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.

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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

Houston one of 21 most “Lesbianish” cities according to Jezebel.com

Another day, another list of queer cities written by someone out of state who clearly doesn’t understand just how awesome Houston is. This one from Jezebel.com uses internet search results to determine the most “Lesbianish” cities in America. Two Texas cities make the grade: Austin at 10th and Houston at 18th (so Houstini’s Dallas Voice overlords can take their rainbow colored tower and stick it where the sun don’t shine).

From the Jezebel.com article:

“Houston’s the largest city in the country with an openly gay mayor, the 12th most populated-with-gays US city and it’s also just one of the largest cities in the country, period. A string of unseemly governors have no powers against Houston’s thriving community and legendarily enormous Pride parade. Chances, one of the largest lesbian bars in the world, recently shut down; but there’s still drinks to be had at places like Blur, The Usual and F Bar and additional queer activities happening at the Houston LGBT Youth Center, The Houston GLBT Political Caucus and Houston’s LGBT film festival, QFest. Houston’s Rice University has a healthy queer community as well.”

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Former GLBT Political Caucus President to lead Harris County Democratic Party

Former HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg gives new chair Lane Lewis the keys to the party office

Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus president and longtime Democratic party activist Lane Lewis was elected to serve as the Harris County Democratic Party interim chair by the County Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 20. Lewis will serve the remainder of outgoing chairman Gerry Birnburg term, which expires in April. Birnburg announced earlier this year that he would step down after the November general elections.Lewis has also completed his filing as a candidate for HCDP chair on the April 2012 primary ballot.

Lewis previously served as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 1997. He has a long history of advocacy on LGBT issues.

“Words cannot express the profound sense of responsibility I feel right now,” said Lewis moments after his election as HCDP Chair.  “I am grateful so many fellow Democrats have entrusted me to lead during such a pivotal time. We have much work to do over the next several months to get our county and our candidates ready for the November 2012 election.  This enormous task will take the work of current elected officials, precinct chairs and activists working in unison.  My job will be to foster a new vision for our party and work to keep us all focused on our common goal.”

During Lewis’ acceptance speech, he spoke briefly about the direction and his vision for the party.

“A unified effort from every Democrat is the key to winning elections,” Lewis said.  “It’s plain and simple.  The middle class is under attack; the work we do in 2012 will be key to protecting the future and the promise that the American Dream provides.”

Lane Lewis was elected by an overwhelming majority.  He will begin operating the HCDP immediately.

—  admin

“Head Figure Head” more about journalism than about Gov. Rick Perry’s sex life

Head Figure Head, the new e-book from Glen Maxey, details the author’s arduous and frustrating six-month effort to investigate rumors of Gov. Rick Perry’s gay sex life. Maxey served as executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now Equality Texas) during Perry’s tenure as a state representative, later serving for 12 years as a state representative, spanning Perry’s time as agricultural commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor. Of all the people who’ve attempted to look into the rumors of Perry’s trysts with men, Maxey is perhaps best positioned to get to the truth, and takes great pains to ensure we are aware of that fact.

The book is the narrative of Maxey’s research, assisted by a journalist from a national media outlet. Like almost every character in the book other than Maxey and Perry himself, “the Journalist” is referred to only as a pseudonym. Maxey and the Journalist begin their search for proof in June 2011 as rumors of Perry’s impending presidential bid are widely circulating. Immediately the pair find that almost every gay man in Austin has a friend who has a friend who claims to have slept with Perry. For the next three months they track those leads and come excruciatingly close to breaking the story.

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Incumbants fair poorly in runoff election

We now have results from all precincts:

District A
Helena Brown: 55%
Brenda Stardig: 45%

District B
Alvin Byrd: 49%
Jerry Davis: 51%

Place 2:
Kristi Thibaut 49.9%
Andrew Burks 50.2%

Place 5
Jack Christie  54%
Jo Jones  46%

Both incumbents, Jones and Stardig, seem to have lost their bid for re-election, Thibaut misses a council seat by only 212 votes and Davis becomes the only candidate endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus to win in the runoff.

—  admin

25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at texashiv.org

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

Red Houston: The city’s most socialist precincts

Amanda Ulman

Amanda Ulman

Houston has a reputation as a blue dot in a red state, but there’s more than one political movement associated with the color red. Perennial socialist candidate for mayor, Amanda Ulman, managed a respectable showing in last weeks municipal elections with 2% of the vote, a significant improvement from her .6% in 2009 but not quite as good as the 8% she pulled in 2007.

Ulman didn’t win a single precinct, but there were several where she pulled at least 5% of the vote. So if you’re looking for prime locations to foment a socialist revolution, check out these areas of red (or at least pink) Houston.


View Red Houston in a larger map

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We Were Here, AIDS documentary at 14 Pews

We Were HereWe Were Here, the award winning documentary of the early days of the AIDS crisis, premiers at 14 Pews theater (800 Aurora) Saturday, November 20, at 4:30 pm. The film, from director David Weissman, will be proceeded by a panel discussion on the state of the AIDS crisis today.

I came out in 1998, right at the tail end of the worst days of the AIDS crisis. I remember, with vivid clarity, the days of the walking wounded: when every other gay man I met would tell how their doctor said they should have died five years ago, when the community told time by recalling if an event took place before or after a certain person’s funeral.

Fortunately those days are largely behind us, but as new HIV infections continue to rise and we struggle to maintain funding for medications that are keeping people alive (at a cost of thousands of dollars a month), it’s important that we never forget the early days of the pandemic. For people of my generation and younger the mysterious “Gay Plague” that threatened our community in the early eighties can seem more like a fairy tale monster than the horrifying crisis it was, and is.

We Were Here tells the real life stories of five people who survived. Their mundane and profound recollections highlight, not only their personal experiences, but the broad political and social upheavals unleashed by the crisis. From their different vantage points as caregivers, activists, researchers, as friends and lovers of the afflicted, and as people with AIDS themselves, the interviewees share stories which are not only intensely personal, but which also illuminate the much larger themes of that era: the political and sexual complexities, and the terrible emotional toll. The film highlights the role of women – particularly lesbians – in caring for and fighting for their gay brothers.

Tickets for We Were Here are $10 and can be purchased at 14pews.org.

After the jump watch the trailer for We Were Here.

—  admin