Houston passes equal-rights ordinance

CITY_OF_HOUSTON_LOGO-325x294After nearly nine hours of chanting and tears from seas of opponents and supporters in color-coded T-shirts, Houston City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday extending equal rights protections to gay and transgender residents, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Despite weeks of discussion and dissent over the measure, the final vote was 11-6, a count that matched guesses made months ago, when Mayor Annise Parker— the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — said she planned to bring forward such a measure.

The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

“While much of the debate has centered around the gay and transgender section of the ordinance, it is a comprehensive ordinance,” Parker said after the vote. “It is a good step forward for the city of Houston.”

The measure bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

The ordinance applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. Religious institutions would be exempt. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

—  Steve Ramos

Houston’s Jenifer Pool vies to become 1st transgender elected official in Texas

Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool is making a second bid for Houston City Council this November. If elected, Pool would make history as the first transgender official elected in Texas. She is seeking an at-large seat.

“We’re in much better shape this time,” she said.

Last election, Pool had 10 opponents, including two who were LGBT, and did not make it into the runoff. She said this time only six others are running with no one else from the LGBT community.

“We’re more organized,” she said. “We have more volunteers, more money at the first reporting period, more support in the African-American community.”

In this election, Pool said she’s better known and has the endorsement of many of her opponents in the last race.

The LGBT community is supporting her candidacy in greater numbers than last time, she said.

“The community isn’t looking for anyone else to support,” she said.

Pool is a self-employed consultant in construction management and permitting and, like Mayor Annise Parker, is a former president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Pool also hosts Queer Voices, an LGBT program on KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Because of FCC rules, once her name officially is placed on the ballot in August, she will be off the air until after the election.

One of her opponents in the race is Al Edwards, a former member of the Legislature, best remembered for authoring the bill that made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979. But Edwards also championed the anti-marriage amendment in 2005.

Also running for re-election in Houston are Mayor Annise Parker, who is lesbian, and Mike Laster, who’s gay and holds a district rather than at-large seat.

Houston municipal elections are held in November. Mayor and city council members may run for three two-year terms. This year, Election Day is Nov. 5. The runoff is on Dec. 3.

—  David Taffet

Annise Parker to seek 3rd, final term; trans woman to run for Houston council

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker at Dallas Pride in 2010.

Pool.Jenifer

Jenifer Rene Pool

Houston Mayor Annise Parker plans to seek a third and final term in November, and a transgender candidate has launched her campaign for City Council. Houston mayors and council members may serve up to three two-year terms.

On her campaign website Parker writes:

“We’re leading the nation in job creation. We’re ‘America’s Coolest City’ (Forbes) and the 7th best place in the world to visit in 2013 (New York Times). We’re the #1 city in America to further a career (Monster.com). And those are just a few examples in just the last year.”

This year Parker may have some serious opposition. Benjamin Hall III, who served as city attorney under Mayor Bob Lanier (1992–1998), told a local TV station he is seriously considering a run. As of today, he had no campaign website in place.A recent poll by a Rice University political scientist shows 57 percent of voters approve of her job performance and 30 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, Jenifer Rene Pool, who is transgender, tells Instant Tea she’ll make a second run for an at-large City Council seat.

Pool is a self-employed consultant in construction management and permitting. She served as a member of the Buildings and Standards and Police Advisory commissions and was appointed by Parker to a special blue ribbon task force on buildings and standards. She co-hosts Queer Voices, a weekly radio show on the Houston Pacifica station.

But her biggest asset in running for office in Houston may be the three terms she served as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Both Parker and former three-term City Councilwoman Sue Lovell began their political careers heading the caucus.

Pool’s campaign kickoff event takes place from 5:30–7 p.m on Thursday at BB’S, 701 Studewood St., Houston.

Houston municipal elections are in November.

—  David Taffet

Community rallies to support GLBT Community Center President

Tim Brookover

Last fall Tim Brookover, a long-time Houston LGBT activist and current president of the Houston GLBT Community Center, made public that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. Throughout his treatment Brookover has remained the vibrant advocate for LGBT people that Houston has always known him to be (he even started a cancer support group at the center). Brookover recently ended his employment in the office of Houston City Council member Sue Lovell and applied for disability.

While his application is pending the people of his long-time church home have decided to help. Bethel United Church of Christ (1107 Shepherd) will host a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for Brookover’s expenses this Sunday, Feb. 12, at noon. Ticket’s are $10 and include beverages and speghetti. RSVP via facebook.

—  admin

LGBT candidates fare well across electoral spectrum

Houston’s lesbian Mayor Annise Parker leads the list of openly LGBT candidates, 75 percent of whom won in elections this week

Parker.-Annise

BIG WIN | Houston’s incumbent Mayor Annise Parker, who became the first openly LGBT person elected mayor of a major city when she won in 2009, addresses the crowd in Lee Park following Dallas’ 2010 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, for which she was honorary grand marshal. Parker took 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, avoiding a runoff and winning re-election to a second term.

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

Tuesday was a very good day for openly LGBT candidates around the country, with three in four of more than 60 winning their races, including Annise Parker, who secured a second term as mayor of Houston.

But the real excitement in the Nov. 8 results came in some of the low-profile races of the day, many in notoriously conservative places.

Four out of five openly gay candidates won in conservative North Carolina, including LaWana Mayfield, the first openly LGBT member of the Charlotte City Council.

Another lesbian, Caitlin Copple, became the first openly LGBT person elected to city council in Missoula, Mont. Attorney Mike Laster became the first gay man to be elected to the Houston City Council, and businessman Zach Adamson became the first openly LGBT member of the Indianapolis City Council.

Alex Morse, 22, won an upset victory over a long-time public official to become mayor of Holyoke, Mass. Steve Pougnet glided to a second-term as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., and attorney Chris Seelbach, who helped overturn Cincinnati’s anti-gay charter amendment seven years ago, won a seat on the City Council there Tuesday.

Data collected independently by Keen News Service and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund indicates there were at least 63 openly LGBT candidates on the ballot Tuesday: 47 of them won, 14 lost, and two outcomes remain uncertain.

Eight of nine openly gay candidates for mayor won Tuesday.

Parker in Houston

Parker in Houston secured 50 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates, though none of her five opponents had anywhere near the funding or organization that she did.

Still, going into the race, Parker had reason to worry. In mid-October, a local television news poll found that voters were split on her effectiveness. Fifty percent rated her job performance in her first two-year term as either “Fair” or “Poor,” while 47 percent rated it “Good” or “Excellent.”

In an interview with KHOU-TV, Parker attributed her poll split to people’s anxiety around the economy.

“We have the worst economy here in Houston that we’ve had in decades, and we have the worst economy that we’ve had nationally since the Great Depression,” Parker told KHOU.  “I understand completely why people are anxious, unhappy.  It is what it is.”

KHOU noted the bulk of the low job performance scores came from Houston’s unemployed and that mayors in other big cities around the country were polling similarly.

Right-wing groups that opposed Parker in 2009 tried again to portray her as a lesbian activist, creating a video they posted on YouTube that showed a slow-motion clip of her giving her partner-in-life a peck on the cheek after being sworn in.

It also showed a news clip of Parker appointing a transgender person, Phyllis Frye, to a local judgeship, and a news clip of an executive order Parker issued to ban discrimination in public restrooms on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.The video also showed a letter in which Parker referred to her partner, Kathy Hubbard, as “First Lady.”

Other mayoral races

In Holyoke, recent college graduate but longtime local youth and community activist Alex Morse won an upset victory against an incumbent who had been a top town official for many years.

The key issue had been over casinos — with Morse being against and incumbent Elaine Pluta being for.

Morse had served on the one-time governor’s LGBT commission and started a non-profit LGBT group. While attending Brown University in nearly Providence, R.I., Morse worked for openly gay Mayor David Cicilline, who is now in Congress.

In Palm Springs, incumbent Mayor Steve Pougnet, who is openly gay, won re-election over a field of six other candidates, taking 70 percent of the vote.

The only losing mayoral candidate Tuesday was Bevan Dufty in San Francisco, where, as of Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, Dufty had earned less than 4 percent of the vote in a field with more than a dozen candidates.

The apparent winner, acting Mayor Ed Lee, will become the first American of Chinese descent to be elected mayor of San Francisco. Lee became acting mayor by appointment of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, after Newsom was elected lieutenant governor.

Lee was only the third choice of San Francisco’s LGBT newspaper, Bay Area Reporter. (San Francisco voters were able to rank their choices — first, second, and third — among the 16 on the ballot.)

The paper endorsed Dufty first and the current City Attorney Dennis Herrara second.
One of the city’s LGBT Democratic Clubs endorsed Herrera first, Dufty as second choice, and Lee as third. The other LGBT Democratic Club endorsed Supervisor John Avalos, followed by Herrera and state Sen. Leland Yee.

More election news

In other interesting news from election day:

• An openly lesbian candidate, Caitlin Copple, has won a seat to the city council of Missoula, Mont. — a state with a very sparse LGBT population.

While Copple’s connections to the gay community were not consistently highlighted during the campaign, they weren’t hidden either. The local daily newspaper, the Missoulian, ran an article about her involvement “with the Pride Foundation, which works to connect and strengthen Montana’s gay rights movement.”

• Four of the 63 races Tuesday were for seats in state legislatures. One of the most important of those candidates was Adam Ebbin, who moved from the State House to the State Senate in Virginia, becoming the first openly LGBT person in that chamber.
Unfortunately, the Virginia Senate lost a number of Democrats Tuesday and is switching from majority Democrat to majority Republican, giving the state a Republican majority now in both chambers and the governor’s office.

• Two gay men won Assembly seats in New Jersey: Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora.

• The only loss on the state level was Patrick Forrest, who fell short in his bid for a Senate seat in Virginia.

• Two out of three candidates for judgeships won yesterday. The winners were Anthony Cannataro in New York and Hugh McGough in Pittsburgh. Daniel Clifford, a Republican, lost his bid for a judgeship in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

• All five candidates for local school boards won Tuesday, including Daniel Hernandez, with 60 percent of the vote, in Tucson. Hernandez was the openly gay aide to U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., credited with saving her life after a gunman shot and killed a number of people attending a meet-and-greet the congresswoman was hosting at a local grocery store.

• Of the 41 candidates running for city council or its equivalent in their cities, 28 won. Two others are still pending. Brad Bender’s bid for a Town Council seat in Southampton, N.Y., is too close to call. Lance Rhodes has been thrown into a run-off for a seat on the East Point City City Council in Georgia.    •

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Banks Appointed to Citizen Police Oversight Board

Kris Banks

Kris Banks

On Wednesday the Houston City Council confirmed Mayor Annise Parker’s appointment of Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Kris Banks to the Independent Police Oversight Board.  The Oversight Board provides a way for Houstonians to have input into allegations against police officers involving use of excessive force, discharge of firearms, serious bodily injury or death or mistreatment of citizens.  The Board also makes recommendations on recruitment, training and evaluation of police officers; and considers community concerns regarding the Department.  Houstini talked with Banks about his new role:

[Houstini] Why have you agreed to serve on the Oversight Board?

[Banks] I believe the Oversight Board performs an important and vital function that benefits all involved. Police officers are granted extraordinary powers over their fellow Houstonians. They can, under legally sufficient circumstances, detain people against their will, walk into other people’s homes without their permission, and even use physical force to make people comply. We grant police officers these powers because they are necessary for the officers to do their jobs. However, with these great powers come great responsibility, and the Oversight Board exists as a check on those powers, thereby protecting the public against the very rare officer who uses her or his powers irresponsibility or excessively. It also benefits the police department. With the assurance that the Board is providing oversight, members of the public can be more confident of the police department, and form a better working relationship with officers.

[Houstini] What do LGBT Houstonians who have concerns about police behavior need to know about the mission of the Oversight Board?

[Banks] Historically, the LGBT community has had concerns about very broad and obvious police harassment, like bar raids. Incidents like these still occur (see Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth), but they tend to not be the focus of issues that exists between the LGBT community and the police department. Concerns between the community and the police department now tend to be over specific incidents that sometimes come to light and sometimes do not. That being said, the IPOB will review internal police investigations for complaints of excessive force, any discharge of a firearm, any time there is a death or serious injury, or any matter the police chief refers to us. We make recommendations, and the chief has ultimate discretion. What I want to highlight here is that a complaint has to be made for the IPOB to have any role. Complaints have to be sworn, either by the complainant, or, if the complaint is anonymous, by the person taking the complaint.

LGBT Houstonians should also know that I take my role as a community representative very seriously. I will not only take my perspective as an LGBT Houstonian to the police department, I will also take the knowledge I gain back of police procedure back to the community. For instance, I mentioned anonymous complaints above. In the training I have received so far, I learned that organizations can be deputized to take anonymous complaints (LULAC and the NAACP are both deputized). Anonymous complaints are, unfortunately, a big concern for our community. Whether because our congress has failed to pass job protections, family concerns, or any other personal reason, there are still many, many people in the closet. But being in the closet does not mean that a person is not protected. I will learn more about the deputizing community groups and take that back to organizations in our community like the Caucus, Community Center and Transgender Foundation so they can begin that process (as a caveat, I do not have a full list of deputized organizations and any of these organizations may already be deputized).

