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

Go with the flow

Trying yoga for the first time can be an intimidating experience. But that misses the point of this ancient practice that combines stretching, breath … and peace

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer

Some do it for their mind, some do it for their body, some do it for both. But all yoga students have one thing in common: Making the first step and taking up the practice. And while this age-old combination of stretching and breathing is meant to calm the mind and strengthen the muscles, a maiden voyage into a posterior-lifting position like downward-facing dog in a room full of strangers can send one’s heart racing. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

“People new to yoga should remember that everyone in class was a beginner at one point,” says Petri Brill, manager of YogaSport Dallas on Lemmon Avenue. “Yoga is a journey, not a destination. There is no perfect practice or perfect yogi or perfect yoga body. I think people worry about they’ll look [or] feel foolish in their first down-dog [and] that they’ll be judged. Our [yoga] community is diverse, encouraging and accepting: no judgment here!”

Mary Pierce Armstrong, who teaches at MarYoga, agrees that you should always look inward. “Yoga will come to meet you no matter where you are starting from. As long as you take the breath and the breaks you need, you will be doing awesome.”

For Wendy Moore, a 44-year-old yoga newbie, has taken these words of wisdom to the mat — literally. Moore recently completed her second MarYoga class as part of her new year regime. Any inhibitions she had about the experience were dispelled during her first visit.

“[I was] concerned about my general lack of bendy-ness, and not knowing where to put what arm and leg,” she says, “but if you look around you will figure out where your limbs are supposed to be by what others are doing.” Moore has continued to work on poses between classes with some slight variations mimicked by “what her cats are able to do.”

Keith Murray, a 37-year-old registered nurse, tried yoga for the first time more than eight years ago and was immediately hooked. He was taking classes three times a week before long. “I was a little intimidated about the whole thing at first,” he says, “but after my first couple of sessions my intimidation grew into excitement.”

A busy work schedule has kept Murray from his regular routine over the years, but he is trying to change that. “I still maintain a crazy life and work routine, but building yoga back into my life has really helped me to find balance again.”

According to yoga teacher Jennifer Lawson of SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing, it’s not just busy schedules and bundled nerves that keep people from the practice of yoga; it’s also our cultural fixation on success. “There tends to be so much emphasis on achievement and perfection that many of us are becoming accustomed to playing it safe in order to avoid the possibility of shame.”

Lawson recommends coming together as a group in a class with experienced and inexperienced yogis to create an environment that emphasizes the experience and process of yoga and not the destination or end result.

For Anisha Mandol, a 42-year-old business development manager who has been practicing yoga for about two years, these words ring true. “Once you understand your expectation from practicing, no one else’s matters. The benefits of yoga are fluid and dynamic, and each person has their own unique experience. Own yours,” she says.

And so it would seem that just as the journey of a million miles begins with one step, the journey toward a yoga-filled life begins with a single stretch on the matt (and maybe a little Namaste for good measure).

………………………………………………….

SAY NAMASTE: WHERE TO GET YOUR YOGA FIX

Options are plentiful for the budding yogi looking for a class. Get your stretch on at these studios in and around the gayborhood. You can also find information on their class offerings and schedules on their websites.

Yoga Sport Dallas
4140 Lemmon Ave, Suite 280
214-520-YOGA
YogaSportDallas.com

SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing
611 N. Bishop Ave.
214-843-3372
SyncDallas.com

MarYoga at Chi Studio
807 Fletcher St.
ChiDallas.com

Sunstone Yoga
2907 Routh St. (and other locations)
214-764-2119
SunstoneYoga.com

Gaia Flow Yoga Uptown
3000 Blackburn St., Suite 140B
214-235-1153
GaiaFlowYoga.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Washington state legislators send a Valentine to gay and lesbian families

What better day to unveil a marriage equality bill (SB 5793) than Valentine’s Day?

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers have chosen today – the day that millions across the country celebrate the bonds of affection shared between two people in love – as the day to introduce major legislation that would no longer restrict gays and lesbians from their right to marry.

Today is not the first time the issue of marriage equality for gays and lesbians and the Valentine’s Day holiday have crossed paths.

In early February of 1998, in what has proven to be the darkest of Valentine’s for gay and lesbian families in our state, the Legislature enshrined discrimination as the law of the land in Washington by overriding the veto of then-Gov. Gary Locke to approve the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”

This Valentine’s Day, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the night is darkest just before the dawn.

“Over the past several years, the Legislature and the public together have been steadily building a bridge to equality for gay and lesbian families,” said Moeller. He noted the passage of civil rights legislation in 2006 protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, and financial transactions, and then three successive years of securing broader and broader domestic partnership rights — which included successfully withstanding a hostile referendum challenge at the ballot in 2009.

“We’ve made tremendous progress since 1998,” Murray said. “Gay and lesbian families in Washington now enjoy the same state spousal rights that their married straight friends enjoy – except for the name ‘marriage’. The recognition that their loving, lifelong commitment is no different from the loving, lifelong commitment of straight couples is the final step to achieving full equality. I believe the Legislature and the public are both ready to take that final step.”

Please sign the Marriage Equality petition today and ask friends to do the same.
The pro-equality vote in Washington state has been rising steadily for the past five years.  With a concerted effort, we can put the numbers over the top in 2012.  Recall that in 2009 the Washington electorate was the first in the nation to ratify a same-sex relationship recognition law at the polls, 52.6% to 27.4%.

As Equal Rights Washington reminds us, “The most important thing you can do in support of marriage equality is to talk to your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers about why marriage equality matters to you and people you love. Nothing is more powerful than personal stories.  So let’s keep the conversation going.”

Another way to “get engaged” and help make marriage equality a reality in Washington state by participating in the Equality Day 2011 in Olympia on March 22, 2011.

Equality Day 2011 is your opportunity to engage with your legislators in person. On March 22 you can educate your legislators about your lives. Tell them how the decisions they make help you contribute fully as a member of the community, promote your freedom to love who you love, and live healthy productive lives.  We have many opportunities this year to support our families by creating protections for children and parents in the Uniform Parentage Act, creating a safe and supportive educational environment for our students, promoting awareness of HIV/AIDS and good public health, and making progress toward marriage equality.

Your legislators have their hands on the levers of power, but they need your help to know which way to pull them.

Help Spread the Word! Print and Post an Equality Day 2011 flyer on bulletin boards inside LGBT friendly establishments in your community.

Click here for more information on Equality Day 2011.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

Send us your old (or new) Christmas photos for the blog

Hannukah works too. Just send us a great photo of your holidays, and we’ll post it in the box in the upper right corner of the blog. If you’re photo-savvy, send a jpg or gif that’s at most 500px wide. I can resize them (so send them anyway if you don’t know how to shrink them down), but it’s easier if you do.

So send your Christmas (and Hannukah, and/or “holiday”) photos to:
photos AT americablog DOT com
And it goes without saying, feel free to add some context to the photo, explaining the circumstances, the time, a funny story (or a sad one), and old photos are always welcome too.

NOTE: By sending us your photos you are granting us permission to publish them on the blog, and you are attesting to the fact that you have rights to the photos. Please only send us YOUR photos. Thanks, JOHN




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Hair relaxer stench and toxicity send beauticians and clients into ‘gas masks’

What have I been saying about hair relaxers for the longest time? That sh*te is toxic and yet women with kinky hair put themselves through burned scalps, headaches and god knows what else to rid themselves (and sadly, even their little girls) of the hair texture they were born with.

Finally, it comes down to some salons dealing with the stench of the chemicals and realizing that “hey, maybe this stuff isn’t good to breathe in.” One relaxer has the clients and the salon workers wearing respirators. (NYT):

AS more women began clamoring for the latest sensation in hair care, the so-called Brazilian hair-relaxing treatments, the Neil George Salon in Beverly Hills, Calif., added a cabana with open sides and a fabric roof to isolate the process from the salon itself. “I couldn’t stand the fumes,” said Neil Weisberg, an owner.

Mark Garrison, the owner of a salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that bears his name, set aside a floor for the treatment, equipped it with special ventilators and began providing industrial-strength respirators to his clients and stylists. And a West Hollywood salon, John Frieda, relegated its straightening treatments to an open-air courtyard.

Just like the permanents that were once the height of fashion, the lucrative process of converting frizzy or kinky hair into smooth locks produces unpleasant odors. But is it dangerous, especially to the operators who apply the product repeatedly?

Last month, the beauty world was rattled when the occupational health agency in Oregon found significant levels of formaldehyde in the hair-smoothing solution sold under the name Brazilian Blowout. (A common ingredient found in many products, formaldehyde is a recognized carcinogen if it is present at high levels.) The agency said it had conducted lab tests after receiving numerous complaints from stylists citing nosebleeds, breathing problems and eye irritation after applying the product.

The fact is, whether it’s this Brazilian toxic hair straightening agent or the crap you by for .99 in a drug store, when you open the jar and slap the creamy crack on your hair, it STINKS AND IT BURNS. No way around it. In a beauty business where women of color drop an inordinate amount on money on hair procedures and products – we’re talking a billion-dollar industry, there’s too much money to be made off of the backs of women who feel that chemically straightened hair (and that’s not the same as straight natural hair, mind you) is the only way to achieve beauty or professional success. And some professions, it’s still not going to put you on the fast track if you don’t bend to the Euro beauty standard.

But let’s just say that salons with these toxic product offerings don’t have the health of women in mind. Bottom line:

Yet for many salon owners and stylists, who are usually independent contractors, it is hard to contemplate eliminating such a profitable procedure. “It’s one of the most popular services we’ve had in years,” said the salon owner John Barrett. “People think it’s an absolute godsend.” …Prices generally start at about 0 and can go as high as 0 in some salons.

Really, sisters. Is it worth it? A must-view — a clip from the documentary “My Nappy Roots:”

Related:

* The care of kinky hair, daddy edition

* Essence can’t seem to find a woman with natural hair for its Top 10 celeb hairstyles

* Documentary on the politics of hair

* Hair and black self-loathing

* My Hair Journey

* The politics of hair (again)
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

GetEQUAL Youth Send Message To Obama

Clip description: “Ceara Sturgis, Constance McMillen, and Will Phillips share a message with President Obama and Congress, asking them to display the courageousness that these youth have shown by producing the change they have promised.”

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Virginia Beach GOP chairman agrees to resign after hitting ‘forward’ and ‘send’ on a racist e-mail

When will they ever learn? I’m not just talking about moronic Republican bigoted politicians like this Virginia Beach Republican chairman (remember NC State Rep. Larry “Fruit Loops” Brown?), but people who think that somehow your randy/racist/homophobic emails to your “friends” may lead to forwards to “friends of friends” and then eventually to the MSM?

But back to this brain-dead pol — David Bartholomew, now the former chairman of Virginia Beach’s Republican Party resigned after sending this out to friends:

MY DOG

I went down this morning to sign up my Dog for welfare.

At first the lady said, “Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare”.

So I explained to her that my Dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is.

So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify…

My Dog gets his first check Friday.

Is this is a great country or what?

Yes, the mask comes off easily these days for the GOP politicians. As Monica Roberts said on my Facebook wall…

VA has a GOP governor and a GOP AG, so the bigots feel comfortable enough to KKKome out and play.

But wait, it does get better (as these stories often do). Look at the statement in the Virginia Pilot.

The city’s Republican chairman agreed to resign late Monday night, just hours after a racist joke sent from his e-mail address surfaced.

David Bartholomew is not a racist and agreed to resign because the e-mail had become a distraction to the Nov. 2 election, said Gary Byler, the 2nd Congressional District GOP chairman, after meeting with Bartholomew.

The e-mail was dated March 15 and sent from the address that Bartholomew uses as party chairman. Bartholomew forwarded it without reading the contents when “he was first getting familiar with the Internet,” Byler said.

Oh. My. F*cking. Dog. Is that not the most ridiculous excuse you’ve heard? OK, first, any disclaimer that starts off with “he’s not a racist” should just go into the circular file pronto. But “getting familiar with the Internet” makes the guy look like a moron. Perhaps Bartholomew’s “forward” and “send” buttons in his email client must be inordinately larger than the rest of the commands, and his hands uncontrollably moved to hit them on that one missive.

Come on, go with the simplest explanation, since Republican bigots are a dime a dozen. Bartholomew just wanted to share his tasteless humor with people he thought were his friends. Now who’s going to fess up to sending to the media? I’m sure he wants to know.

The Maddow blog has more, with the hat tips going to Daily Kos diarist @lowkell and Blue Virginia.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Send SLDN your pics for a Veterans Day tribute!

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is compiling a Veterans Day tribute video to honor everyone who has served – past and present, LGBT and straight. They’re collecting photos and videos from all over the country, of gay and straight veterans and their friends & family paying tribute at patriotic locations like veterans cemeteries or monuments. Then they’ll weave those submissions into one national video for Veterans Day.

They’re still looking for more submissions, with cross-country representation and are accepting photos and videos through the end of October.  

A link with info and a sample photo and video is at www.sldn.org/VetsDayVideo.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Help Equality NC send Fruit Loops to bigoted State Representative Larry Brown

He wants to talk about Fruit Loops? EqualityNC will send State Rep Larry Brown an all-you-can-eat bonanza…

Take Action!

Over the years, you've no doubt heard plenty of derogatory language targeting the LGBT community. Equality NC supporters, volunteers, and staff are regularly the targets of such slurs, ranging from the unmentionable to the downright silly. (“Homosexualist activists” comes to mind.) And although some of these terms make us roll our eyes, the sentiment they represent is anything but funny.

Last week, State Representative Larry Brown from Kernersville sent an e-mail to 60 of his fellow Republicans in reaction to Equality NC Foundation's announcement of this year's legislative leadership award, which will be presented to NC House Speaker Joe Hackney at the 2010 Equality Gala next month. Rep. Brown's e-mail reads:

I hope all the queers are thrilled to see him. I am sure there will be a couple legislative fruitloops there in the audience.”

Queers? Fruitloops? Really, Rep. Brown? 

As of this morning, Rep. Brown has not apologized to his LGBT and allied constituents, nor have any of the 60 colleagues who received the e-mail spoken out against his use of bigoted language. 

Well, if it's fruitloops Rep. Brown wants, then that's what we'll give him! 

From now until Monday, October 11th, at 5pm, each donation you make to Equality NC in Rep. Brown's name will come with a box of Froot Loops cereal to be delivered to his office, complete with your personal message.

Let's show Rep. Brown and all of our elected officials that anti-LGBT slurs–and the unfair and outdated beliefs that spur them–have no place in our discourse. And let's give Rep. Brown a tangible reminder of the people of our state who refuse to put up with such trash talk by sending him Froot Loops! 

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright