that choice, absolutely. … Same-sex marriage, if someone chooses to do that, then that’s them, and God’s going to judge each one of us in this room for our actions, but in that case right there, they’re going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions. We should not give benefits to those civil unions. It should not occur. We have to stay strong on this. This is important, man. I tell you what, we have a fiscal issue in this county, but we also have a moral issue in this country, and as Christians we better stand up.”

After the campaign, Fox Sports hired James, but fired him a week later for comments made during the campaign.

“We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here,” Fox told Dallas Morning News at the time.

James is currently suing Fox for religious discrimination based on preserving his right to discriminate.

—  David Taffet