Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 28, No. 40, Ed. 1 Friday, February 17, 2012 Page: 12 of 56
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equally, and depending on the elements of what
was actually in it, I might or might not support it,''
According to Equality Texas Executive Director
Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters
approving the non-discrimination amendment
has ramifications for efforts to pass similar meas-
ures in the state Legislature.
"Nondiscrimination in Houston b uilds a better
case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in
Austin," said Coleman. "To be able to tell repre-
sentatives that they represent areas that already
support these efforts is very helpful."
TTie cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all
already have similar nondiscrimination ordi-
nances and offer DP benefits to employees.
But Houston's form of governance makes this
effort unique. While the City Council is empow-
ered to pass city ordinances covering issues of dis-
crimination, they can be overturned by popular
vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000
signatures to place the issue on the ballot.
That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor
Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the
city's first protections for gay and lesbian Hous-
tonians (no protections were provided for the bi-
sexual or transgender communities).
A coalition of right-wing voters led by Dave
Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of
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Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-
wide ballot, claiming the policy "promoted the
homosexual lifestyle," The group also recruited a
"straight slate" of candidates to run against City
Council members/who had favored the protec-
tions, with Welch running against Whitmire.
The public vote on nondiscrimination was held
in June 1985 and Welch's forces prevailed, but the
city's temperament had changed by the time of
the City Council and mayoral races in November.
A comment of Welch's that the solution to the
AIDS crisis was to "shoot the queers" was aired
on local TV and few in Houston wished to be as-
sociated with him after that. The "straight slate"
failed to capture a single City Council seat and
Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the
city's nondiscrimination policy remained.
By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker
was serving as the city's first out lesbian city coun-
cil member and Houston boasted the state's first
out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee
Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive
order protecting LGBT city employees from em-
ployment discrimination. But the city had not
changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led ef-
forts to fight the order in court, arguing that since
voters rejected city-wide protections from dis-
crimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the
mayor to institute them without voter approval.
The city spent the next three years defending the
policy in court, finally emerging victorious.
The joy ■of that 2001 victory would be short-
lived, however. That year Houston's voters ap-
proved another amendment to the city charter,
this time prohibiting the city from providing do-
mestic partner benefits for city employees. In a
narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters de-
cided that the city should not offer competitive
The current proposed non-discrimination
amendment would remove the language added
in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-dis-
crimination protections it would not require the
city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of
LGBT city employees, leaving that question back
in the hands of the City Council.
The organizers of the current effort are confi-
dent that this year is the year for victory.
Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston
GLBT Poli tical Caucus, which is spearheading the
effort, explains that the previous votes occurred
in "non-presidential years," when voter turnout
in general is low, and conservative voters make
up a larger percentage of the electorate.
Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010
showed that 75 percent of Texans support em-
ployment protections for gay and lesbian people.
In order to place the non-discrimination
amendment on the November ballot the coalition
supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures
of registered Houston voters and submit them to
the eity clerk. Freeman says that the final charter
amendment language is still under consideration
and that once it is finalized the group will begin
Even former Councilman Todd, who once
fought the city's policy of non-discrimination for
LGBT employees, supports the current effort. ■
12 dallasvoice.com ■ 02.17.12
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Wright, John. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 28, No. 40, Ed. 1 Friday, February 17, 2012, newspaper, February 17, 2012; Dallas, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth239207/m1/12/: accessed December 12, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.