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

Iconic LGBT activist Ray Hill files for Texas House seat

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

Long time Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill filed paperwork this week to run for the 147th Texas House seat against incumbent Garnet Coleman, D – Houston. The iconic (and iconoclastic) Hill said that he and Coleman agree on many issues but that he had “some issues  that aren’t on the table in Austin.”

Specifically Hill has concerns with the legislature’s approach to criminal justice issues. “The Texas legislature is a serial world class red-necking competition,” says Hill. “What they are doing on criminal justice is wrong and it doesn’t work… we need a serious rethink.”

Coleman has a strong history of supporting LGBT legislation. For the last three sessions he has attempted to pass anti-bullying legislation that would require school districts to report instances of bullying using an enumerated list of motivating characteristics that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, he has also filed legislation to remove the the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas penal code (a law that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), to equalize age of consent laws in Texas and to add gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crime law. In the 82nd legislature earlier this year Coleman authored seven pieces of legislation designed to create greater equality for LGBT people, including the first ever filing of legislation to standardize change of gender marker procedures for the transgender community and the first effort to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition against marriage equality.

Hill recognizes Coleman’s historic contributions, “The incumbent and I agree on a lot of issues,” says Hill, “but we don’t tell young gay people ‘if you work real hard and go to school and do your best you can grow up to have straight friends in Austin who like you.’ No, we tell them ‘if you work hard they can grow up to be Mayor of Houston, or City Supervisor of San Francisco.’”

When asked why the community would be better served by him than Coleman, a 20 year legislative veteran, Hill replies “I understand how government works. A freshman legislator can’t do anything more than irritate, but that’s about all any member of the minority party can do. On that level the incumbent and I are on the same level… I think we need somebody obnoxious [in the legislature] who’s going to purposefully rub the cat hair the wrong direction.”

Since being elected to the legislature for the first time in 1992 Coleman has been unopposed in 5 of his 9 primary reelection bids. No primary challenger to Coleman has pulled more than 21% of the vote.

—  admin

DOMA ruled unconstitutional by bankruptcy court

A federal bankruptcy court in California on Monday ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles ruled that it is discriminatory to prevent a legally married same-sex couple from filing for joint bankruptcy.

The couple, Gene Balas and Carlos Morales, filed a joint chapter 13 petition. They were married in 2008 in California and remain legally married.

In his ruling, the judge wrote: “This case is about equality, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, for two people who filed for protection under Title 11 of the United States Code (Bankruptcy Code).”

It is “undisputed that the Debtors are a lawfully married California couple,” the judge wrote, adding that the couple came to the court to restructure and repay their debt following extended illnesses and long periods of unemployment.

The U.S. trustee for the case filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that two men cannot file jointly for bankruptcy. The judge ruled the trustee did not ask for dismissal based on one of the 11 causes listed in bankruptcy law to dismiss, but simply because the couple are two men.

The judge said the trustee filed no relevant case law supporting his position and said the couple should not be singled out for discriminatory treatment. He cited the Obama administration’s position that DOMA is unconstitutional and ruled that, indeed it is.

—  David Taffet

FEEDBACK: Why I’m supporting Kunkle

Why I’m supporting Kunkle

Thank you for the in-depth expose on the three major mayoral candidates (“Decision in Dallas,” Dallas Voice, April 8).

While there are different opinions regarding the candidates, David Kunkle is my personal choice. I have watched him closely over the last several years and was so impressed with his style of leadership and soft-spoken manner when he was police chief. He went all over this city, listening and getting feedback from not only the GLBT community, but everywhere.

Additionally, he is effective. He may not be the flashiest or most dynamic of the candidates, but he’s a keen thinker and avid reader focused on real world solutions on what works and what doesn’t.

He also appreciates the eclectic aspects of Dallas. That’s an important place to be in my mind, so that we can attract not only Fortune 500 companies but also the small businessman/woman and the budding creative entrepreneurs who want to live in our city.

I don’t know that I necessarily want another CEO as mayor. We hear all the time that government should be run like a business. I think it should not be. Contrary to popular belief today, government is not a business.

Municipal government needs an experienced and competent administrator. In addition to serving as Dallas police chief, David Kunkle also has experience serving as the assistant city manager of Arlington, which will provide him with a skill set from day one that will no doubt serve him well as mayor.

Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings both are pleasant gentlemen and they each bring their own “skill set” to the table and there are good people supporting them. But I’m going to be casting my ballot for David Kunkle.

Jay Narey
Dallas

—  John Wright

ilume for sale — presumably to raise equity for second phase of Cedar Springs development

An artist’s rendering of ilume when it was in the planning stages

The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday that the ilume building on Cedar Springs Road is for sale. A brief story in the newspaper mentioned this fact without much supporting information, merely that another company had it listed for sale.

This would be surprising, though there may be an explanation. On Wednesday night, I spoke with Luke Crosland, owner of the property. Crosland has long promised Phase II of the ilume development, slotted to go up on the lot catty corner from the current building (across Wycliff from the Kroger).

Crosland told me that they would be breaking ground “soon” on the new development. I had previously heard as early as May. Crosland said he was in the process of arranging the equity financing — in the more than $100 million range — for a series of ilume developments across the country. Perhaps sale of the building is part of the package raising that equity?

We have left messages with Crosland seeking more info and will update this post as soon as we have more information.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Senator Snowe Joins Other GOP Voices Supporting Repeal

It has been an incredible few weeks up here in Maine. Along with my fellow organizers, David Turley and Jeremy Kennedy, I have been working around the clock and braving cold New England temperatures to keep the pressure on Maine’s senators to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.  We had a big breakthrough last night, when shortly after the House passed a standalone repeal bill, Senator Olympia Snowe announced her support of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  To have both of Maine’s Republican senators now in support of repeal is a wonderful testament  to the progress  made.

Last week we worked with the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland, Maine. Eager parishioners, some of whom were military veterans, signed petitions and called their senator to urge them to support repeal. Over the last several weeks, we have generated an absolute blitz of constituent  phone calls and letters from all over the state.

It could have been the petitions, handwritten letters delivered by local veterans, phone calls and meetings that helped move the ball down the field. Whatever it was, Snowe’s announcement told me that we had been successful in delivering the message that Mainers overwhelmingly support repeal. Thank you for all of your hard work!

Joining veterans on a visit to Senator Snowe's office to deliver hundreds of letters and petitions

To see the work of volunteers, veterans and organizers pay off is among the most rewarding feelings. We are all so overwhelmed by this progress, but we can’t yet rest on our laurels yet. We’re now thanking the senators for their support, and urging them to keep up the pressure to bring this to a vote before the end of the 111th Congress.

Contact your friends,  family, and neighbors and ask them to call their Senators and do the same. No matter where you are, I hope that you will call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to connect you to your Senators. Urge them to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.  If you’d like to volunteer with us in Maine, please contact Jessica Osborn at Jessica.osborn@hrc.org.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Laura Bush: Publicly Supporting Marriage Equality ‘Was Not My Responsibility…I Just Didn’t See That As Part of My Role’

Back in April, Andy wrote about the revelation, which came via an excerpt from Laura Bush's memoir, that the former first lady had nudged her husband at the time of the 2004 elections to "not (make) gay marriage a significant issue." "We have, I reminded him, a number of close friends who are gay or whose children are gay," she apparently explained. Bush is now talking about the issue again, time the thanks to some prodding from the Texas Tribune who asked her why she didn't speak publicly about it while living in the White House.

Lb TT: "Let’s talk a little bit about that responsibility. You found yourself back in the headlines not so long ago for taking positions on gay marriage and abortion that appeared to be at odds with your husband and with the GOP. What do you say to the critics who argue you had a responsibility to come forward sooner, or who suggest you maybe hid those opinions from view?"

Bush: "Well, I didn’t hide them from view. They were very well known from the first day George was elected, when Katie Couric asked me the question. I’m not elected. I was not elected. George is. He’s the one who’s elected. I was not the elected official. It was not my responsibility, I didn’t think, to speak out in ways to get in some sort of debate with him. I just didn’t see that as part of my role."

In the interview, Bush is also asked if she is friendly with Michelle Obama. Said Bush: "there’s a friendship that develops between all the first ladies, but, no, I don’t talk to her that often."

Revisit the clip wherein Bush talks to Larry King about marriage equality, AFTER THE JUMP.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

Supporting ENDA in the Centennial State

The following is from HRC’s Colorado Steering Committee political co-chair, Aydrian Richardson:

During the August recess, three volunteers with HRC Colorado had the great opportunity to meet with Senator Michael Bennet’s state director, Rosemary Rodriguez. She has been a true ally to the LGBT community, not just under Senator Bennet, but in years past. We thanked Rosemary for her support and that of Senator Bennet.

We expressed to Rosemary the urgency in getting a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” passed through Congress as soon as possible. She promised to push Senator Bennet on working with the coalitions that he has built to move forward on repeal, and to have personal talks with his colleagues sitting on the fence. We also discussed ENDA and thanked Rosemary for the senator’s unyielding support to pass an inclusive ENDA. We expressed that we only support an inclusive bill including protections for transgender employees.

Having Sandy Hickerson present was a great asset. In recent years she has transitioned from male to female. For the first time we engaged Senator Bennet’s office on issues facing the transgender community. Sandy spoke in depth about standards of care and WPATH guidelines that were adopted by the medical community decades ago. She discussed how there are not accepted guidelines for post-change care. Sandy asked for Senator Bennet to become educated on these issues and to become and advocate for post-change care.

Sandy also discussed the legal issues that a transgender person will deal with following transitioning. Sandy told heart-wrenching stories about being married to her wife, Barbara, as a man, and losing that legal marriage status once she transitioned. This caused their medical insurance to drop Sandy after transitioning. She also has dealt with delayed payouts from her retirement pension while they figure out how to make payments to a female on an account that had been paid into by a male.  This happened while having worked at one of the most pro-LGBT corporations in Colorado.

These discussions were extremely eye opening for everyone in the room. Rosemary promised to hold a follow up conference call with Senator Bennet’s health care advisor, Rohini Ravindran. Sandy committed to bringing to the call an expert on WPATH. We look forward to learning more about what we can do to help Sandy and the transgender community, both here in Colorado and nationally. We certainly look forward to the upcoming call in the next few weeks.

To get involved with HRC Colorado, please contact me. We have many upcoming events, including more meetings with US Senator’s and Representatives.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Montana Tea Party President Condones Violence Against Gays in Facebook Post Supporting Traditional Marriage

Ravndal

This seems to have been posted in late July, but several people have brought it to my attention today. Tim Ravndal, the President of Montana's Big Sky Tea Party Association, expressed his views that marriage should be between a man and a woman in a Facebook posting. The post was in response to an ACLU lawsuit in Montana brought by seven gay couples who want to get married.

Then Ravndal expressed support for a commenter who (in apparent reference to the Matthew Shepard murder) said, "I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions."

Answered Ravndal: "Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?"

In related news, the Montana GOP Platform calls for making homosexual acts illegal.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright