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

HCC Board of Trustees unanimously approves trans protections

The Houston Community College Board of Trustees unanimously approve trans protections during their regular meeting last week. The measure to include Gender Identity and Expression in the college’s system-wide nondiscrimination policy was voted on as part of a group of noncontroversial actions considered by the board.

Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, attended the board meeting and said the vote happened so quickly, and with so little discussion, that he almost missed it. “As an HCC alumni, I can’t express how thankful I am to the HCC Board of Trustees for taking this step,” said Weaver. “I look forward to working with the school to insure that the new policy is fully implemented in a way that insures that members of the transgender community have the same educational opportunities as everyone else.”

—  admin

Video: When it comes to Equal Protection’s fair application, we don’t need a dispensation

Earlier today, we showed you a video of Fr. Joseph Palacios making a Catholic case for civil marriage equality independent of religious restraints. Now another Catholic leader will help us make or case, but in a very different way. Have a look:



[STM Communications]

So why does this, a video with no specific gay mentions, make our case? Well, because listen to all the rules. Pretty strict, right? We all know scores of heterosexual couples who would’ve been shut out by them. And that’s fine. Because the Catholic Church has every right to set parameters for the ceremonial component of marriage that match the Vatican’s desires. They have every right to demand their parishioners follow all.

You’ve heard of Bridezillas? Well they have nothing on the Popezilla’s exacting planning!

But what the Church doesn’t have the right to do? The Church doesn’t have the right to demand every other marriage-seeker follow along, regardless of the individual or couple’s own personal views on faith. Yet this forced submission is EXACTLY what the church leaders and its outreach groups (and unofficial but largely Catholic groups like NOM) are trying to do in the current national conversation. The anti-equality Catholics are ignoring the fact that their own marriage constraints already exclude many, many people for a whole host of canonical reasons, and are instead focusing on the one scriptural-based constraint they wish to place on gays. Gays who, as an organized movement, are seeking only the CIVIL MARRIAGE component, with all the ancillary religious decisions left to the denominations.




Good As You

—  David Taffet

Association of British Muslims criticizes UN for removing sexual orientation protections

The Association of British Muslims is calling on the United Nations General Assembly “to reverse its vote on the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.”  As previously reported, on November 16th the Social, Humanitarian Cultural Affairs Commitee (Third Committee) of the General Assembly voted 79 to 70 to remove “sexual orientation” from the UN resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

This resolution is reviewed every two years, and in 2008 it had been amended to mention specifically those killings that take place because of the sexual orientation of the victims. The 16th November vote removed that special mention.

The Association of British Muslims views this decision with considerable concern. It is the duty of the UN’s Human Rights Committee to uphold the rule of law, so it should vigorously oppose any extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions by whatever party and for whatever reasons.

It should also act to preserve the human rights of all vulnerable communities.

Removing this clause at this time will send quite the wrong signal to those regimes that indulge in these barbaric practices, implying as it does that United Nations is no longer concerned at the maltreatment of people because of their sexual orientation or considers it to be a lesser matter.

Referring to the Nazis, Paster Martin Niemoller once wrote, ‘First they came…’. Have we not learned anything since the tragedies of World War 2? Niemoller started out by saying, ‘First they came for the communist’s, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist’ Then, the socialists, trade unionists, Jews and other groups until finally he writes, ‘Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me’.

The Committee vote is to be ratified in December. The Association of British Muslims calls on member states of the General Assembly not to endorse the decision of its Third Committee, and to reinstate the deleted clause.

Founded in 1889, Association of British Muslims is the oldest Muslim organization in Britain.  This announcement is higly significant in light of the barbric treatment of sexual minorities in doctrinaire Muslim countries like Iran.

Two youths were executed in Iran in 2005, reportedly for homosexuality.

December 10, 2010 is Human Rights Day at the United Nations.  Unless the General Assembly reverses the Third Committee’s vote to strip sexual orientation from the resolution, all I can say about Human Rights Day is what a joke.

Event Name: Human Rights Day

Event Description: The promotion and protection of human rights has been a major preoccupation for the United Nations since 1945, when the Organization’s founding nations resolved that the horrors of The Second World War should never be allowed to recur. Respect for human rights and human dignity “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, the General Assembly declared three years later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, all States and interested organizations were invited by the General Assembly to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day. The Day marks the anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over the years, a whole network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.”

UN Sponsor: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Workplace Protections Lose in South Bend

TRANSGENDER EMPLOYMENT X390 (GETTY IMAGES) | ADVOCATE.COMA proposal to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in South Bend, Indiana failed by a 6-3 vote in the Common Council.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  admin

Pushing for Workplace Protections in North Carolina

Last week, members of the Charlotte community and I met with the Legislative Correspondent of U.S. Representative Larry Kissell from the 8th District of North Carolina to talk about supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Kissell voted in favor of the the hate crimes law, which passed last year, and voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We were excited to meet with Kissell’s team to remind him of the importance of passing ENDA and let him know that our community cannot afford to take things for granted at this critical time in the fight for equality.

Our diverse group included Randy Floyd, Co-chair for the local HRC Steering Committee and Roberta Dunn, a leader in the local transgender community who sits on the steering committees of HRC and the Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC).

Jennifer Roberts, the Chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners for Mecklenburg County, was there with constituent and straight ally Jacqueline Galante.

Everyone at the meeting shared stories about workplace discrimination in Charlotte with Legislative Correspondent John Trippi. The staff in Kissell’s office were told about a transgender woman who worked as a mechanic for the city in the Department of Auto Maintenance that lost her job shortly after letting her supervisor know of her desire to begin transitioning. They also shared a story about a grade school teacher who was fired once parents got wind of her sexual orientation and called the principal.

Roberts spoke to the staff about the economics and family benefits of ENDA. She talked about Mecklenburg County passing an employment non-discrimination policy five years ago that did not protect transgender people. This past December, MeckPAC and Roberts teamed up to pass domestic partner benefits and this year they teamed with Mayor Anthony Foxx and City Manager Curt Walton to create a non-discrimination policy in Charlotte. They are still working to include gender identity in the policy.

Charlotte is an up and coming city and there have been great strides to improve the livelihood of the LGBT community, but there is still much more work to be done. I hope that everyone will contact their lawmakers tell them to support and pass ENDA.

Visit our Pass ENDA Now website to find out more about ENDA and contact your members of Congress at countdown2010.hrc.org.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Inclusive Protections Adopted in St. Louis

Thanks in large part to the work of PROMO and TransHaven, Saint Louis, MO., has added gender identity to the city’s Civil Rights Ordinance. Gender identity now joins the list of protected categories in the city, offering protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment to all St. Louisans.

Alderman Shane Cohn was given a platform to introduce the amendment to the Civil Rights bill at a town hall sponsored by the two Missouri-based advocacy groups in May, and last Friday Board Bill 67 was unanimously approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Mayor Slay signed these basic rights into law yesterday, protecting his constituents from unjust discrimination in The Gateway City. With this inclusive bill, St. Louis joins Kansas City and University City in offering these protections and setting an example for the rest of the Show Me State, where diversity is embraced rather than marginalized.

Our congratulations and thanks go out to PROMO, TransHaven, and St. Louis!


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright