Obama signs executive order banning discrimination

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama signed an executive order this morning barring federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law estimates that the order would protect nearly 34 million employees nationwide, or about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

A fact sheet provided by the White House cites wide-ranging public support for barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

You can read the full text of the order here.

Check out the video here:

—  James Russell

AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

As funding cuts loom, LifeWalk helps fill the gaps

Walkers can register themselves — and their dogs — online to participate in the 21st annual event benefiting AIDS Arms, 7 partners

LifeWalk
WALK ON | Walkers head out along the 3.2-mile route out in the the 20th annual AIDS LifeWalk in 2010. Tori Hobbs, development director for AIDS Arms Inc., said funds from the walk this year are vital to AIDS Arms and its partner beneficiary agencies due to further cuts in funding from the federal government.

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

As local AIDS service organizations face even more cuts this year in federal and state funding, local fundraising efforts are becoming increasingly important in their efforts to keep their programs alive. One of those local fundraisers is the annual AIDS LifeWalk, produced each year by AIDS Arms, Inc.

This year’s walk, the 21st annual event set for Sunday, Oct. 2, also benefits AIDS Arms’ seven partner agencies: AIDS Services of Dallas, Bryan’s House, the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund, Legal Hospice of Texas, Resource Center Dallas, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas and the Turtle Creek Chorale.

Tori Hobbs, director of development for AIDS Arms, said this week that LifeWalk this year is expected to account for about 5 percent of the agency’s annual budget.

“As the government cuts back on funding to those most vulnerable, agencies such as AIDS Arms must try and fill in the gaps,” Hobbs said. “LifeWalk is a very direct way to fill in those gaps in needed services for those impacted by HIV/AIDS.”

Hobbs said that currently, walker registrations online — and fundraising — are lagging a bit off the pace set by last year’s 20th annual LifeWalk, “so we really need folks to get signed up to walk and start asking their friends and families to support them in the walk.”

She said that individuals can register online, at AIDSLifeWalk.org, and that when they do so, they can create their own fundraising page and use that page to send emails directly to friends and family members to ask for donations.

The cost to register is $40 per person, and walkers can get their pets in on the fundraising effort as well, registering their dogs, for $10 per pooch, for LifeBark.

LifeWalk begins and ends at Lee Park. On-site registration begins at 11:30 a.m. in Lee Park on the day of the walk, and the walk itself begins at 1 p.m.

“All the funds we raise will go directly to access medical care for our clients with HIV/AIDS,” Hobbs said. “These clients can come to AIDS Arms and find the care they need. We are there to tell them that there is hope.

“We are really feeling the cuts from Washington right now, and we really need people to turn out again this year to support this walk, and to be part of this wonderful and caring community,” Hobbs said.

For more information or to register for LifeWalk, go online to AIDSLifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Pentagon provides update on DADT repeal

Clifford Stanley

Few spousal benefits will be available to gay and lesbian servicemembers after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is implemented, according to Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley and Gen. James Cartwright.

Stanley and Cartwright spoke at a press conference this afternoon on the progress of implementing the repeal of DADT.

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

Stanley said the Pentagon is still working through the process of drafting new policies needed to implement DADT repeal.

Asked to pinpoint a timetable for implementing the repeal beyond “expeditiously” or “quickly,” neither Stanley nor Cartwright was specific.

However, Cartwright said, “Expeditiously is better than dragging this out,” citing the experience of other countries in allowing gays and lesbians to serve in their armed forces. Training, they agreed, should begin in February.

Stanley and Cartwright addressed chaplains — one of the largest and most vocal groups opposing the repeal of DADT — saying they practice their own faiths and no rules changes would be needed. The two officials did not address chaplains refusing to serve gay and lesbian troops.

—  David Taffet

Marriage next on ‘gay agenda,’ NYT reports

Richard Socarides

According to a report in the New York Times, marriage, rather than employment non-discrimination, is the next item on the official “Gay Agenda” now that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is on its way to being repealed.

A new group called Equality Matters grew out of a group called Media Matters. Bill Clinton adviser Richard Socarides will head the group. Advocate writer Kerry Eleveld will edit the group’s website.

The Times points out that marriage discrimination means discrimination in taxes, social security benefits and other programs run by the federal government even if a couple is legally married.

While many more rights flow from marriage equality, it is interesting that the group has chosen that as the next fight. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was, in many ways, an employment non-discrimination issue. The next logical win would be again in the employment area. Most people understand that someone shouldn’t be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even among people who base their marriage-equality views on religion.

And Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he welcomed the new group and hoped they would help change opinions. But who gave this new group the authority to decide the next battle? Or is the New York Times bestowing a title on the group prematurely? Either way, we weren’t consulted and haven’t even received a press release from Equality Matters.

—  David Taffet

Wendy Walsh: Seth’s mother says stop the bullying now

I have two sons. I like to say I inherited them when their mother and I began our relationship.

They make me crazy sometimes, like when I have to tell them 12 times to pick up their dirty socks off the floor, or not to leave their empty water bottles or candy wrappers on the couch.

They make me crazy sometimes. But I love them more than life — all the time. Even when they make me crazy.

In one week and one day, I will get to celebrate my 10th Christmas with my sons. I am willing to bet I am looking forward to Christmas morning as much as — maybe even more than — they are. The looks on their faces when they see the gifts from Santa, when they open those brightly-wrapped packages under the tree — that joy is worth all the crazy times. It’s worth the world.

In one week and one day I get to celebrate Christmas morning with my sons. Wendy Walsh will never have that chance again. Her son, Seth, was one of the several LGBT teens who committed suicide this fall after facing years of bullying. I can’t even begin to imagine what she must be feeling right now. I think I might just close myself off in my house and never want to see anyone else again.

But Wendy Walsh isn’t doing that. She is putting her grief and her pain and, yes, her anger to work, joining with the ACLU to call on all schools everywhere to protect all children from the kind of bullying and harassment that left her son feeling he had no way of escape except dying, and to call on the federal government to enact legislation to fight bullying.

And while the rest of us can never truly understand the depth of Wendy Walsh’s grief, her loss, we need to all understand that Seth Walsh was our son, too, that Wendy Walsh’s loss was our loss, and that her grief should be our grief. And we should all fight just as hard and she is to make sure that no other children, anywhere, ever feel such despair that suicide seems their only option.

If we don’t do something to save our children, who will?

—  admin

WATCH: Gov. Rick Perry is totally unable to defend Texas’ denial of civil rights to gays

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Rick Perry Extended Interview
www.thedailyshow.com

We finally got around to watching Texas Gov. Rick Perry on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. And it turns out the interview contains an interesting discussion related to same-sex marriage. As if he’s reading directly from this blog, Stewart brings up Perry’s statement in his new book that if you don’t like medicinal marijuana or gay marriage, you shouldn’t move to California.

“Even within Texas, it’s not a monolith,” Stewart tells Perry. “You got 55 percent of the vote, and that’s a big victory, but 45 percent of the people in Texas didn’t vote for you. Thirty percent of those might want medicinal weed or gay marriage. Are there certain basic rights that all Americans should have no matter where they live, even if the majority would suggest otherwise? Are you with me on that? And can’t freedom also be protected by government?”

“Absolutely, I get that,” Perry says, before doing some sort of ape-like gesture with his hands on Stewart’s desk and saying that he thinks the federal government should only perform certain basic functions like delivering the mail.

Gee, that’s very fuckin’ enlightening, governor.

—  John Wright

Ask the experts • Defining Homes

Ask the experts

In March 2009, President Obama released the Home Affordable Modification Plan (HAMP). This would help alleviate the pressures of potential foreclosure, lowering monthly payments and still maintaining good standing in credit. But according to RealtyTrac.com’s list of foreclosure hotspots, Dallas/Fort Worth ranked 96 out of 203 with (at the time) more than 10,000 properties listed as foreclosures — a relatively small number considering the populations of both Dallas and Fort Worth. But it does make us ask the experts, “What does Obama’s mortgage aid plan mean for homeowners here and can it help those in search of buying their first home?”

Randy Hodges
Randy Hodges

Randy Hodges,
Dave Perry-Miller InTown
First of all, the federal government’s making homes affordable plan really has helped countless numbers of American families keep their homes. It’s important to note, however, that the programs being offered by the federal government should not be mistaken for a “hand-out.” Rather, these programs offer Americans, who are struggling to avoid foreclosure, the opportunity to restructure their debt by guaranteeing certain aspects of the lending process. The positive in this is that will all be to the benefit of both the homeowner and the lender.

Tomi Kuczynski,
Prudential Texas Properties’ Homes On Call
One of the first glitches I find in the plan for most Dallas/Fort Worth homeowners is the requirement of a loss of at least 15 percent in their home’s value. Most areas throughout the Metroplex have not suffered such losses in value. There are areas such as Preston Hollow, McKinney and Oak Cliff where the numbers neared 20 percent, but these areas have already begun recovery in the market. Furthermore, analysts predict the actual number these lenders will be seeking is closer to 40 percent. If this prediction is true, areas throughout California and Florida will be the benefactors of this relief plan, not the Metroplex.

Each plan has been implemented primarily to prevent foreclosures, which is my second concern. Both plans require homeowners to be up-to-date on their mortgages to qualify. I consider this to be one of the main failures within the first attempt of this plan, and will continue to be a deterrent in providing relief to those who are truly in need for Obama’s second attempt. While they struggle to find an answer, they will not be able to look to this new plan for help without being completely current.

