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Houston, We Have A HERO: Judge Throws Out Petition To Repeal LGBT Protections

HERO

Anti-LGBT discrimination is now illegal in the nation's fourth-largest city, after a judge ruled Friday that a petition to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) doesn't have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

Mayor Annise Parker suspended implementation of the ordinance — passed by the City Council last May — after anti-LGBT groups filed a lawsuit over the city's decision to reject their repeal petition. 

In February, a jury found the petition contained widespread forgery, and on Friday, after two months of deliberations, Judge Robert Schaffer upheld the city's decision. The Houston Chronicle reports: 

Ultimately, Schaffer on Friday ruled the final count of valid signatures was 16,684, leaving opponents short of the threshold required in the city charter of 17,249 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election.

"The jury's verdict and the judge's ruling are a powerful smack-down against the forces of discrimination and intolerance," said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city, in a statement. "And maybe, just maybe, they'll reconsider their misguided ways."

The law, on hold during trial, is now in effect, according to a city spokeswoman. Mayor Annise Parker released a statement celebrating the verdict.

"I would hope that the plaintiffs would not appeal, they lost during a jury trial and today they also lost with the judge's ruling," Parker said. "Now all Houstonians have access to the same protections."

Parker also tweeted:

Opponents of the ordinance say they plan to appeal Schaffer's decision. The anti-LGBT Texas Pastor Council said in a release responding to the ruling:  

Schaffer’s ruling that the coalition fell 585 signatures short was a result of Judge Schaffer, who was supported in his election by the LGBT community, unfortunately accepting the constantly changing manipulations of the law by the City’s “legal machine” and Mayor’s team, said the coalition.  “We will not yield the safety and welfare, the voting rights and Constitutional freedoms of the citizens that have been stolen by the corrupt Parker regime.  The law and the appellate courts in Texas are very strong in preserving voting rights so are confident we will prevail,” they continued.  “The fact that the city’s own numbers of how many valid signatures we had submitted materially changed nearly a dozen times since August illustrates how desperate they are to keep this off the ballot.”

A coalition of LGBT groups supporting the ordinance issued the following statements:

"As a pastor and native Houstonian, I believe religious liberty is important, and just as important is the spiritual value of love. We are to love our God, and love our neighbor, NOT discriminate against our neighbor. The city has an obligation to protect the rights of all Houstonians to be free from discrimination and to be free to practice one’s religion. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance does both." Reverend Michael Diaz, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. 

"Today, the City of Houston and our legal system have upheld the long-established process laid out in our City Charter. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus urges the City of Houston to immediately implement the legally passed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in order to prevent discrimination from occurring in our great city. Houston is a city where people are judged by how hard they work, the content of their character and not by who they happen to love." Maverick Welsh, President, Houston GLBT Political Caucus. 

"The time has come to put court battles in the past and begin protecting the citizens of Houston from all forms of discrimination. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was supported by a broad coalition of businesses, faith leaders and many others, should be implemented immediately." Human Rights Campaign, National Field Director Marty Rouse. 

"The ACLU of Texas is proud to call Houston home, and we look forward to the day HERO is fully implemented because every resident of this great city deserves to be protected from unfair discrimination, whether on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, or religion.” Terri Burke, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. 

"The political activists who want to repeal this common sense ordinance reject the basic values we all share about equality and nondiscrimination. They have even argued for the right to discriminate against anyone, including LGBT people and religious minorities. That alone shows why it’s so important for the city to finally enforce these basic protections for everyone." Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network President. 

“The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects all Houstonians and with the favorable outcome of this trial, the City of Houston is now in the position to increase protections against discrimination for its residents. As members of a community that face ongoing discrimination based on race, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, we welcome a local mechanism to protect all Houstonians from facing further discrimination based on their identities.” Brandon Mack, Co-Chair, Houston Civil Rights Strategy Group. 

Read the judge's ruling, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Houston, We Have A HERO: Judge Throws Out Petition To Repeal LGBT Protections" »


Over 100 Texas Organizations, Including 13 Fortune 500 Companies, Sign LGBT Equality Pledge

TexasCompetes

More than 100 corporations and other organizations — from American Airlines and Apple to the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee — have joined an impressive coalition of businesses pledging to support LGBT equality in Texas.

The coalition, called Texas Competes, launched Tuesday in Austin against the backdrop of 22 anti-LGBT bills in the state Legislature. 

From the Texas Competes website

Texas Competes' mission is to provide a unified voice for the Texas business community on the clear economic and business case for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers, families, customers, and tourists. That unified voice takes the form of the Texas Competes pledge.

Many of Texas' most successful businesses have policies and workplace cultures that are inclusive and welcoming to LGBT workers and customers. But the competitiveness of these businesses, and of the Texas economy, is impacted by the brand that the state of Texas projects on the LGBT issue. The Texas Competes pledge creates an opportunity for business leaders to clarify their shared economic interests in fair treatment for gay and transgender people.

More from The Texas Observer:

Texas Competes spokesman James Shackelford said the coalition won’t take positions on specific legislation and that the effort has been in the works for months, long before anti-LGBT religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas sparked historic backlash from the corporate sector.

“But obviously the timing, when it’s launching and when we’re going public with it, is important,” Shackelford told theObserver.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a license to discriminate against LGBT people in the constitution. However, dozens of other measures also target LGBT rights, from statutory religious exemption bills to proposals that would ban local nondiscrimination protections and transgender restroom use.

“Texas is an economic powerhouse because it’s a place where talented people, entrepreneurs and companies want to call home. But our competitiveness is in jeopardy if Texas does not become a place that is welcoming to LGBT workers and families,” Texas Competes advisory board member and former Dell CFO Tom Meredith said in a statement. “Businesses that embrace diversity are doing both the right thing and the economically smart thing.”

Interestingly, several business not otherwise known as LGBT-friendly have joined the coalition, while others long considered corporate allies have not. 

For example, Texas-based MetroPCS, which joined the coalition, has a score of 0 on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. But AT&T, which hasn't joined the coalition, has a score of 100. (AT&T was also a major supporter of anti-gay Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign last year).

Watch a report from KXAN-TV and check out the full list of organizations that have joined Texas Competes, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Over 100 Texas Organizations, Including 13 Fortune 500 Companies, Sign LGBT Equality Pledge " »


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 Rejects Anti-Trans Petition Due To Bigot's Embarrassing Blunder

Wilson

Last week we told you how anti-LGBT Houston activist Dave Wilson wants to enshrine a transgender bathroom ban in the city charter.

Earlier today, Wilson turned in his petition seeking to repeal transgender protections in both the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and Mayor Annise Parker's 2012 executive order covering city employees.

But apparently Wilson misread the rules for amending the city charter. He was under the impression that he needed only 17,200 signatures on the petition for his proposal to appear on the ballot. However, Texas law clearly states that he needed 20,000 signatures. As a result, the city rejected Wilson's petition. 

From KHOU-TV

Parker.Annise4"On its face, there's no reason to count them," said Mayor Annise Parker. "And I have no clue what he thought he might achieve by turning in an insufficient number of petitions, other than to show that he couldn't collect enough petitions."

Wilson later conceded he hadn't turned in enough signatures because he misread the arcane rules surrounding petition drives.

He confused the city's requirements for repealing an ordinance with the state's rules for amending city charters. Wilson said he collected roughly 19,700 signatures, but the state's local government code requires at least 20,000.

Wilson — who infamously got elected to the Houston Community College board by pretending to be black — plans to collect the additional 300 required signatures. However, Parker said it's too late — he's already turned in the petition. Besides, the mayor said, because Wilson's petition aims to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance, it needed to be turned in within 30 days of the law's passage last May: 

"We're going to stack 'em up and put 'em on a shelf someplace," Parker said of the petitions. "And we're not going to process them."

The city also rejected a separate petition to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance, saying it didn't have enough valid signatures due to problems such as rampant forgery. Anti-LGBT activists sued the city over the decision, and a judge is expected to issue a ruling soon. 

At some point, you'd think these folks would learn not to mess with Parker. 


Anti-LGBT Houston Activist Wants To Enshrine Transgender Bathroom Ban In City Charter: VIDEO

Wilson

An anti-LGBT Houston activist says he has enough signatures to force a public vote on a charter amendment that would ban transgender protections in the city. 

Dave Wilson (above), of Houstonians For Family Values, led efforts to pass a charter amendment prohibiting domestic partner benefits in 2001. He also made headlines in 2013 when he deceived voters into thinking he was black to get elected to the Houston Community College board.

Now, Wilson wants to repeal transgender protections in both the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and Mayor Annise Parker's 2012 executive order covering city employees.     

From KHOU.com

"Whatever you're born with you have to live with, that's what this is basically saying," said Dave Wilson, a HCC Trustee. ... 

"What I'm talking about doing is a charter amendment change, which permanently codifies into the city charter the fact that men cannot use the women's bathroom," said Wilson.

Last May, the Houston City Council passed an Equal Rights Ordinance that includes transgender protections. However, opponents of the ordinance sued the city after officials rejected their petition to repeal it. The case is still pending, but Wilson says the effort to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance isn't enough. From the mailer that accompanies Wilson's petition: 

"The current lawsuit against the Mayor's bathroom ordinance will not stop her. We must change the City Charter to prohibit her (or any future mayor) from passing Executive Orders or Ordinances. An amendment to the City Charter is the only permanent solution. What happens to the citizens of Houston and their City government when both have largely forgotten God and instead worship pleasure over principle and elevate lust over love? If you feel that getting involved in politics and signing the enclosed petition is beneath your dignity because you want to focus on worshipping and not politics, you better think again! Your religious freedom will evaporate in the absence of political freedom." 

According to the website of Houstonians For Family Values, the charter amendment would read as follows: 

"Except as required by State or Federal law, the City of Houston shall only define 'Gender Identity' as an Individual's Innate Identification, as either male or female, which Is assigned at birth. Perceived gender identification Is not allowed In defining 'Gender Identity.' Furthermore, the City of Houston shall require entities doing business with the city to adopt the same definition of 'Gender Identity.'" 

According to Texas state law, the proposed charter amendment would need 20,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot. In the case of the Equal Rights Ordinance, the city said opponents failed to gather the required 17,269 signatures. 

Wilson told KHOU he has enough signatures to put the charter amendment on the ballot and plans to turn them in next week. Even assuming that's true, the real question will be, how many of them are actually valid?

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

Continue reading "Anti-LGBT Houston Activist Wants To Enshrine Transgender Bathroom Ban In City Charter: VIDEO" »


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" »


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