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Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Goes On Trial


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. 

HRC Likely Won't Defend Plano, Texas Equal Rights Ordinance, Calls It 'Transphobic'


Things are not looking good for Plano, Texas' recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance. 

As we reported earlier this week, opponents of the ordinance turned in over 7,000 signatures on petitions to repeal it — more than double the number needed to put it on the ballot. 

Granted, these folks may be prone to fraud and forgery, but still, given that the evangelical megachurch serving as their base of operations has almost 40,000 members, you'd think they'd be able to gather enough valid signatures. So chances are there's gonna be a ballot measure in May.

Ballot measures on nondiscrimination ordinances haven't gone well for LGBT people in conservative Southern cities of late, even when the community is united. But that won't be the case in Plano, because the Human Rights Campaign says it's probably not going to help defend the ordinance, according to a report from The Texas Observer.  

HRC, which has poured hundreds of thousands into similar fights in some other cities, called the Plano ordinance "transphobic" because of an exemption that would bar people from using restrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities according to their gender identity. 

The exemption apparently was included to pre-empt attacks over transgender bathroom use. But here's the thing: Anti-LGBT groups are making those attacks anway, and the strategy has backfired by dividing the community. 

Equality Texas and a local LGBT group say they'll defend the ordinance despite the exemption because it's a step in the right direction. But HRC's Cathryn Oakley told the Observer:

“The language in Plano is very problematic and in terms of investing a lot of resources in an ordinance that has a lot of problems, it’s difficult to see why that’s necessarily the best use of resources. If we had been consulted in the drafting of this bill, we would have withdrawn our support, and given that, it’s hard to justify defending it as valid. .. 

"I think the story coming out of Plano is about a city that really wanted to do the right thing, and I wish that this had unfolded differently, because I think that there were good intentions, but things fell apart. I think incremental process is important, I think municipal work is incredibly important, but incremental doesn't mean leaving part of the community behind. That's not an acceptable version of incremental."

Somewhere, the haters are sitting aroud licking their chops, because we've just played right into their strategy: Divide and conquer. 

Watch a report on the petition to repeal the ordinance from Fox 4, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "HRC Likely Won't Defend Plano, Texas Equal Rights Ordinance, Calls It 'Transphobic'" »

Texas GOP Candidate Says God Didn't Intend For People To Be Gay As Supporters Attack Rival Over Bathhouse


Last week, we told you how the Republican Party in San Antonio had rejected a hateful anti-LGBT resolution. 

But apparently the spirit of the resolution lives on in the heart and platform of at least one GOP candidate in the Alamo City. 

Nunzio Previtera (above), who advanced to a runoff for the Texas House District 123 seat in a special election earlier this month, recently told the city's daily newspaper that he doesn't believe God intended people to be gay. 

San Antonio Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff reports:  

“Marriage is a biblical concept,” the candidate told me. “Marriage was first talked about in the Bible. And the Bible very specifically said that marriage is between a man and woman. ... My study of the Bible gives me very specific views about homosexuality. I don’t believe that God intended that to be the way people act.”

At the same time, Previtera said, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only person who can judge.”

BernalPrevitera is in a runoff against former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal (right), a Democrat who authored the city's LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance passed in 2013.

Anti-LGBT groups fought bitterly against the ordinance, and after it passed they threatened to recall Bernal. Not surprisingly, Previtera is attacking Bernal over the ordinance, and in doing so he is channeling then-Councilwoman Elisa Chan, who called gays and lesbians "disgusting." 

From The Express-News' Chasnoff: 

“What percentage of the population of this town does it affect?” he asked. “It’s not that important of an issue to the people of this district or even the people of Bexar County. ... (The LGBT community is) very much a minority.”

Previtera applies the same dismissive logic to the rest of his criticism of Bernal on the topic.

“The federal and state laws in America and Texas already provide punishment remedies when citizens abuse other citizens,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Allowing local governments to single out ANY class of citizens for preferential treatment is Discrimination by any definition of the word.”

Previtera is endorsed by right-wing groups including the Christian Coalition of America and the Leadership Institute for Public Policy. Among its reasons for endorsing Previtera, the Leadership Institute cites Bernal's refusal to stop Terrence McNally's gay-themed Christian play, "Corpus Christi," from showing in the city, as well the former councilman's support for domestic partner benefits and his alleged failure to shut down a gay bathhouse in his district. 

From the Leadership Institute

In the summer of 2011, the obscene and blasphemous play, Corpus Christi, was showcased in the city-owned San Pedro playhouse located in District 1, an enterprise subsidized by the city. The play portrayed our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His apostles throughout the performance in lewd and prurient ways as active homosexuals. Christian organizations repeatedly presented their complaints before the City Council during the summer of 2011 requesting that the blasphemous play be canceled. Bernal, the Mayor, and the majority of his fellow councilmen refused to take any action. ... 

Bernal refused to respond to questions and concerns from citizens regarding the gay bath house in his district (ACI) on Elmira Street which city health inspectors avoided in spite of the city’s Metropolitan Health District office’s findings that HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases were on the rise in San Antonio primarily in the reckless sexual behavior of the MSM (men having sex with men) population.

Fortunately, Bernal is heavily favored to win the House seat in the solidly Democratic district. And once he joins the Legislature, he'll be uniquely qualified to defend local nondiscrimination ordinances against attacks by Republican lawmakers, who want to ban them and enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constitution.

As for Previtera, he'll go back to his insurance business, Integrity Insurance Agency, but we suspect he may lose a few clients. 

Anti-Gay Group Says It Has Enough Signatures To Repeal LGBT Protections In Plano, Texas


Opponents of LGBT protections in Plano, Texas, say they've gathered enough signatures to place a repeal of the city's Equal Rights Ordinance on the ballot in May. 

The Texas Pastor Council, led by Dave Welch (above), announced in an email Tuesday morning that it has gathered at least 5,500 signatures to repeal the ordinance — more than the 3,822 required by the Jan. 20 deadline:

As this is being written, the count reached 5,500, with as many as 2,000 more expected in the morning, hopefully bringing the total to well over 7,000. Volunteers will be working late into the night and tomorrow to verify as many of these signatures as possible before they are turned-in to the City Secretary on Tuesday. This effort will continue until every name is verified.

A spokesperson for the group thanked God for divine intervention and praised the dozens and dozens of volunteers from the diverse coalition that pulled together through the holiday season, to accomplish this remarkable goal. 

"In spite of the challenges created by the suspect timing of the City Council's passage of this ordinance, we set a goal to collect twice the minimum number of signatures needed. We want to send a clear message to Mayor LaRosiliere, and Councilmen Miner, Davidson, Smith, and Downs who all voted for this ordinance. You can ignore the citizens at the City Council meeting, but we will make our voices heard with this petition and next May at the polls. ... 

"We are certain that once Plano citizens realize the City Council has criminalized religious views about sex and gender, the ordinance will be rejected overwhelmingly at the polls. The citizens of Plano are good and decent and treat one another with respect, so criminalizing the beliefs of our diverse communities of faith does not advance the common good," said the spokesperson.  

The Plano City Council approved the ordinance in a 5-3 vote on Dec. 8 amid intense opposition from anti-LGBT groups and Republican elected officials.  

The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. However, it has come under fire from transgender advocates over exemptions for bathrooms, nonprofits and educational institutions. 

Once they're turned in, city officials will begin the process of validating signatures on the petition. If they determine there are enough valid signatures, the City Council can either vote to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot in the next municipal election, which is May 9. 

In Houston, the Texas Pastor Council claimed to have more than 50,000 signatures to repeal an Equal Rights Ordinance last year. However, city officials determined that only 15,249 of the signatures were valid — fewer than the 17,269 needed to place the ordinance on the ballot. 

That prompted a lawsuit from opponents of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, and the case is headed to trial this week. In court documents, the city has allleged that opponents of the ordinance forged signatures and used other fraudulent tactics. 

Anti-Gay Pastor: 'Pulpits Must Be Aflame' To Repeal LGBT Protections In Plano, Texas


Opponents of LGBT protections in Plano, Texas, must call upon the lord to gather enough signatures to repeal them and set pulpits aflame this weekend, according to an anti-gay pastor whose group is leading the effort. 

The City Council in Plano — a conservative suburb of Dallas with a population of 270,000 — approved the Equal Rights Ordinance in 5-3 vote a last month. Opponents, led by the Texas Pastor Council, must gather 3,822 valid signatures to force the City Council to either repeal the ordinance or place it on the May ballot.

In an email Friday, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch wrote to members: 

WElch.Dave"There will be ample time to continue to debate and discuss the numerous and serious problems with the Equal Rights Policy in detail – the only issue at hand is doing everything humanly possible while calling upon the Lord to secure enough valid signatures before Monday. ... The pulpits must be aflame with God’s truth and righteousness in calling openly and strongly for every voter to be faithful to this basic duty of stewardship. The current count of signatures really does not matter as IT CANNOT BE TOO MANY. EVERY valid signature is important and if people can’t remember if they have already signed it, instruct them to sign it anyway and only the few duplicates will be disqualified. Better that than no signature." 

Last year, the city of Houston rejected a petition from Welch's group aimed at repealing LGBT protections, saying it didn't have enough valid signatures. The group responded by suing the city, and the case is set for trial beginning Tuesday. In court documents, attorneys for the city have accused Welch's group of forgery and other dishonest signature-gathering tactics. But in his email Friday, Welch suggested they must do whatever it takes in Plano:

"Pulpits, PowerPoints, texts, tweets, Facebook, email broadcasts and even a recorded call to your church list from you are EACH an important component of a multiple contact approach to maximize results. Is the name of our Lord, His design of male, female, marriage and family, His moral laws as well as our basic freedoms and families’ well-being worth this effort? It is decision time. Remember, it is Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and the five city council members who railroaded this ordinance through with complete disrespect to the community and good government practices who 'threw the first punch.' LaRosiliere and the council declared that God either doesn’t exist or His word is false and that even basic biological facts are up for grabs. They assaulted the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God – not us.Our only question is whether we will allow the lie to stand or be responsible stewards and to do what is required of us to assure that His governing authority loaned to us and delegated by us to others is used for righteousness and justice – not deception and tyranny."

Opponents of the Plano ordinance have launched a website and Facebook page to spread fear and misinformation, including graphics like the one above. Ironically, Prestonwood Baptist Church — the evangelical megachurch serving as ground zero for opposition to the ordinance — has a history of child sex abuse and coverups, recent media reports have noted. 

Supporters of the ordinance have also begun to organize and prepare for a likely ballot fight. They've launched their own Facebook group, which has more than eight times as many followers as the opposition page. However, the ordinance also continues to draw criticism from the transgender community over its broad exemptions, including for schools, nonprofits and restrooms. 

Dallas-based trans activist Nell Gaither wrote: 

"If the problems with this are not called out, this sets a precedent for every other municipality in Texas. … This is not a Plano issue. This is a Texas issue, and more. If they get away with the lie that this is an LGBT equality policy it will set a dangerous precedent that will be very difficult to overcome for many, many years. And the worst part is that Equality Texas is now supporting it. Mainly to satisfy 'their funders.' They want a win to spread across the state. So this appears to be their model. How nice. Another Gay Inc. organization selling out the trans community in Plano, in Texas, and more."

On Friday, gay activist and Iraq war veteran Sean Sala shot video as he approached people gathering signatures to repeal the ordinance in a Plano post office parking lot. In the video, Sala accurately informs people that repealing the ordinance would also undo local protections based on veteran's status — talking one woman out of signing the petition.

Watch video of the encounter, AFTER THE JUMP ...  

Continue reading "Anti-Gay Pastor: 'Pulpits Must Be Aflame' To Repeal LGBT Protections In Plano, Texas" »

Pro-Gay, No Pay? No Way, Legal Experts Say


We're gonna go lay by the bay. We just may. But first we'd like to allay any possible dismay ... 

In one last, pathetic, legislative gasp against marriage equality, lawmakers in South Carolina and Texas have introduced bills that would revoke the salaries of state employees who issue or recognize same-sex marriage licenses. 

In the Lone Star State, as we've reported, the legislation is authored by GOP Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. (above), who says same-sex marriage will cause “the moral degradation of the fabric that holds Texas together.”

Strep_sc__bill-chumleyIn South Carolina, the bill was filed by GOP Rep. Bill Chumley (right), who says same-sex marriage goes against God's law and is "an attack on our moral foundation." 

Not surprisingly, it turns out that Bell and Chumley are a little chummy, according to U.S. News and World Report

South Carolina state Rep. Bill Chumley, a Republican, says he doesn’t care what the federal courts say. He wrote the South Carolina bill and says he’s been in indirect contact with the Texas lawmaker, Republican Rep. Cecil Bell, who’s sponsoring nearly identical legislation.

“I don’t have a problem with the people it might affect,” Chumley says. “I don’t judge them. Our issue is with the amendment to the [state] constitution being thrown out. I believe the people of South Carolina have a sovereign right to say what they want and they have done that.”

Bell says he was inspired by Chumley’s bill and worries federal courts legalizing same-sex marriage would cause “the moral degradation of the fabric that holds Texas together.” He says such rulings would also be a “total usurping of the sovereignty of the state of Texas,” which he intends to prevent.

Good luck with that, Cecil, because:  

“If the federal courts end up finally concluding – likely as a result of a Supreme Court decision – that there is a federal constitutional right to have one’s same-sex marriage recognized by states, then these laws would obviously be unconstitutional,” says Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law.

Both bills say the legislation is immune from federal court challenges under the Constitution’s 11th Amendment, which limits the ability of people to sue states. Volokh says that's not accurate and that the bills “obviously can’t trump federal law.”

In fact, Chumley's bill appears to run afoul of South Carolina's state constitution, which says judges' salaries can't be diminished. And there's a chance Bell's bill could actually hasten the arrival of marriage equality in Texas, according to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley

“The interesting prospect would be for a challenge to this law to move more quickly in the courts than the same-sex marriage ban challenge,” he says. “If a court were to get to the final merits on this legislation first, it could feel obligated to broaden the review to first consider the constitutionality of the same-sex ban before evaluating the constitutionality of the collateral limitation.”

Bell disagrees that his effort may inadvertently help supporters of same-sex marriage. “I don’t think that’s the case," he says. “That side of the world has never needed any incentive to litigate. They litigate for no reason at all.”

Even though we already knew these bills were unconstitutional, it's still reassuring to hear experts confirm that Bell and Chumney won't be able to deprive any gays of their wedding cake. After all, it's been obvious since our first post about Bell last week that he's a fan of the stuff, and now we've uncovered even more evidence from his Facebook page showing that when it comes to anti-gay wingnuts, he really takes the cake: 


Check out two more shots, AFTER THE JUMP...

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