AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

“Gen Silent” explores challenges facing the elderly LGBT community

Gen Silent PosterThere are almost 38 million LGBT Americans over the age of 65. This number is expected to double by 2030. Yet in a Fenway Institute study fifty percent of nursing home workers said that their co-workers are intolerant of LGBT people. That collision of a rapidly aging queer population and a nursing home system ill-prepared to serve them is explored in Gen Silent, a documentary showing at the GLBT Cultural Center (401 Branard) on Thursday, January 26, at 6:30 pm.

Gen Silent, from award-winning director and documentary filmmaker Stu Maddux, follows six LGBT seniors as they struggle to make decisions about their twilight years. These seniors put a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors so afraid of discrimination in long-term health care that many go back into the closet.

Gen Silent startlingly discovers how oppression in the years before Stonewall now leaves many elders not just afraid but dangerously isolated and at risk on not receiving medical care. The film shows the wide range in quality of paid caregivers –from those who are specifically trained to make LGBT seniors feel safe, to the other end of the spectrum, where LGBT elders face discrimination, neglect or abuse, including shocking bed-side attempts by staff to persuade seniors to give up their “sinful” lifestyles.

This free screening will be followed by a call-to-action and panel discussion with some of Houston’s GLBT senior leaders.

View the trailer for Gen Silent after the break.

—  admin

Araguz booking raises questions about Harris County jail’s treatment of transgender inmates

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

According to the Houston Chronicle, Nikki Araguz has been booked into the Harris County Jain after arriving 40 minutes late for a scheduled court appearance on Friday. The court date was to allow Araguz to plead guilty to charges that she stole a watch from an acquaintance last year. Under the proposed plea bargain Araguz would have paid $2,600 in restitution and served 15 days in county jail. State District Judge Vanessa Velasquez, a Republican first appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry, responded to Araguz’ apologies for her tardiness with “It’s too late for sorry,” ordering bailiffs to escort her to a hold cell next to the courtroom.

Araguz is the widow of firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz who died in the line of duty last year. Capt. Araguz’s ex-wife and mother have sued to claim the portion of his survivor’s benefits reserved for the spouses of slain firefighters, claiming that since Nikki Araguz was identified as male at birth the marriage was invalid under Texas’ laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriage. Mrs. Araguz’s birth certificate identifies her as female, as does her state issued identification.

Araguz’s booking has raised questions about the Harris County’s treatment of transgender detainees. The Sheriff Department’s Public Information Inquiry System listed Araguz using her male birth name on Friday. They have since removed the name from the site’s searchable database but have retained the record, listing it under the department’s “special person number” (SPN) filing system. The SPN record includes Araguz’s birth name. The Sheriff’s office has not returned calls from Houstini asking why the department is not using Araguz’s legal name and if this is common practice.

According to a friend who has visited Araguz at the jail her identity bracelet correctly identifies her gender as “F” – but reflects Araguz’s birth name, not her legal name. Araguz is segregated from the general jail population, but can receive visitors during regular visiting hours.

Araguz will remain in the Harris County Jail until Jan 25 when she is scheduled to appear again before Judge Velasquez.

—  admin

A beer by any other name…

On the long list of ridiculous Texas laws the alcoholic beverage code would have to take up about half the space (although that whole “no marriage equality” thing is pretty far up there), but it seems like at least a part of our antiquated system of booze laws is getting an update. Under current state law “beer” can contain no more than 4% alcohol by volume, anything greater and it must be labeled as “ale” or “malt liquor.” If a recent ruling by US District Court Judge Sam Sparks holds that’s about to change.

A group of brewers sued the state arguing that the current restrictions violated their free speech. The judge agreed, and in a hilarious ruling poked fun at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for thinking they can redefine words by legislative fiat, and gave a shout-out to Austin’s annual bat festival.  From Austin360.com:

“TABC’s argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restrictions on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word ‘milk’ to mean ‘a nocturnal flying mammal that eats insects and employs echolocation.’ Under TABC’s logic, Texas would then be authorized to prohibit use of the word ‘milk’ by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual ‘Milk Festival’ on the Congress Avenue Bridge.”