—  admin

Editorial in LGBT magazine sparks controversy in Houston City Council District C race

Ellen Cohen

Ellen Cohen

An editorial in Houston’s abOUT magazine (a free glossy distributed at bars, restaurants and clubs) questions whether former state representative, and current Houston City Council District C candidate Ellen Cohen is truly an ally of the LGBT community, as she claims.

The editorial questions Cohen’s acceptance of $10,000 in contributions from home builder Bob Perry during her 2010 Democratic legislative campaign (Perry was a major donor to the campaign to pass a statewide constitutional ban on marriage equality in 2005) and her record on LGBT issues while in Austin. In the two weeks since abOUT published the editorial, written under the nom de plume “Jack H,” the issue has snowballed, causing some to question abOUT’s connections to another District C candidate, and leading to a police complaint against the president of the city’s oldest LGBT organization.

Cohen acknowledges that she received the contribution from Perry but says: “I’ve never met him, he’s never asked me for anything. I am a huge supporter of the LGBT community, and have been since long before I ran for office.” As executive director of the Houston chapter of the American Jewish Committee, Cohen was a vocal supporter of efforts in the ’80s to obtain same-sex partner benefits for city of Houston employees. “Bob Perry contributed to me. I accepted the donation,” continued Cohen.

—  admin

Lesbian incumbent backing gay man over transgender woman in Houston council race

Jenifer Pool
Jenifer Pool

Earlier this month we reported on transgender candidate Jenifer Pool’s bid for the Position 2 At Large seat on the Houston City Council, which is being vacated by term-limited Councilwoman Sue Lovell, an out lesbian. Well, since our story ran about Pool, the plot has thickened considerably.

As we noted, Pool appears to have the backing of the city’s LGBT political establishment — having been endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (which she once led), the Houston Stonewall Democrats and the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats.

Which is why it was surprising to many when Lovell, also a one-time president of the Caucus, endorsed Bolivar Fraga, one of Pool’s opponents in the November race. Fraga, the son of a former Houston councilman, just recently came out as gay.

We’ve heard all sorts of possible explanations as to why Lovell didn’t endorse Pool, from the fact that the two were on opposite sides of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary to allegations that Lovell is transphobic.

Meanwhile, the Lovell-endorsed Fraga has been linked to an email attacking Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, an LGBT ally who represents Houston’s Montrose gayborhood but has butted heads with Lovell in the past. And now, the Houston’s Office of Inspector General is conducting an “initial inquiry” into a complaint that Lovell illegally used her city computer to send an email in support of Fraga to none other than the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

In the words of Monica Roberts at TransGriot, “Stay tuned, because the Houston political battles and intrigue really start heating up after Labor Day.”

—  John Wright

Transgender woman running for Houston council

Jenifer Rene Pool hopes to follow in the steps of another former Houston GLBT Political Caucus president, Mayor Annise Parker

Jenifer Pool
Jenifer Pool

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Jenifer Rene Pool is running for an at-large position on the Houston city council. Sue Lovell, who reached her term limit, is vacating the seat. Before Lovell joined the council, Mayor Annise Parker also served on the council at large.

Unlike her two predecessors who are lesbian, Pool is transgender.

Pool explained that in Houston, the at-large seat, rather than the single member district that includes Montrose, is the LGBT seat. She said that Houston’s LGBT community has always been even more spread out than that in Dallas. To put together the LGBT vote, a candidate needs to run citywide, she said.

Pool said her goal has always been to run for public office. But when she began to transition in the 1990s, she set her political ambitions aside.

Then Parker was elected to the City Council,  and Pool took notice. When Parker  was elected mayor in 2009, Pool decided the atmosphere in Houston was right.

Pool works in the construction industry. When she began transitioning in the ’90s, she was fired from her job. “I went from being one of the top project managers in the city to unemployable,” she said.

Since then, she has been self-employed as a consultant in construction management and permitting. She has served as a member of the Buildings and Standards and the Police Advisory commissions and was appointed by Parker to a special blue ribbon task force on buildings and standards. And like Lovell and Parker, Pool has been president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. She served three terms in that position.

She’s worked with other LGBT community organizations including the Houston Transgender Unity Committee and PRIDE Houston and several AIDS groups. But she’s also volunteered with groups such as the Houston Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Walk for the Cure.

In addition, for the past six years Pool has co-hosted Queer Voices, a two-hour weekly LGBT talk show on KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station.

She said there’s no hiding who she is. She and her co-hosts talk about their lives on the air each week.

Because of FCC rules, she will be leaving the show temporarily during the campaign. Her last show is on Labor Day, since she officially will be on the ballot later that week. After the election, she can return to the air, whether she wins or loses.

Pool said she is fashioning her campaign after Parker’s and using what she learned at Victory Fund candidate training.

She said that begins with earning endorsements from LGBT and progressive organizations. She has already gotten four including Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, Houston Stonewall Democrats and Democracy for Houston. On Aug. 4, she also was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

She said that she’ll be trying to energize the LGBT community, progressives and friends to vote. “I’ll outreach to organizations to let them know I’m here,” she said, “Then go into the community knocking on doors.

“The race is going well,” she added. “I’m in parity with all but one of the candidates.”

Five people have entered the race, including a gay candidate. That could affect an endorsement from the Victory Fund.

“Generally, when there are two LGBT candidates, we stay out of the race,” said Denis Dison of Victory Fund.

He said that there are exceptions, especially when one candidate is viable and the other isn’t. But he confirmed that no endorsement had been made in this race so far.

Houston’s City Council is made up of five at-large seats and nine local-district seats. Two local seats will be added in the November election because of population increase.

Council members are elected for two years and may serve three consecutive terms. Unlike most Texas cities, municipal elections in Houston are held on Election Day in November.

If elected, Pool won’t be the first transgender public official in Houston. Earlier this year, Parker appointed Phyllis Frye as a municipal court judge.

Nor will she be the first transgender candidate for city council. In the late ’80s, another transgender woman ran but was not elected.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Things have changed, and it’s pretty wonderful’

Phyllis Frye appointed Texas’ 1st transgender judge by Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Brian Rogers  |  Houston Chronicle via The Associated Press

Phyllis Frye
Phyllis Frye

HOUSTON — Thirty years ago, Phyllis Frye, a longtime activist for LGBT causes, could have been arrested for wearing women’s clothing in the Houston City Council chamber.Frye, a transgender Houston attorney born as Phillip Frye, fought back tears last week as the mayor appointed her to a municipal bench in the same room where she helped repeal Houston’s “cross-dressing ordinance” in 1980.

“I almost started crying, because I remembered 31 years ago, in that very same chamber, I was subject to arrest,” Frye said.

The 63-year-old will hear traffic ticket cases and other low-level misdemeanor trials. Municipal judges are not elected, she noted.

Frye said she would be the first transgender judge in Texas. She knows of at least two transgender judges in other parts of the country.
Frye applied for the position several months ago and was vetted before being appointed by Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday, Nov. 17, with seven other new associate judges.

“I think she’s a great addition to our judiciary,” the mayor said. “I’m very proud I was able to nominate her, and she agreed to serve.”
Frye joins 43 other associate municipal judges and 22 full-time municipal judges.

“I don’t want to underplay this, because I understand it is very significant,” Frye said. “But I don’t want to overplay it either. I don’t want people to think I am anything other than an associate municipal court judge.”

Three decades ago Frye volunteered at City Hall where she worked to repeal an ordinance that allowed police to arrest men in women’s clothes and lesbians wearing fly-front jeans.

“Things have changed, and it’s pretty wonderful,” Frye said.

A graduate of Texas A&M, Frye was an Eagle Scout and an Aggie cadet. She also was a husband and a father.

Frye has practiced criminal defense law in Houston since 1986.

She now heads a six-lawyer firm and has parlayed her expertise in LGBT legal issues into a storied legal career — the latest chapter of which is her representation of Nikki Araguz, the transgender Wharton widow embroiled in a legal battle to receive part of her firefighter husband’s death benefits.

Parker’s critics seized on Frye’s appointment to say the mayor, who is a lesbian, is promoting a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender agenda.

“Phyllis Frye is a very well-known radical transgender activist,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, which represents about 300 churches.

“We don’t think it is consistent with the values of the vast majority of the people,” Welch said. “We think it is an anti-family lifestyle and agenda.”

Her appointment, however, was applauded by Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus.

“Phyllis Frye is a true icon in our civil rights movement,” said Kris Banks, Caucus president. “She is an internationally recognized pioneer, and the mayor is to be congratulated for her choice.”

Banks noted that Charles Spain, an openly gay attorney and chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification Issues of the State Bar, also was appointed as an associate municipal court judge. Josh Brockman, an openly gay attorney, was appointed as a hearings officer to resolve contested parking tickets.

New judges go through hours of state-mandated training. Frye said she expects to begin substituting for sitting judges in the spring.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens