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

Community rallies to support GLBT Community Center President

Tim Brookover

Last fall Tim Brookover, a long-time Houston LGBT activist and current president of the Houston GLBT Community Center, made public that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. Throughout his treatment Brookover has remained the vibrant advocate for LGBT people that Houston has always known him to be (he even started a cancer support group at the center). Brookover recently ended his employment in the office of Houston City Council member Sue Lovell and applied for disability.

While his application is pending the people of his long-time church home have decided to help. Bethel United Church of Christ (1107 Shepherd) will host a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for Brookover’s expenses this Sunday, Feb. 12, at noon. Ticket’s are $10 and include beverages and speghetti. RSVP via facebook.

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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.

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Out & Equal to honor Parker, Welts

Mayor Annise Parker

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates will honor Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts at its Leadership Celebration on March 14 in San Francisco.

In October, Out & Equal held its week-long Workplace Summit at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. Because of rave reviews, the group plans to return in the next few years. Welts was among the speakers at the Dallas convention.

Now in its fifth year, the Leadership Celebration is a fundraising event that includes a hosted reception and dinner. Parker and Welts will be recognized as role models and inspirations in the movement to achieve equality in the workforce.

To attend the San Francisco event, register online.

The 2012 Workplace Summit will be in Baltimore on from Oct. 29-Nov 1.

—  David Taffet

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.”

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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.

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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.

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GLBT Community Center offers Christmas Dinner

GLBT Community CenterFor many, Christmas is a time for family, but as we all know, not everyone in the LGBT community is on the best terms with their family, and for others financial concerns keep them from traveling during the holidays. For those of us spending the holidays alone (or those of us who just enjoy a good potluck) the Houston GLBT Community Center, in cooperation with the AIDS Housing Coalition Houston, is hosting a Christmas potluck at the Center’s offices at  the Historic Dow School (1901 Kane). There is no charge for the Potluck and Turkey and Ham will be provided. Those attending may bring a side dish to share but should not feel obligated to bring anything if they are not able.

“The Center family is thrilled to partner with Matt Locklin and AIDS Housing Coalition Houston on this Christmas luncheon,” said Tim Brookover, president of the center. “We hope people will join us who don’t have plans for the holiday — or maybe need a break from the plans they have! Christmas and your GLBT family. Now that’s festive!”

If you would like to volunteer or make a contribution to offset expenses, contact AHCH executive director Matt Locklin at ahch@wt.net.

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Meeting the candidates: ‘Democrat’ Randall Terry and Vermin Supreme?

Presidential candidates Vermin Supreme, left, and Randall Terry

I know that there are a handful of Republican candidates who are getting all the attention these days as we gear up for the 2012 presidential election — folks like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. President Obama doesn’t have any big name Democratic opposition in his bid for re-election, so he’s keeping kind of quiet so far.

But there are some other candidates out there, both Republican and Democratic, who are running for our nation’s highest elected office who haven’t gotten much play in the media. And they showed up in Manchester, N.H., on Monday, Dec. 19, to participate in the New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ “forum for lesser known presidential candidates.” You can read all about it here at ConcordMonitor.com.

Here is what was, for me, the big surprise of the evening: Randall Terry is running for president — as a Democrat!

You remember Randall Terry, right? He founded what was, at one time, the biggest anti-abortion group around, Operation Rescue. He’s the one that suggested in 2009 that the murder of Doctor George Tiller, who performed abortions, was justified. He is also virulently anti-gay and when his adopted son Jamiel came out in 2004, Terry basically disowned him. (Jamiel was killed in a car wreck in Georgia on Nov. 30.)

Well, Terry, who now lives in Purgitsville, W. Va., announced early this year that he would be running for president, as a Democrat believe it or not, and he was one of the candidates at the NHIOP forum last night. His two main campaign issues are, of course, ending abortion and ending gay marriage. “We will never restore the greatness of this nation as long as we are killing our own offspring,” he said at the forum, adding that the “states’ rights” argument is not valid in either case. “There’s some things that are fundamentally evil, like slavery and there is no state right to hold another human being, there is no state right to kill your offspring, there is no state right to have homosexual marriage,” he said.

But Terry is not the only “fringe” candidate who was at the forum. They were all pretty much fringe candidates in one way or another. But the fringiest of them all was probably perpetual candidate Vermin Supreme of Rockport, Mass., who has, according to ConcordMonitor.com, “made a name for himself since 2004 running on a platform of giving a pony to every American and mandatory oral hygiene — ‘strong teeth for a strong America.'”

(Oh, and check out his website, where he lists his campaign priorities as “Dental Hygiene Law,” “Flying Monkey Public Safety Assurance Program” and “Time Travel Research Funding.”

At the Monday night forum, he declared, “I am a tyrant that you should trust, and you should let me run your life because I, too, know what is best for you.”

OK, who wouldn’t want a pony? And who can be against good oral hygiene? And to make it even better, Vermin Supreme goes around wearing a rubber boot on his head like a wizard’s hat, and one of those green toy Hulk fists over his crotch, kind of like a codpiece, I guess. And if THAT’s not enough for you, at the Monday night forum, Vermin threw glitter all over Randall Terry while yelling, “He’s turning gay, he’s turning gay, whoooooo!”

What’s not to love? I mean, when you have serious Republican candidates pledging to do away with judges if they do something they don’t like, voting for a guy who promises everybody a pony doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, after all.

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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