 

—  admin

Update on Ray Hill’s arrest

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

As previously reported by Houstini, longtime Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill was arrested last night after a confrontation with police outside Treasures, a gentlemen’s club on Westhiemer Rd. Hill has been released from jail and posted the following message to his Facebook page:

I was arrested trying to stop power arrogant cops from bullying frightened and vulnerable people (this is not my first rodeo) There will be a trial; they will lie under oath; I will show the video of the whole incident; I will win and then sue and win that case. The system works if you have the tools to use it properly. My lawyer and I will make money off the city in this process. The cycle will end when the City of Houston stops trying to treat adults like they were children…


—  admin

East coast victories for LGBT candidates

While we’re waiting here in Houston for the results of today’s municipal elections the Victory Fund reports of victories for LGBT candidates on the East coast where polls closed an hour earlier than Texas.

State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-District 30) was elected to Virginia’s state Senate today, making him the Commonwealth’s first openly gay senator.

“I am honored by the trust the voters have showed in me,”  Ebbin said in a statement. “During the campaign, I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment. I will make sure their voices are heard…”

“Alex Morse, a 22-year-old graduate of Brown University, has just been elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass., a city of nearly 40,000 residents near Springfield…”

“Zach Adamson has won his race for city council in Indianapolis, giving the city its first openly LGBT city council member.”

“An incumbent on the Largo, Fla., City Commission who attacked her openly gay opponent over his sexual orientation has lost her reelection bid to him tonight. Michael Smith defeated Mary Gray Black, who has a history of anti-gay and anti-trans activism on the commission.”

—  admin

Great Spaces: Conditioner love

Yes, you can have a cold house without the big bills — and that’s not hot air

By David Taffet

Perhaps the one thing we loathe the most besides triple digit temps in summer is that dreaded electric bill. The air conditioner is a must for summer in Texas, but the wallet sure takes a beating. One local expert recommends these simple tips to help you keep your cool and some green.

Todd Ylen of TNS Mechanical in Arlington said that only half the air conditioning complaints his company receives could be traced to the main unit. The first thing he checks is the overall cleanliness of what he calls “the guts.” He recommends a professional cleaning with caustic chemicals.

“It should be done professionally,” he says, “The chemicals won’t hurt the plants but it can melt the rubber off your sneakers.”

During the season, he said, don’t be afraid to wash the unit with a hose, but not a pressure washer. A garden hose will not damage an outdoor air conditioning system. They’re made to withstand gale-force winds.

Keep grass and weeds off outdoor condensers. They clog the system and decrease efficiency.

Next, Ylen said he checks the house.

“How efficient is the ductwork?” he says. “How efficient is your house?”

The outer lining of much of the ductwork installed in the 1980s has deteriorated. Squirrels, raccoons and other animals that get into the attic can cause a tremendous amount of damage to the ducts as well.

Cold air will blow in the attic but never reach the living areas of the house if the ducts are torn or worn. He recommends modern, high-insulated ductwork.

Next, he suggests an energy audit company to check for leaks around doors and windows.

“Seal the house,” he says. It pays off in lower energy bills quickly.

And ventilate, he said. Ylen called the old whirlybirds on most roofs worthless.

He recommends solar-powered, fan-driven ventilators. A year ago, he said, they were $1,800. Today they sell for $400, an amount that will pay for itself in one season. He calls it an upfront investment that continues to pay off by lowering electric bills on air conditioning and never costing a cent to operate.

Filters should be changed monthly. Dirty filters prevent the system from drawing air easily, making it work harder and use more energy.
Programmable thermostats are also useful in keeping the system from cooling the house when not needed.

Ylen calls radiant barriers ineffective with a 50-year payback, but insulation very useful.

“A preventive maintenance program is crucial,” he says. He sums up his energy-saving tips to all homeowners — insulate, ventilate and stop air leaks.

TNS Mechanical services homes throughout Texas and has other tips at AirConditioningRepairArlington.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

GUEST POST: “Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 3 of 4″

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs. Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.

Back to School: How to make progress in your local school system – Part Three of Four

By David S. Fishback

In early spring of 2005, the people leading the group that was unsuccessfully attempting to whip up public opposition to the Montgomery County, Maryland, school system’s plans to pilot health education revisions – including some simple, factual statements about sexual orientation – had publicly stated that they would not try to use the courts to advance their agenda.  This turned out to be a lie and a diversion.  Just days before the curriculum revisions were to be piloted in six county schools, CRC and PFOX, through Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel, filed a 43-page complaint in the federal district court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the piloting. The complaint was rife with factual misrepresentations about the revisions and the applicable law. With only a few days to respond, the Board of Education was caught flatfooted and the judge, who was also a Baptist minister, granted the order, buying into both the misrepresentations and the incorrect legal arguments.  The most notable error was the unprecedented idea that the United States Constitution required all sides of any dispute to be presented in curriculum.

But rather than fight the lawsuit – which, given the judge’s reputation for being very slow to issue final decisions that could be appealed, would have tied things up in expensive litigation for years – the Board of Education scrapped the curriculum revisions, dismantled its Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development – including both the supporters and the opponents of the revisions – and settled the case by agreeing to appoint representatives of CRC and PFOX to the reconstituted Committee while reserving its right to make curriculum decisions.

In another place and time this might have been the death knell for the revision effort in the face of the ferocious attack, but here the community regrouped.  The previous committee vice chair, a pediatrician, arranged with the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide expert consultants to the school system to develop a new curriculum. The Superintendent accepted the offer.  The Board appointed a new advisory committee, which, in addition to the mandated CRC and PFOX representatives, added very well qualified members – including members nominated by Metro DC PFLAG and Teachthefacts.org – and notably, a new chair – a respected pediatrician who was also trained as a lawyer. The previous chair shared his experiences of the previous years, including the earlier materials PFOX presented and the rebuttals.

As the process unfolded, the candidates in the next Board of Education election who publicly supported the revisions were elected by substantial margins. All letters to the editor in local papers from CRC and PFOX were responded to immediately with letters rebutting their assertions. The previous committee chair did a number of radio and television show debates, as well as presentations on local and national programs supporting the reform efforts.  Teachthefacts.org made similar media appearances and provided a stream of analysis on a blog that helped keep the wider community informed.

Having concluded that the biggest mistake in 2005 was the failure to anticipate a lawsuit filled with factual and legal misrepresentations, Metro DC PFLAG – working with Teachthefacts.org, National PFLAG, Lambda Legal, and attorneys from the law firm of WilmerHale – began to develop a comprehensive defense and established a working relationship with the school system attorneys.

The new revisions, rather than simply including a few basic statements about sexual orientation as had been done in 2005, now covered two entire classroom periods and went into great depth on the challenges faced by LGBT students, and drew on statements from the American Psychological Association and a textbook developed for the Los Angeles County School District.

When the Board unanimously voted to pilot the new revisions in January 2007, CRC, PFOX and a group calling itself the Family Leader Network asked the state superintendent of education to block the piloting as the federal judge had done in 2005. This time our side was ready, and both the school system and Metro DC PFLAG filed effective, comprehensive arguments in opposition to the CRC/PFOX/FLN request.  In March 2007, the state superintendent denied the request.  The opposition then asked the State Board of Education to block the curriculum, using the same arguments they made in 2005.

In June 2007, the County Board of Education, following the piloting, approved the curriculum revisions for full implementation with the new inclusion of a specific provision allowing teachers to explain, in response to questions, that being gay is not an illness.  Later that month, the State Board of Education rejected the CRC/PFOX/FLN request without a single dissenting vote.

The opposition – now represented by the Thomas More Legal Center – brought suit in Montgomery County District Court, but the Court resoundingly dismissed the claims in January 2008.

Implementation went smoothly.  The health education courses dealing with human sexuality had always been opt-in courses under state law.  In other words, students could only take the courses if their parents chose to let them participate.  In the past, the opt-in percentages typically were in the upper 90% range.  This did not change with the implementation of the revisions discussing sexual orientation.  In the 2008 elections, as in the 2006 elections, Board of Education candidates who publicly supported the revisions were elected by large margins. In 2009, the school system guidance offices were directed to use Just the Facts, the publication from the American Psychological Association discussed in the first blog in this series, as a principal resource along with other materials, including the excellent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Guidance for the Clinician on Sexual Orientation, from PEDIATRICS, Vol. 113, No. 6 (June 2004), which can be found here.

There is still more work to do.  Last winter, PFOX distributed flyers among some county high school students touting the discredited reparative therapies for changing one’s sexual orientation.  While the materials in the guidance offices refute this dangerous snake oil, the curriculum currently does not address this issue.  Efforts are being made to have this omission corrected.

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He can be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

GUEST POST: “Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 4 of 4″

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs. Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.

Back to School: How to make progress in your local school system – Part Four of Four

By David S. Fishback

What lessons can we learn from the Montgomery County experience?  I suggest the following:

1. As more LGBT people come out, more straight people are willing to talk about their LGBT relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Once you begin real conversations about the challenges that society poses for gay people – whether with school officials, reporters or members of the general public – more people will begin to talk about their LGBT relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.  As this happens, more LGBT people may be more likely to come out.  Always be ready to tell your stories.  Personal stories of real people, real pain and real struggle often do as much or more than abstract academic conclusions to help people understand the importance of action. This openness breaks down the walls that have kept people from confronting the issues.  Once those walls break down, progress can be swifter.

2. School officials – both elected and non-elected – need information, not just conclusions. This is important because when being asked to take steps in directions previously not taken, and where there may be pushback from others living in the school district, officials need to know not just the general conclusions about sexual orientation, but also the fact that those conclusions are supported by the mainstream medical and mental health care community. This will bolster the ability to act for those who already agree with us, and can bring along those who may not have thought about the issue enough to be ready to take the needed steps.

3. The media needs to be well informed. In the Montgomery County situation, advocates educated reporters on the beat about the reality of where the mainstream health care professional associations stood, and why they held those positions.  We did this not at the time of the onset of a big story, but in advance of such events.  By sufficiently educating reporters in advance – just like we did for school officials and the public at large – the reporters were more able to present balanced articles, rather than simply responding to the creaky wheel.

4. Find forums in which to present your views and your evidence. Letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and presentations on broadcast media are important. Find those outlets and use them. Always be prepared to make the best case for your position.

5. Personal relationships matter. As in any community, personal relationships developed over the years are very useful.  In this instance, the author – who was the chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development from 2003 to 2005 and later played a role as a member of the Metro DC PFLAG Board and as Advocacy Chair of Metro DC PFLAG – had worked for years as a PTA volunteer, as a local PTA president, and as a member of a number of other advisory committees and community school advocacy committees.  In those activities, he developed relationships and credibility that made it easier to be an advocate for potentially controversial issues, like this one.

6. Never underestimate the depths to which the opposition will go to impose their views. This may seem harsh, but sadly it is a reflection of reality. The opposition does not simply reach conclusions by seeing the world through a different side of the prism.  Rather – perhaps because their views are ideologically and theologically based – they often seem to take the view that the ends justify the means. We always need to be prepared for that, and to be prepared for the most outrageous attacks imaginable.

7. Be ready for wolves in sheep’s clothing. More skillful members of the opposition may couch their arguments in terms of respect for all without condoning or encouraging what they view as immoral behavior, all the while focusing on the respect angle. We must always remember that generalized statements of civility are nice, but they do little good if they are coupled with policies that marginalize our LGBT children. Also, keep in mind that people may run for school boards without revealing that they have an anti-gay agenda. For example, this autumn a member of the board of directors of the Family Leader Network – which brought suit against the Montgomery County Board of Education in 2007 –whose husband is chair of the FLN board, is running as a fiscal conservative, but is omitting any mention of her role in the litigation. Be prepared to “out” such candidates.

8. Always be civil and dignified. It will be tempting to lash out in public against outrageous attacks on ourselves and/or our children. But it is always more important to channel that passion into effective public presentations. Anger may create a good news story on some televisions stations, but it does not advance the ball. Over time, people of good will come to recognize the humanity of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

9. Efforts to reform our public schools take hard work and dedication. Activists who care about educating children about the realities of sexual orientation must be prepared to do the hard work of educating both school officials and the community-at-large about these issues. Progress in our society in the last decade has been enormous. Montgomery County is not the rule, but the exception, so far.

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He can be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright