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

Snowed-in out film fest viewing

With all the arctic weather turning Texas into Palinland lately, it’s easy to think we have it really bad. But if you wanna see how the cold can truly put the “crazy” in stir crazy, you might check out the 2008 horror film Scarce. Filmed during a harsh Canadian winter, it stars Dallas Voice contributor Steve Warren as one of two middle-aged cannibals who live together in a rural cabin where they torture and dine on hot young men who happen by — who, in this film, often tramp around in their undies in two feet of snow. The gay themes are more suggested than overt, but with Warren playing one of the “confirmed bachelors” who eats other men … well, you don’t need great gaydar to get the point.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

—  John Wright

Joel Burns begs teens contemplating suicide: Give yourself a chance to see life get better

Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns, right, and his husband, J.D. Angle

I have known Joel Burns for almost 10 years — several years longer than he has been on the Fort Worth City Council.

My wife and I met Joel and his husband, J.D. Angle, through mutual friends back when Joel and J.D. still lived in their beautifully restored home in the same East Fort Worth neighborhood where my wife and I and our children lived. I saw them then as the perfect couple: happy, handsome, healthy men with a beautiful home and great jobs. I knew they had great things ahead of them.

Then they moved to another beautifully restored older home in an historic neighborhood just south of downtown Fort Worth, and Joel ran for City Council. I was so happy when he was elected, because I believed that not only would Joel be a good representative for his constituents in District 9, but that he would also be a good representative for the LGBT community.

I think the fact that no one even stepped up to oppose Joel when he ran for re-election in 2009 shows that his constituents, overall, believe he is doing a good job on the City Council. But last night — Tuesday, Oct. 12 — during the weekly Fort Worth City Council meeting, Joel proved without a doubt that he also represents his LGBT community, and he proved why it is so important to have openly LGBT elected officials at all levels of government.

At each council meeting, council members are given a few minutes each at the start of the meeting to make announcements and to recognize people from their districts who have done something outstanding. Last night, Joel took his time to talk about the recent suicides of several LGBT youth — and to tell his own very personal and very powerful story.

After recounting the stories of several young men who have taken their own lives in recent weeks after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment, Joel told his fellow councilmembers and those in the council chambers that he was about to tell them something he had never told anyone before — not even his parents or his husband. And then, struggling through his own tears, he told them of the day when he was a 9th grader at Crowley High School and a group of older teens accosted him and “roughed him up.”

“They said that I was a faggot, and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged. That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down, that what I was beginning to feel on the inside must somehow be showing on the outside. Ashamed, humiliated and confused, I went home. There must be something very wrong with me, I thought, something I could never let my family or anyone else know,” he recalled.

Joel broke down then, and acknowledged that he couldn’t actually bring himself to read aloud the next couple of sentences he had written that described his own near suicide attempt. “I, don’t want my mother and father to have to bear the pain of having to hear … hear me say the …” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

When he regained his composure enough to continue, Joel said: “So I will just say, and I will skip ahead, I have never told this story to anyone before tonight. Not my family, not my husband, not anyone. But the number of suicides in recent days have upset me so much, they have just torn at my heart. And even though there may be some political repercussions for telling my story, the story is not just for the adults who might choose or not choose to support me. The story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight. Or the rope. Or the pill bottle. You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it on that unfortunate day. There is so, so, so much more.

“Yes, high school was difficult. Coming out was painful. But life got so much better for me. And I want to tell any teen that might see this: Give yourself a chance to see just how much better life will get. And it will get better. You will get out of the household that doesn’t accept you. You will get out of that high school, and you never have to deal with those jerks again if you don’t want to. You will find and you will make new friends who will understand you. And life will get so, so, so much better.”

Joel then talked about all the happy memories that fill his life now, from the first time he ever saw his future husband, to the day he asked J.D. to spend his life with him, to winning his first election to just a few days ago when he sat with his father after his father came out of surgery, and his father told him how happy he was to have Joel there with him.

He said: To those who are feeling very alone tonight, please know that I understand how you feel, that things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself. It may not seem like it tonight, but they will. And the attitudes of society will change. Please, live long enough to be there to see it.”

Joel ended by encouraging anyone who needs help or resources to deal with the issue of LGBT teen suicide to contact TheTrevorProject.org or to call him directly at 817-392-8809. “And you can call me, and I will get you whatever resources you need,” he promised.

As Joel finished, his fellow councilmember and friend Kathleen Hicks led the rest of the council and those in the council chambers in a standing ovation for Joel and his courage. I think he deserves a standing ovation from all of us, as well. Because last night, Joel Burns did us all proud, and maybe — just maybe — he helped save someone’s life.

Watch video of Joel’s speech to the council below:

—  admin