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

Ruben Díaz: Sugar is sweet and so is marital bias

6A00D8341C503453Ef0120A6Fe6D02970BNew York state senator Ruben Díaz (D-Bronx), one of the most known anti-LGBT state lawmakers in the country, is lashing out against NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg for backing a prohibition against food stamps being used to purchase soda and other sugary beverages while at the same time supporting the right for gay couples to embrace their own marital sweetness:

“Last week, Mayor Bloomberg released a video wherein he stated his support for marriage equality ‘Because government shouldn’t tell you who to love or who to marry’.

“Today, Mayor Bloomberg sought permission from the Federal Government to prohibit New York food stamp recipients from using their food stamps to purchase soda and other sugary beverages.

“Mr. Mayor, will you please make up your mind? It is hypocritical to say on one hand that the government should not be involved. Today, however, that is exactly what you did.

Either the government should or should not be involved in telling people what or what not to eat, drink, and smoke, or who they can or can’t marry. You can’t have it both ways.”

Senator Díaz to Mayor Bloomberg: Mr. Mayor Will You Please Make Up Your Mind? [Ruben Díaz]

Uhm, okay — but here’s the thing: The government already puts limits on food stamps, based on what are seen as public health interests. Cigarettes. Alcohol. Medicines and vitamins. All banned. As are pet foods, prepared foods, and a number of household items, the latter of these not for health, obviously, but still a way for the government to streamline the program. So this Bloomberg plan (a 2 year ban accompanied with a study) would just be one more limitation: One that is obviously designed to combat a demonstrable health issue, in a situation where there are logical alternatives (natural juices, water, etc), and in a way similar to other anti-obesity initiatives (like school lunch regulations, for instance).

But marriage equality is the apple to the food stamp issue’s (organic, approved, juicy) orange! In this case, the demonstrable harm comes from denying certain couples of a freedom to which they are more than entitled by virtue of citizenship. Supporters of marriage equality are not “nanny stating”: They are rejecting the self-appointed governessing that the social conservatives have injected into the nuptial nursery!

If we are forced to choose a hypocrite here, it’s undoubtedly Sen. Ruben Díaz. On one hand he is saying that the public good that is marriage equality should not be governmentally supported in a way that benefits all citizens, while on the other saying that the public hazard that is childhood/adult obesity should not be governmentally combatted when talking about citizens who utilize public benefits. In both cases, Diaz is rejecting the heart-healthy option.

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**SEE ALSO: Andrés Duque criticizes Diaz for putting issues like the above before the disgusting anti-gay attack that’s stunned his community: Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr.’s response to the anti-gay attacks in the Bronx [Blabbeando]




Good As You

—  John Wright