Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Houston City Council Renews funding for AIDS Housing

One more dip into the pool of Houston City politics and then I promise we’ll get back to State issues, (for background read Houston Councilmember Johnson tries to cut funding for AIDS Housing ):

After a late night phone and e-mail campaign by the Houston Young Stonewall Democrats and Equality Across America – Houston the Houston City Council, in a 10 to 2 vote (with 2 absent), voted to renew funding for Marjo House, a small residential home providing care to people living with AIDS. [The video of the meeting is available HERE]

There was a lot of debate about renewing the funds but what stood out to me most was a statement made my Councilmember Melissa Noriega, who appeared near tears:

“Separate from all the legal arguments and this and that... what kept rolling around in my head last night was ‘those people’ we don’t want ‘those people’ living in our neighborhood, and I can’t vote for that - so I’m going to vote that these funds are allocated… it’s about ‘those people’ and I can’t do that.”

Councilmember Jarvis Johnson who was trying to block the renewal of funding for Marjo House seemed enraged by Noriega’s statement for inclusion, he bristled at the idea that the social stigma surrounding AIDS was in anyway responsible for objections to funding Marjo House saying “No-one who has spoken to this body has talked about “those people”. So I wanted to fact check that by reviewing the public testimony from yesterday:

“There are stakeholders in Pleasantville who are very concerned about the value of the property, the value of their community, and the value of the people who live in their community.”
-Nicole Turner, president of the Pleasantville Super Neighborhood

“We don’t want the houses to get into our community… We beg of you not to let these houses in our community. We’re doing everything we can to keep our community safe... We don’t want [our community] to be where everything is being misplaced or degraded, so I’m begging of council, mayor – [support] us keeping our community safe.”
-Rosa Harris

“If this particular agenda is advanced it means that you open up Pandora’s box, people are glad to come in and do anything they want to do … I’m proud to stand here and do whatever I can to protect a better life in Pleasantville.”
-Talmadge Sharp

And finally:

“I simply say in those communities that are not deed restricted they don’t have a leg to stand on if they decide that they don’t want a house with people with AIDS next door to them because you don’t live in a deed restricted community, I moved into a deed restricted community because I wanted that protection.”
-Councilmember Jarvis Johnson
So people with AIDS are of low value, degraded, unsafe, a danger to the better life of the community and people that Councilmember Johnson has taken pains not to live next to, but Johnson is correct, no-one said “those people”, so I guess there is no discrimination or stigma at play here.

Later, during comments by Councilmember Sue Lovell, Johnson began loudly muttering and interrupting, prompting Mayor Annise Parker to remind the council of the decorum that is expected of City Council members.

Only Councilmembers Johnson and Bradford voted against renewal of funds for Marjo House.

Councilmember Wanda Adams, whose district includes the historic “gayborhood” of Montrose spoke in favor of funding, but quietly exited the room just before the issue was to come to a vote. I’m told that she was standing in the hall outside the council chambers when the renewal of funds was approved and that she was told that the vote was taking place but remained in the hall.

One wonders why Adams would choose not to vote on an issue that is important to a large number of her constituents.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Houston Councilmember Johnson tries to cut funding for AIDS Housing

I hope my readers will excuse a brief foray into local politics:

A visibly agitated Councilmember Javis Johnson admonished the Houston City Council to protect the “values of the community” by not renewing a grant to Marjo House today.

Marjo House has operated in the Pleasantville neighborhood of Houston since 2002, providing housing for people with AIDS. It’s neighborhood impact is so minimal that the neighborhood association wasn’t aware of its existence until 2006. The neighborhood association has been fighting to close the house since then.

Councilmember Johnson’s rant can be viewed here starting at 37:50

In it the councilmember makes several false claims, calling Marjo House a “For profit organization” and a “business” (it is a nonprofit organization) that houses 15 people (it houses 3-9).

Arguing that the city does not have to renew the grant just because it has been renewed in the past Johnson says “does that mean that two wrongs make a right?” I’m curious how the councilmember figures that caring for the sick is “wrong”.

Later in the meeting Councilmember Jarvis dismissively threw his hands in the air and behaved exasperated as Councilmember Jolanda Jones carefully rebutted his misrepresentation of the facts.

The Houston City Council will vote tomorrow morning (Wednesday, May 19) to extend city funding for this vital program.

It’s hard to believe that the city council would be swayed by such small minded petulance, but just to be safe if you live in Houston please call your council members, or all the council members, tonight and leave a message telling them to “renew funding for Marjo House”.

Brenda Stardig 832.393.3010
Jarvis Johnson 832.393.3009
Anne Clutterbuck 832.393.3004
Wanda Adams 832.393.3001
Mike Sullivan 832.393.3008
Al Hoang 832.393.3002
Oliver Pennington 832.393.3007
Ed Gonzalez 832.393.3003
James G. Rodriguez 832.393.3011
Stephen C. Costello 832.393.3014
Sue Lovell 832.393.3013
Melissa Noriega 832.393.3005
C.O. "Brad" Bradford 832.393.3012
Jolanda "Jo" Jones 832.393.3006

UPDATE: City Hall scuttlebutt has it that the executive director of Marjo House supported Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee during the March primary and that Johnson, who ran against Jackson Lee, is attempting to punish her for it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Congratulatory Resolutions Matter

Every other year the Texas Legislature has 140 days to handle all of the business of the state. During this time thousands of different bills are considered, each and everyone with the potential to substantially change the lives of Texans.

Yet, every other year, during these 140 whirlwind days, Texas lawmakers take the time to pass hundreds of resolutions that celebrate the lives of everyday Texans and Texas institutions. These “congratulatory resolutions” have no power, and don’t effect anything. They are just a way for lawmakers to say thank you to the folks back home and create an official state record of what is important to us as a state.

So it should come to no surprise to anyone that Queer people and organizations are hardly, if ever, recognized.

During the last legislative session in 2009, the Texas House passed 1 resolution that even recognized the existence of LGBT people (HR 750 by Rep. Cohen, mourning the loss of John Paul Barnich of Houston); by comparison the house passed 62 resolutions congratulating Eagle Scouts and 263 resolutions celebrating Baptist Churches.

(On the Senate side we have 1 queer resolution (SR 312 by Sen. Ellis); 24 Eagle Scout and 34 Baptist church resolutions)

Why is this? Are there simply 43 times the number of Eagle Scouts in Texas as queer people of merit? Somehow I doubt it. There are two reasons why Texas lawmakers, some of whom are supportive of the queer community, don’t choose to recognize us with congratulatory resolutions.

1. They don’t know us
2. We don’t ask for them

Think about it, do you know who your State Representative and Senator are? Have you met them? Finding out who they are is easy, go to the Texas House and Senate websites and put in your address. Meeting them is just as easy. Contact your reps offices and ask to be put on their e-mail lists, friend them on Facebook, follow them on twitter. Elected officials attend and host dozens of community events every month. These are events in your community and are often only attended by a couple of dozen people. They provide an excellent opportunity to meet the people who make important decisions about your life (and to meet other civic minded people in your community).

You can also visit your elected officials in their offices. It’s as simple as calling and asking for an appointment. You can go to talk about any issue in the community that matters to you (TIP: bring a plate of cookies, the underpaid aides that work in the office will love you and remember you).

(Getting to know your elected officials is important for other reasons as well. I attended the ‘Project Equality’ training conducted by Equality Texas this weekend (this is an excellent training; you can visit their website to find out if there is a training in your area coming up). One of the things they told us is that there are Texas House members who have told Equality Texas “I don’t have any gay people in my district”. If there are elected officials who think that it is our fault as a community for not introducing ourselves.)

Now that you’ve gotten to know your elected officials, ask them to recognize your community. Is there a queer person in your area you admire who has an important birthday coming up next year? A couple with a ‘big’ anniversary? 463 straight couples had their anniversaries recognized last year, why shouldn’t we? What about an organization that has started a new program that makes a difference in the community? E-mail or call your representative or senator and ask them to recognize your community next legislative session.

You’ll be asked for a short bio (keep it to under 500 words and be sure use the words Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender), and they may have a few questions for you.

There is no reason why the queer community shouldn’t be as celebrated by the State of Texas as anyone else. We just need to ask for it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Phyllis Frye comments on Transgender Marriage Case

Phyllis Frye is a LGBT pioneer and probably the worlds preeminent expert on Transgender legal issues. She was instrumental in overturning Houston’s “Mask” law which outlawed cross-dressing and effectively made all transgender people criminals.

Any opinion she has on this matter is worth considering, so when she distributed a letter on the issue we here at Legislative Queery thought it was worth sharing (and take no small pride that she basically reiterates our take on the situation).

From the Transgender Foundation of America:

I was called about this last week by the ABC news person in El Paso. Then last
night by reporter Todd Ackerman (?) with the Houston Chronicle. He said he might
blog on it. Who knows where that might be.

Anyway, it will be

If the AG issues an opinion that is anti-Littleton, then
that is good for us. It makes it more difficult for those Repub judges who want
to follow Littleton to do so.

If the AG issues an opinion that is
pro-Littleton, then that is also good for us. It allows TGs to continue to have
"matching-genital" but "opposite legal sex" marriage which on its face remains
ridiculous and continues to keep the doors open to attack the prohibition on
same-sex marriage.

You may share this if you wish.

Randolph Frye, Attorney at Law
Master of Business Administration
Licensed Professional Engineer (Civil)
Frye & Associates, PLLC, Law
2990 Richmond, Suite 400, Houston, Texas 77098
office 713-227-1717
for appointment, fax: 713-522-2610
Phyllis cell

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Abbot Asked to Consider Transgender Marriage

The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports that El Paso County Attorney Anne Bernal has requested that Attorney General Greg Abbott rule on whether she can issue a marriage license to two women, one of whom is a trans woman.

The State Attorney General is the top lawyer in Texas and is often asked to make rulings about how to interpret the law. Abbott's rulings can be overturned by the courts, but that process takes time.

If Abbott issues a ruling in the case he will have to find a way to work around Littleton v. Prange, a 1999 case in Bexar county where a trans woman, Christie Lee Littleton, attempted to file a medical malpractice suite after the death of her husband. Mrs. Littleton was told she could not because she was “genetically male”, and her marriage was therefore invalid.

Littleton is an important bit of case law in Texas. It was even cited by the Liberty Institute in their filing on behalf of Rep. Warren Chissum and Ag. Comm. Todd Staples in the Dallas Divorce Case.

Several same sex couples with one transgender partner have been married in Bexar county using Littleton as precedent. If Abbott rules that El Paso County cannot issue this marriage license it could put the legality of those marriages in jeopardy, but it could also open the door to a number of straight couples that include transgender people, and could be grounds for an appeal by Mrs. Littleton.

Abbott can’t have it both ways. He will either have to rule that straight trans people are allowed to get married, or that gay trans people are. It will be curious to see whether his transphobia or his homophobia rules.


Update: Meghan Stabler has posted more information on the case. It seems that rather than wait for a ruling in El Paso County the couple went to Bexar County to get married. Abbott's office may still rule on the matter, but will likely take several months.