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

City Council early voting results in

The early voting results from today’s election are in:

District A
Helena Brown: 56%
Brenda Stardig: 44%

District B
Alvin Byrd: 52%
Jerry Davis: 48%

Place 2:
Kristi Thibaut 64%
Andrew Burks 36%

Place 5
Jack Christie  52%
Jo Jones  48%

Historically right-wing voters tend to vote early and the left-wing tends to vote on the day of the elections. Expect Christie’s lead in place 5 to decrease as the night goes on.

—  admin

Early voting in runoff election off to slow start

For those who missed it, there is an election happening in Houston right now. Four City Council races wound up in run-offs after the November 8 municipal elections and Houstonians have until December 10 to decide the fate of these crucial races.  So far fewer than 2,000 people have voted. Without a “big ticket” item like the mayor’s race at the top of the ballot turnout in the runoff is expected to be very low. The upshot of which is that every ballot cast carries more weight than ever.

Two of the races are at-large seats, so every citizen of Houston gets to vote on this races:

  • In At-large position 2 former State Representative Kristi Thibaut faces Andrew C. Burks Jr. Pastor of Bailey Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • In At-large position 5 incumbent council member Jolanda Jones faces Jack Christie, former State Board of Education member .

Two of the races are for district seats, so only people who live in those districts get to vote on these races:

  • In District A incumbent council member Brenda Stardig faces republican activist Helena Brown.
  • In District B local restauranteur and education advocate Jerry Davis faces Alvin Byrd, current staffer for council member Jarvis Johnson.

Early voting continues through December 6th, election day is November 8. Voters may cast their ballot at any early voting location. Visit harrisvotes.org to find your election day polling location (it may be different than your November polling place) and to view a sample ballot.

—  admin

Local LGBT activists to confront Rodriquez for anti-gay flier

Manuel Rondriquez

Manuel Rodriquez

A group of Houston LGBT activists, including representatives from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, is urging people to attend tonight’s Houston Independent School Board Meeting to confront HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriquez for an anti-gay flier he distributed during his recent reelection campaign. As previously reported by Houstini, the flier encouraged Houstonians to vote against Rodriquez’s opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. Under the header “Vote NO for my opponent” the flier reads in part:

Program manager of Minority male Initiative at HCC
His records [sic] show he spent years advocating for Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, transgender rights……….. not Kids.

Endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (HGLBTPC) is the South’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated solely to the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.
54 years [sic] old man with no children
Male partner

The GLBT Political Caucus issued a statement on Saturday, Nov 5, condemning the flier. On Sunday, Nov 6, the Houston Chronicle retracted its endorsement of Rodriquez over the flier. Rodriquez defended the flier throughout the weekend and Tuesday’s election. “[Fonseca] will be responsible for making policy for HISD, and I as a parent, as a grandfather, as a person who has probably more understanding of what a child’s needs are,” Rodriquez told the Chronicle. “[I] just want to give the voters information so that they can make their own choice.” Rodriquez campaign volunteers distributed the flier at polling locations throughout the day of the election on Tuesday.

Yesterday Rodriquez issued an open letter apologizing for the flier.

… I am aware that some people have said they were offended by one of my ads, and I apologize to all those people.

Earlier this year, I proudly joined my colleagues on the HISD Board of Education in unanimously adopting more stringent anti-bullying and anti-discrimination specifically protect the rights and safety of all students and employees regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orintation. I voted for this policy because it was the right thing to do and I remain committed to creating a culture in our schools where all people feel welcome and safe…

Rodriquez’s critics feel his apology is insufficient, and that it stops short of addressing their concerns. Mike Pomeroy of the GLBT Political Caucus has created a Facebook event encouraging people to attend tonight’s HISD board meeting. “I don’t think he gets it,” Pomeroy told the Chronicle. “He was throughout the weekend saying, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this. It’s the truth.’ And he was still handing out the flier at the polls. This is all coming a little bit too late.” ” We have several signed up to speak,” added Pomeroy, “but also want as many as possible there to stand with us in solidarity against bigotry on the HISD School Board!”

The School Board meets tonight at the Hattie Mae White – Houston ISD Administration Bldg, 4400 West 18th Street from 5-8 pm.

—  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

HISD trustee distributes anti-gay flier

Rodriquez Flier (excerpt)

Excerpt from the Rodriquez flier attacking Fonseco for his advocacy for LGBT people and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (click to view full flier)

Houston Independent School District Trustee Manuel Rodriquez Jr. is under fire for an anti-gay flyer attacking his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. Both seek the HISD District III seat held by Rodriquez. Rodriquez’s flyer attacks Fonseca for his history of advocating for LGBT people, and his endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. The flyer also suggests that Fonseca being 52 and unmarried is a reason that Houstonians should not trust him to make decisions affecting children, and points out that he has a “male partner.”

The GLBT Political Caucus was quick to denounce the flyer, issuing a statement on Saturday. “Manuel Rodriguez is assuming the voters of District III share the same bigoted, hateful views he holds,” said Caucus president Noel Freeman. “Houstonians have proven time and time again that such views are not welcome in our City, and have consistently rejected candidates who espouse such hateful views. We urge the voters of District III to reject Manuel Rodriguez on election day.”

Other HISD Trustees have joined in the chorus of people speaking out against the mailer. “I denounce the reprehensible, mean-spirited, bigoted mailer that was sent out in the HISD, District III race,” Trustee Juliet Katherine Stipeche said via her Facebook wall. “I ask my colleagues to maintain and uphold HISD’s total non-discrimination policy and treat every person, including other candidates, with dignity and respect. Let us embrace diversity and equality and treat every person as we would like ourselves to be treated ” Stipeche is seeking re-election to her district VIII seat.

HISD District I member Anna Eastman echoed Stipeche’s comments. “My fifteen year old son could not comprehend why someone would think that distinction would change a vote for school board and would be used as such by a candidate.”

The GLBT caucus is urging people to contact the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle to encourage them to rescind their endorsement of Rodriquez in light of his campaign tactics.

HISD elections are part of the general elections taking place this Tuesday, Nov 8. Visit HarrisVotes.org to find your voting location and view a sample ballot.

—  admin

What’s Shakin – Houston Pride Band’s Guilty Pleasures, Haute Boys of fall

Artistic Director Skip Martin

Pride Band Artistic Director Skip Martin

1. The Houston Pride Band presents “Guilty Pleasures,” a concert featuring the favorite guilty pleasures of the Pride Band members, tonight at 7:30 at the Hobby Center.  The concert marks the premier of the Pride Band’s new artistic Director, Skip Martin.  Martin chose the feature favorite’s from the bands 30-year history. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased from the Hobby Center.
2. The “Haute Boys of Fall II” gather at James Craig Furniture (4500 Washington Avenue), since their founding in 2010 the Haute Boys (which includes quite a few girls) have raised over $15,000 for area AIDS charities.  Tonight’s event features complimentary signature cocktails by Harmonie, an array of neighborhood bites, elements of design and fashion, music and more. Admission is an unwrapped toy, gift card or $20 donation for Houstonians in need.
3.  Voter turnout held steady for the ninth day of early voting in Harris County.  So far 34,329 people have voted, only 80% of the 42,968 who had voted by this point during the 2009 municipal elections.  Montrose’s own Multi Service Center on West Gray broke 400 voters for the first time since voting began on Oct 24. 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.

—  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

Dave Wilson robo-calls Houstonians, warns of Annise Parker’s ‘alternative lifestyle’

Houston mayoral candidate Dave Wilson has stepped up his homophobic attacks against incumbent Mayor Annise Parker with a recent robo-call targeting Houston voters:

“Hello Houstonians, this is Dave Wilson, candidate for mayor. In 2009 I warned voters that Annise Parker would use her position to promote her alternative lifestyle, and she’s done that. Her very first executive order was to allow men dressed as women to use the women’s restroom. Her appointments have been based on sexual orientation, rather than ability. She appointed George Greanias, head of Metro, who was caught viewing porn sites such as rentaboy.com. Dave Wilson would have fired him on the spot. Join me in taking our city back, vote Dave Wilson, paid for by the Dave Wilson for Mayor.”

Wilson’s call contains several misleading, or outright false, claims, such as saying that Parker’s first executive order was to allow “men dressed as women to use the women’s restroom.” The first executive order Parker signed after being sworn in (E.O. #1-50), clarified the process for filing sexual harassment claims for city employees. The second (E.O #1-25) dealt with city operations during a natural disaster, the third (E.O. #1-42) with city credit cards, and the fourth (E.O. 1-14) with the city’s procurement procedure. The fifth and sixth executive orders signed by Parker (E.O. 1-8 and E.O. 1-20) dealt with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression and the use of hate language by City of Houston employees while on the job. Both order were signed on March 25, 2011, 2 months and 23 days after Parker took office. These are is the ones that chafe Wilson. Under order 1-20 access to public accommodations in city buildings, including restrooms, cannot be denied to any member of the public because they are LGBT. While Wilson fears “men in dresses” discretely handling their business in the stall next to his wife, he seems to miss that it also allows burly, bearded men who happened to have been assigned a female identity at birth to use the men’s room. One wonders if he’s ever thought about that.

Executive Order 1-20 is about basic courtesy and access to public facilities that most of us take for granted. No one should be put in the position of risking arrest for using a public restroom (which happened shortly after E.O. 1-20 went into effect), and it is humiliating to expect trans Houstonians to have to ask “which bathroom do you expect me to use” every time they’re in a city building.

The situation with George Greanias, CEO of Houston’s public transit system Metro, is far more complicated than Wilson describes it. To hear the robo-call you’d think Greanias was simply caught looking at pornography, a constitutionally protected right. The issue is that Greanias was caught looking at porn on Metro’s internet wi-fi, all be it accidentally. According to the Metro investigation Greanias accessed sites containing gay oriented adult material on 14 separate days between February 9, 2011 to July 1, 2011. The access was from Greanias’ personal computer and he believed through his personal internet access. In a letter to Metro employees he explained that “the violation was unintentional. I thought I was using my own computer, but was in fact in Metro’s system — but it was a violation all the same. The sites I accessed were of a sexual nature — to say the least, highly inappropriate, and embarrassing.”

Typically a violation of this nature by a Metro employee would have resulted in a verbal warning. Because of the high profile nature of Greanias’ job he received a much harsher punishment. According to Metro’s official statement “Chairman Gilbert Garcia has concluded that, as president and CEO, Mr. Greanias must be held to a higher standard, and decided instead of a warning Mr. Greanias would receive a more stringent punishment of one week suspension, without pay.”

None of that matters to Wilson. He “would have fired [Greanias] on the spot,” bypassing the review process guaranteed to all Metro employees and likely subjecting the city to a very expensive lawsuit. More than his overt homophobia, it’s Wilson’s blind ignorance of the procedural facts of running a city that should frighten Houstonians.

Early voting in Houston municipal elections (including mayor) continues through Nov. 3 at all early voting locations. Election day is Nov. 8. Early voting turnout continues to lag; votes cast during the first four days of voting have trailed the 2009 municipal election turnout by 21%.

—  admin

Texas: A not-so-great state

As Perry eyes the presidency and Dewhurst makes a bid for the Senate, let’s look at the story the numbers really tell

Phyllis Guest | Taking NoteGuest.Phyllis.2

It seems that while David Dewhurst is running for the U.S. Senate, Rick Perry — otherwise known as Gov. Goodhair — is planning to run for president. I wonder what numbers they will use to show how well they have run Texas.

Could they cite $16 million? That’s the sum Perry distributed from our state’s Emerging Technology Fund to his campaign contributors.

Or maybe it is $4.1 billion. That’s the best estimate of the fees and taxes our state collects for dedicated purposes — but diverts to other uses.

Then again, it could be $28 billion. That’s the last published number for the state’s budget deficit, although Perry denied any deficit during his last campaign.

But let’s not get bogged down with dollar amounts. Let’s consider some of the state’s other numbers.

There’s the fact that Texas ranks worst in at least three key measures:

We are the most illiterate, with more than 10 percent of our state’s population unable to read a word. LIFT — Literacy Instruction for Texas — recently reported that half of Dallas residents cannot read a newspaper.

We also have the lowest percentage of persons covered by health insurance and the highest number of teenage repeat pregnancies.

Not to mention that 12,000 children have spent at least three years in the state welfare system, waiting for a foster parent. That’s the number reported in the Texas-loving Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has agreed to put several amendments to the Texas Constitution before the voters. HJR 63, HJR 109 plus SJR 4, SJR 16, and SJR 50 all appear to either authorize the shifting of discretionary funds or the issuance of bonds to cover expenses.

Duh. As if we did not know that bonds represent debt, and that we will be paying interest on those bonds long after Dewhurst and Perry leave office.

Further, this spring, the Lege decided that all voters — except, I believe, the elderly — must show proof of citizenship to obtain a state ID or to get or renew a driver’s license. As they did not provide any funds for the issuance of those ID cards or for updating computer systems to accommodate the new requirement, it seems those IDs will be far from free.

Also far from free is Perry’s travel. The Lege decided that the governor does not have to report what he and his entourage spend on travel, which is convenient for him because we taxpayers foot the bill for his security — even when he is making obviously political trips. Or taking along his wife and his golf clubs.

And surely neither Rick Perry nor David Dewhurst will mention the fact that a big portion of our state’s money comes from the federal government. One report I saw stated that our state received $17 billion in stimulus money, although the gov and his lieutenant berated the Democratic president for providing the stimulus.

And the gov turned down $6 billion in education funds, then accepted the funds but did not use them to educate Texans.

The whole thing — Dewhurst’s campaign and Perry’s possible campaign, the 2012-2013 budget, the recent biannual session of the Texas Legislature — seems like something Mark Twain might have written at his tongue-in-cheek best.

We have huge problems in public school education, higher education, health care, air pollution and water resources, to mention just a few of our more notable failures.

Yet our elected officials are defunding public education and thus punishing children, parents, and teachers. They are limiting women’s health care so drastically that our own Parkland Hospital will be unable to provide appropriate care to 30,000 women.

They are seeking a Medicaid “pilot program” that will pave the way for privatized medical services, which will erode health care for all but the wealthiest among us. They are fighting tooth and nail to keep the EPA from dealing with our polluted environment. They are doing absolutely nothing to ensure that Texas continues to have plenty of safe drinking water.

They are most certainly not creating good jobs.

So David Dewhurst and his wife Tricia prayed together and apparently learned that he should run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat. Now Rick Perry is planning a huge prayer rally Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

God help us.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas