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

Part(y)ing shot

A little needle work can turn a dull soiree into a face-saving event

 

Dermatologist John Proffitt, above, has begun offering Xeomin treatments in a more festive fashion. Injections are less stressful in a comfortable, fun atmosphere — and he even brings munchies.

Dermatologist John Proffitt, above, has begun offering Xeomin treatments in a more festive fashion. Injections are less stressful in a comfortable, fun atmosphere — and he even brings munchies.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

How’s this for a Saturday evening: You head to a friend’s soiree, pick through the nibblies, grab a cocktail and then have someone stab a needle into your face.

That may not sound like your typical fun weekend get-together, but if there can be parties that peddle jewelry or give away swag bags, why not one that leaves you looking a little refreshed — even if it is with a shot?

Dr. John Proffitt and his team at Oak Lawn Dermatology have begun offering this new service, mixing a little bit of pain with a lot of pleasure.

As a glorified house call, it’s a chance to both do shots and get shots. Proffitt will come to your home with units of Xeomin (similar to Botox) and gladly inject those interested with a little touch-up around the eyes. He’s found the domestic setting, while fun like any party, also has therapeutic advantages.

“The atmosphere is very relaxed and people can get to know me better,” Proffitt says. “They can get comfortable if they are hesitant, and can see their friends do it. The procedure is simple and my syringes are tiny. Usually people have had it done before at these parties.”

The idea for in-home transformations came to Proffitt when a patient was impressed with his results and thought his friends would be interested in getting the procedure. Instead of convincing them one at a time to make appointments, his client had a party with Xeomin on the menu.

“It was like any typical party. I brought food,” Proffitt says. “Usually I’ll give a talk before to explain everything and people get interested and watch others before them.”

So you want to have your own party? There’s nothing to it other than giving his office a call. Well that and shopping for liquor and hors d’oeuvres.

“All anyone has to do is just call our office. We’ll talk about it and make the arrangements,” he says. “We talk about prices for the injection units and even a reduction for groups.”

His parties are also smart P.R. He’s won new clients from home parties and the firm hosts get-togethers at the office. For a firm that has only been present in the community for just over eight months, Proffitt knows how to make an impression — even if it is putting a needle in your face.

For more information, call 214-526-8100 or visit OakLawnDermatology.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

If you like it build a museum to it, Houston may get Beyoncé monument

I'm sure the plans for the failed 555 ft "Spirit of Houston" statue are still in a drawer somewhere. Just make it more bootylicious and put a ring on it.

Hometown heroes have always been honored with monuments; from Hannibal, Missouri’s Mark Twain Museum to Cleveland’s memorial to President Garfield, from Atchison, Kansas’ Amelia Earhart museum, to Concord, Ohio’s John Glenn historic site. Pity Houston! Which scion of our fair burg will rise up from the shackles of obscurity to clasp the liberty of immortality that only a dedicated monument can bring?

Beyoncé Knowles, that’s who, at least according to two men who skyped with Fox 26 and are expecting the Mayor to endorse their plans any day now. Steve White and Marcus Mitchell of Armdeonce Ventures say they want to honor the newly minted musical mother with a “statue or museum.” According to Mitchell,

““Our biggest thing is a lot of people get honored when they die, so our goal is to why not honor people why they’re still here? We felt as though it’s her time to be honored. We wanted to construct, like, a massive hall so as the doors open, if you donated to the monument, you’ll have a separate nameplate.”

Armdeonce Ventures has offices in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Houston according to it’s website. The Beyoncé Monument is the only project currently listed on the site.

Watch the Fox 26 interview with the visionary twosome after the break.

—  admin

“Would You Like Guys With That?” tonight at UTD

Youth in revolt

In his theater piece, Would You Like Guys With That, John Michael Colgin’s main character (himself, really) is a snobby kid, the product of private-schooling and a sense of entitlement; he becomes even more judgmental when he attends college in Stillwater, Okla. But then he goes to work at McDonald’s as a kind of social experiment, he begins to see the world anew: Just because he hates small-talk with his co-workers, he discovers that listening to different music doesn’t mean you’re not a human being. His show explores not only his coming out experience but the awkward time before and the self-realization after.

Read our interview with Colgin here.

DEETS: Davidson Auditorium — JSOM 1.118, 800 W. Campbell Road on the UTD Campus, Richardson. Jan 30. 5:30pm. Free. UTDallas.edu/womenscenter

—  Rich Lopez

“Giant” today at the Wyly

Bigger is better

Any true Texan has likely seen Giant, the movie. It’s a thing, here. But now the story gets the stage treatment with musical numbers by Michael John LaChiusa ad directed by three-time Tony nominee Michael Greif. The Dallas Theater Center goes way big for this epic story of love, redemption and acceptance on the backdrop of the Texas flatlands and the booming oil industry.

DEETS: Wyly Theater, 2400 Flora St.2 p.m. $15–$85.DallasTheaterCenter.org

 

—  Rich Lopez

Queer Bingo gets new home

The Houston GLBT Community Center’s First Saturday Queer Bingo moves into new digs for this month’s venture. The long running fundraiser starts its residency at Don Julio’s (322 Westheimer) Saturday, January 7, at 4 pm. Tim Brookover, president of the Community Center, says that the new venue provides much needed off-street parking for the event adding that the second story space is easily accessible by elevator. Additionally, bar service will be available from Don Julio’s along with their full menu.

Queer Bingo is hosted by drag performers Tanya Hyde and Lana Blake and features food, fun and a 50/50 auction. All proceeds benefit the center’s John Lawrence & Tyrone Garner Scholarship Fund. “We are very excited to move into the new home of Queer Bingo,” says Brookover. “We hope everyone can join us.”

—  admin

Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

“Tinker”ing with a classic. One strategy: A cheat sheet for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

My full reviews of several movies — including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which has some sneak previews tonight and opens formally Wednesday — will be in the week’s print and online editions starting late tomorrow, but I wanted to give a head’s-up about one of the new releases: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is a throw-back to the Cold War thrillers of the 1970s, both in tone, topic and look, but what’s really interesting (aside from a subtle gay subplot you should be on the lookout for) was something not on the screen, but in your hand.

At the press screening last night, attendees were presented a “dossier” (above), a slickly-produced fold-out intended “for your eyes only,” but really an almost-necessary cheat sheet to the plot of the damn thing! As any fans of John Le Carre know, Tinker, Tailor was originally produced as a seven-part miniseries in the late 1970s, which gave the labyrinthine plot room to breathe. The filmmakers do a good job concentrating on the major points and telling a complex but cogent story, but the existence of the dossier made me feel they didn’t really trust audiences to give themselves over and figure it out for themselves.

Or maybe they just didn’t trust critics. I’m not sure if the “dossier” will be available at all screening when it opens at the Angelika Friday, but let me know! It certainly is a fun little novelty if nothing else.

And until then, don’t miss Dragon Tattoo!!!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Halcyon live at Sue Ellen’s tonight

For the girls

Deb Hunseder and Steph Callahan are kind of a big deal. As acoustic rockers Halcyon, they’ve opened for big time names such as Joan Osborne, John Mayer and Wynonna Judd. But they headline this weekend. The Florida-based band comes to Dallas with their harmonies intact and a taste of their queer indie rock.

DEETS: With Bad Habits. Sue Ellen’s, 3014 Throckmorton St. 9 p.m. SueEllensDallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Stonewall Democrats Holiday Party 2011

Photos by John Wright/Dallas Voice

 

—  John Wright