Donna Brazile highlights Obama’s support for marriage at Democratic Party event in Dallas

CNN's Donna Brazile addresses the audience at the Dallas County Democratic Party Jefferson Jackson dinner May 10 at the Hyatt Regency. (Chance Browning/Dallas Voice)

CNN’s Donna Brazile repeatedly touched on LGBT equality during her speech Thursday night during the Dallas County Democratic Party’s sixth annual Jefferson Jackson dinner at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas.

Brazile spoke about her recent trip to North Carolina visiting black churches and college campuses to persuade voters to vote down Amendment One, the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

“I thought it was important to go and stand, to go and march, to go and raise my voice and lift up the voices of others,” she said. “That is what we all must do.”

Despite the amendment passing, she praised the recognition by President Barack Obama that gays and lesbians should be able to marry, saying we “are closer today” than we were four years ago in our fight for full equality.

“Thank you, president Obama, for speaking out for finally saying what we al; know, equal justice under the law, marriage equality is our goal that we will all see through,” she said to the audience of more than 200 people.

“When it comes to fulfilling the promise of America and comes to creating and sustaining a society in which all of us are equal, we’re not there yet,” she said.

—  Anna Waugh

White House launches LGBT video contest

The White House announced a new video contest Monday for LGBT Pride Month.

Along the lines of the White House Champions of Change series that spotlights Americans doing great things to create change and a positive impact in their community, the LGBT Pride Month Champions of Change Video Challenge will visually explore the efforts many Americans are making on behalf of equality.

Videos should be no longer than three minutes and cover issues like coming out stories, struggles with culture and identity, heroes that haven’t been recognized for their work, artwork that inspires acceptance, innovative solutions to challenging situations, and accounts of allies and families who fight for equality.

Various video forms such as music videos, PSAs, short films, video blogs and interviews will be accepted.

Essays of no longer than 750 words will also be accepted. Video and essay entries are due May 4.

Submissions will then be reviewed by a panel that will select semi-finalists. The public will then help select finalists in June to attend a Champions of Change event at the White House.

View the full press release after the jump.

—  Anna Waugh

Human Rights Campaign teams with the band fun. at tonight’s House of Blues concert

If you already have your ticket to tonight’s fun. concert at House of Blues, then you’re ahead of the game. The Human Rights Campaign has teamed with the band to spread a message of equality. You know, the usual.

Read the HRC.com post after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

Defining Homes • How Swede it is

Gay agent Fredrik Eklund is a shark above the rest in Bravo’s new ‘Million Dollar Listing: New York’

By Rich Lopez

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With European charm and no-holds-barred ambition, Eklund swoops in on competitors’ clients and cleverly negotiates the right price for his own in the cutthroat market of New York City.

Turning its eye to the high-rise luxury space of the Big Apple, the Bravo network premieres its latest entry into reality programming with Million Dollar Listing: New York. Three hungry young agents navigate through myriad clients looking to unload jaw-dropping apartments with three floors, major closet space and automatic toilets, and buyers willing to throw down millions for them.

But Fredrik Eklund might just be the show’s breakout star with his good looks, major ambition and a slightly checkered past he has no shame about. Really, he’s a softie at heart with fond nostalgia for the TV show Dallas.

“I was so obsessed with that show when I was growing up in Sweden,” he laughs (and hums the theme music). “But I’ve never worn a cowboy hat. Do they wear those in Dallas?”

He talks with a sincere and almost childlike interest, but he’s anything but when it comes to competing in the intense market of New York City. In MDL: NY, he’s one of three young bucks with one thing on their minds: closing the deal. And Eklund is quick to boast his billion dollars in sales to impress potential clients and make his mark.

“You just have to work harder at [real estate]. Even after eight years of doing this, I am still obsessive about it. I eat and breathe it,” he says.

We see his handiwork when he slyly negotiates offers to his clients’ advantage and will even take a cut in his commission to get it done.

But with commissions running in to the tens of thousands of dollars, he’s hardly missing out. While the money is nice, Eklund says this isn’t what drives him to be the best.

“This fits my brain really well and there’s always something new,” he says. “The number one thing I want to put my mark on is new developments here in New York. Any agent can put up a website and wait for the phone to ring, but with new buildings, I can create a brand for that. That is something I’m very proud of for the future.”

On paper, Eklund has had a privileged life. A successful father provided a blueprint for the success he wanted and ultimately achieved. He studied economics in Stockholm, owned an Internet company by the age of 23, he managed a cadre of music producers to churn out Billboard charting songs in Singapore and Latin America.

Now, at 34, he’s the youngest managing director for Prudential Douglas Elliman, the largest real estate company on the East Coast. Even with his golden career in his hands, the decision to add the show into a busy life was only a positive one — as well as advantageous.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of fun and I have some vanity, but to go so deep into your own life, it does become comical,” he laughs. “But the more serious answer is the international outreach is so important. Everyone wants to own something in New York and so the power of TV is unparalleled. For me, this is an opportunity to showcase my business.”

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The new kids on the Bravo block include, left to right, Ryan Serhant, Michael Lorber and Eklund.

A priceless moment in the pilot comes out of nowhere when cast mate Ryan Serhant outs Eklund’s work in gay porn to a client over lunch.

Without batting an eye, Eklund owns it and swoops in on Serhant’s guest to deliver his card. Eklund is an open book without faulting any past decisions or experiences.

“I’ve always been open about it, but it has never affected my business,” he says. “When people hear me talk about it, I hope they can see in my eyes that it’s nothing. It was a short period of my life, but it’s helped make me who I am and I’m proud of who I am.”

Fortunately for local Realtors, he doesn’t have his sights set on conquering Dallas anytime soon, but if he did …

“I would do what I did in New York and walk around open houses, scan all the top brokers,” he says. “I used to pretend to be a buyer to note who the big brokers are. Every top broker has something that makes you want to really work with that person.”

But his plans right now only include taking over New York, celebrating his engagement to his partner he met during the season and making time to enjoy his whole new life in front of the camera.

“The world s very big and our lives are pretty short. Before we know it, it’s over,” he says. “I want to do so many things and even though I’m calmer about things, I still have that urge.”

Million Dollar Listing: New York premieres March 7 on Bravo. For more information, visit BravoTV.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 2, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

Houston’s State Rep. Garnet Coleman applauds Prop. 8 decision

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, took to his blog today to applaud yesterday’s decision by the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declaring Proposition 8  unconstitutional (Prop. 8, passed in 2008, prohibited marriage equality in California):

“Yesterday’s 9th Circuit decision, just like the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, is a stepping stone on the path to marriage equality for all. As Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the opinion, ‘Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay men and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.’ The same holds true for the marriage equality ban in Texas. That is why I continue to fight for marriage equality and continue to file the repeal of the ban of same sex marriage. Denying gay couples the right to marry is unconstitutional and a blatant denial of human rights. “

Coleman has a long history of filing pro-LGBT legislation in the Texas House. Last year he introduced historic legislation that, had it passed, would have called for a state-wide vote to repeal the section of Texas’ constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage, so he’s no stranger to the battle for marriage equality.

Coleman is seeking re-election to his District 147 seat. He will face long-time local LGBT activist Ray Hill in the Democratic Primary. No republican candidate has filed for the seat.

Read Coleman’s full statement on his blog.

—  admin

“Defining Marriage: A Debate!” at U of H tomorrow

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

One day we will get to the point where an University inviting guests to debate marriage equality will be greeted with the same scorn that an on-campus debate on women’s suffrage or whether or not African-Americans are 3/5 of a person would engender, but that day is not today. Just in time for the expected U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling on Prop. 8  tomorrow, Feb. 7, the Federalist Society and Outlaw at the University of Houston present “Defining Marriage: A Debate!” at noon in the Bates Law Building room 109.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage, will be on hand to defend the continued prohibition against marriage equality. Mitchell Katine, who served as local counsel in Lawrence v. Texas (the Supreme Court case declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional) will defend marriage as a civil right, constitutionally guaranteed by equal protection under the law.

As a bonus the first 70 attendees to arrive will receive a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich and waffle fries, because we like our civil rights debated with a side of irony.

After the jump get a sneak peak at the kind of keen logical arguments to be expected from Dr. Morse:

—  admin

Rawlings won’t budge on marriage pledge

Dallas mayor says decision not to sign document puts him in position to advocate for LGBT equality among religious conservatives

STANDOFF  | A pro-LGBT protester, left, squares off with an anti-gay counterprotester during a “Sign the Pledge” rally organized by GetEQUAL outside Dallas City Hall on Jan. 27. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said this week that he has no plans to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage anytime soon.

But Rawlings added that he believes his decision not to sign the pledge puts him in a position to advocate on behalf of LGBT civil rights among religious conservatives in Dallas.

Rawlings, who claims he personally supports legalizing same-sex marriage, has come under fire from the LGBT community for refusing to sign the pledge from the national group Freedom to Marry.

Rawlings has argued that the pledge — which now bears more than 100 signatures from mayors across the country — creates a divisive and partisan social issue that falls outside the mayor’s scope.

“I’m not going to sign it at this point, and part of it is because of the reaction that I’ve gotten throughout the whole community, and I realize whether people appreciate it or not, that I’m in a very interesting position where I can convene a lot of great dialogue because of the position that I’ve taken,” Rawlings told Dallas Voice during an exclusive interview in his office on Tuesday, Jan. 31. “After thinking about it, it’s probably the best thing that I kind of stick by my position here, but also do what I said in that meeting, which is work hard to figure out how I can best help this [the LGBT] community to gain the civil rights they need.”

Rawlings was referring to a meeting last Saturday, Jan. 28, which he attended with about 25 LGBT leaders at Resource Center Dallas, in response to his refusal to sign the pledge.

The meeting included several longtime local same-sex couples, including Jack Evans and George Harris, and Louise Young and Vivienne Armstrong.

Over the nearly two-hour meeting, which was at times heated and emotional, the couples and other LGBT leaders told Rawlings their stories and made their case as to why they feel the mayor should sign the pledge.

Outside the Resource Center following the meeting — which came the morning after about 100 LGBT protesters had gathered at City Hall — Rawlings wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he would change his mind. But 72 hours later, he hadn’t budged.

“I don’t see myself changing in the short-term,” Rawlings said Tuesday. “I think if there was another movement that I could understand what it was going to accomplish better, I might join that entity. It’s not like I’m going to be anti-public on this issue, but I think this pledge itself is something that has allowed me to be a broker of discussions now in the city of Dallas. There’s some silver lining in this cloud.”

MEETING WITH LGBT LEADERS | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings greets gay couple Jack Evans, left, and George Harris, who've been together more than 50 years, before Saturday's meeting at Resource Center Dallas. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Rawlings said he’s spoken to as many people who support his position as oppose it. But he acknowledged that when it comes to emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter, the vast majority have been in support of signing the pledge. Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said his office has received thousands of emails in the last two weeks.

“The other night [someone] said, ‘Thank you for not getting caught up in the hype of this thing, but I see you support marriage equality,’” Rawlings said. “And I said, ‘Yes, tell me about your position.’ And I realize there are so many people out there who really support what the LGBT community is trying to accomplish, but they are not interested in getting caught up into a polarizing movement.

“I’m very excited about the ability now to have this conversation,” he added. “I’m tired of talking about the pledge, but I think we’re just at the front end of having a conversation about LGBT civil rights.”

Rawlings has also said he wants to focus on substantive things he can accomplish as mayor to support LGBT civil rights.

But as of Tuesday, he said he hadn’t identified what those things will be. He said he plans to set up another meeting with Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, and others LGBT leaders to discuss specifics.

“There’s no question I’m a little ambivalent about my role now with the LGBT community, because I think that many people feel that I have sold them down the river, and I don’t want for political purposes to act like, ‘Oh, but I love you,’” Rawlings said. “I don’t want it to be disingenuous. I want to earn my respect in that community by putting my actions where my speech is on this.”

Rawlings said he thinks that for religious conservatives, civil marriage is secondary to the sacrament of religious marriage.

He said as mayor he wants to focus on “starting to de-mystify this for the faith-based community, and making sure we separate sacraments from civil rights.”

“If we ever are going to get to a better place, we’ve got to have room for people’s civil rights and personal religious beliefs in the same city,” he said.

“I’m a believer. I understand that tradition. I understand why that’s important. Some great conversations are starting to take place that I didn’t think I could ever have.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Anniversary • MALLITON-COVELL

MALLITON-COVELL  |  Local artist-photographer Marty Malliton and noted attorney Rebecca Covell of Dallas celebrated their 15th anniversary on Jan. 25. When they are not traveling, both are devoted to the community and the fight for LGBT equality.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens