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Unfinished business

One thing that stood out to me from the Chron’s Q&A with Noel Freeman, the newly-elected president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus:

Q. What has changed about Houston’s GLBT community in past three decades?

A. We have branched out. People recognize Montrose as kind of the historical center of the gay community in Houston, (but) we’re much more comfortable in a lot of different neighborhoods. I live in the Heights, and on my street there are three same-sex households. I think the GLBT community is much more comfortable and more prosperous than it used to be, but that’s not to say that we don’t have a long way to go.

Q. What do you mean?

A. We still have on the books, in the city charter, a provision passed by popular vote prohibiting the extension of same-sex partner benefits to city employees. That’s just flagrant discrimination written into our charter. I think there will be a point when we can revisit that. We have a nondiscrimination policy for city employees that prohibits discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. We would like to see that extended to people who have city contracts. There are housing issues. So there are things we need to deal with.

During the 2009 campaign, Mayor Parker avoided talking about that city charter referendum. She did so, she said at the time, because she didn’t want to be thought of as “the gay candidate” but rather as a candidate – and ultimately Mayor – for all of Houston. Fair enough, and there are certainly plenty of other things that require her attention now. But there’s nothing to stop the rest of us from taking action to right this wrong. I’d love to see a referendum that would repeal that earlier discriminatory amendment on the ballot in 2012, and I’ll support any effort to get it there and get it passed. Ten years is long enough.

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4 Comments

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  2. Mainstream says:

    I doubt the voter sentiment is there to repeal the charter amendment, but perhaps someone has polled on this topic at Rice or U of H and could share some data. Economic conservatives still don’t want to spend money on any benefits, and social conservatives have religious objections to any repeal. Black voters, often socially quite conservative/traditionally religious are squeamish on this issue as well.

  3. Mainstream – The 2001 vote to approve that charter amendment was only 51.5 – 48.5 in favor (http://www.houstontx.gov/citysec/elections/110601.pdf), so it’s not that steep a hill to climb to repeal it. I daresay the city is less Republican now than it was in 2001, though I will agree that’s not a guarantee of anything. I would definitely be interested in seeing some polling data on the question. I will readily admit this is a fight that could be lost, but it’s a fight I strongly believe is worth having regardless.

  4. Noel Freeman says:

    Just FYI – the cost of providing same-sex partner benefits to city employees would be between $400,000 and $500,000 annually.