HERO opponents air first ad, citing trans bathroom panic

Anti-HERO groups anti trans ad

A campaign image released by opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance reveals the group’s strategy for successful repeal.

Opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance aired their first radio ad yesterday, the first of what they promise to be a barrage of ads ahead of the Nov. 3 ballot referendum that will decide the ordinance’s fate.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Campaign for Houston‘s one-minute ad features a young woman concerned for her safety. She wants to get pregnant, she says, but is afraid because the ordinance “will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.

“That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe,” she states.

The nondiscrimination ordinance, which passed city council last year and has been mired in legal battles initiated by opponents since, includes protections for LGBT people, as well as other federally protected classes including sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, family, marital or military status. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

Opponents, including conservative Christian leaders, immediately gathered signatures for a ballot referendum. The city ultimately threw the petitions out, but opponents scored a victory earlier this month when the Texas Supreme Court forced the council to either repeal the ordinance or put it before voters on the Nov. 3 ballot.

City council members voted to put it before the voters on 12-5 vote.

Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Houston Unites, which supports the ordinance, blasted the ad in a statement.

“The ad is grossly inaccurate. Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is — and always will be — illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people. The ad leaves out the fact that the law protects tens of thousands of Houstonians from job discrimination based upon their race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability,” he said.

Houston Unites also plans to also broadcast media in support of the ordinance. But the campaign has not made any media buys yet, he told the Chronicle.

—  James Russell

FWPD officer rescues drowning man

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Fort Worth Police Officer Kellie Whitehead

It happened about a week ago, but Fort Worth Police Officer Kellie Whitehead is just now being hailed as a hero for her selfless efforts in rescuing a drowning man from the waters of Lake Como, on the city’s west side, on July 1.

Whitehead served as Fort Worth PD’s second LGBT liaison officer, taking over the position from Officer Sara Straten and later handing the reins to the department’s current liaison officer, Cpl. Tracey Knight.

According to a statement released by the police department, on the morning of July 1, a witness saw a man walk into the waters of Lake Como, and soon after, begin to scream for help.  Another person nearby jumped in to the try and help the drowning man, but “soon realized that he was overpowered and would not be able to help due to the current and the uncooperativeness of the victim.”

Whitehead was patrolling the city’s west side at the time and she and a second officer were dispatched to the lake. Whitehead arrived at the scene first, and video footage from the dash cam in her patrol car show her running to the water’s edge where she removed her socks and shoes, her shirt and her bulletproof vest, before diving into the water and swimming out to the drowning man.

According to the statement from the PD, when she arrived at the scene,Whitehead locked her gun belt in her patrol car before going into the water. The statement also said that Whitehead “quickly reached the victim in the water and was able to keep the victim and herself above water and pull them both closer to shore. The Fire Department arrived and assisted pulling them both to safety.”

Whitehead told a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that her “plan was just to keep us alive.” She said she initially feared the victim was a child, and that once she reached the man in the water, she did her best to calm him down and reassure him that he was safe.

“It started as, ‘You’re going to be OK. … Don’t panic. Relax. Take a deep breath.’ It got to the point … ‘We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be fine.’ Just trying to keep both of us from panicking because it wasn’t that long that I was in the water but it seemed like forever.”

Video footage from Whitehead’s dash cam showing the rescue is below.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING NEWS: All Plano recall petition signatures ruled invalid

PlanoThe team that screwed up the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance recall has proven  to be equally incompetent in Plano. The “county of residence” requirement was omitted from the Plano petitions, which invalidated all of the signatures on it.

In Houston, fewer than 4,000 signatures on petitions to overturn that city’s newly-enacted equal rights ordinance were valid out of more than 50,000 turned in. In Plano, none of the signatures were valid because that requirement was omitted.

Plano spokesman Steve Stoler wrote in a press release this morning (Friday, Feb. 20), that the city of Plano has determined that the recently circulated petition is invalid and will not move forward.  Plano’s city secretary was unable to certify the petition because it failed to meet state and local requirements for validation.

Stoler wrote:

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Plano City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, expanding the city’s policy to prohibit discrimination against the following classes: U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity.  The petition called for the city to either repeal that ordinance or submit it to the citizens for a  vote.

The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms.  The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist.

Texas Election Code requires petitions submitted in cities located in two counties to include a column for the signee’s county of voter registration.  Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory.  However, none of the petition pages included it.

The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed.  The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance.

On Dec. 30, three weeks prior to the deadline for the Equal Rights petition to be turned in, the city of Plano sent an email to the groups organizing the petition drive, including Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council and Plano Citizens United, to clarify information. It outlined problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned.  The email read, ‘The city is providing information in an attempt to facilitate accuracy in referendum petitions to avoid any potential disputes regarding validity of signatures.’ Links were provided to the city of Plano Charter, Texas Election Code and petition information on the Secretary of State website. The city made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy.

Nonetheless, not a single page of submitted petitions was valid.

—  David Taffet

HERO trial ends with mixed outcome

CITY_OF_HOUSTON_LOGO-325x294A jury trial to determine whether opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance collected enough valid signatures to force a repeal or election on the issue ended with a mixed verdict last week. Findings were sent to the judge who will deliberate on the outcome, according to the Houston Chronicle.

To repeal HERO or call for an election, opponents needed 17,000 signatures. They turned in petitions with more than 50,000 signatures, but the city determined less than 4,000 were valid.

Pages of petitions were invalidated by the city because they were not notarized. Others were not signed by Houston voters. Some pages had the same handwriting on every line. Some pages were the result of signature table parties — one person signed the first line on each page, another the next line. Other pages were unsigned by the petition circulator.

When all of those fraudulent signatures were thrown out, opponents decided to sue.

The jury findings go to the judge who has broad discretion. However he finally rules — that there are enough valid signatures to proceed with a recall election or there aren’t — the losing side is expected to appeal. The opposition is claiming victory, however, because the jury didn’t find fraud was involved.The Houston recall organizers are working with Prestonwood Baptist Church and others to recall the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance that does not have the number of protections provided in Houston’s law and allows anyone to claim a religious exemption in order to discriminate.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Houston Mayor Annise Parker withdraws sermon subpoenas

Annise ParkerHouston Mayor Annise Parker announced this morning, Oct. 29, that Houston will withdraw subpoenas of five pastors in the lawsuit over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Parker and the city came under national scrutiny when lawyers representing the city subpoenaed five pastors’ sermons in the lawsuit brought by pastors opposed to the ordinance. The request resulted in a national outcry. A  group of religious leaders sponsored by the Family Research Council plans to descend on Houston this coming Sunday, Nov. 2, to protest against the subpoenas.

Parker said at a press conference she met with national and Houston clergy members yesterday, Oct. 27, to “hear their concerns about religious liberties,” the Chronicle reports. But she did not indicate then whether or not she would withdraw the subpoenas.

“What is best for the city of Houston, not what is best for the litigation,” she said, but adding “I don’t want to have a national debate about freedom of religion” while trying to defend HERO.”

 

—  James Russell

HERO opponents granted temporary restraining order

Houston-Mayor-Annise-ParkerOpponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance won a small victory in a district court yesterday evening when a district judge granted them a temporary restraining order delaying implementation of the ordinance.

“[U.S. District Judge Gray Miller's] ruling was evidence of the abject lack of any credible legal basis for City Attorney David Feldman’s motion, leaving it clear that it was indeed just a delay tactic that did not work,” said the opposition group No UNEqual Rights Houston in a statement.

Mayor Annise Parker  previously announced that the city would delay the ordinance’s implementation.

Woodfill v. Parker was filed in the 152nd District Court shortly after the city rejected the opponents petitions calling for a November ballot referendum. Attorneys with the city of Houston must appear before the court on August 15 and make their case for why the order should be vacated.

The Equal Rights Houston campaign in a statement denounced the ruling. “It is unfortunate that the opponents of equal rights have taken this issue to the courts after first losing at City Council … [we are] confident the court will uphold the city of Houston’s decision that the repeal signatures were not collected in the clearly defined process.  The bottom line is that this state court decision is still just a TRO, and not a final ruling on the merits.”

 

—  James Russell

BREAKING NEWS: HERO petition rejected but city will delay implementation

Parker.AnniseThe Houston Equal Rights Ordinance will not appear on the November ballot, Mayor Annise Parker announced at a press conference today.

“The petition is simply invalid,” said David Feldman, the city’s attorney.

Officials said there were too many irregularities in the petition. Some of the pages weren’t notarized, and too many of the signatures were not registered voters, they said. Feldman said, essentially, that there were so many problems with the petition as it was submitted that the city couldn’t accept it.

Mayor Annise Parker predicted that opponents will take legal action. Because of expected legal action, she will then delay implementation of the ordinance.

The petition was submitted by opponents of the ordinance, which added protections for the LGBT and other communities.

The decision came as proponents of the ordinance questioned the legitimacy and tactics of the petition drive lead by opponents, putting in to doubt whether or not the drive would succeed.

Late last week, an anonymous group published the names of the signatories, calling for transparency and independent reviews of each signature. Among the names found by this reporter are State Rep. Dwayne Bohac and Ryan Patrick, the son of Republican lieutenant governor nominee and state Senator Dan Patrick.

Under state law, petitions submitted to government agencies are public record.

—  James Russell

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

Wendy Davis applauds passage of HERO

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis a statement about passage of Houston’s equal rights ordinance on Wednesday that bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity:

All people should be treated equally in every way, and I applaud the City of Houston for passing a measure that will help ensure those in the LGBT community and all Texans are treated fairly.

After the passage of a similar ordinance in San Antonio last September,  Davis said she hoped such measures would become “commonplace.”

In fact, such ordinances are common. Houston was the only major city in the U.S. without a nondiscrimination ordinance in place.

—  David Taffet

Houston continues to debate equal-rights ordinance

Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is expected to pass Wednesday evening.

Through the afternoon, the Houston City Council has been hearing public comments. Among the speakers was Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center, who said friends who are Houston activists asked him to attend. He told council members that in the 10 years since the Dallas ordinance passed, 53 complaints have been filed and all were settled or dismissed.

“Not one complaint went to adjudication,” he said.

He said the ordinance was designed to be a “golden rule.”

“If you know better, you do better,” he said. “It’s not designed to be punitive.”

Because the opposition came from churches, religious leaders who favor the ordinance spoke.

Gay Houston City Councilman Mike Laster’s pastor, Steve Wells, of South Main Baptist Church was among the speakers. Another speaker in favor was from the National Council on Jewish Women.

Former councilwoman Jolanda Jones said she often disagreed with Houston Mayor Annise Parker but completely agreed with her on this issue. She said that voting against the ordinance because of the LGBT issue would be like “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” Refusing to vote for equality for the LGBT community would also deny equality based on race, religion and a list of other characteristics.

A mother spoke about her transgender son and addressed the accusations that have been thrown at the trans community during debate on the ordinance.

“My son is not confused,” she said. “My son is not a predator. My son is a good student and a good person.”

Several speakers said they opposed the amendment and called it words like “unjust” without explaining what ways an equality ordinance was unfair.

—  David Taffet