BREAKING: Obama will sign executive order banning discrimination

Barack ObamaPresident Obama announced today he will sign an executive order on Monday that bars federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The president said last month that he planned to sign the two orders.

The announcement follows the recent collapse of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — ENDA — in Congress. LGBT groups withdrew their support for the bill in opposition to its sweeping religious exemptions, which many feared would basically gut protections  following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile has more on the collapse here.

UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute’s research suggests that up to 34 million employees, or one fifth of the national workforce, will be included.

Senior White Officials noted that President Obama will not include exemptions for contractors based on their religious beliefs, as many activists initially feared. But he will keep intact an amendment signed by George W. Bush in 2002 allowing religiously affiliated contractors to discriminate on the basis of religion.

—  James Russell

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas refuses to add trans protections for employees

Logo_FRB_Eleventh_DistrictThe Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is refusing to add gender identity protections to its nondiscrimination policy, despite repeated attempts over several months from the Resource Center.

Rafael McDonnell, communication and advocacy manager at the center, said he was researching government contracts held by Texas-based businesses and checking to see if those businesses had comprehensive nondiscrimination policies.

He found that the bank offered sexual orientation protection, but not gender identity employment protections. FRB Dallas and its branches in Houston, San Antonio and El Paso had around 1,200 employees in 2011.

McDonnell sent a letter in June to meet with FRB Dallas representatives about adding gender identity and expression protections, to which he received an email declining a meeting. After an email response that went unanswered, McDonnell sent a second letter in August, but received no response. He then sent a follow-up email in September. that has gone unanswered.

“It’s baffling,” McDonnell said about the process. “Other branches of the Federal Reserve Bank offer fully inclusive employment protections. Many of the nation’s largest commercial banks offer full LGBT employment protections. To be dismissed in an email, without responding to other attempts to contact, makes me wonder how truly committed FRB Dallas is to inclusivity.”

FRB Dallas senior Vice President Tyrone Gholson did not respond to requests for comment.

The Federal Reserve is fiscally independent because it receives no government appropriations and remained open during the government shutdown. The Fed funds its activities with the interest earned from loans to banks and investments in government securities and from the revenue received from providing services to financial institutions.

The Fed’s financial goal in providing services is to generate only enough revenue to cover costs. Any excess earnings — money made above the cost of operations — is turned over to the U.S. Treasury.

Despite its leadership’s resistance to the change, FRB of Dallas’ board of directors has many members connected to inclusive companies.

McDonnell encouraged people to email Gholson, as well as call 214-922-6000 to urge him and FRB of Dallas CEO Richard Fisher to add the protections. Fisher is a Democrat who ran against Kay Bailey Hutchison for U.S. Senate in a special election in 1993 and in the regular election in 1994.

Read the two letters below.

—  Anna Waugh

UPDATE: Abbott changes mind, unlikely to sue for right to discriminate in San Antonio

Texas AG Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott

UPDATE: Here is the response that came from the Attorney General’s office:

We will continue to review and monitor the ordinance.  I’ve attached the letter sent to Mayor Castro before the vote was taken.  The final ordinance did not include the most problematic language, which led to our response:

“We are pleased the city council heeded our advice and deleted this provision, which surely would have been grounds for a constitutional challenge to the ordinance.  We will continue to review the ordinance and monitor the situation.”

I have requested information on what will be monitored, how the AG views this ordinance differently than the Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin ordinances and why he threatened to sue after the ordinance passed without the offending language.

ORIGINAL POST: Attorney General Greg Abbott now says it is unlikely he will file suit against the San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance. As reported in Dallas Voice when the ordinance passed, the issues Abbott had with the law were removed before the final version went before the council.

Abbott’s office has not returned a call from Dallas Voice but a spokesman told Texas Tribune and other news outlets that the AG is unlikely to sue.

“We are pleased the city council heeded our advice and deleted this provision, which surely would have been grounds for a constitutional challenge to the ordinance,” Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the AG’s office, said in a statement.

Except the threat of a lawsuit came after the provisions preventing someone accused of discrimination from holding office or sitting on a board or commission were removed.

“We will continue to review the ordinance and monitor the situation,” Strickland said.

It’s unclear what the spokesman meant by continuing to “monitor the situation.” There’s no situation and once passed, ordinances don’t freely change, requiring constant monitoring.

What bothers Abbott is that in San Antonio, as in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and El Paso, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is now illegal. The only thing to monitor is that this sort of discrimination doesn’t happen. Anywhere. But that’s probably not what Abbott’s office will be doing.

—  David Taffet

Mayor Annise Parker says it’s time for LGBT protections in Houston

Mayor-Annise-Parker-300px

Mayor Annise Parker

When San Antonio passed its nondiscrimination ordinance, Houston became the only major city in Texas without such protections for its LGBT community.

In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Annise Parker said it was time for the Bayou City to follow suit.

“It is something we should do,” she said. “And the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance. This is an issue that requires all of the council to be engaged and agree it’s time to move it forward.”

However, in Houston, the council is unable to pass an ordinance without a voter approval. Because of a charter amendment, an ordinance similar to the ones in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin or the one recently passed in San Antonio would have to face a voter referendum.

“We watched what happened in San Antonio and we’ll certainly talk to them about the process and then we’ll make our own decision,” Parker said.

But the process in Houston would be quite a bit different than in the other Texas cities where ordinances passed without going to voters for charter amendments.

Parker is up for re-election for a third and final term as mayor. Jessica Michan, a spokeswoman in the mayor’s office, said she did not expect any action on an ordinance until after the election.

—  David Taffet

SMU adds transgender protections

SMUSouthern Methodist University has issued a new statement of nondiscrimination. The previous policy covered sexual orientation but not  gender identity and expression. The new policy reads:

SMU will not discriminate in any employment practice, education program, or educational activity on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status. SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity includes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

The policy reportedly went into effect on Jan. 1 after being approved in December. SMU is believed to be the first four-year university in North Texas with a fully inclusive policy. For the first time in several years, SMU was not included in the Princeton Review’s 2012 list of most homophobic campuses.

Dallas County Community College added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy last year.

Representatives from SMU couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the change.

—  David Taffet

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

Public input sought on non-discrimination amendment effort

Fairness Works Houston, a new organization formed to pass a proposed non-discrimination charter amendment in Houston, will hold a public meeting this Saturday, Feb. 25, to seek public input. As previously reported by Houstini, the proposed charter amendment, which is still being drafted, will remove discriminatory language added to the city charter in 1985 and 2001 and make it a crime to deny employment, housing or public accommodation to a person because of their “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The meeting, scheduled for 1 pm at the GLBT Cultural Center (401 Branard) in rooms 112/113, looks to identify community resources that can be used both topass the amendment and to gather the 20,000 signatures that will be needed to place the amendment on the November ballot. Scheduled speakers include Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and Jenifer Rene Poole who chairs the Caucus’ committee on the proposed amendment.

—  admin

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

HUD adds LGBTs to housing rules

At the Creating Change Conference held in Baltimore Jan. 25–29, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced a new policy to fight discrimination. The new rules will be published this week and go into effect 30 days later.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

“Today, I am proud to announce a new Equal Access to Housing Rule that says clearly and unequivocally that LGBT individuals and couples have the right to live where they choose. This is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

The new rules increase protection against housing discrimination by:

• prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

• prohibiting all lenders offering Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility; and

• clarifying the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

“I’m here this afternoon because our president and his administration believe the LGBT community deserves a place at the table — and also a place to call home. Each of us here knows that rights most folks take for granted are routinely violated against LGBT people,” Donovan said. “That’s why I’m proud to stand before you this afternoon and say HUD has been a leader in the fight — your fight and my fight — for equality. Over the last three years, we have worked to ensure that our housing programs are open. Not to some. Not to most. But open to all.”

The new regulations result from HUD under Donovan collecting data to better understand how same-sex couples suffer housing discrimination. His department has already worked to protect LGBT people under the Fair Housing Act.

Donovan is the first sitting cabinet secretary to address Creating Change.

This was the 24th Creating Change, the country’s largest annual gathering of LGBT rights advocates, staged annually by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Video of Donovan’s speech follows the jump:

—  David Taffet

Top 10: County, DISD, FWISD added trans protections

TransProtections

STRIKING A POSE | LGBT activists celebrate outside the Dallas County Administration Building in April, after the Commissioners Court voted to add transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

No. 6

Although transgender rights continue to be the last frontier in the ongoing battle for LGBT equality, the trans community made significant progress in North Texas in 2011.

The all-too-familiar scenario of transgender being left out of laws protecting lesbians and gays played out in March when the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted in favor of adding sexual orientation — but not gender identity and  expression — to the nondiscrimination policy covering the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, two Democrats who spearheaded the addition of sexual orientation to the policy, said they had not been aware of the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

But after Dallas Voice reported on the oversight, LGBT advocates went back to the court to insist that commissioners correct the omission.

Republican Commissioner Maureen Dickey added insult to injury during an April Commissioners Court meeting when she not only announced she would vote against trans protections, but also compared being transgender to being overweight.

But on April 26 — after activists spoke at several consecutive meetings in an effort coordinated by Resource Center Dallas — the court voted 3-2 along party lines to add trans protections. Jenkins, Garcia and Commissioner John Wiley Price voted in favor of trans protections, while Dickey and fellow Republican Mike Cantrell voted against them.

Dallas County is the only county in the state with a trans-inclusive employment nondiscrimination policy — and momentum from the decision appeared to spread as the year went forward.

In late June, the Fort Worth school board added gender identity and expression to the district’s anti-bullying policy. And in early August, shortly before the start of a new school year, came news that the Dallas school board would consider a series of policy changes intended to protect transgender students, faculty and other employees from discrimination and harassment. The vote to add the protections came on Aug. 25.

The wave of transgender victories hit a small snag in November, when the Dallas County Community College District initially refused to add trans protections, insisting that the district’s protections based on sexual orientation covered trans people. But after another effort coordinated by the Resource Center, DCCCD President Wright Lassiter announced in November that an amendment to the district’s nondiscrimination policy to specifically protect transgender people is on the agenda for the board’s January meeting.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas