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

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

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

HISD trustee distributes anti-gay flier

Rodriquez Flier (excerpt)

Excerpt from the Rodriquez flier attacking Fonseco for his advocacy for LGBT people and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (click to view full flier)

Houston Independent School District Trustee Manuel Rodriquez Jr. is under fire for an anti-gay flyer attacking his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. Both seek the HISD District III seat held by Rodriquez. Rodriquez’s flyer attacks Fonseca for his history of advocating for LGBT people, and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. The flyer also suggests that Fonseca being 52 and unmarried is a reason that Houstonians should not trust him to make decisions affecting children, and points out that he has a “male partner.”

The GLBT Political Caucus was quick to denounce the flyer, issuing a statement on Saturday. “Manuel Rodriguez is assuming the voters of District III share the same bigoted, hateful views he holds,” said Caucus president Noel Freeman. “Houstonians have proven time and time again that such views are not welcome in our City, and have consistently rejected candidates who espouse such hateful views. We urge the voters of District III to reject Manuel Rodriguez on election day.”

Other HISD Trustees have joined in the chorus of people speaking out against the mailer. “I denounce the reprehensible, mean-spirited, bigoted mailer that was sent out in the HISD, District III race,” Trustee Juliet Katherine Stipeche said via her Facebook wall. “I ask my colleagues to maintain and uphold HISD’s total non-discrimination policy and treat every person, including other candidates, with dignity and respect. Let us embrace diversity and equality and treat every person as we would like ourselves to be treated ” Stipeche is seeking re-election to her district VIII seat.

HISD District I member Anna Eastman echoed Stipeche’s comments. “My fifteen year old son could not comprehend why someone would think that distinction would change a vote for school board and would be used as such by a candidate.”

The GLBT caucus is urging people to contact the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle to encourage them to rescind their endorsement of Rodriquez in light of his campaign tactics.

HISD elections are part of the general elections taking place this Tuesday, Nov 8. Visit HarrisVotes.org to find your voting location and view a sample ballot.

—  admin

Today I drove: It's the responsible thing

Not my car. Mine's worse.
Not my car. Mine’s worse.

Today I did the socially responsible thing and drove my car to work.

I usually take DART. And I love taking DART. Hampton Station is right up the street from my house.

—  David Taffet

Clueless

DART logo

OH! MY! GOD!

Members of the LGBT community left a DART committee meeting with their mouths open. Stunned.

Tisha McDaniel said it best.

“Huh?” she said outside the committee room.

First, the good news. On May 11, the DART board will be presented with proposed wording for an update on their employment non-discrimination policy. From comments from committee members, it seems they have no intention of tolerating any form of discrimination and are open to including gender identity as part of their policy. There was even concern that the term “gender identity” would include everyone.

Here’s the BIG BUT:

A question from several board members indicated they had no clue as to why the issue had even come up. One mentioned that community members had been pushing for it. But they seemed to be completely clueless that DART management had intervened in a family court case in which an employee of theirs was changing gender marker.

Have there been any cases where we discriminated, one board member wanted to know. The answer from other board members was a resounding “No.”

The board member who mentioned that the issue had come up seemed to have never heard of the gender marker case.

After the meeting, Dennis Coleman of Lambda Legal suggested emailing previous Dallas Voice articles to every board member to make sure they understood why the issue had come up. Others who attended wondered if it was willful ignorance or if they did not actually know what a transgender person was. They wondered if board members did not understand the concept of changing one’s sex on a birth certificate, how that related to transgender issues. Or if they didn’t understand how interfering in a personal case of one employee while not interfering in non-work related issues of any of their other employees constitutes discrimination.

Here is a clip from the meeting. (The room was dim but the sound’s fine):

Some interesting quotes:

“I guess I don’t understand what the protest was about.”

“Why are these people saying DART’s policy is not addressing their concerns?”

—  David Taffet

Parker issues extensive non-discrimination order

Mayor Annise Parker
Mayor Annise Parker

On March 25, Houston Mayor Annise Parker issued an extensive executive order protecting city employees based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation. This order expands on an earlier one issued by former Mayor Bill White that addressed only sexual orientation.

Parker’s order includes vendors and contractors doing business with the city and includes protection for people in all city-run facilities.

The gender identity protection is defined to include self-identification as well as expression of identity.

Coverage of facilities would include protection for people in all areas operated by the city including stadiums, museums or parks as well as city offices. But facilities would also mean protection for persons regarding bathroom usage.

The coverage for Houston employees is more extensive than for Dallas city employees. Gender identity is not included in the non-discrimination ordinance that protects city employees.

More about Parker’s executive order in this Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

Texas two-step

Once again, today’s election is a two step process. Whether you voted early or are voting today, go to a precinct caucus at 7:15 after the polls close.

One of the things that happens is introducing resolutions. Equality Texas has proposed four for the Democratic Party and one for the Republican Party. Here’s what Equality Texas has to say about today’s vote:

When: Precinct conventions are Tuesday, March 2nd, at 7:15 p.m. in the building where your precinct has voted on election day. A notice should be posted at the polls to announce the meeting, and election judges should be on site to assist. If you are an “early voter,” check the precinct number on your voter registration card to determine the location of your precinct convention.

Why: The precinct convention approves resolutions that can, ultimately, determine the state party platform. The convention also elects delegates for the next level in the convention process, the Senate/County convention.

Who: Anyone who has voted in the party primary can participate in that party’s precinct convention.

To ensure that resolutions reach the state convention and are adopted, it is important to get as many people as possible to submit the same resolution at each level of the convention process.

The 2010 Precinct Resolutions:

Below are downloadable copies of the 2010 pro-equality precinct resolutions. Print these resolutions and bring them to your precinct convention on March 2nd.

Democratic Resolution:

Resolution Supporting Non-Discrimination Legislation (Democratic)

Resolution Supporting Accurate Birth Certificates (Democratic)

Resolution Supporting Safe Schools (Democratic)

Resolution Supporting Competitive Insurance Benefits (Democratic)

Republican Resolutions:

Resolution Supporting Non-Discrimination (Republican)

—  David Taffet

Fort Worth Diversity Task Force recommendations released

FORT WORTH – The City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, convened this summer in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid to help find ways the city of Fort Worth could improve relations with the LGBT community, this afternoon presented a list of 20 recommendations to the City Council.

Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa, who chaired the task force, presented the list of recommendations during the pre=council meeting this afternoon, noting that 18 of the 20 came with the “unconditional concurrence” of City Manager Dale Fisseler. The remaining two garnered Fisseler’s “conditional concurrence,” pending further study of the financial implications.

Those two recommendations needing further study were offering domestic partner benefits to the city’s LGBT employees and amending the city’s benefits policies to include coverage of all or part of the cost of transitioning for the city’s transgender employees.

The task force and the city manager also recommended that the council amend the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity. Costa said the city manager’s office would ask that consideration of that change be included in the council’s agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Another recommendation that earned “unconditional concurrence” from Fisseler was that the city implement expanded diversity training for all employees, with specialized training for members of the police and fire department, and encouraging even elected and appointed city officials to participate in the training.

Mayor Mike Moncrief later said that he believes that council members should “set an example” by going through the training, a remark that earned him praise from openly gay City Councilmember Joel Burns and from Jon Nelson, a gay attorney who was on the task force.

After the presentation, Nelson said that “the vast majority” of the recommendations can be implemented through the city manager’s office without requiring action by the council and that implementation on several recommendations had already begun.

For a full report, see the Friday, Nov. 6 issue of Dallas Voice.

—  admin