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

“Gen Silent” explores challenges facing the elderly LGBT community

Gen Silent PosterThere are almost 38 million LGBT Americans over the age of 65. This number is expected to double by 2030. Yet in a Fenway Institute study fifty percent of nursing home workers said that their co-workers are intolerant of LGBT people. That collision of a rapidly aging queer population and a nursing home system ill-prepared to serve them is explored in Gen Silent, a documentary showing at the GLBT Cultural Center (401 Branard) on Thursday, January 26, at 6:30 pm.

Gen Silent, from award-winning director and documentary filmmaker Stu Maddux, follows six LGBT seniors as they struggle to make decisions about their twilight years. These seniors put a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors so afraid of discrimination in long-term health care that many go back into the closet.

Gen Silent startlingly discovers how oppression in the years before Stonewall now leaves many elders not just afraid but dangerously isolated and at risk on not receiving medical care. The film shows the wide range in quality of paid caregivers –from those who are specifically trained to make LGBT seniors feel safe, to the other end of the spectrum, where LGBT elders face discrimination, neglect or abuse, including shocking bed-side attempts by staff to persuade seniors to give up their “sinful” lifestyles.

This free screening will be followed by a call-to-action and panel discussion with some of Houston’s GLBT senior leaders.

View the trailer for Gen Silent after the break.

—  admin

Al Franken asks public for help passing Student Non-Discrimination Act

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D – Minnesota, is asking the public for help passing S. 555, The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the provisions of S. 555 students who experienced discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with LGBT people could bring a civil suit against the school officials or districts responsible for the discrimination. The bill currently has 34 co-sponsors (none from Texas) and its House companion (H.R. 998 by Rep. Jared Polis, D – Colorado) has 150 (with 7 Texan co-sponsors including Houston’s own Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green) . Both bills have been referred to committee but neither has received a hearing, a crucial step towards becoming law.

In the video requesting the public call their Senators (after the break) Franken points out that federal law already provides protection for school children harassed because of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, but that no protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inclusion of “association” in S. 555 is particularly well thought out. According to the Williams Institute nearly 1 in 5 same-sex couples in the United States is raising children, in Harris County 18% of same-sex couples are.  As these children enter school it’s important that they be able to receive an education without harassment or bullying due to who their parents are.

Franken is asking people to call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and encourage their Senator’s to support the bill.

—  admin

What’s Shakin’ – Stone Soup at F Bar, Washtonians support marriage equality

Stone Soup1. For people living with AIDS proper nutrition is more than just healthy living, it’s a vital part of the regimen that keeps them alive. Unfortunately the struggling economy and cuts to government HIV/AIDS nutrition programs mean that, for some, eating right, or just eating, is a challenge.  That’s where the AIDS Foundation Houston Stone Soup Food Assistance Program steps in.  Kelly McCann, CEO of of AFH, says that the program has recently seen a 40% increase in request for assistance and needs an additional $25,000 a month to meet demand. F Bar (202 Tuam) is doing its part to help out tonight, collecting monetary and food donations from the community. Donors will receive a VIP invitation to an appreaciation party on Nov 22, and be entered in a raffle to win fabulous prizes.
2. Washington may soon become the seventh state to have full marriage equality, if a recent poll by the University of Washington, Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexualityis accurate.  The poll asked 938 registered voters in the evergreen state if they would support a same-sex marriage law were it to appear on the 2012 ballot: 47% responded that yes, they would strongly support it, only 32% said they would strongly oppose.
3. Voter turnout in Harris County is slowly catching up with the last municipal election cycle in 2009, but continues to lag.  So far 28,679 people have cast their ballots, 81% of the 34,485 who had voted at this point in the process the last go around.  Early voting continues through November 3.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

—  admin

Dallas gets $1.28M HUD grant for HIV/AIDS

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have announced the allocation of nearly $9 million in grants to projects in seven states that provide permanent and transitional housing and support services to people with HIV/AIDS.

Of that total, $1,287,500 will be allocated to the city of Dallas’ Housing and Community Services Department, the only city or agency in Texas to receive one of the seven HUD grants. The money will be used to provide transitional housing support to 60 ex-offenders over the next three years. According to the HUD press release, the Housing and Community Services Department will be working with the city’s Project Reconnect and the Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act in providing the housing and services.

And the city has committed to “creating an Integrated HIV/AIDS Housing Plan through a comprehensive community planning effort that involves 20 local partners operating in the eight county Dallas Metropolitan Statistical Area,” according to HUD. No word yet on whether those partners will include AIDS Services of Dallas, which is located in Oak Cliff and provides housing for as many as 225 men, women and children impacted by HIV/AIDS through 125 units in four complexes.

The largest of the grants, $1,375,000, is going to the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV. The city of Portland, Ore., gets the second-largest total with $1,365,900. River Region Human Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., is getting $1,353,743, and the Corporation for AIDS Research Education and Services Inc. in Albany and Rochester, N.Y., gets $1,344,375.

Dallas is next on the list, followed by Justice Resource Institute Inc. in Boston, which gets $1,223,377. Rounding out the recipient list is the Frannie Peabody Center, a statewide organization in Maine, that is receiving $930,909.

The seven recipients were chosen “through a national HOPWA competition to identify special projects of national significance that will help advance understanding and improve the delivery of housing and care for persons with HIV,” according to HUD.

—  admin

Fahari’s lecture series brings in Kenyon Farrow tonight

Ushering in a new queer agenda
Kenyon Farrow is a man the LGBT community needs to get to know and the Fahari Arts Institute is doing just that with its (Queer)note Lecture Series. Farrow comes to speak to Dallas in the presentation Moving Toward a True Black Queer Liberation

DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 7 p.m. FahariArtsInstitute.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Weekly Best Bets

Saturday 04.16

No, the jacket won’t make you look fat
DIFFA’s back in a big way this weekend. The event promises to be off-the-charts fabulous, but we can’t wait to see the designer jean jackets. Pretty much our eyes are set on this cotton candy fur-sleeved one. Almost makes us want winter to come back quick. Oh, and we feel sorry for the person who bids against us. You’ve been warned.

DEETS: Hilton Anatole, 2201 Stemmons Freeway. 6 p.m. $300. DIFFADallas.org.

 

Sunday 04.17

Dog days are just beginning
You think you know what your dog thinks and says? You will when you head to the 5th Annual Dog Bowl. Sipping pools, dog games and the Cotton Bowl as the largest dog park for them to run around in will make them happy as clams. And give you some good karma in the doggie-verse.

DEETS: Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park. 1 p.m. Free. FairPark.org.

 

Thursday 04.21

Ushering in a new queer agenda
Kenyon Farrow is a man the LGBT community needs to get to know and the Fahari Arts Institute is doing just that with its (Queer)note Lecture Series. Farrow comes to speak to Dallas in the presentation Moving Toward a True Black Queer Liberation

DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 7 p.m. FahariArtsInstitute.org.

—  John Wright

Chick-Fil-A’s WinShape Foundation: Now partnering with NOM’s Ruth Institute

Okay so this is going to take a little explanation. But stick with it. It’s a good find, especially in light of the recent Chick-Fil-A/Pennsylvania Family Institute sponsorship controversy and Chick-Fil-A’s corporate silence on the matter.

So alright, let’s begin with some background on the two players we’ll be discussing:

  • Screen Shot 2011-01-06 At 2.46.27 PmThe Winshape Foundation is the charitable of Chick-Fil-A and its founder Truett Cathy. The foundation has several Christian focuses, all focused on strengthening certain values. Fair enough. In a perfect world we would all be able to come together and jointly work for some of their very valid goals.

Okay, so Ruth has been pushing something called The Reel Love Video Challenge. We showed you a promo for the contest back in December. Basically, the idea is for young people to make :30 second videos telling what lifelong love means to them. And again, just like with the Winshape Foundation’s work, the whole contest would be totally benign and even positive, if not for Ruth/NOM’s agenda towards LGBT people.

Right, so today we were mindlessly knocking around the Reel Love video site, primarily as a distraction. However, through our bored surfing we happened to catch note of a few new references to something unfamiliar to our “culture war” eyes. Something called LoveIsHere.com:

(red arrows are ours)

201101061447

[SOURCE: Ruth Institute's Reel Love Video Challenge]

Never before hearing of such a site, we grew curious. So the next thing we did was take a look at the coding of the Ruth Institute’s “Reel Love” site 9as one commonly does, right?). This is what we found:

201101061433

[SOURCE: Ruth Institute's Reel Love Video Challenge]

For the non-HTML geeky: Basically the highlighted coding shows that the frame on the site into which the videos are posted is actually not hosted on Ruth’s “Reel Love” site, but rather is coming from a separate, unannounced ‘Love Is Here” site. So growing even more curious, we headed over to LoveIsHere.com, where the only content at this point is this:

Screen Shot 2011-01-06 At 2.34.40 Pm

[SOURCE: LoveIsHere.com]

Okay, so this landing page is written in the same theme and style as the “Reel Love” contest. So it would seem that this is a planned effort that Ruth will use to turn this contest into further movement for their cause. Right. Whatever. Not out of line for them to do so, as far as the effort itself goes.

But — but, but but: It’s when one looks down a little further on this launch page that it gets interesting:

Screen Shot 2011-01-06 At 2.36.50 Pm

[SOURCE: LoveIsHere.com]

See what it says down there? Yup, that’s right: This planned site with undeniable ties to Ruth (and therefore NOM) is a project of Chick-Fil-A’s WinShape Foundation. The same Chick-Fil-A that already has some unanswered questions regarding a (now-scrubbed) sponsorship claimed by Pennsylvania’s leading anti-marriage equality group.

Now, who knows how LGBT-focused this yet-to-launch site will be. The content plan that we dug up doesn’t seem explicitly LGBT-focused:

Screen Shot 2011-01-06 At 2.40.22 Pm

But still: The Ruth Institute is *BEYOND* focused on gays and the civil discrimination thereof. Morse even tours around on NOM-sanctioned buses for that “godly” cause:



NOM Tour Tracker

When we see major American companies getting in bed with that which threatens our own bedrooms, we can’t help but take note. Here’s hoping Chick-Fil-A/WinShape (to whom we’ve registered contact) will this time offer a response.

***

*UPDATE: In a very odd turn of events, the site seems to have somewhat launched in the literally minutes since our post went up. Now when one loads the site, the 1/11/11 landing page is (usually) gone and there is some aggregated content from other sources. We say “usually,” because sometimes we still get the landing page.

*UPDATE2: Here’s the direct LIH page where the Ruth contest is hosted: http://loveishere.com/partners/videos/2/drjweighsin.html. Also, Ruth’s E.D. created a pdf document wherein she encourage bloggers to embed the contest, complete with LIH URL, onto their own sites. The connections could not be more obvious.

**UPDATE3: It seems the plan is to launch this LIH effort on Saturday January 8th, with a featured 60 second spot airing during the TV movie CHANGE OF PLANS (on FOX, 8pm EST). This per an email posted on Bill Coffin’s site. The same Bill Coffin who, on 12/1/10, Tweeted the following:

Screen Shot 2011-01-06 At 4.08.07 Pm




Good As You

—  admin

Illinois Family Institute: Civil Unions Will Lead To Polygamous Marriages

The Illinois Family Institute, a SLPC-certified hate group, says that if civil unions are approved in Illinois, polygamous marriages will be next.

Section 10 of this bill states that any partner in a civil union shall be legally considered a “spouse” and “family.” “This is same-sex marriage sans the name,” said David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute. “That is simply something that American voters have rejected time and time again. Voters in 31 states have rejected redefining marriage and family at the ballot box. The people in Illinois are no different.”

Those who want to redefine marriage often insist that the only necessary qualification for marriage is “love.” Under that rationale, there can logically be no boundaries as to what constitutes marriage. Any combination or number of consenting individuals must ultimately gain the same legal and societal sanction as traditional marriage. While love is vital, it is not the definitive element of marriage, and love is certainly not the concern of government. We love many people we do not marry.

RELATED: Last week the Illinois Family Institute declared that Dan Savage promotes “anti-Christian evil” and therefore no public figure should associate themselves with the It Gets Better Project. The IFI also supports the repeal of any laws offering civil rights or hate crimes protections to LGBT Americans. From 2003-2006 the executive director of the IFI was Porno Pete LaBarbera.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Dancing with ourselves: NOM’s Ruth Institute compares gay unions to self-love

Over at the Ruth Institute (an official National Organization For Marriage affiliate), site blogger “Ari” has posed the following question:

You know what makes about as much sense as same sex “marriage”? [Ruth blog]

And the answer Ari pairs with the question comes in the form of this article:

Chen Wei-yih has posed for a set of photos in a flowing white dress, enlisted a wedding planner and rented a banquet hall for a marriage celebration with 30 friends.

But there is no groom. Chen will marry herself.

Uninspired by the men she’s met but facing social pressure to get married, the 30-year-old Taipei office worker will hold the reception next month in honor of just one person.

Bride-to-be set to say ‘I do’ — to herself [Reuters via MSNBC]

Yes, that’s right: The Ruth Institute is now comparing equal marriage rights for same-sex couples to an absurd kicker story about a bride holding a non-binding ceremony with herself. because that’s exactly how these “pro-family” folks tend to view us: As oddities. As stories fit for the “news of the weird” section. As anomalies. As people whose wedding photos deserve to be slurred with “perversion” labels. As citizens whose civil marriage rights are as binding as weddings between me & I.

Bullies don’t always age out of the system.




Good As You

—  admin