Friday, January 27, 2012

Houston Councilwoman Wanda Adams to challenge State. Rep. Dr. Alma Allen in primary

This post first appeared on Houstini.com on January 26, 2012

Houston City Councilwoman Wanda Adams plans to challenge State Rep. Dr. Alma Allen, D-Houston, for the Democratic Party nomination in House District 131, according to a recent post on Adams' blog. The race would pit two candidates with very different records on LGBT issues.

Rep. Dr. Alma Allen
Rep. Dr. Alma Allen
Allen has served in the House since 2005. She is a former school principal who, during the last legislative session, co-authored HB 224, legislation that would have required public schools to report incidences of bullying to the state using an enumerated list that included sexual orientation (but not gender identity or expression). HB 224 did not pass. During the special session last summer Allen voted for a budget amendment that included a similar reporting requirement (which also did not pass). She was one of 44 house members who opposed attempts by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses. Although Allen is not the most outspoken ally of the LGBT community in the Texas House, she has a strong voting record on LGBT issues.

Councilwoman Wanda Adams
Councilmember Wanda Adams
Adams was recently sworn in for her third city council term. Until redistricting this year Adams' District C included much of Montrose. She regularly attends LGBT events (she actually cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony for the Transgender Center) and has a reputation for being open-minded and willing to speak to people. However two events in the last year have some in the LGBT community questioning the depth of her commitment to the community.

In June the Houston City Council considered cutting funding for Marjoe House, a residential HIV/AIDS treatment facility. Adams spoke in the council meeting of the importance of continuing funding, which was opposed by Councilman Jarvis Johnson. When the time came for the vote, however, Adams left the council chambers and was recorded as "absent" (the council voted to continue funding, 10 to 2). Community leaders who had lobbied Adams for her support were disappointed that she missed the vote. "We had been given every indication that she would be in support of renewing funding," says Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats. "It was extremely disappointing that she left the room when it was time to put that support into effect."

Adams support for a Catholic youth homeless services provider has also led to questions about her dedication to her LGBT constituents. The provider, Covenant House (located in the heart of Montrose) had been accused by leaders in the transgender community of denying services to transgender and intersex youth unless they were willing to live in the gender they were assigned at birth. As a private religious organization, argued the agency's director, Rhonda Robinson, Covenant House was under no obligation to provide services without discrimination. Things changed when Councilwoman Jolanda Jones threatened to cut the funding Covenant House received through the city unless they enacted a non-discrimination policy that was inclusive of gender identity and expression. While the threat worked and Covenant House is now working with local organizations like the Transgender Foundation of America to change their policies and practices, Adams continued to defend the organization. "Covenant House has long history of doing great work and making sure that our homeless youth are protected without any ... type of prejudices," she told the council, refuting allegations that the agency discriminated in its services.

"I was extremely disappointed at Council Member Adams' defense of Covenant House," said Cristan Williams, executive director of the Transgender Foundation of America."TFA and others worked for over a decade to bring them to the table to discuss their very well documented discrimination. For the person who cut the ribbon at the opening of Houston's Transgender Center to turn around and defend discrimination against trans-identified children made me feel ill. It was like being stabbed in the back."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Texas A&M to end employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on January 24, 2012

Dr. R Bowen Loftin
Texas A&M University President Dr. R. Bowen Loftin issued a memo Jan. 20, re-affirming the university's commitment to non-discrimination in employment. Historically this memo is issued annually and has in recent years included sexual orientation among a list of attributes that have been the historical basis of discrimination and which the university vows not to use to discriminate in employment. This year's memo is a little special, however. For the first time in the school's 141 year history, Texas A&M has committed to employment nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. From the memo:
"... the university has developed an Affirmative Action Program that documents the policies, practices and procedures to support equal treatment for all applicants and employees and assure, in good faith, equal access and affirmative action for women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and veterans at all levels of its workforce. It is our policy to not discriminate in employment opportunities or practices on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by law. Furthermore, we will maintain a work environment free from discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."
The memo applies only to the employment practices of A&M's main campus in College Station, not to students or employees at any of the other A&M system campuses. Last month the Texas A&M Student Senate passed a resolution encouraging the university system to adopt a system-wide non-discrimination policy for students, staff and faculty that included sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Student Senator Andrew Jancaric, the driving force behind that resolution, greeted the news of Loftin's memo excitedly. "President Loftin has shown a great deal of leadership, particularly given the proximity of this release to the legislation passed by the Student Senate. Because of that leadership it will make changing that policy at the student level much more easy," said Jancaric. "It's a really important statement coming from the president of our university, which I believe will have great weight with the system's board of regents."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro joins "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry"

 This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on January 20, 2012

Julian Castro
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has signed onto the "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry" effort. As previously reported by Houstini, Houston's Annise Parker and Austin's Lee Leffingwell had previously joined the effort, with Parker serving as co-chair. So that's 3 Texas Mayors down, 1,212 to go.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is still refusing to sign onto the pledge, despite a change.org petition with 253 signatures and promises of protests at his upcoming public events.

"Mayors for the Freedom to Marry" has also added two new co-chairs, San Diego's Jerry Sanders and Boston's Thomas Menino; with New York’s Michael Bloomberg, L.A.’s Antonio Villaraigosa and Houston's own Annise Parker. The five-co-chairs issued the following statement:
In affirmation of the critical role that cities and their mayors have played in advancing civil rights and equal treatment for all Americans, we are proud to be chairs of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. Mayors for the Freedom to Marry is a broad-based and nonpartisan group of mayors who believe that all people should be able to share in the love and commitment of marriage.
As mayors of five of America’s great cities, we understand that the strength and health of our cities are enhanced when all families are protected and supported. We know many people in loving and committed same-sex relationships who are active participants in improving our communities and we’ve seen how important marriage has been for them and their families.
We are honored to lead this bipartisan group of mayors who support ending marriage discrimination at all levels of government. While we will each have different strategies for pursuing that end, we all agree on the goal: securing the freedom to marry and upholding equal rights for all citizens.
We are a diverse group of mayors—from small cities in Indiana and Maine, to the four largest cities in America. Our cities are culturally, racially and geographically diverse, but we share one important value: a common commitment to fairness.
We invite our colleagues to join us in signing this statement as we advocate for the freedom to marry and build a nation where all loving couples who want to make the life-long commitment can share in the joy and respect of marriage.

Annise Parker now co-chair of "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry," Austin's Leffingwell joins

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on January 20, 2011

Lee Leffingwell
Houstini reported yesterday that Houston's Mayor Annise Parker was scheduled to appear at the "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry" press conference in Washington D.C., and that she was the only Texas mayor to participate. This morning we found out that Parker, along with New York's Michael Bloomberg and L.A.'s Antonio Villaraigosa, is serving as co-chair for the effort. Additionally Austin's Mayor Lee Leffingwell has joined the effort.
So that makes 2 of Texas' 1,215 mayors with the bravery to stand up for what's right, leaving the citizens of 1,213 citizens with the task of persuading their mayors. In Dallas Daniel Cates of GetEqual has started an online petition encouraging Mayor Mike Rawlings to sign on which currently has 216 signatories. The Dallas Voice reports that Rawlings claims to personally support marriage equality, despite his unwillingness to join "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry:"
“This one obviously was very difficult for me, because I personally believe in the rights of the gay community to marry,” Rawlings said Thursday... “I think this [same-sex marriage] is way overdue and we need to get on with it, but that’s my personal belief, and when I start to speak on behalf of the city of Dallas … I’ve got to be thoughtful about how I use that office and what I want to impact, and that’s why I decided to stay away from endorsing and signing letters like that.”
Rawlings' chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, told the Voice "the mayor does not plan to publicly support any social issues but would rather focus on the policy issues that impact Dallas,” adding “we have not signed onto other similar requests.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Annise Parker only Texan among "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry"

This post originally appeared on Houstini.com on January 19, 2011

Annise Parker
Houston's Mayor Annise Parker is scheduled to appear at a press conference tomorrow in Washington D.C. alongside a bi-partisan coalition of U.S. Mayors supporting an end to marriage discrimination. The announcement coincides with the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and is scheduled to include Michael Bloomberg of New York, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Jerry Sanders of San Diego, Thomas Menino of Boston and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

According to Freedom to Marry, the organization coordinating the effort, "more than 70 Republican, Democrat and Independent mayors from cities across the country have pledged to support gay and lesbian couples’ freedom to marry. By joining the group, mayors hope to expand public and political support for ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage." The full list will be released during the press conference on Friday, but Jackie Yodashkin, a spokeswoman for Freedom to Marry, told the Dallas Voice that Parker was the only Texas mayor on the list.

It's no big surprise that Parker would support the effort. She is the first out LGBT mayor of a major U.S. city and she and her partner Cathy Hubbard have been together for over 20 years so she knows first hand the hardships of marriage discrimination. What is surprising is that no other Texas Mayor has signed on. You'd think that, at the very least, Austin's Mayor Lee Leffingwell would jump at the chance or that the mayor of some small, unheard-of city would have the bravery to do the right thing, but Parker is standing alone, a loud clarion in the silence that surrounds her.

So the next time The Advocate or Community Marketing tries to tell you that Houston isn't the best LGBT city in Texas, remind them which city's mayor had the guts to stand up for equality, and which ones didn't.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

You Can Vote in Tea Party Straw Poll, But It Will Cost You

This post originally appeared on Houstonini.com on January 13, 2012

There's still time to register for the Saddle Up Texas Straw Poll, a three-day Tea-Party-sponsored event at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The poll's organizers say it's designed to give Texas greater weight in the presidential primary process. From their website, saddleuptexaspoll.com:
Despite Texas’ apparent political clout as holder of the second largest delegation to the Electoral College and the second largest population in the United States, its position in the primary election, which is governed by political parties, is significantly and detrimentally out of balance to its general election influence...
Citizens from every corner of Texas have come together to bring Texas’ influence forward as an integral part of the national primary election process through a grassroots organized presidential straw poll, called the Saddle Up Texas Straw Poll, which is designed to give Texans an appropriate voice in the Primary.
To participate all you have to do is make your way to Minute Maid Park, prove your identity using a state issued photo identification (of course), and shell out $45 for the tickets. Obviously this isn't a real election, just a straw poll, so pesky things like the twenty-fourth amendment and the Voting Rights Act don't apply, but it occurs to me that charging almost half a c-note for the honor of participating in a poll is a pretty good way of insuring that the poll results only reflect a particular segment of the population. Whatever the results of the poll (to be announced Sunday) let's hope that anyone repeating them includes the addendum that the poll reflects only the opinions of Texans able to 1. travel to Houston for three days and 2. willing to shell out $45 for the honor of voting in a meaningless poll.