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

What’s Shakin’ – Siriano at Galleria, Voter turnout continues to lag

Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano

1. As previously reported by Houstini, Project Runway Season 5 winner Christian Siriano’s coming to the Houston Galleria Payless Shoe store today to show off his expanded Payless collection, including an assortment of shoes and handbags. Siriano will be available for photos with his “fierce” -ly loyal fans. The posing and pouting kick off at 5 pm at the Galleria, 5061 Westheimer Road.

2. Voter turnout continues to be paltry. So far 40,189 people have voted, only 71% of the 55,152 who had voted by this point during the 2009 municipal elections.  Early voting continues through November 4.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

3. Yesterday Rep. Todd Akin, R – MO, who successfully introduced an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year which would prohibit same-sex marriages from being performed on U.S. military bases, delivered a letter to the Senate calling on them to pass similar legislation.  The letter was signed by 86 members of the 435 member House, including 7 Texans, all Republicans: Mike Conaway, Francisco Canseco, Louie Gohmert, Ralph Hall, Sam Johnson, Michael McCaul and Randy Nuegebauer.

—  admin

What’s Shakin’ – Stone Soup at F Bar, Washtonians support marriage equality

Stone Soup1. For people living with AIDS proper nutrition is more than just healthy living, it’s a vital part of the regimen that keeps them alive. Unfortunately the struggling economy and cuts to government HIV/AIDS nutrition programs mean that, for some, eating right, or just eating, is a challenge.  That’s where the AIDS Foundation Houston Stone Soup Food Assistance Program steps in.  Kelly McCann, CEO of of AFH, says that the program has recently seen a 40% increase in request for assistance and needs an additional $25,000 a month to meet demand. F Bar (202 Tuam) is doing its part to help out tonight, collecting monetary and food donations from the community. Donors will receive a VIP invitation to an appreaciation party on Nov 22, and be entered in a raffle to win fabulous prizes.
2. Washington may soon become the seventh state to have full marriage equality, if a recent poll by the University of Washington, Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexualityis accurate.  The poll asked 938 registered voters in the evergreen state if they would support a same-sex marriage law were it to appear on the 2012 ballot: 47% responded that yes, they would strongly support it, only 32% said they would strongly oppose.
3. Voter turnout in Harris County is slowly catching up with the last municipal election cycle in 2009, but continues to lag.  So far 28,679 people have cast their ballots, 81% of the 34,485 who had voted at this point in the process the last go around.  Early voting continues through November 3.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

—  admin

Fierce advocate on DADT and elections: ‘Let’s repeal in an orderly way’; voter apathy ‘inexcusable’

Update (by Autumn) below the fold.


Thanks to Rolling Stone, which, unlike the LGBT press, got to interview the President about LGBT rights (specifically DADT), we have yet another sterling example of fierce advocacy.

We’re just impatient; it’s too much to ask to have repealed DADT within two years. Well, crap, he hasn’t done any of the big ticket items HE promised.

Now he’s making it clear the only way the discharges will stop is the slow-walk through Congress — and he’s likely about to lose control of the House, so progress will come to a screeching halt thanks to his lack of pressure on The Hill this year, a Congress without a spine, and Robert Gates running the decision making process. (The Wonk Room):

The DADT remark came as Obama was stressing his administration’s accomplishments in its first two years in office and showing frustration over the lack of credit he has received. “I’ve been here two years, guys. And one of the things that I just try to remember is that if we have accomplished 70 percent of what we committed to in the campaign, historic legislation, and we’ve got 30 percent of it undone – well, that’s what the next two years is for, or maybe the next six,” Obama said. He did not directly say how he would meet his administration’s promise to end DADT before the end of the year, but signaled that it should be done in an “orderly” way:
OBAMA: Understandably, everybody has a great sense of urgency about these issues. But one of the things that I constantly want to counsel my friends is to keep the long view in mind. On social issues, something like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Here, I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff both committed to changing the policy. That’s a big deal.

ROLLING STONE: You get credit for that.

OBAMA: Now, I am also the commander in chief of an armed forces that is in the midst of one war and wrapping up another one. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask, to say “Let’s do this in an orderly way” – to ensure, by the way, that gays and lesbians who are serving honorably in our armed forces aren’t subject to harassment and bullying and a whole bunch of other stuff once we implement the policy. I use that as an example because on each of these areas, even those where we did not get some grand legislative victory, we have made progress. We have moved in the right direction.

All I can say is Obama’s doing an incredible job of motivating his base to go to the polls, don’t you think?

We’re just the messengers, peeps. Anyone out there that is going to blame the media or blogs for people staying home needs to look at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A must-read if you want to catch up on DADT news (the good and the bad) – hop over to The Progress Report.

***

And if the above wasn’t bad enough, take a look at what else President Obama said about his base. Incredible political strategy – lecture and admonish it for being unenthusiastic and unhappy with his administration and Congress. Gee why would the Base think this way?

Obama: Democratic voter apathy ‘inexcusable’

The president has been telling Democrats to “wake up” and recognize that he and the Democratic-run Congress have delivered on promises, from a new health care law to tougher rules for Wall Street to more aid for college students. Obama wants disenchanted supporters to see that Republican wins in November would undermine the ability of Democrats to get the unfinished business done, from climate change legislation to allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

What emerges in the magazine story is a stern, lecturing tone from Obama.

It comes mainly at the end of the interview. Obama had wrapped the lengthy Q-and-A session, according to the magazine, but then returned unprompted to make one more impassioned point and unleash on the enthusiasm gap. He portrayed a clear choice between an administration that despite some warts has helped advance its agenda, and a Republican Party that would offer disastrous policies for the economy and civil liberties.

“The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible,” he said in the interview. He said Democrats should be thinking about what’s at stake this election “if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years.”

The frustrating and pathetic thing about this whining is that, at least here at the Blend, there has never been a call to stay at home, it’s been the opposite — give as generously as possible to pro-equality candidates, donate your time to canvass for them or promote them (as we do with liveblogs and interviews), and to show up to vote for them.

What we have said is no money to the Dem machine that turns around and funds the election of Blue Dogs that end up “No” votes on our issues.  That gAyTM is closed.

And that does not mean zero criticism if we’re looking at performance and promises. I think a person on Twitter yesterday put it quite succinctly, if tartly:

@mystic23 another thing, Dems – just cause I’m angry @ Dems doesn’t mean I won’t vote for Dems in Nov. FU for telling me not to be angry.

Update and commentary by Autumn:

Visce President Biden joins in on “motivating” the Democratic base. From MSNBC‘s Biden tells Obama’s core supporters to “buck up”:

Vice President Joe Biden told disaffected liberals within his own Democratic Party on Monday to “buck up” and “stop whining” ahead of November 2 congressional elections in which Republicans are trying to regain control of Congress.

…During a political appearance in New Hampshire, Biden directed comments at members of his own party’s base constituency who feel that Obama has not delivered on promises since coming to power in January 2009.

According to Politico, Biden said they should “stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives” — referring to Republican candidates trying to take control of the House of Representatives and Senate from the Democrats.

“So those who … didn’t get everything they wanted, it’s time to just buck up here, understand that we can make things better, continue to move forward, but not yield the playing field to those folks who are against everything that we stand for in terms of the initiatives we put forward,” Biden said later on Monday during an interview on the MSNBC cable TV channel…

The MSNBC video of Vice President Biden telling Democrats to “buck up” (via the YouTubes):

Damn skippy. With statements from President Obama telling us progressives that our alleged “apathetic” feelings about voting are “inexcusable,” and Vice President Biden telling us progressives that we need to “stop whining” and “buck up” — Is it any wonder many progressives like me aren’t very enthused to vote this November?

I didn’t vote against the other guys in 2008; I voted for candidates that I thought were going to boldly follow though with their campaign promises. I voted for President Obama and Vice President Biden in part because Presidential Candidate Obama said he was going to be a “fierce advocate” for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. If the best the cowardly Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House can offer us is “we’re better than the other guys,” I know my motivation level is going to be low. If they’re going to insult my intelligence by telling me I should be more motivated to vote — even though the Democrats didn’t live up to their campaign promises — I’m even less motivated. I’m sharply angry at beltway Democrats, not apathetic in the slightest.

Oh, I’ll vote this coming November as I was already planning to do, but I’m not excited at all to vote like I was in 2008 — not by a long shot.


Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Libertarian Party: “Battered Gay Voter Syndrome” Hinders Equality

Box_libertarian_party_stickers_door_hangers-2This nation's political parties are rapidly realizing that the "gay vote" matters and are stepping up their efforts to woo LGBT Americans.

