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Rob Todd

Todd tells Riggle to tone it down

Former Houston City Council member Rob Todd has a message for gay-obsessed Pastor Steve Riggle.

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During my days on City Council, I was considered an archconservative. Part of that reputation was a result of a lawsuit I filed against Mayor Lee Brown over his executive order extending equal rights to gay city employees. My concerns were parliamentary. However, that lawsuit emboldened a small group of bigots, cloaked in the robes of false conservatism, to publicly attack, belittle and bully the local gay community.

This made our city appear hostile, backward and unaccepting, and I believe Riggle’s tactics will have the same effect. To this day I regret that my actions were used by others to attack our brothers and sisters in the gay community.

If Ronald Reagan was with us today, I believe he would also encourage Riggle to tone it down. After all, it was Reagan who invited the first openly gay couple to spend the night at the White House. Riggle’s tactics and rhetoric threaten our ability to attract and retain jobs by ruining the world’s perception of Houston as a cutting-edge, modern city at the forefront of the world economy. On this day of worship, I pray that Pastor Riggle will warm his heart and encourage a higher level of compassion and acceptance.

Todd has spoken out on this issue before. His basic thesis is that Houston’s reputation for tolerance is a key component of its success as a modern city. I certainly agree with that, but I have my doubts that folks like Pastor Riggle do. Still, we all need to do what we can to make him see it.

Non-discrimination ballot referendum coming

I’ve been waiting for this.

they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

Activists are preparing a petition to put a referendum on Houston’s November ballot, calling for a ban on discrimination against gays and permission for the city to grant health insurance benefits to the unmarried partners of city employees.

If organizers collect the 20,000 signatures needed to get it on the ballot, the measure again would take the temperature of Houstonians who have voted against both proposals in separate measures in the past 27 years and could make Houston the focus of national attention as the latest political battleground over gay rights.

“Discrimination exists everywhere. It’s really hard to determine how big the problem is,” said Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Caucus, who said he expects to submit petition language to the city secretary as early as the end of the month. A local law is necessary, Freeman said, because gays and lesbians who want to press claims of discrimination currently must undertake costly litigation in state or federal courts.

Houston voters rejected two initiatives in 1985 that would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in city employment. In 1998, Mayor Lee Brown issued an order banning discrimination against gay city employees. It survived a three-year legal challenge from Councilman Rob Todd.


Todd supports Freeman’s referendum.

“I believe that everyone has a right to be loved,” said Todd, a Republican. “And everyone has a right to gainful employment and to be able to support their loved ones, and if those aren’t bipartisan values, then I don’t know what is.”

The former councilman explained that his objection to Brown’s order was parliamentary – that such a change should come from the voters or Council, “not some wave of the wand by the executive branch.” Todd said he believes this referendum has a chance of passing where others have failed because of a new generation of voters, an influx of newcomers and changed attitudes among long-time Houstonians.

I got a similar response from former Council Member Todd when I asked him about it after the city of San Antonio extended domestic partnership benefits to city employees. I too believe that a referendum like this – we don’t have the exact wording yet – should have a better chance of passing than previous ones had. The 2001 charter amendment that denied domestic partner benefits in Houston received 51.52% of the vote, not an overwhelming mandate. It won’t be an easy fight, and a lot will depend on how the issue is framed and who lines up with whom, but it’s a fight worth having and a fight that needs to be won. I’m looking forward to it.

San Antonio City Council extends domestic partnership benefits to city employees

Good for them.

On Thursday, words like “abomination,” “sin” and “Satan” were commonplace in City Council chambers as the audience weighed in on a tiny portion of San Antonio’s $2.2 billion budget.

The council listened to three hours of public comment on an estimated $300,000 line item that will extend benefits to domestic partners — both same-sex and opposite-sex — of city employees. The cost represents 0.014 percent of the city’s total annual spending, but it was such a controversial item that the council discussed almost nothing else.

The City Council adopted a budget that keeps the property tax rate steady and invests in Mayor Julián Castro’s long-range plan, SA2020. But council members Elisa Chan, Carlton Soules and David Medina dissented, breaking a years-long trend of unanimous budget approvals, because the budget included domestic-partners benefits.

The council voted 8-3 to approve the budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.


Despite the heated rhetoric, Councilman Diego Bernal said San Antonio is full of good people, and the 2012 budget reflects that. Aside from the necessities — infrastructure projects, public safety, economic development and other items — the budget “reflects the goodness in charity and respect and fairness of the people who live here,” he said.

It provides food for the hungry, assistance for poor women and children, shelter for the ill and real, meaningful services for the homeless, he said.

“The budget also contains a provision that treats a small faction of our city employees the same as all our other employees. I believe the budget reflects the values and charity and goodwill of the city.”


Councilman Rey Saldaña, who came out in strong support, said he felt like the provision had been adequately discussed and said his vote for domestic partner benefits was to send a message of respect and of support for equal rights.

Saldaña said he had no intention of trying to sway opinions.

“My job, however, is to do what I truly and deeply believe is in the best interest of the city,” he said. “And I truly and deeply believe we need to give our employees what they need to be successful. That being the case, my vote is to take care of people.”

BOR has more on this. I’m proud of the Alamo City, Mayor Castro, and each of the Council members that voted for this budget. You done good. Equality Texas has more.

I wish I could say that they were joining the city of Houston in promoting justice and fairness in this regard, but alas I cannot. To its credit, our City Council did pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that extended domestic partner benefits to city employees back in 2001, but unfortunately it was overturned by charter amendment referendum later that year. I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one am ready to revisit that fight. Our city needs to catch up to its sister to the west and do what’s right for its employees.

As I was looking for information about Houston’s experience with domestic partner benefits, I came across some familiar names in the articles I found, including then-Council Member Annise Parker, who led the charge for the ordinance that was eventually invalidated by the referendum; hatemeister Dave Wilson, who spearheaded the petition drive for the referendum; and former Council Member Rob Todd, who was one of the leading opponents of the ordinance on Council; it was his 1998 injunction against Mayor Lee Brown’s executive order implementing domestic partner benefits that led to the need for an ordinance in the first place. I’m Facebook friends with Todd, and I was curious what his reaction to the San Antonio news would be, so I contacted him to ask. He told me that as best he could recall, his main objection back then was being able to verify who was really a long-term partner for someone who wasn’t married to that person and who wasn’t. He says he’d have similar concerns now, but “People have more options now. You can get married in other states now, for example. Other cities have done this, and they’ve found ways to make it work – I’m sure we’d be able to figure it out. And I’ve come to the realization that treating all employees equally is the right thing to do. I think the city would be more accepting of it now, too. I believe a referendum to repeal the one from 2001 would pass. I’d vote for it if it were on the ballot. I’d put a sign in my yard, and I’d tell my friends to vote for it, too.” As would I. I hope we both get the chance to do all that soon.

UPDATE: Concerned Citizens has a good rundown of the Council discussion on this.