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

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

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

Banks Appointed to Citizen Police Oversight Board

Kris Banks

Kris Banks

On Wednesday the Houston City Council confirmed Mayor Annise Parker’s appointment of Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Kris Banks to the Independent Police Oversight Board.  The Oversight Board provides a way for Houstonians to have input into allegations against police officers involving use of excessive force, discharge of firearms, serious bodily injury or death or mistreatment of citizens.  The Board also makes recommendations on recruitment, training and evaluation of police officers; and considers community concerns regarding the Department.  Houstini talked with Banks about his new role:

[Houstini] Why have you agreed to serve on the Oversight Board?

[Banks] I believe the Oversight Board performs an important and vital function that benefits all involved. Police officers are granted extraordinary powers over their fellow Houstonians. They can, under legally sufficient circumstances, detain people against their will, walk into other people’s homes without their permission, and even use physical force to make people comply. We grant police officers these powers because they are necessary for the officers to do their jobs. However, with these great powers come great responsibility, and the Oversight Board exists as a check on those powers, thereby protecting the public against the very rare officer who uses her or his powers irresponsibility or excessively. It also benefits the police department. With the assurance that the Board is providing oversight, members of the public can be more confident of the police department, and form a better working relationship with officers.

[Houstini] What do LGBT Houstonians who have concerns about police behavior need to know about the mission of the Oversight Board?

[Banks] Historically, the LGBT community has had concerns about very broad and obvious police harassment, like bar raids. Incidents like these still occur (see Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth), but they tend to not be the focus of issues that exists between the LGBT community and the police department. Concerns between the community and the police department now tend to be over specific incidents that sometimes come to light and sometimes do not. That being said, the IPOB will review internal police investigations for complaints of excessive force, any discharge of a firearm, any time there is a death or serious injury, or any matter the police chief refers to us. We make recommendations, and the chief has ultimate discretion. What I want to highlight here is that a complaint has to be made for the IPOB to have any role. Complaints have to be sworn, either by the complainant, or, if the complaint is anonymous, by the person taking the complaint.

LGBT Houstonians should also know that I take my role as a community representative very seriously. I will not only take my perspective as an LGBT Houstonian to the police department, I will also take the knowledge I gain back of police procedure back to the community. For instance, I mentioned anonymous complaints above. In the training I have received so far, I learned that organizations can be deputized to take anonymous complaints (LULAC and the NAACP are both deputized). Anonymous complaints are, unfortunately, a big concern for our community. Whether because our congress has failed to pass job protections, family concerns, or any other personal reason, there are still many, many people in the closet. But being in the closet does not mean that a person is not protected. I will learn more about the deputizing community groups and take that back to organizations in our community like the Caucus, Community Center and Transgender Foundation so they can begin that process (as a caveat, I do not have a full list of deputized organizations and any of these organizations may already be deputized).

—  admin

NOM: So into protecting children, they’ll take one kid’s pic and blast it ’round the web for political purpo$e$

This writer has already said that, if operating on an emotional level looking at the larger movement rather than personal passions, the “FckH8″ video campaign never seemed like the smartest of political strategies. And I’m not gonna apologize for that. Because it didn’t and still doesn’t strike as all that pragmatic, to this site and its writer, at least. (**I recognize and respect that others strongly disagree)

But that all being said: The National Organization For Marriage’s latest effort to exploit and flip the aforementioned video campaign for its own purposes has taken the game to a whole new level of offense. Because look, check out this button ad NOM’s created to promote their own cause:

Nom Banner Protectchildren

The boy in the image? Yea, that would be one of the kids from the FCKH8 video. As in: A kid whose pro-equality parent/s presumably know about his involvement. As in: A kid who never asked for NOM’s “protection.” As in: A kid who is not one of NOM’s children, but rather a young member of NOM’s pointed opposition. As in: A kid who NOM says is exploited via his sanctioned participation in the FCKH8 campaign, yet feels is being “protected” by this unsanctioned, forcible participation in NOM’s own fundraising efforts. How dare Maggie and Brian and company use this kid in this way?!



When I say that the video doesn’t strike me as smart politically, I’m speaking only about the language. The anger, the passion, the sick-of-it tone, the drive to inject humor into the whole thing: That’s of course all 100% understandable. Anger, passion, and sick-of-it-iness that is 100% DIRECTED AT NOM AND ITS SELF-APPOINTED JOB PROTECTING SOCIETY AND ITS CHILDREN! So for NOM, the ones who are always crowing about kids being “indoctrinated” in this way or that, to now further their self-appointment by using this one kid as their little victim in need of saving?! Well forget the political strategy attached to FCKH8: This attempt to flip it and exploit the underage participants is just further proof that the only families NOM cares to “protect” are the ones that SCREW=.




Good As You

—  admin

Survivor: Nicaragua’s Shannon Elkins Was Just ‘Protecting My Butthole’ From Sash

I’m not a homophobe and I’m not a sexist. … As far as the gay bashing, I didn’t bash any gays. I didn’t say, ‘I hate gays.’ I didn’t say, ‘Gays are stupid.’ I stereotype, my brother. It’s like the show ‘Waterboy,’ people think we [people in Louisiana] ride airboats to work, we have no teeth, and we wrestle alligators for a living. Well people from Louisiana think people from New York are either in the mob or gay. I stereotype like everybody else stereotypes. … I was concerned that he was gay and I was protecting my butthole. … I don’t have to ask Sash if he’s gay. Look at the kid, he’s gay. He kept on and on telling me I was a liar. He should have kept his mouth shut and he wouldn’t have been called out in front of America.

Survivor: Nicaragua's Shannon Elkins, the self-professed non-bigot who's approaching his fame clock of 14:58, on his real fear of tribemate Sash, who he tried outing during Tribal Council

CONTINUED »


Permalink | Post a comment | Add to , , , , ,

Queerty

—  John Wright

Protecting the sanctity of buttercream and dragées

201009241354Have you heard the one about the pastry chef who wouldn’t add rainbow colors to his dainty little creations because he finds the hues too gay? It’s not a joke: That seems to have totally happened in Indianapolis, IN:

Indianapolis Bakery Won’t Make Rainbow Cupcakes, Citing ‘Values’ [TWO]

Speaking to a local news reporter, co-owner David Stockton cited “values” and his “two young impressionable daughters” as reasons why he’d be reluctant to whip up such vibrant confections. Which is weird, because it’s actually gluttony that’s actually the big ticket sin — whose “agenda” is really threatening Christian “values” here?

And besides — cupcakes?! If a cupcake can’t go pride colored, what can?! It’s like a quiche maker saying his creations can’t be served at gay brunch!

***

**SEE ALSO: The local Fox affiliate’s report:





Good As You

—  John Wright

Exclusive: NOM’s fantasy games not limited to ‘protecting marriage’

From the National Organization for Marriage’s official Youtube page:

Screen Shot 2010-09-14 At 11.14.56 Am

Eh, if our entire organizational work was built on illusion, we’d probably want the practice too.




Good As You

—  John Wright

Nat’l Review’s marriage case: Protecting sanctity of hetero superiority & entitlement

Cover Overlay 100920A new National Review editorial that Maggie Gallagher calls the “single best piece I’ve read on the subject” of same-sex marriage features lots of the usual, increasingly-rejected arguments about procreation and slippery slopes. It also works the same “they’re gonna call us bigots!” victimization routine that Maggie’s National Organization For Marriage has taken on as their number one strategy as of late (while, of course, not taking responsibility for the “why” of that possibility). So since the piece is an amalgamation of what we take on here, nugget by flawed nugget, every single day of the work week, we’re not gonna pick the whole darn thing apart in this post.

We do, however, want to look at one particular segment that somewhat sums up the skewed mentality that underlies every last bit of our opposition’s marriage bias. Namely, this snip:

Same-sex marriage would introduce a new, less justifiable distinction into the law. This new version of marriage would exclude pairs of people who qualify for it in every way except for their lack of a sexual relationship. Elderly brothers who take care of each other; two friends who share a house and bills and even help raise a child after one loses a spouse: Why shouldn’t their relationships, too, be recognized by the government? The traditional conception of marriage holds that however valuable those relationships may be, the fact that they are not oriented toward procreation makes them non-marital. (Note that this is true even if those relationships involve caring for children: We do not treat a grandmother and widowed daughter raising a child together as married because their relationship is not part of an institution oriented toward procreation.) On what possible basis can the revisionists’ conception of marriage justify discriminating against couples simply because they do not have sex?

The Case for Marriage [Nat'l Review]

Sex. That’s where these opposition voices begin and end with us. Heterosexual married couples have love, commitment, companionship, shared goals and dreams, combined financial means, rights, privileges, tax breaks, PTA meetings, and entitlement to the easy marital currency that will be painlessly recognized in hospitals, courts, tax bureaus, and anywhere else where the one with whom a person has pledged a life commitment most comes into play. But gay couples? Well, we’re just friends who like to play with each others’ genitals, dontcha know? Like a pair of friends who are having so much fun exchanging orgasms that they decided to turn it into a permanent sleepover with their favorite bunkmate.

Now, these social conservatives have of course set up this heterosexual procreation argument because they think it’s the one thing we cannot refute. But marriage is not and has never been based around the ancillary component of children. Not fully. And nowhere else, other than in the confines of a politically-charged conversational contrivance like the one Nat’l Review‘s editors have proffered onto their partisan pages, would anyone debate that fact. Human beings the world over know what love and marriage is, and we all know it goes well beyond whether or not the couple (homo or hetero) chooses to invoke on a path filled with diaper changes and Dora The Explorer DVDs. We know that Harry and June, sixty and childless even after being married for forty years, are no less nuptially-bonded than a teenage couple who spend their honeymoon in the maternity ward. We know that Bob and Joe, Sigma Delta Beer Bong brothers and roommates, have much more than sex separating their relationship from friendship to loving union (and that one drunken sex session isn’t enough to change that, so stop worrying, Joe). We also know that marriage is one way that many committed couples choose to solidify this, the ultimate declaration that there’s more to this bond than just high fives and tenuous shared interests. And most importantly: We know that if one kind of couple within the known, scientifically-recognized spectrum of sexual orientation is included in the CIVIL system that we call marriage, than *ALL* couples who fit within this span are also to be included.

Oh, and some of us know that this is no longer a request: It is a demand!

***

*UPDATE: Now to be fair, Nat’l Review tries to blow off our beliefs by claiming that same-sex marriage advocates raise these three points:

The first is that law and society have always let infertile couples marry; why not treat same-sex couples the same way?



The second objection proponents of same-sex marriage raise is that the idea that marriage is importantly linked to procreation is outdated.



The third objection is that it is unfair to same-sex couples to tie marriage to procreation, as the traditional conception of marriage does.

The Case for Marriage [Nat'l Review]

And then they give the usual convenient reasons for why these points are supposedly faulty (hetero couples still have poss. of mating, the pregnancy connection is timeless, no animus is intended, etc.). But the problem? Well, in their strawman-like insistence on boiling down our arguments to three convenient claims, they fully overlook some of the more pertinent points that we raise. Points like:

(1) That civil marriage laws do not speak to the ancillary component of children AT ALL, so the only way for these personal arguments about acceptable reproduction to come into play is for the religious right to start working toward procreation amendments rather than gay marriage bans.

(2) That when it comes to marriage’s supposed “tradition” and history, our modern opponents have no leg to stand on when it comes to marriage supposedly being the thing that we know it to be today.

(3) That nothing same-sex couples do or do not do in terms of their freedom to marry changes any of these beliefs, opinions, or even truths about marriage as we have known it!

And there are others, of course. All building on the actual reality of the world. One where gay people are born. Where gay people give birth. Where gay people contribute to births. One where the only folks who are playing politics with procreation are the social conservatives who look at the unique role that gay people play in the life chain, then take it upon themselves to decide that this role is to our society’s collective detriment.

Perhaps it’s time they embark on a National Re-Review.




Good As You

—  John Wright