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Court Battle Over Houston's LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance Pushed Back to January

The court battle over Houston's LGBT non-discrimination ordinance has been pushed back to January 2015, meaning that voters will not be able to vote on the measure this November.

ParkerEarlier this month we reported that anti-gay activists had failed in efforts to collect enough signatures for a ballot measure that would place the city's recently-passed Equal Rights Ordinance up for a public referendum.

Petition backers then proceeded to sue the city.

Houston's News 92 FM reports:

[Judge Robert] Schaffer also moved the ordinance should not be enforced until after that trial, with supporters and opponents in unanimous agreement.

Opponents of the ordinance gathered signatures believing they had enough to get the issue on the ballot.

They came up almost 2,000 names short, according to Houston Mayor Annise Parker and city’s attorney.

On Friday, opponents of the ordinance dropped their request for a temporary injuction that could have triggered a repeal referendum in November. 


Anti-Gay Activists Sue Houston Over Rejection of Petition Signatures to Repeal City's Equal Rights Ordinance

On Monday we reported that anti-gay activists had failed in efforts to collect enough signatures for a ballot measure that would place Houston's recently-passed Equal Rights Ordinance up for a public referendum.

WoodfillNow the petitions backers are suing the city, the Houston Chronicle reports:

Plaintiff and conservative activist Jared Woodfill said his group is asking a state district judge to declare that City Secretary Anna Russell followed her legal duty and verified a sufficient number of signatures to force a referendum before City Attorney David Feldman illegally inserted himself into the process.

***

"If he felt there were underlying problems with the petition then he, like us, has the right to file a lawsuit if he doesn't agree with what the city secretary did," Woodfill said. "Going in before she's ever made the decision and influencing her is inappropriate, it's illegal and we believe the court will agree with us and that folks will have their voices heard in November on this issue."

Feldman declined to comment until he had seen a copy of the lawsuit, but earlier Tuesday disputed the idea that his involvement crossed any ethical or legal lines.

Petitioners were expected to fight the rejection of their signatures. Mayor Annise Parker had no comment about the lawsuit.


Petition to Repeal Houston's LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance Fails

A petition to repeal Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations has failed to gather the necessary signatures to appear on November's ballot.

The ordinance was signed into law back in May by Mayor Annise Parker.

ParkerLone Star Q reports:

The petition needed at least 17,269 valid signatures from registered Houston voters to put a repeal of the ordinance before voters in November.

Opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) claimed to have at least 30,000 valid signatures when they submitted the petition last month. However, a group supporting the ordinance that independently reviewed the signatures determined that it had a maximum of 16,500 valid signatures.

Opponents of the ordinance have vowed to take the city to court if officials determined their petition didn’t have enough valid signatures.


Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance Likely To Be Opposed On November Ballot

Annise-ParkerFor LGBT people in Texas, there may be a major hurdle in the offing. Lone Star Q reports that opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) are claiming they’ve gathered enough signatures to put a repeal on the ballot for Houston voters in May. These opponents say 30,000 of the signatures from city of Houston voters have already been validated — nearly twice the 17,269 signatures required to place the repeal on the ballot in November.

At a press conference yesterday at the City Hall Rotunda, supporters of HERO wore red, showing solidarity. Houston Mayor Annise Parker (pictured) spoke at the Rotunda, and she expressed confidence that voters would “soundly defeat” the initiative come November:

The Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life...We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or whom you choose to love.  I am confident voters will soundly defeat any challenge to the ordinance.

For now, the nondiscrimination ordinance stands, protecting Houston citizens from housing/commercial/employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy.. Before its establishment in May, Houston was the only major American city to not have citywide protections in such matters for LGBT people.

[h/t Lone Star Q]


Houston Pastor Who Warned City Council of Trans Predators Sexually Harassed Women: VIDEO

Baker

A Houston pastor and city employee who testified before City Council during debate over the recently passed LGBT non-discrimination bill, warning that it would expose children to transgender predators in public restrooms, was suspended by the city over sexual harassment charges, 92 FM reports:

A_parkerJust a few weeks ago, Pastor Baker addressed Mayor Annise Parker as he spoke against Houston’s equal rights ordinance during public comment.

“I say to you, what if I came into the bathroom while you were sitting on the toilet? Wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable?” Baker asked.

But city records show Baker was placed on indefinite suspension from the city, after the Office of the Inspector General reportedly found Baker had sexually harassed subordinate female employees.

The document says a woman complained on June 27, 2013, and the investigation found Baker solicited sexual acts, made crude comments about female anatomy and hugged subordinate female employees.

92 fm has audio of the exchange with Parker, which caused audible gasps from the public after Parker snapped back at him because she had read the report, the contents of which had not yet been disclosed.

Baker, a member of the Houston Area Pastors Council, also made comments to news station KHOU after an earlier April 30 hearing. Said Baker at that time:

“The imagery that I have in my mind is a grown man going into a restroom with a 6 year old girl standing beside of her using the restroom."

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Houston Pastor Who Warned City Council of Trans Predators Sexually Harassed Women: VIDEO" »


'Very Personal' LGBT Non-Discrimination Battle in Houston Could Get Even More Personal

A_parker

BY LISA KEEN

In a battle she characterized as “very personal” and “about me,” Annise Parker, the openly gay mayor of the fourth most populous city in the United States, won a victory last Thursday. She convinced the Houston City Council to establish a law that would prohibit discrimination based on a range of characteristics –including sexual orientation and gender identity—in public and private employment, housing, and contracting.

Now, she may well have to take on two bigger fights: one to protect the law from a referendum campaign and another to protect her job from a recall effort.

In the heat of debate two weeks before the vote, Parker said the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) applies to “the range of protective groups” but added, “the debate is about me.”

“The debate is about two gay men at this table,” she continued, referring to the 17-member council’s two openly gay members, Robert Gallegos and Mike Laster. “It is very intensely personal.”

And that debate continued for more than eight hours on the final hearing, with more than 200 people making comments for and against. Most testified for the legislation but many waved Bibles and said the ordinance would “make criminals” of Christians. The vows of recall and referendum were voiced even before the Council voted 11 to 6 on May 29 to approve the comprehensive law. And they have continued since passage, along with a placeholder webpage that urges citizens to check back for information about the petition drive.

WilsonA long-time anti-gay activist in Houston, Dave Wilson, is said to be orchestrating the recall and referendum effort.  Wilson has been quoted by a number of media as saying Parker's push for the non-discrimination ordinance was "pure payback" to the LGBT community. Parker is the city’s first openly gay mayor.

But most political pundits say they think it will be hard for Wilson and other opponents to gather 42,500 signatures in 30 days for a recall of the mayor. And more importantly, the city charter requires any recall be based on "some ground of incompetency or unfitness for or misconduct or malfeasance in the office."

“It’s not just a matter of gathering signatures,” said Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans this week.

“Opponents also have to prove malfeasance or dereliction of duty. It’s not as simple as just not liking a specific vote. A more likely situation is a successful petition drive to require a vote on repealing the ordinance, which requires 17,269 signatures within 30 days of passage of the ordinance.  Opponents have already started the petition process for that.”

If a recall or referendum or both make it onto the November ballot, the contest would likely become the most important political battle for the LGBT community this year. It would be seen as a test of the staying power of one of the country’s highest profile openly gay elected officials and providing a measure for how entrenched anti-gay sentiment is in the south.

Recall“I guarantee this recall election will be as big as anything else in November, and it will draw all kinds of attention and money,” wrote progressive political blogger Charles Kuffner.

And Houston is an old, bloody battleground for gays. In 1985, city voters rejected an effort to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination by a margin of four to one, and the ballot measure didn’t even include the word “gay.” That covered only city employment.

In 2001, 52 percent of Houston voters amended the city charter to prohibit any “privilege” based on sexual orientation and to deny domestic partners of city employees the benefits provided to the spouses of married city employees.

But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor last June that the federal government could not deny recognition to marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples in states which treat them equally, Parker implemented a policy of providing equal benefits to city employees who had married their same-sex partners. That immediately drew opposition from a small group of Republicans who filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the benefits from going into effect. A federal judge refused to stay Parker’s directive and the lawsuit is still pending.

Some opponents claimed Parker’s benefits violated the charter ban on “privilege” based on sexual orientation, but Parker said the benefits do not violate the charter because they are limited to couples who are legally married, and some same-sex couples obtain marriage licenses from other states. Parker and her longtime partner married in California two months later.

The possibility of a referendum on the new non-discrimination law  strikes many as more likely. If that does become a battleground, it will almost certainly include focus on what opponents’ obsession with public bathrooms.

The original draft of HERO included language that explicitly protected the right of transgender individuals to have access to bathrooms that match their gender identity.

“At the request of HRC [Human Rights Campaign] and the Greater Houston Partnership [the local business council], that section was removed but the transgender community is still completely covered by the ordinance,” said Evans. “I would note that the language in the original draft was unique to Houston. The fact that no other city had taken this approach was part of the reason for the removal of that section.  It brought Houston’s ordinance in line with others.”

The final language also got the stamp of approval from the local NAACP, but only after Parker agreed to remove a section specifically protecting transgender people’s access to bathrooms.

The section read: “It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to intentionally deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity.”

Opponents conjured up images of men entering public restrooms and urinating next to six-year-old girls.

After removing the language, Parker posted a Twitter message saying, “"To my trans sisters/brothers: you're still fully protected in Equal Rights Ordinance. We're simply removing language that singled you out.-A"

But Dave Wilson told the Houston Chronicle he’s also trying to put a measure on the ballot to amend the city charter to explicitly bar a biological male from using a women’s restroom. The Chronicle says the earliest a charter amendment could appear on the ballot would be next May.

Meanwhile, the 30-day clock is ticking on the hopes Wilson and opponents of HERO have to force a recall vote or a referendum on the new law.

Cathryn Oakley, legislative counsel for HRC’s state and municipal advocacy, said HRC mobilized its members to support the new ordinance and is ready and willing to help defend the law if necessary.

© copyright 2014 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


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