Oklahoma bill would ban local nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBT people

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City

Last week, Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Reynolds failed to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell” — mostly because the state’s National Guard would have lost $300 million in federal funding. So after that defeat, Reynolds introduced new legislation this week that would eliminate nondiscrimination policies for municipal employees that include classes not protected by the state.

Such categories as marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and political affiliation are not protected by the state but are covered in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Del City, Miami, McAlester, Altus and Vinita. If passed, it would be legal to fire people for getting married, being straight or voting Republican. Of course, Reynolds’ intent is to discriminate against gays and lesbians … and if some Democrats lose their jobs in the process, that would just be a bonus for him.

The Equality Network Chair Laura Belmonte said, “Reynolds apparently thinks it is acceptable for the state government to run roughshod over local governments. Shouldn’t our cities, towns, and counties have the right to determine whom they wish to employ and to ensure the most productive, welcoming workplaces possible?”

“It is bad enough when short-sighted politicians and demagogues stand in the way of progress, but it is even more offensive when those same forces conspire to take away civil rights that have already been won,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

Nancy McDonald of PFLAG Tulsa and the organization’s former national president said: “It is extremely important that Oklahoma address the challenges of our state’s economy and have the ability to attract companies that will utilize our workforce, as well as bring new workers to Oklahoma. One of the factors that companies consider is whether or not our municipalities and counties have proactive and preemptive employment practices This must include nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. By doing so, a welcoming environment is created and all employees are empowered to contribute to the welfare of their company, their city, and their state. Let us move Oklahoma forward!”

—  David Taffet

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

1 hit, a lot of balls

Though not a perfect game, ‘Take Me Out’ scores in the bottom of the 9th

TMO_Show_StillsArnold

DESIGNATED HOTTIES | The shower scenes are steamy, but the interpersonal dynamics between ballplayers (Kevin Moore and Lloyd Harvey) run the bases in ‘Take Me Out.’ (Photo by Mike Morgan)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a first act can fool you.

Act 1 of Richard Greenberg’s play Take Me Out, is, quite simply, not very good. The exposition is lazy, the central conflict (intentionally kept close to the vest) twee, the dialogue on the stilted side. Aside from the much-hyped locker-room nudity — and this is not a comment on the actors’ bodies — there’s not much “there” there.

Then comes Act 2, and Take Me Out opens like a lily with the breaking dawn.

In Uptown Players’ current production, the second is nearly twice as long as the first, but it crackles with energy. Greenberg’s “floating narrator” device almost works, and the non-linear storytelling begins to make sense. And there’s more nudity. Nothin’ wrong with that.

Take Me Out is a buzz-worthy play, flesh aside: Set in 2002, it’s the story of Darren Lemming (Lloyd Harvey), a Major League Baseball player — the best in the pros (suggestively modeled on Derek Jeter back when there were rumors of his sexual orientation) — who at the height of his skills comes out. Putatively, the play deals with the fallout from that announcement, but really, it doesn’t. Almost all the characters are inside the clubhouse; we get only a faint sense of the public reaction (which, we all know, would be a shitstorm). Instead, being gay is used as a catalyst for the interpersonal dynamics within the dugout.

The societal element is a missed opportunity — Darren would be mobbed with talk-show requests; we’re owed at least one sit-down with Oprah — and the gay idea could be almost anything (he could have come out as atheist or Muslim or Communist, it hardly matters). But eventually, you get caught up in the story, especially the conflict between Darren and Shane Muggitt (Andrews Cope), an illiterate redneck brought up from the minors, and his financial advisor “Mars” (Art Kedzierski), a flamboyant gay man intoxicated by his newfound love of baseball.

Darren himself is a difficult character to parse; he’s arrogant though we are constantly reminded universally loved; that seems unlikely, especially for Mets fans. He’s, in turn, incredibly savvy and unbelievably naïve, smart then a dolt. Harvey eventually settles into a rhythm, though there are moments that waver.

There aren’t any with Kedzierski, who’s hilarious and touching, and really, the emotional touchstone for the audience. He’s the first person onstage who seems specific, not just a metaphor for some principle or a utility character serving a dramaturgical function. Kedzierski’s enthusiasm infects the play, carrying over to scenes he’s not even in. Cope’s take on Muggitt as more imbecile than bigot is a canny, almost daring one (as Tropic Thunder cautioned, “ya never go full retard”). Kevin Moore, as the principal narrator, adds depth to a sketchy character.

Andy Redmon’s set, suggestive of a baseball diamond, makes a great nod to an outdoor game set entirely in the confines of a locker room, and Michael Serrecchia’s direction makes the most of the weaker parts of Greenberg’s script.

Not every game has to be won on a home run, as long as you get a few hits and run the bases. Way to hustle, guys. Now hit the showers.

……………………….

online exclusive

To read more reviews of new local theater, visit
DallasVoice.com/category/Stage.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

For Valentine’s Day, a resonant tale of ‘Loving’ and marriage

lovingstory03The very title of the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia is almost too perfect not to respect the irony of what it represented.

In 1958, Richard Loving married a half-black, half-Native American named Mildred in D.C., then returned to their home in rural Virginia. A month later, sheriff’s deputies entered their bedroom as they slept, arresting them for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law, which forbid mixing of the races. They were jailed, convicted and eventually banished from the state in a manner more akin to ancient Rome than modern-day America.

Virginia was hardly unique — as Barack Obama’s parents could probably tell you, 21 states banned mixed-race marriages in 1958. It would take nine years, following protracted legal wrangling, before the Lovings could live openly and legally as Virginians.

It is impossible to watch The Loving Story — which debuts on HBO, again ironically, on Valentine’s Day — and not consider it (especially in light of the events this week) as it relates to Proposition 8 and the rights of gays to wed. Indeed, the statement by one of the lawyers representing the Lovings that “marriage is a fundamental right of man” — spoken more than 40 years ago — resonates sharply for any gay person who has felt a lesser person because of the bigotry and antiquated thinking of considering a fellow man as being “other” … whether by race or sexual orientation.

There’s surprisingly little directorial commentary in this documentary, which is made up substantially of real-time newsreel and other footage of the Lovings at home and on TV, and their lawyers strategizing. Little comment is needed, especially when the offensive language of the courts speaks volumes: The races were meant to stay on separate continents, the Virginia county judge opined, cuz that’s how God wanted it.

Two things especially stand out in The Loving Story. The first is the couple at the center of it: A man and a woman of modest means and humble background who simply and truly were in love and wanted to live as man and wife and couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong. The second is that the arguments made — back then and now, on both sides — apply equally to same-sex marriage issues. We’ve come a long way, but damn, we still have so far to go.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Airs Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

—  Kevin Thomas

Alvarado restaurant owner appeals $5K fine for calling customer gay to state Supreme Court

Frank's Place in Alvarado (via Google Maps)

A restaurant owner in Alvarado questioned the sexual orientation of one of her longtime customers. The customer sued, charging that the restaurant owner’s accusation that he was gay was defamatory and caused mental anguish.

Alvarado is south of Fort Worth along I-35W at U.S. 67 in Johnson County.

Phong Van Meter, the owner of the restaurant Frank’s Place, was fined $5,000 for publicly humiliating a loyal customer and ordered to stop “making or publishing defamatory, libelous and slanderous” comments. The ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals, and Van Meter has now appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, according to Courthouse News.

Bennie Dale Morris, who has eaten at Van Meter’s restaurant for 20 years, “build[s] driveways and spread[s] sand for fixing yards around houses.” He said he had a drop in business as a result of Van Meter’s accusation.

So the lower courts ruled that being called gay is an insult? Or is it only an insult is you’re not gay? And if you are gay, can you sue for someone calling you straight? I hate when that happens.

—  David Taffet

LGBT advocates take their fight to have mayor sign marriage pledge to the Dallas City Council

LGBT advocates who attended today's council meeting gather in the Flag Room afterward. They are, from left, Daniel Cates, Patti Fink, Dennis Coleman, Cece Cox, Omar Narvaez and Rafael McDonnell. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

It’s becoming clear that Dallas’ LGBT community doesn’t plan to let Mayor Mike Rawlings off the hook over his refusal to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

Five LGBT advocates spoke during public comments at the start of today’s regular City Council meeting, calling on Rawlings to sign the pledge — and asking the City Council to formally back pro-equality state and federal legislation.

