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Two Big Gains for Gay Rights in Houston

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March in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance outside San Antonio City Council meeting.
Forrest Wilder
A September march in favor of San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance.

Austin may have a reputation for being Texas’ most gay-friendly town, but Houston’s catching up.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced today that the city will start offering employment benefits like health insurance to same-sex spouses of city employees who were legally married in other states. In 2001, voters approved a city charter amendment that appears to prohibit exactly that, but Parker says because it permits benefits for “legal spouses,” then legal gay spouses should be included. (Parker, who is gay, will be unaffected by the change since she and her partner of 24 years are unmarried.)

A statement from the mayor’s office appears to claim both that the city is still legally obeying the charter amendment—the city will not extend benefits to domestic partners, for example, only to full spouses—and that the charter amendment is unlawfully discriminatory. It explained, “After a careful review of recent case law, the city legal department believes continued application of the charter amendment so as to deny same-sex spousal benefits would be unlawful because it treats employees differently on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The statement cited the August IRS decision recognizing married same-sex couples for federal tax purposes even if the couples reside in states where their marriage is not recognized. Austin, Dallas, El Paso and Fort Worth already have such policies, as does San Antonio, the recent site of an ugly squabble over whether to extend the city’s non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s the second big leap forward for gay rights in Houston in as many weeks. Last Thursday, the Harris County Sheriff’s announced new policies intended to prevent sexual assault and harassment at the county jail. They include adding sexual orientation and gender orientation to the characteristics protected against discrimination and requiring new training on “updated zero-tolerance rules” about sexual abuse, harassment, improper contact and failure to report violations, according to a statement.

More radically, jail staff are now expected to consider gender identity, not merely anatomy, when deciding whether to house inmates with men or women. They’re also director to address inmates by either their chosen name or last name only, and to “follow common sense rules about whether an inmate should be searched by a male or female staffer.”

“Harris County courts will continue to mete out tough justice,” said Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the statement. “But being tough only works the right way when it is accompanied by values such as safety, fairness and dignity.”

Dignity in Houston looks to be coming along.

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.

  • 1bimbo

    meanwhile, young black people are slaughtering each other in the streets of houston at a record pace this year.

    • Halfwit2k

      Young black people have been slaughtering each other in the streets for decades. For many years, it made Houston the murder capitol of the nation in the 70’s and 80’s. So, I don’t think we are breaking any records here for black youth on black youth violence.

      • 1bimbo

        so your point is ‘whatever’

        • Halfwit2k

          My point is people have been trying to figure out how to stop it for decades, both inside and outside the black community, so I am not going to blame her.

          • 1bimbo

            my point is, why bother when you’re out the door leaving a third of the population in worst shape than when you got there. to the rest of the state, the out-going mayor’s legacy is cultivating her own little corner of unicorns and rainbows in a ‘redneck white city.’

  • Victor Edwards

    It is no longer “gender,” eh, but “gender identity.” Shade of Newspeak! Just another chapter in the “Gay Gene Hoax.”

    • Halfwit2k

      You slack-jawed pinhead. Gender identity is not about gay and lesbian, it is about transgendered people. Go crawl back under your bigoted rock.

      • Victor Edwards

        Transgendered people are gay people. But you won’t be convinced because your penchant for name-calling reveals who you really are. Btw, there is no one more bigoted than the modern homosexual sodomite liberal. They are the masters of bigotry.

        • Halfwit2k

          No. Transgender people think they were born into the body of the wrong gender. Gay people are perfectly happy with their gender but only fall in love with the same gender. And you must not understand what bigotry is, either.

          • Victor Edwards

            I’ll bet YOU do, eh? You must be kidding. Truly your moniker here is accurate, for you are a half-wit. And it is you who don’t understand bigotry. Homosexual sodomites are the most bigoted people on earth, the most intolerant, the most hateful of all human being. They are the lowest form of life in the universe.

            In your own way, though, you sort of hit on a truth. You admit that transgender people “THINK” they were born into the wrong gender. You are spot on with that analysis. It has nothing to do with any physical reality but is nothing more than an act of free will to choose to fight the hormones that are functioning quite naturally. Transgender people are as much perverts as are homosexual sodomites. It is vile, unnatural passion that flies in the face of good sense. All your arguments will reduce to nothing more than the perverted desire of the homosexual mind. Transgender people are in fact another expression of homosexuality and the corrupt mind that chooses that perversion.

          • Halfwit2k

            You are a bigoted piece of shit. When fascist fuckrags like you die off this nation will be a better place.

          • 1bimbo

            and you are insane

  • Halfwit2k

    And yet, Houston STILL has no gay rights ordinance.

    • 1bimbo

      maybe you’d be better suited in san francisco

      • Halfwit2k

        Maybe you’d be better suited to the Third Reich.