Jeff Updike
Jeff Updike

Steve Shatsky,
Prudential Texas Properties
I think that the greatest impact of the latest mortgage aid plan is that it will keep some percentage of homeowners in their homes rather than displacing them and putting more distressed inventory on the market. In some parts of the country there is excessive inventory and a large percentage of that is distressed sales, so anything that helps keep people in their homes, which helps to lower inventory levels, will also likely aid in stabilizing property values and help them to begin to climb again. Here in Dallas we have a good amount of inventory and that, combined with excellent mortgage rates, already makes it a great time to buy a home regardless of any impact from the latest mortgage aid plan.

Jeff Updike,
Re/Max Urban
We are extremely fortunate because the mortgage delinquency rate in Texas is less than half of the national average. The HAMP and the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) programs will help a small percentage of delinquent borrowers refinance to a permanent mortgage that will help them stay in their home.  For most others, if they cannot make the payments because of unemployment or underemployment, they will probably be forced to sell their home through a “short sale;” otherwise, it may be lost in foreclosure.

Barbara Stone

Barbara Stone

Barbara Stone,
Allie Beth Allman & Associates
If the plan is successful, it will reduce homeowners’ mortgage payments (those homeowners who have been affected by the economic crisis through no fault of their own), and help them stay in their homes instead of being foreclosed; thus reducing the number of foreclosures nationwide.  Another benefit homeowners would realize is a better credit rating, rather than having a foreclosure reflected on their credit report.
And if homes are not foreclosed on, there will be a better chance for these homes to be kept in better condition, rather than being vacated and left untended. If these homes are put on the market, then homebuyers will benefit with a better quality home to purchase.
The Obama mortgage aid plan could also help boost the value of homes and neighborhoods by keeping lower-priced foreclosed homes out of the market. If values stay stronger, then discouraged potential sellers will consider putting their homes up for sale, instead of waiting for the market to rebound. Homebuyers will then have a larger selection of homes to choose.

For more information on the  HAMP  and HAFA programs, visit 2010mortgagerecoveryplan.org or MakingHomeAffordable.gov.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of Defining Homes Magazine October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Is Greg Abbott going to sit idly by while a federal court throws out Texas’ gay marriage ban?

Greg Abbott

Ten states have submitted a brief opposing same-sex marriage to the federal appeals court that will decide whether California’s Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, The Associated Press reports. But guess what? Texas isn’t one of them.

Anti-gay Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s fought to prevent Texas courts from recognizing same-sex marriage even for the limited purpose of divorce, has failed to get involved in a case that could ultimately result in the state’s marriage ban being thrown out:

Former Utah Sen. Scott McCoy, the first openly gay state senator, said Saturday he is not surprised Utah signed on to the opposition brief. If the California ruling against Proposition 8 is upheld, it would follow that Utah’s Amendment 3, which defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional, he said.

Abbott’s failure to get involved is even more surprising given that the brief filed Friday specifically argues that states, and not federal courts, should determine whether to allow same-sex marriage. As you may know, Abbott is all about states’ rights and protecting us from Washington and the evil federal government. So what gives?

We’ve contacted spokesman Jerry Strickland to find out why the Texas AG’s office has chosen to sit this one out, but thus far no response. Stay tuned.

—  John Wright

Fort Worth council to finalize budget Tuesday; cuts could impact Human Rights Commission

The Fort Worth City Council will hold its regular weekly council meeting tomorrow — Tuesday, Sept. 21 — and a final vote of the fiscal year 2010-2011 budget is on the agenda.

The council meets at 7 p.m., at the budget hearing part of the session is No. 13 on what looks like a pretty lengthy agenda. You can go here to see the entire agenda.

Like most other cities — and counties, and states, and the federal government — Fort Worth’s income from property taxes has dipped considerably, thanks to the significant drop in property values that occurred when the real estate market bubble burst. And that has left the City Council struggling to find a way to maintain services without having an huge increase in fees or the tax rate.

Back in August, Fairness Fort Worth posted this notice, explaining that one of the possible budget fixes the council was considering was to “eliminate the Community Relations Department as we know it.” That possibility left the Fort Worth Human Rights Commission with “grave concerns” over the possibility that, although the city has ordinances protecting its LGBT citizens and other minorities from discrimination, the commission’s ability to enforce the ordinance and investigate complaints would be compromised, since the Community Relations Department was the city department that provided support for that purpose.

I’ve gotten no word yet on whether the Community Relations Department is still on the chopping block, but you can go here to read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s article today on what’s happening with the budget.

If you can’t get down to Fort Worth City Hall to watch the proceedings in person, you can keep up with what happens by watching the council meeting streamed live on the Internet here.

—  admin