“I’m here to ask Mayor Rawlings to do something, and I’m here to ask you as council people to support him in signing the pledge for marriage equality,” said Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, the first of the speakers. ”This is a matter of standing for justice. Pure and simple, that’s what it’s about. ”

Cox noted that Rawlings has argued that marriage equality doesn’t fall within the mayor’s duties.

“When one stands up for justice, it requires courage,” Cox said. “It requires going outside the regular rules and the regular lines, and that’s what I’m here to ask for today.”

—  John Wright

Starbucks art auction to benefit homeless youth charity

There are times in life when the strangest ingredients can come together to make something wonderful: wasabi and chocolate, curry and cranberries, peanut butter and pickles… That’s the case with Montrose Grace Place, a charity serving homeless youth in the Montrose area. Take one part 90 year old Lutheran Church willing to help without preaching, add a desire to serve homeless youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, mix with a passel of volunteers of all religious backgrounds (Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and more than a few Atheists), let steep in a community desperate to help queer homeless youth and voilà, a vibrant charity that has provided food, clothing and, most importantly, interaction with adults who give a damn to dozens of kids over the last two years.

Of course all that doesn’t happen without expense. Despite Grace Lutheran Church donating space and volunteers donating hundreds of hours of labor Grace Place still has some expenses. The employees of the River Oaks Starbucks (the one at 2050 West Gray, not the one at 2029 West Gray or the one at 2030 West Gray) wanted a way to pitch in so they organized an art auction tomorrow evening, January 1 starting at 6 pm. The auction features donated works by local artists as well as works by the Grace Place kids themselves. Stop by for a latte and some art to go.

—  admin

Texas’ hate crimes law still largely unused

Nearly five years ago, shortly after joining the Voice, I wrote this in-depth story about how Texas’ hate crimes statute is rarely used by prosecutors. This weekend, the Austin American-Statesman reported that little has changed since then:

Each year for the past decade, local law enforcement agencies have reported about 200 crimes that police said were motivated by the perpetrator’s animosity toward the victim’s race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, among other identifiers , according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which collects statewide data. Yet since 2001, when the Texas Legislature adopted its current hate crime statute, prosecutors have earned convictions on 10 cases — less than one a year statewide, according to figures kept by the state Office of Court Administration. Most have come in plea arrangements: Over the past decade, a single hate crime has been taken to a jury in Texas. …

The number of Texas hate crime prosecutions also pales when compared with some other states. In 2010, California prosecutors filed 230 hate crime cases. New York state prosecutors convict on about a dozen hate crimes a year.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Keller teen petitions City Council to outlaw anti-gay discrimination in restaurants

Isaiah Smith, left, collecting signatures in Keller. (From KDAF Channel 33)

After seeing an episode of the ABC reality show What Would You Do that was filmed at Norma’s Cafe in Farmers Branch last year, gay 16-year-old Isaiah Smith is trying to change a law in his own hometown, Keller.

In the ABC show, actors posed as a lesbian couple with children. The waitress acted shocked and said the children would be better off with a father. The point was to get a negative reaction from other customers.

According to a report by Dawn Tongish on KDAF last week, Smith has collected more than 400 signatures to encourage the Keller City Council to outlaw discrimination in restaurants in that city.

Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth are the only cities in Texas that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

In the report, Smith points out that gays and lesbians have no protection in Texas and, without a local ordinance, could be thrown out of a restaurant simply because of who they are.

—  David Taffet

Al Franken asks public for help passing Student Non-Discrimination Act

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D – Minnesota, is asking the public for help passing S. 555, The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the provisions of S. 555 students who experienced discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with LGBT people could bring a civil suit against the school officials or districts responsible for the discrimination. The bill currently has 34 co-sponsors (none from Texas) and its House companion (H.R. 998 by Rep. Jared Polis, D – Colorado) has 150 (with 7 Texan co-sponsors including Houston’s own Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green) . Both bills have been referred to committee but neither has received a hearing, a crucial step towards becoming law.

In the video requesting the public call their Senators (after the break) Franken points out that federal law already provides protection for school children harassed because of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, but that no protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inclusion of “association” in S. 555 is particularly well thought out. According to the Williams Institute nearly 1 in 5 same-sex couples in the United States is raising children, in Harris County 18% of same-sex couples are.  As these children enter school it’s important that they be able to receive an education without harassment or bullying due to who their parents are.

Franken is asking people to call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and encourage their Senator’s to support the bill.

—  admin