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

Season 2 of “Big Rich Texas” premieres Feb. 19

The Style Network’s Big Rich Texas was one of, I think, 24,604 reality TV shows set in or around North Texas in 2011 (that’s just an estimate), and despite trafficking in cliches about Texas hair and such, it turned out to be a pretty big hit. So of course, Season 2 is back. It will begin airing on Style Sunday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., following the premiere of Jerseylicious.(That’s quite a one-two punch of States on parade.) The Big Rich Texans on the show turned out to be pretty good friends of the gay community and didn’t really embarrass the gays the way some shows have.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Feedback • 12.16.11

An Open Letter to Rick Perry

Dear Gov. Perry,

Your antics since you announced your bid for the Republican presidential nomination have already almost pushed me over the edge. You have long-since made me regret having voted for you the first go-round (before seeing the light). There have been multiple times that I have been embarrassed by you in much the same way that residents of Alaska must have been embarrassed by their then-governor Sarah Palin.

But the video commercial you released last week crossed the line. I am not only embarrassed that you are our state’s top elected official, I am ashamed of — and for — you.

It’s so apparent that you are making a completely unveiled attempt to pander to religious conservatives with this babble about “Obama’s religious war.”

Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

Yes, there are people across the nation — and unfortunately, many of them here in the South — who will identify with your narrow-minded and hateful ideologies. But you, Mr. Governor, do not represent all Texans and certainly could in no way ever assume a position where you lead on behalf of an entire nation.

Your comments are hateful and full of fear. They are misinformed with respect to the ideals our country were shaped by and founded upon. And they place you absolutely on the wrong side of history — the same whitewashed tomb of people who opposed women’s rights, civil rights for people of all races and rights for the handicapped.

So here is what I say to you, oh woefully out-of-touch public servant to the people of Texas:

I’ve been a Christian my entire life and I believe in essentially the same creator, center of the Universe, life-giver, omniscient, all-loving being you claim to believe in — the very same Essence that millions of human beings believe in across the world. And although I no longer occupy a pew within a specific religious body, I respect your right to do so.

So go ahead on into your house of worship and occupy your pew. Worship the way you want to worship, say what you want to say, follow whatever rules they ascribe, judge those within your body, and exclude whomever you want to exclude. I will not judge you.

I would appreciate it, however, if you would behave in kind and refrain from bringing your hateful judgment to me or to any of my fellow human beings and their families.

Keep it there, inside your religion; it is not welcome in my house, my state, my nation.

Remember, the lines drawn between church and state are there for a reason. Our country was founded on the pursuit of liberty and the desire for religious freedom — not on narrow-minded ideologies that discriminate against a minority. These people did not want to come to the New World to impose their religion on others but rather to worship the God they wanted to worship. Period, end of story.

Though it’s true that many of our founding fathers were chauvinists and slave owners, I believe many of them had a seed of foresight to believe that the statement “all men are created equally” applied (or would apply) to both genders, all races and eventually all sexual orientations.

Our respectable President Barack Obama — who leads in a way you apparently will never be able — did not start a religious war. Prayer in school has been an issue of contention since I was a child. And gays serving in the military have nothing to do with an attack on your religion.

What a foolish comparison; high school students come up with more reasonable — and creative — theses than that.

“Gays in the military” no more impedes your right to worship than women being allowed to vote or allowing a black man to drink from the same water fountain as someone of your race did. Yet religious people somehow once supported such absurd and un-Godly beliefs as those, too.

People who dare breathe such views today are frowned upon, eschewed and pitied. At least generally, they have the sense to keep those thoughts to themselves.

You, sir, are not the only one who wears the name “Christian.” I know many such people who are heterosexual and accept their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. And I know many homosexual Christians who sit in pews and worship Jehovah and obey the two greatest commandments: loving God with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength and loving their neighbors as they love themselves.

(You would be a wise student to note that it does not say “love only your heterosexual neighbors.” Are you, Mr. Perry, doing that?)

It seems to me that every time you open your mouth and say something hateful, you diminish the very witness of the Christ you claim to follow. Your unkind words belie any love that your namesake should evoke.
We don’t need you to save us, nor do we need your judgments or your pronouncement of some ridiculous war made up to get yourself attention within a small group of narrow-minded, religious people like yourself. We are not trying to destroy your religion or asking for admission into your religious sects; further, we are not asking your leaders to perform our marriages.

We demand, however, that you respect us and our families. The United States of America is not just the home of Republican, Christian heterosexuals; it is our home too and at home, we are created equally — every last one of us.

Please, sir, do not attempt to force your religious beliefs on my humanity. As a homosexual, I am no less deserving of rights than any heterosexual. You are my governor, not my judge.

Fear-mongering public servants like you will become relics that students of government and politics will study as examples of narrow-mindedness and shameful behavior. When they study the great women and men of politics, you will be absent from among them; I rather think you will be in the category of those rued and pitied — George Wallace will keep you company there.

Rick Perry, you should be ashamed of your ridiculous video. You should immediately apologize and reconsider whether running for the office of president of the United States is something you’re cut out for.
By your words and your actions — embarrassing gaffes and soundbites nothwithstanding — you continue to prove you are not the man for the job.

Respectfully,
Todd Whitley, Granbury

………………………………………………..

TO SEND A LETTER  |  We welcome letters from readers. Shorter letters and those addressing a single issue are more likely to be printed. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity, but we attempt to maintain the writer’s substance and tone. Include  your home address and a daytime telephone number for verification. Send letters to the senior editor, preferably by e-mail (nash@dallasvoice.com). Letters also may be faxed (214-969-7271) or sent via the U.S. Postal Service (Dallas Voice, 4145 Travis St., Third Floor, Dallas TX 75204). All letters become the property of Dallas Voice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Reaching industrial-strength level of crazy

As right-wing anti-LGBT rhetoric  gets further ‘out there,’ we must step up to counter it

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association

 

Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

I guess it wasn’t enough that the right-wing crazies tried to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, now they have come up with the argument that giving LGBT people equal rights is an assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Funny, I never remember asking anyone to change their religion or to stop speaking, no matter how crazy they are.

I hold freedom of speech very near and dear to my heart. In fact it is one of my core values.

And religious freedom? Well you have the right to preach and believe anything you want, until you begin advocating violence against other citizens.

That is where the whole issue of LGBT rights breaks down for the far right. If they are not “free” to advocate outright physical assaults on LGBT Americans, they somehow feel it is impinging on their freedom.

Does this sound a lot like the anti-abortion crowd who advocate murdering doctors and blowing up clinics? Though they would be the first to deny it, they are cut from the same cloth.

Funny how these same folks are among the first to point fingers at all Muslims and cry “Terrorists!” In fact our friend from north of the border, Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma, has actually said that LGBT people are more dangerous than terrorists.

I really see all this as another attempt to re-frame the issue of LGBT rights by the right wing. They know that opinions in America are changing, and as a recent poll showed, even here in Texas an overwhelming majority of registered voters support expanded civil rights for LGBT Texans.

It is a rising tide and it scares them, and so they crank up the rhetoric.

Bryan Fischer, a mouthpiece of the American Family Association drove the point home with this gem delivered at the recent AFA-sponsored Values Voters Summit, attended by all of the main Republican presidential candidates:

“I believe we need a president who understands that just as Islam represents the greatest long-range threat to our liberty, so the homosexual agenda represents the greatest immediate threat to every freedom and right that is enshrined in the First Amendment. It’s a particular threat to religious liberty… .”

Now, if you have trouble understanding this strange equation, “LGBT rights = no religious liberty,” then let me explain the twisted logic.

The far right believes:

• We are a Christian nation, but only the fundamentalist, fire-breathing born-again variety of Christian.

• “Free speech” means “the right to attack, abuse and in general deny rights to anyone other than predominately white Christian Americans.” (See above for definition of “Christian.”)

• Limiting the ability to discriminate against LGBT people, particularly in areas that involve legal representation and equal rights, is a limit on free speech.

• Granting LGBT people equal legal rights “will end Western Civilization.” (That is a quote from Liberty Council’s Mat Staver.)

And so with this kind of logic it’s easy to see how we LGBT folks are such dangerous threats.

Now, take it a few steps further — which Bryan Fischer is more than willing to do — and go after the recent “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Fischer’s vivid imagination comes up with this whopper:

“And so, I’m predicting that things are about to get very ugly in the United States military for people of faith. We are going to see principle-driven officers, one after another, are going to become victims of systematic hate crimes. This is going to be a pogrom; this is going to be virtual genocide, military genocide, career genocide for people of faith in the military, perpetrated by the homosexual lobby.”

Now we have indeed reached the level of “industrial-strength crazy,” and it’s time we take a stand against it.

First of all, the idea that the American Family Association (a recognized hate group) can actually somehow have a lock on what it means to be “people of faith” is beyond laughable. It’s time liberal, progressive Christians came out of the closet and began reclaiming the word “Christian,” before it is too late.

Secondly, the idea that all the major candidates for the GOP presidential race showed up at an event staged by a hate group should put to bed forever the idea that the Republican Party is a big tent, unless that tent is for a fundamentalist revival.

Third, it’s time we realized that not only are these folks nutty, they are dangerous, and though it is easy to laugh at them, we need to take them seriously.

To do otherwise is just plain crazy.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The Dallas response to ‘The Response’

Protesters gather outside Dallas City Hall on Saturday during Rick Perry’s day of prayer in Houston.

About 25 people gathered at Dallas City Hall on Saturday to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response,” the day of prayer and fasting that was under way in Houston at the same time.

Transgender activists Pamela Curry and Kelli Ann Busey were among the protesters in Dallas, while others were from church groups or were individuals who said they believe in separation of church and state.

Among those at Dallas City Hall was Transforming Words, a Bible study group from Garland that represented several churches. “We’re here to love on ‘em and give ‘em some water,” a representative from Transforming Words said. The representative said the group didn’t necessarily support the protest but, “the AFA said some really horrible things.” He said the group particularly disliked some of the statements from AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer.

A few of the protest signs referred to anti-gay hate messages of the AFA, such as “The AFA=Anti-Gay” using the Human Rights Campaign equal sign logo, and “The AFA is anti gay. Fed up. Fight to save America from hate groups. No H8 in TX. Represent all Texans.”

Most of the signs, however, referred to separation of church and state or were specifically anti-Perry: “Blatant exclusion has no place in political office,” “Political office is not your pulpit” “Rick Perry for ex-governor” were among the messages.

Using the Bible to fight religious bigotry, one sign read, “Jesus opposes prayer rallies Matthew 6:5-14 NIV,” referring to the passage that translates as, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Response to ‘The Response’ begins

Riki Miller, Zombie McZee and Britney Miranda.

The responses to “The Response” are under way in Houston. First out of the gate was Friday night’s LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally.  Despite temperatures that had barely come down from the triple digits, Houstonians thronged to Tranquility Park in downtown. Beyond commenting on the temperature, the common theme of most of the speakers was that the American Family Association and Gov. Perry’s rally is not representative of Houston and is not welcomed.

Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said: “I kinda think Rick Perry chose the wrong city!”

He continued “They are the bigots, we are not … we are Houston.”

“I guess we should take comfort in the fact that, except for some of his staffers, [Gov. Perry] couldn’t find enough homegrown bigotry in the state of Texas to put on the event himself,” said Mike Craig, co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. “He had to bus them in from Tupulo, Miss., and Colorado Springs, Colo.” Craig was referring to American Family Association (based in Tupulo) and Focus on the Family (based in Colorado Springs), both co-sponsors of “The Response.”

State Rep.  Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, provided the closing address. He criticized Gov. Perry for using divisive religious rhetoric for political gain. “Being here today I’m proud that we are fighting back against a narrow, theocratic view of the world that we live in and of our country that says that people are not welcomed — that says that people are bad because of who they are. That is not America,” said Coleman. “That is what is dividing our city, our state and our country.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more coverage of the LGBT community’s response to “The Response.” More photos from the LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally below (click to enlarge):

—  admin

Equality Texas action alert on anti-bullying bill

Equality Texas has issued an action alert calling on people to contact their representatives and urge them to vote in favor of HB 1942, an anti-bullying bill by State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington. The bill has been placed on the House General State Calendar for Monday. Click here to send an email to your state representative. Here’s the full text of Equality Texas’ alert:

ACTION ALERT

Vote is Monday, May 2nd on Anti-Bullying Bill HB 1942!

Fact: Time is running out on the Texas Legislature to pass meaningful legislation to address the loss of life associated with bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment. Barely over one month remains in the Session and lawmakers are focused on the budget and redistricting.

Fact: According to information compiled by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University – San Marcos, there have been four bullying-related suicides of Texas students since the 2009 Legislative Session when lawmakers also failed to pass meaningful legislation.

Fact: House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick has just been placed on the House General State Calendar for Monday, May 2nd.

Fact: We need thousands of Texans to contact their State Representative now and urge passage of  House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick .

We simply cannot allow the clock to run out again without taking meaningful action to protect the lives of Texas children.

Please act now.

Click here to send an email to your State Representative.

—  John Wright

Oliver Blumer named vice chair of TENT board

Oliver Blumer, left, and his partner Mary Kay Cody

Oliver Blumer, who was profiled by Dallas Voice a while back, has been named vice chairman of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, the statewide organization dedicated to furthering the cause of gender diverse people.

According to the press release we’ve posted after the jump, Lisa Scheps is stepping down as executive director of TENT, and board chairwoman Katy Stewart will take over day-to-day operations.

—  John Wright

Villarreal files Texas ENDA bill

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Texas state Rep. Mike Villarreal, a Democrat from San Antonio, today announced that he has filed HB 665, which would prevent employment discrimination in Texas based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

According to a statement e-mailed by Villarreal’s office, HB 665 would “end a discriminatory atmosphere that drives away well-educated professionals that would otherwise benefit the Texas economy.” Villarreal said: “Many other states and several large Texas cities have protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s time for Texas to join in stopping unfair employment practices that hurt our economy and hard-working Texans.”

According to the press release, Villarreal has filed similar legislation in both of the last two sessions of the Texas Legislature.

HB 665 was filed on Jan. 14.

—  admin

Plano woman records bullying PSA

Janet Dowell, left

With the national prominence brought to the anti-bullying movement by Joel Burns, it’s only appropriate that another North Texan is hoping to make an impact.

Plano-based Janet Dowell is one of five finalists in a competition sponsored by the Logo Network to create a brief (25 seconds or shorter) public service announcement video to squelch anti-gay rhetoric.

Dowell’s is among the best, but all are good and deserve a look-see. You can view all the videos here, and vote for your favorite — Dowell of course hopes her fellow Texans support her, but just voting is a good idea. The contest runs through Jan. 25.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones