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

For the Love of Kettle show at Kettle Art

Gotta love it

This annual fundraiser has become a hot ticket for snagging some great art for cheap. All 9 x 12 pieces are by local artists and each cost $50. Original art at that price, heck, buy a few. The event helps to keep the gallery running and celebrates art on the more edgy and quirky side. Or give the chocolates and roses a break and consider a piece as a unique Valentine’s gift. See? We got your back. Just get there early.

DEETS: Kettle Art, 2714 Elm St. 7 p.m. KettleArt.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Sing along at Show Tunes Night at Woody’s

You know the words

Woody’s goes from macho to musical on Tuesdays with its long running Show Tunes Night. Sing along because you know will to all the classics from MGM up to today’s Broadway shows and likely a few surprises in between. It’s best with a group because then you can prove who the biggest theater queen is of the night.

DEETS: Woody’s, 4011 Cedar Springs Road. 9 p.m. DallasWoodys.com.

—  Rich Lopez

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.”

—  admin

Ray Hill kicks off campaign for Texas House with YouTube videos

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

As previously reported by Houstini Ray Hill, the iconic and iconoclastic Houston LGBT activist, announced this year that he would challenge ten-term incumbent state representative Garnet Coleman in next spring’s Democratic Primary. Hill is running what he calls an “unfunded campaign,” relying on social media and support from community members to get his message out.

We haven’t heard much about the campaign since Hill filed at the beginning of the month (perhaps he’s been distracted by his recent arrest during an attempt to prevent the HPD vice squad from harassing strippers), but Hill seems to have gotten back into the campaign saddle, releasing two YouTube videos about his campaign and why he thinks he’s the best choice to represent district 147 (they can be viewed after the jump). The audio’s not the best (tip: taping next to a roaring waterfall does not produce the best sound), but in both videos Hill expresses his belief that the common people of the district will vote him into office. Judge for yourself:

—  admin

Upstate NY newspaper runs trans-tastic series

A view of Downtown Albany from the Hudson River

My college town newspaper, the Albany Times Union, is running an awesome series of articles about the transgender community this week that I wanted to share.

When I was in school, the Times Union was the conservative newspaper and the now-gone Knickerbocker News was the liberal paper. But the surviving paper knows its audience and Albany is liberal. No, that should read LIBERAL.

This whole series is worth a read. But not only are the articles good, so are the comments. The biggest complaint is that the LGBT community is getting too much coverage. Imagine that in the local Dallas newspaper. I expect more negative comments right here in a Texas LGBT newspaper than an Upstate New York mainstream paper is getting.

Here’s an article filled with statistics. They claim more than 8 million LGBs in the U.S. and 700,000 transgenders. There’s no census count so I’m not sure where the numbers come from.

Here’s the main page — Transgender: A Special Report. The online version begins with 75+ photos.

People just know me as Pat

The long, difficult journey of how a man became a woman

Surgery, pain, humor and no turning back

Going from Kenny to Kym was no easy road

For Drew, nothing is written

‘I like my fluid identity’

A little about Albany

Albany is a small city of about 100,000 people. The capital of New York, it’s about 150 miles north of New York City, north of the Catskills, south of the Adirondacks and where the Mohawk River empties into the Hudson River. Where the northbound New York State Thruway makes a sharp left turn to head west to Buffalo — giving the city its nickname — the armpit of New York.

Oh, and Albany is a very liberal city. So it’s not surprising they’d run this series. I just don’t know when another mainstream daily has devoted this much space at one time to transgender issues.

Albany is home to the first LGBT community center ever created in the country. Located in a brownstone a few blocks the Capitol, it’s now called the Capital Pride Center. The building was purchased in 1974 by a professor at my school and a group of us helped renovate the building. That was the first time I ever helped build stairs. Hopefully they’ve been rebuilt since then.

And Sen. Gillibrand — who represented Albany before becoming senator — was a leader in getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and pushed for marriage equality along with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

—  David Taffet

Mr. Dallas Eagle competition begins tonight

Leather for your life

Cows beware as leather needs go up for Mr. Dallas Eagle. Dallas has made big strides in state and national competitions, so the new titile holder will have some big shoes — er — boots to fill. The meet and greet starts Friday with the contest running through Saturday. In the end, 2010 winner Scott Moore, pictured, will pass on the title.

DEETS: Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave. 8 p.m. Through Saturday. DallasEagle.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Wine walk on Cedar Springs kicks off Pride

The September Cedar Springs Wine Walk takes place on Wednesday, Sept. 7. The theme is Pride.

“We’re expecting a large crowd to kick off Pride at this week’s First Wednesday Wine Walk,” said Scott Whittall, president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association.

Purchase a wine glass for $10 and then visit any of the participating stores and businesses from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Glasses can be purchased by Buli Cafe and Hunky’s.

Many of the stores are running specials. Everything is 30 percent off all day at Skivvies. At Nuvo, all purchases over $20 are 20 percent off. OutLines is offering 25 percent off all shorts, tank tops and swimwear. Union Jack is awarding double UJ points all day and sales in various store departments.

Restaurants and bars are also offering drink and food specials, including half-price appetizers at Black Eyed Pea.

Have your wine card stamped at any six participating locations and become eligible for a Scavenger Hunt special. Prizes have been donated by many of the street’s merchants.

TABC rules do not allow anyone to carry wine between locations. Remember to finish your glass before going back out on the sidewalk.

Whittall said to check the Cedar Springs Facebook page throughout the day as more merchants add specials.

—  David Taffet

Dynamic duo

New partners Curtis Cook and Shane Friesenhahn shake their booty … camp

There’s the nursery rhyme that begins, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean… .” But apparently if Jack Sprat were in a same-sex relationship, it would be a fat-free household all the way around. Such is the case with this month’s fitness profile: Curtis Cook and Shane Friesenhahn. The lads have been together for just three months, but the real number that caught our eye was their collective body fat: 19 percent and shrinking by the day. How do they do it? Diet, exercise and rewarding a great workout with a sexy new swimsuit rather than a hot fudge sundae.

— Jef Tingley

…………………….

Names and ages: Curtis James Cook, 24, and Shane Friesenhahn, 37.

Occupations: Cook: HAMP processor at Nationstar Mortgage; Friesenhahn: owner of Silk Sculptures, a floral design studio.

Length of relationship: Three months

Sports and activities: Pool volleyball and Dr. Peay’s Booty Camp

Exercise regime: Cook: I attend Dr. Peay’s Booty Camp two days a week and go to L.A. Fitness a couple times a week. When I go to the gym, I always do abs first, then either upper body or legs followed by 15 to 20 minutes of cardio. My workout usually totals around an hour to an hour and a half.  My goal is to go to the gym on my days off of [boot camp], but it doesn’t always happen.

Friesenhahn:  [Boot camp] five days a week, which consists of cardio, Plyometrics and light resistance training.

Upcoming fitness goals: Cook: I’m lean, but I want to be toned. My goal is a slightly bigger chest and defined mid section. I also want my body fat around 8 percent; as of the beginning of July it was 12 percent. I think my goal of toning up will automatically help me reach my body fat percentage goal.

Friesenhahn: I’m currently right below 8 percent body fat, but my new goal is to boast a “lean and mean” 6.5 percent — a little bones showing never looked so good! I will say that making better nutritional choices, mostly organic, really helps.

Best “eat this, not that” tip: Friesenhahn: Well, instead of Krispy Kreme donuts or a starchy cereal, I replace it with whole fruits such as blueberries, a Pink Lady apple or grapefruit. As for my sweet tooth, I am in love with organic crunchy peanut butter with a banana or a piece of gluten free bread that has live sprouted grains. I am also an avid believer in supplements including as astaxanthin, fish oil and many others.

Workout preference: mornings or evenings? Cook: I like both. I would like to work out in the mornings more, but it is just so hard to get up that early.

Friesenhahn: Evenings mostly, but just to mix it up I do like to attend the “crack of dawn” morning workouts as well.

How do you survive an outdoor workout in the Texas heat? Friesenhahn:  My exercise group works out in the shade, unless we are running the typical mile required. Everyone brings the essentials like water and Gatorade. Sometimes [our trainer] brings ice when it’s really hot. The main thing is to read your own body and take mini breaks to regroup. Other than that, I really enjoy sweating and releasing toxins.

Favorite spot in North Texas to exercise indoors: Cook: The L.A. Fitness by my work in Lewisville, because I don’t feel like I’m being cruised the entire time.

If you could become an Olympian in any sport, what would it be and why: Cook: I’ve always wanted to do gymnastics. The parallel bars and tumbling are my favorite. I even took tumbling private [lessons] for a month when I was 20 and learned a back handspring in only four sessions.

Friesenhahn: Ice figure skating. The blend of artistry and athleticism is super challenging. I used to roller skate my long drive as a kid and pretend I was practicing for the next Olympics!

How do you reward yourself for a great work out: Friesenhahn:  Two ways. First is a trip to Yumilicious. Then on to find an even more “skimpy” swimsuit to wear at the next pool get together.

Cook: I definitely don’t eat badly afterwards because then I feel guilty and it’s as if I just negated the entire work out. I reward myself by maybe buying something a little smaller and more fitting because I know I will look good in it. I also like to go lay out in my Speedo after a good week of working out because I feel confident with my body.  Basically I reward myself by showing it off.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens