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Judge To Decide This Week Whether Petition To Repeal Houston LGBT Protections Qualifies For Ballot

HERO

Nearly a year after the Houston City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, a judge is expected to rule this week on whether anti-LGBT groups gathered enough valid signatures to place a repeal of the measure on the ballot. 

The city filed a motion Friday alleging that opponents of the ordinance remain 650 signatures short of the number needed to trigger a referendum. 

The Houston Chronicle reports: 

TaylorThe city's latest count puts conservative opponents of the law closer to triggering a vote than ever before, but still short of the needed 17,269 valid signatures.

"Under the jury's verdict, and under any honest application of the court's rulings, plaintiffs lose, the city wins, and civil rights are safe in Houston, Texas," said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city. ... 

Andy Taylor (right), attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was not fazed by the city's filing Friday and would submit his own count Monday proving opponents have a valid petition.

"I'm excited to report that our number exceeds the minimum number required so we're going to get to have an election for the city of Houston," Taylor said.

ParkerMayor Annise Parker has placed enforcement of the ordinance, known as "HERO," on hold pending the outcome of the case. In February, supporters of HERO reported that since it passed, 84 cases of discrimination had been reported to the city's Office of the Inspector General, including 52 that would have been covered by the ordinance. From HouEquality.com

These reported cases of discrimination run the gambit of protected characteristics, from race to age to gender to disability to sexual orientation to gender identity to national origin to veteran status.  

If you look at the math, that breaks down to 1.6 people every week who are actively facing discrimination in some form and who have no local remedy because HERO is not in effect. To look at it another way that is almost 7 people (6.9 to be exact) every month. 

After Houston became the last major city in the US to add LGBT protections, opponents launched a petition drive to repeal them. The city eventually rejected the petition, saying it didn't have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.  

Anti-LGBT groups filed a lawsuit, and in February a jury determined that among other things, the petition contained widespread forgery. Based on the jury's determinations about which signatures should be considered valid, Judge Robert Schaffer began a final count. In late March, Schaffer revealed that opponents of the ordinance were roughly 3,000 signatures short of the 17,269 needed. However, approximately 8,500 signatures remained in question because they appeared on pages circulated by people whose names weren't legible. 

Opponents have vowed to appeal if Schaffer determines they don't have enough valid signatures. 

Houston officials rejected a separate petition last week aimed at repealing the ordinance — and enshrining a transgender bathroom ban in the city charter — after the organizer misread rules about the number of required signatures.  


Houston Mayor Annise Parker Opens Up About Marriage, Family In Powerful Interview: VIDEO

Parker

Most people know Annise Parker as the first openly LGBT person elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

But few, at least nationally, know that she and her wife are also the mothers of four children — one African-American and three biracial.

With Parker's final two-year term as mayor of the nation's fourth-largest city winding down, she and her wife opened up about their family in a recent interview with Houston's KTRK-TV

Not that they've ever been shy about the subject. 

"We're so far out of the closet that we live on the front lawn," Parker's wife, Kathy Hubbard, says. 

Nevertheless, the powerful, humanizing interview could come at an important time, with the U.S. Supreme Court set to consider same-sex marriage, the LGBT community under siege in the Texas Legislature, and the battle over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance raging on.

In the interview, Parker talks about how the couple took in their son after meeting him at a gay Pride parade when he was a homeless teen. Today, he is sometimes mistaken as a member of the mayor's security team.

Parker and Hubbard also discuss their struggle to adopt their first daughter in the face of an anti-LGBT judge and a foster family that told the 7-year-old if she went to live with them, she would burn in hell. And they talk about the significance of their marriage in California last year. 

"It felt very special. We're still walking on air," Hubbard says.

Parker also spoke recently with The Washington Post for a biographical piece that touches on her possible political future after she leaves office at the end of the year. 

Watch KTRK's report, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Houston Mayor Annise Parker Opens Up About Marriage, Family In Powerful Interview: VIDEO" »


Anti-Gay Bigots Say Fight To Repeal LGBT Protections In Houston Is 'David vs. Goliath' Battle: VIDEO

Welch

Opponents of equality — including Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch (above) — are fond of saying that LGBT people comprise such a small fraction of the overall population that there's no valid justification for granting them "special rights." 

But now, suddenly, Welch and fellow anti-LGBT activists in Houston have decided that they are in fact the little guy.

The Houston Chronicle reports on closing arguments Thursday in a jury trial over the lawsuit seeking to repeal the city's Equal Rights Ordinance:

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, painted the case as pitting the desire of the people to vote versus an all-powerful City Hall. Gesturing to the city's many pro bono lawyers, Taylor invoked the Bible. He stacked the binders of signatures opponents collected, allowing the "thump" of each to echo in the courtroom.

"Help us beat Goliath," Taylor said. "Help us beat City Hall."

The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon and will resume on Monday, the Chronicle reports. 

If jurors decide there are enough valid signatures on a petition to repeal the ordinance, a referendum likely would appear on the ballot in November. If not, the ordinance may finally take effect — nine months after it was approved by the City Council. 

Opponents claimed they gathered more than 30,000 signatures on the petition to repeal the ordinance, but the city determined that only 16,500 signatures were valid, fewer than the 17,269 needed. Attorneys for the city now say that based on a subsequent review, only 3,905 signatures on the petition are valid. 

During closing arguments, attorneys for the city reportedly focused on technical issues about whether specific signatures and pages met requirements laid out in the city charter — including allegations of fraud, forgery and perjury. Meanwhile, opponents of the ordinance tried to pander to jurors' emotions. 

Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney the city, told KPRC-TV

"Both sides laid out their case. The city's side was based on the evidence, facts and testimony, and the plaintiffs' case, like much of its presentation during trial, was based on bluster utterly divorced from the evidence." 

Earlier in the week, Mayor Annise Parker took the stand in the trial, later holding a news conference to reiterate some of the issues: 

Parker"I want to be clear: There was fraud, there was forgery. There were lots and lots of mistakes," Parker said. "But the vast majority of things that were disqualified, pages that were disqualified, was because they didn't follow the form and the process laid out in the charter, and that's not optional."  

Also testifying this week was former City Attorney Dave Feldman, who shed further light on problems with the petition: Incendiary language attacking the merits of the ordinance at the top of the pages took up so much space that there wasn't sufficient room at the bottom for the oath, signature and notarization. 

Others who testified included a handwriting expert who called into question a large number of signatures — including one belonging to the wife of Jared Woodfill, the anti-gay attorney who filed the lawsuit, which appears to have been forged. 

Both sides say they'll appeal if they lose, according to reports. 

Brad Pritchett at HouEquality.com live-tweeted the closing arguments. Here are a few highlights: 

Watch KPRC-TV's report, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Anti-Gay Bigots Say Fight To Repeal LGBT Protections In Houston Is 'David vs. Goliath' Battle: VIDEO" »


Annise Parker Named Top Mayor In US

Parker

Out lesbian Annise Parker of Houston is the top mayor in the US and the seventh-best in the world, according to the City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank dedicated to urban affairs. 

After being selected as one of 26 nominees for the Foundation's semi-annual World Mayor Prize in December, Parker was the only US mayor to crack the top 10. First place went to Calgary's Naheed Nenshi. 

CultureMap Houston reports: 

“It’s a great honor to be recognized for doing what I love for a city that I dearly love," Parker tells CultureMap in a email. "Being mayor of Houston is the best political job in the world. It provides the opportunity to shape the future of one of the great American cities. I am humbled that others view this work as worthy of being right up there with the accomplishments of my mayoral colleagues around the world.” ... 

The World Mayor Jury offered its own summary of the thousands of emailed vouchers from Parkers's supporters in the contest:

"Annise Parker should be 2014 World Mayor because of her adept balancing of social and economic issues while making significant progress on both during her three terms as mayor of my hometown, Houston, Texas, USA. Her policies, which enabled the city to remain fiscally healthy during the worst of the recent recession, set the stage for the tremendous economic growth Houston enjoys today. Meanwhile, she champions human rights issues such as by being a pioneer — first openly-gay mayor of a major city — and a role model."

More from the City Mayors Foundation on the selection process for the World Mayors Prize:  

An outstanding mayor must possess qualities such as: honesty, leadership and vision, good management abilities, social and economic awareness, ability to provide security and to protect the environment, as well as having the skill to cultivate good relations between communities different cultural, racial and social backgrounds. ... 

The total number of testimonials received for the 26 nominees exceeded 256,000. While a number of top-ten ranked mayors were supported by thousands of followers, the World Mayor jury considered the size of support as only secondary. The panel was primarily influenced by the arguments and persuasiveness of testimonials bestowed on mayors. As some city leaders in the top ten represent large metropolises, while others are mayors of much smaller towns, members of the jury were of the opinion that basing judgment on numbers alone would unfairly disadvantage mayors from smaller communities.

Read more on Parker's selection and the testimonials in support of her HERE

While receiving international honors, Parker has come under fire for pro-LGBT initiatives in her third and final two-year term. She's been sued for extending benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees, and over the City Council's decision to pass an Equal Rights Ordinance containing LGBT protections. Earlier this week, she took the stand in a jury trial over the Equal Rights Ordinance.  

Watch a report on the ongoing trial from Click2Houston.com, AFTER THE JUMP... 

Continue reading "Annise Parker Named Top Mayor In US" »


Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Goes On Trial

Parker

Eight months after the Houston City Council passed an Equal Rights Ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, a jury trial is scheduled to begin today in the lawsuit aimed at repealing the measure. 

But don't expect a verdict anytime soon: The trial could last six weeks or more as jurors go over thousands of pages of signatures on a petition to repeal the ordinance to determine how many are valid.

The trial will have little to do with the merits of the ordinance, which prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Houston was the last major US city to pass such an ordinance, but its enforcement is on hold pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. 

After the council approved the ordinance in May, anti-LGBT groups said they turned in more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to repeal it. However, city officials rejected the petition, saying it had only 16,500 valid signatures, fewer than the 17,269 needed to force the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot.

Anti-LGBT groups responded by filing a lawsuit, which resulted in a right-wing media firestorm after attorneys for the city subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who led opposition to the ordinance. Mayor Annise Parker eventually withdrew the subpoenas, but that didn't stop the anti-LGBT groups from staging an "I Stand Sunday" rally featuring Mike Huckabee, Phil Robertson and the Benham brothers. 

In court documents, the city's attorneys have accused anti-LGBT groups of fraud and forgery in gathering signatures, and they've filed a motion seeking summary judgment that could end the trial before it begins

If the trial proceeds and the anti-LGBT groups prevail, the ordinance likely would appear on the ballot in November. If the city prevails, the ordinance would finally go into effect. However, knowing the opposition, we're pretty sure they'd appeal. 

Out lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker has said she feels sorry for jurors who must sit through the trial but added the city will do whatever's necessary to defend the ordinance.   

Jury selection was scheduled to begin this morning, with opening arguments set for Tuesday. Stay tuned to Towleroad for continuing coverage. 


Did Anti-LGBT Groups Forge Signatures On Petition To Repeal Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance?

Forgery

The above image, via The Houston Press, shows numerous signatures that appear to be in the same handwriting on a petition to repeal Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance. 

After the Houston City Council passed the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance last summer, opponents launched a petition drive seeking to place a repeal on the ballot. However, the city ultimately rejected the petition, saying it didn't contain enough valid signatures, prompting a lawsuit from the anti-LGBT groups. 

The lawsuit is set for trial on Jan. 20. And according to The Houston Press, attorneys for the city allege in court filings that some of the signatures were not only invalid for technical reasons — but also quite possibly forged: 

WoodfillSo far, most of the City's challenges to the petitions' validity has centered around technical -- and pretty boring -- matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators' signature. What's really intriguing, though, is the City's more recent contention that many names were forged, and that [plaintiff Jared] Woodfill "is no stranger" to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill -- then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party -- accepted "facially valid" election petitions that "turned out to involve 'forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation."

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn't buy Woodfill's argument that "the truthfulness of a circulator's affidavit is strictly a criminal matter."

The November motions include a sampling of the HERO signatures that City attorneys say were "purportedly from many different people, all of whom have the same handwriting." OH SNAP.

Herotrial-excerpt-image

HouEquality.com, a website created by supporters of the ordinance, also recently posted evidence, including the above image, of possible fraud related to the repeal petition: 

We have included a publicly available document from the Harris County District Clerk's website with regards to the upcoming trial. These are excerpts of a deposition from an individual who gathered signatures for the opposition's petition efforts.

In short, he admits under oath, that he committed fraud and perjured himself by attesting that the signatures he turned in were all collected by him when, in fact, they were not.

The court document makes for an interesting read and certainly is not an isolated case.

As we have seen since the first public discussions about the ordinance, opponents have been willing to use dishonest tactics to achieve their end goal of eliminating the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. 

We will post another interesting court document this week that continues the trend of rooting out the rampant fraud in the petition process. 

Make no mistake, the opponents of HERO are not victims, they are calculating fear-mongers with little regard for ethics or the law.

As we mentioned last week, opponents of the ordinance are seeking a jury trial in the case, claiming it's their constitutional right, but the city is asking for a judge to decide the matter. The judge heard arguments on that issue last Friday, The Houston Chronicle reports: 

During a brief but lively hearing in the 152nd District Court in Houston, Judge Robert Schaffer said he will likely issue that decision Monday or Tuesday. Barring any delays, the trial is set to start Jan. 20.

Equal rights ordinance opponents are pushing to take the case before a jury instead of allowing Schaffer, as originally planned, to issue a decision from the bench. Attorneys for the city are strongly opposed to that format, saying it violates state election law to send the case to a jury. ... 

If nothing else, attorneys on both sides came away from Friday's hearing with the distinct impression that regardless of the form the trial takes, it will be a long one. Schaffer said he expected the trial to last between four and six weeks and that it will require the court to scrutinize the disputed petition pages and signatures. The plaintiffs submitted a 5,199-page petition. 


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