National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn, for example, attended a Log Cabin Republican dinner this week, a first for a GOP leader, and the White House continues to insist the President opposes Don't Ask, Don't Tell, despite a DOJ objection to judicial repeal.

It's no surprise, then, that the national Libertarian Party would also throw its hat in the LGBT ring. Their attempt, based on the "battered gay syndrome" that comes with voting Democrat, deserves, and earns, a double-take.

Highlighting the Democrat-led Congress' failure on gay equality, including its inability to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell, for which they hold Harry Reid accountable, the Party contends that gay voters must turn their backs on the party to break "battered gay voter syndrome."

"Like abused spouses who keep returning to their aggressors, gay voters keep handing their votes to the Democrats who abuse them," opens the statement. The next line echoes tones both of ex-gay and "blame the victim" sentiments: "The Libertarian Party (LP) wants to break this self-destructive behavior and offers LGBT voters a better alternative." Subtly isn't the party's strong suit, is it?

"Unlike the Democratic and Republican Parties, the Libertarian Party believes that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment under the law," the statement later asserts, before celebrating the party's mixed bag of inclusion: "black, white, young, old, straight, gay, Christian, atheist, yuppie, hippie, rich, poor, greedy, generous, eccentric and just plain average." It's quite a roster of adherents, yes, and one the party attempts to address with their platform's "personal relationship" clause.

"Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the  government's treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption,  immigration or military service laws," the party's platform declares. "Government does not have the authority to define, license or  restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices  and personal relationships." But political platforms don't always translate to real life, civic practice.

Many LGBT voters are rightfully angry with Democrats at the moment The Libertarians, despite their state's rights stance and "get government out" proclamations, tend to lean more right than left when it comes to what we refer to as LGBT equality.

On the matter of the Boy Scouts of America's persistent exclusion of gay scout leaders, Libertarians favor the Scouts, arguing that neither the government, nor civil society, should infringe a private, member-based organization, and their critiques of the Democratic party are right out of the Republican play book. Take a look at their DADT attack on Reid, whose "procedural no vote" they blame for this week's failed repeal. 

The Libertarians write, "Reid claims he voted for [no] procedural reasons, but the whole situation seems calculated to look like they're trying to help, while making sure they don't actually help," while the LCR blasted Reid for "playing political games with the lives of the brave gay men and women serving in our military."

There's not necessarily wrong with leaning right, or Republicans for that matter, but the Libertarians don't necessarily offer a robust alternative. Gay voters need to be asking themselves, "Are the Libertarians the way to go?" And, more to the point, is the Libertarian Party's "battered gay" approach appropriate?

One thing's for sure: the Party's angle definitely got our attention.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

Gary Bauer at the Values Voter Summit compares 2010 elections to overthrowing 9/11 hijackers

I don’t understand how Gary Bauer can bleat over-the-top crap like this and think he’s going to appeal to the mainstream. This garbage not only exploits 9/11, it’s batsh*t insane. Amanda Terkel at HuffPo:

At Friday’s conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., speakers like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) urged attendees to turn out and vote in November in order to elect more conservatives to office. But the most extreme call came from onetime presidential candidate Gary Bauer, now the president of the right-wing group American Values, who equated the importance of turning out in November to defeating the 9/11 hijackers:

BAUER: From the cell phone calls that were made and the tapes that we have [from 9/11], we know that those passengers went to the back of the plane. Being good Americans, they started a debate. “Well,” some of them said, “we need to get back to our seats. We can’t do anything about this. You don’t fight hijackers. The plane will land. And then there will be negotiations. We’ll get out of here.” Other people said, “No, no, the country is under attack. We’ve got to fight.” And you know what they did? Nobody won the debate! So somebody said, “Let’s vote.”

That’s what we’re going to do in 45 days, right? We’re going to vote. If you get up that morning and you’re tired, you’re sick, it’s raining — remember these Americans on the plane. They voted to fight back. So they made weapons with whatever they can — leftover utensils from breakfast. The flight attendant was still alive; she boiled the water for the coffee. That was going to be her weapon. They took the drink cart, used it as a battering ram. They ran down the aisle of that plane, throwing the water, fighting as hard as they could, into the teeth of men armed with box cutters!

They brought that plane down. They spared this country more pain, more sorrow, more deaths. God bless them! Don’t forget them!

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright