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

“Defining Marriage: A Debate!” at U of H tomorrow

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

One day we will get to the point where an University inviting guests to debate marriage equality will be greeted with the same scorn that an on-campus debate on women’s suffrage or whether or not African-Americans are 3/5 of a person would engender, but that day is not today. Just in time for the expected U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling on Prop. 8  tomorrow, Feb. 7, the Federalist Society and Outlaw at the University of Houston present “Defining Marriage: A Debate!” at noon in the Bates Law Building room 109.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage, will be on hand to defend the continued prohibition against marriage equality. Mitchell Katine, who served as local counsel in Lawrence v. Texas (the Supreme Court case declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional) will defend marriage as a civil right, constitutionally guaranteed by equal protection under the law.

As a bonus the first 70 attendees to arrive will receive a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich and waffle fries, because we like our civil rights debated with a side of irony.

After the jump get a sneak peak at the kind of keen logical arguments to be expected from Dr. Morse:

—  admin

Celebration of Love Gala raises funds for Lesbian Health Initiative

The scooter's way cuter in pink, sorry Liz

The Lesbian Health Initiative of Houston is celebrating Valentine’s Day a little early with their Celebration of Love Gala Saturday, Feb. 11. at the Double Tree Hotel downtown (400 Dallas Street). The 10th annual gala is the 20-year-old organization’s major fundraiser of the year.

This year the gala features comedienne Susanne Westenhoefer, who claims to be the “first openly-gay comedian to appear on television” (yep, she was out before Ellen).  Dorothy Weston, co-founder and CEO of The Rose (a breast cancer prevention and treatment organization) will be honored  for her years of service. In addition the evening includes dinner, dancing, a silent auction and the raffling of a pink Vitacci 50cc Retro Scooter. LHI executive director Liz James is particularly excited about the raffle even if she didn’t quite get her way on the prize. “I wanted it to be a black scooter, as I’m a bit on the butch side,” said James, adding that more “femme” forces in the organization prevailed and a pink scooter was selected instead.

Regardless of the color of the scooter, the Celebration of Love Gala promises to be a fun filled night, not just for sapphic romantics, but for anyone looking for a valentine’s date night that supports a good cause. Tickets for the black tie affair start at $100 and can be purchased at lhihouston.org. Doors open at 6 pm.

—  admin

Girl Scout cookie boycott may backfire, if Twitter is any indication

The Huffington Post reports on an effort to boycott girl scout cookies in response to the organization’s trans affirming positions. Last fall, after a Colorado troop leader initially refused to allow Bobby Montoya to participate because she was identified as male at birth, Girl Scout leaders in that state with the support of the national organization quickly responded by re-enforcing their policy of allowing all girls to participate. “If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl,” said the GSC statement, “Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”

That act of common decency inspired this video:

If the initial response on Twitter is any indication, however, the burgeoning boycott may backfire, begetting a bumper year for Tag-a-longs, Thinmints and Trefoils (those yummy shortbread cookies).

—  admin

BACH for the holidays …. and beyond

Volunteer Wanda Brown helps get ready for the Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope on Chirstmas Eve

I have been out of the office, on vacation, since Dec. 22, and when I got back to work today and started wading through the thousands of emails in my inbox, I found one from Hank Henley, asking if we could include some information in Dallas Voice about BACH, the weekly Breakfast At Cathedral of Hope program in which church volunteers prepare and serve breakfast to the homeless.

So I am including Hank’s write-up about BACH’s Christmas Eve event here on Instant Tea, just as he sent it to me:

Use the words “Bach” and “cathedral” in a sentence this time of year, and most people will picture the “Christmas Cantata” or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” But at a certain church in Dallas, BACH stands for “Breakfast at the Cathedral of Hope,” a program that just celebrated its four-year anniversary in November. On Christmas Eve morning, while most of Dallas was nestled all snug in their beds, a small army of volunteers was in the kitchen at the Cathedral of Hope whipping up a hot and hearty breakfast for the homeless and needy that would be coming through their doors by 7:30 a.m. Under the direction of Rev. William Baldridge, Associate Pastor for Community Outreach, this weekly breakfast has grown from serving just 11 guests at the first meal to an average of 200 guests each Saturday morning.

And guests they are: receiving a hot meal served on china plates and with silverware and glasses. The guests may also receive a haircut after they eat, if they so chose.

This week, in addition to the usual food and drink, each guest received a bag with a blanket, hat, gloves, toiletries, water and food coupons. The gift bags were the result of the generous work of Jan Okerlund and Leslie Frye.

Leslie Frye, one of the volunteer coordinators, when asked how the volunteers feel about the work they do, said, “The real blessing is in the cooking for and serving those less fortunate, not only during this Season, but all year long.”

This Saturday’s volunteers included members of the church community of the Cathedral of Hope, members of the Turtle Creek Chorale and a group of 14 students from “I-CERV,” the “Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering.” They are here once a month, all year long. Kenneth Campbell, the Interfaith Services Director Volunteer Coordinator of the Memnosyne Foundation, brought these energetic and focused youth.

The Memnosyne Foundation is a wonderful organization whose mission is “to help a diverse people of the world consciously encourage an evolution of themselves and for future generations by providing the means to encourage positive, peaceful global collaboration.” The diverse crowd of leaders, volunteers and guests were certainly doing that on this morning.

And one guest, who guest shared his story quietly and privately with tears streaming down his face, personifies the spirit of sharing and giving. This time last year, he was on the street, living under a bridge and depending on the generosity of others to survive. He told me he could always count on a hot meal and being treated with respect when he came to BACH. This year, he is able to draw social security and is donating $25 a month to BACH. “They always fed me and helped me get through. Now I want to give back whatever I can. God blessed me and it’s what I want to do.”

Across the room, his hands deep in a bucket of soapy water, volunteer Jamie Rawson, spent the morning scraping plates and glasses, getting them ready for the dishwashers.

“There a few things a person can do which so clearly put Christmastime in perspective as doing something to help others. It is has been said so often as to become a cliché — but it is no less true for being a cliché. It is heart-warming to see so many people gathered to help provide for those in need. It is especially affirming to see so many young people from such a diversity of backgrounds. This has been the most fitting and rewarding way to truly start my Christmas.”

When the guests were finished with breakfast, finished visiting with friends and volunteers, finished with their haircut, and picked up their bag of supplies for warmth and comfort, they left the cathedral and headed back into the rain and the street.

As they left, Richard Boule greeted each of them and wished them a Merry Christmas.

“As I watched those people leaving the Cathedral after breakfast this morning, I could not help wondering where they were going and what each one of them had to look forward to this Christmas time. But I had the feeling that they were grateful for the humanity they were shown, so many left with a smile. May they be blessed.”

If you would like to help with BACH, please call Rev. Baldridge at the Cathedral of Hope at 214-351-1901.

You can see more photos from the Christmas Eve Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope after the jump.

—  admin

Houston ARCH seeks public submissions for new logo

Houston ARCH proposed logos

History relies on historians, whether the formal history of the academic or the informal history of grandpa’s stories, someone must tell the tale for the story to live on. The straight world has many formal institutions designed to maintain its story, from museums to archives to oral history projects the stories of straight people are well documented and preserved.

Queer history, on the other hand, is far more fragile. As a community we have a habit of separating ourselves by generations and the documents of our recent past, the fliers, t-shirts and pamphlets, are often seen as ephemeral trash, rather than important historical documents.

Several institutions have been created to try to preserve that history, including the Botts Archive, the Gulf Coast Archive, and archives at the University of Houston, Rice University and the Transgender Foundation of America. These desperate efforts have joined together to form the Houston Area Rainbow Collective History (Houston ARCH), a coordinated effort to preserve and document LGBT History in Houston.

Of course, any great organization needs a great logo, and that’s where Houston ARCH is reaching out to the public for help. Through January 5 you can submit your design via e-mail to billyhoya@billyhoya.info. Designs must contain the name “Houston ARCH,” and may spell out the acronym, also designs should be be scalable, work both in color and black and white, and be suitable for print and online reproduction. Designers should take care that their submissions are not confusable with logo’s of similarly named organizations.

So far only two proposals have been submitted and loaded to the Houston ARCH website for comment. Final voting for the design will take place January 25 at the regular Houston ARCH meeting.

—  admin

Council member Jones to be first cisgender reader at Houston Day of Remembrance

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones is scheduled to be the first cisgender reader in the history of Houston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, one the events sponsors, says that Jones was originally approached to be a speaker at the event because of her advocacy for trans children, but that she requested to read instead.

“I begged to read, I begged them,” corrects Jones, “they asked me if I wanted to speak and I begged them to read instead because it’s profound and it touches you. I think it’s better to read because it’s important.”
Jones said she was particularly moved at last year’s Day of Remembrance by the story of 17 month old Roy A. Jones who was beaten to death by his babysitter for “acting like a girl.” “I was so touched when they read about the baby that was killed,” said Jones, “the readers tell the story.”

Jones led efforts this year to encourage local homeless youth provider Covenant House to adopt a nondiscrimination policy that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She used her position on City Council to threaten to cut Covenant House’s funding unless they addressed accusations of discrimination. That threat persuaded the organization to overhaul their policies and begin regular meetings with community leaders to discuss their progress in serving LGBT youth.
The Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance is Saturday, November 19, from 7-9:30 pm at Farish Hall on the University of Houston Campus.

—  admin

Local LGBT activists to confront Rodriquez for anti-gay flier

Manuel Rondriquez

Manuel Rodriquez

A group of Houston LGBT activists, including representatives from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, is urging people to attend tonight’s Houston Independent School Board Meeting to confront HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriquez for an anti-gay flier he distributed during his recent reelection campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier encouraged Houstonians to vote against Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. Under the header “Vote NO for my opponent” the flier reads in part:

Program manager of Minority male Initiative at HCC
His records [sic] show he spent years advocating for Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, transgender rights……….. not Kids.

Endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (HGLBTPC) is the South’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated solely to the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.
54 years [sic] old man with no children
Male partner

The GLBT Political Caucus issued a statement on Saturday, Nov 5, condemning the flier. On Sunday, Nov 6, the Houston Chronicle retracted its endorsement of Rodriquez over the flier. Rodriquez defended the flier throughout the weekend and Tuesday’s election. “[Fonseca] will be responsible for making policy for HISD, and I as a parent, as a grandfather, as a person who has probably more understanding of what a child’s needs are,” Rodriquez told the Chronicle. “[I] just want to give the voters information so that they can make their own choice.” Rodriquez campaign volunteers distributed the flier at polling locations throughout the day of the election on Tuesday.

Yesterday Rodriquez issued an open letter apologizing for the flier.

… I am aware that some people have said they were offended by one of my ads, and I apologize to all those people.

Earlier this year, I proudly joined my colleagues on the HISD Board of Education in unanimously adopting more stringent anti-bullying and anti-discrimination specifically protect the rights and safety of all students and employees regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orintation. I voted for this policy because it was the right thing to do and I remain committed to creating a culture in our schools where all people feel welcome and safe…

Rodriquez’s critics feel his apology is insufficient, and that it stops short of addressing their concerns. Mike Pomeroy of the GLBT Political Caucus has created a Facebook event encouraging people to attend tonight’s HISD board meeting. “I don’t think he gets it,” Pomeroy told the Chronicle. “He was throughout the weekend saying, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this. It’s the truth.’ And he was still handing out the flier at the polls. This is all coming a little bit too late.” ” We have several signed up to speak,” added Pomeroy, “but also want as many as possible there to stand with us in solidarity against bigotry on the HISD School Board!”

The School Board meets tonight at the Hattie Mae White – Houston ISD Administration Bldg, 4400 West 18th Street from 5-8 pm.

—  admin

‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military

IMG_5132

CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.

Carpenter.Dodd

Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas