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News Briefs: November 2007

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Victory Fund key races, Viracept recalled, Family Pride, Political Caucus endorsements, Trans Day of Remembrance

Removal Of Trans-inclusive Language Explodes ENDA
Victory Fund Announces Key U.S. Races, Including One in Texas
Bering Omega Community Services Receives HOPWA Increase
Viracept Recalled From European Markets

Family Pride Now Family Equality Council
Political Caucus Adds Endorsements
Trans Day of Remembrance Event Set for Nov. 17

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Removal Of Trans-inclusive Language Explodes ENDA

BFrank
Barney Frank - takes TG protection out of ENDA.

A decision in late September by Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives to remove language protecting transgender citizens from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) exploded into a controversy that at times pitted GLBT organizations against Democrats in the House and even a segment of the community, including transgender activists and their supporters, against the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

The quickly developing ENDA story began on September 27 when U.S. Representative Barney Frank announced plans to remove gender-identity protections from the bill, which would extend federal employment discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat and one of two openly GLBT members of Congress, indicated that the Democrats lacked the votes to get an ENDA with the gender-identity language approved by the House Committee on Education and Labor and sent to the full House for a vote.

That decision galvanized a coalition of nine national GLBT and supportive organizations, led by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), which announced opposition, in a September 27 statement, to an ENDA that did not include gender-identity language. That list of organizations—which then became part of an effort called the United ENDA Coalition—has since grown to 334 national, state, and local groups. Houston groups on the list include Houston Equal Rights Alliance, Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Transgender Unity Committee, and Texas Association of Transsexual Support-Houston.

HRC, the nation’s largest GLBT advocacy organization, did not sign on to the original statement, a decision that angered and perplexed some community observers. HRC sources explain that the organization had continued to work out of the public eye with members on Congress in an attempt to rescue the fully inclusive ENDA.

HRC did sign an October 1 letter to Congress sent by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights that expressed opposition to the removal of gender-identity protections. Other signatories on that letter included NGLTF and NCTE as well as Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

House leadership then proposed two versions of ENDA, the original act (House Resolution 2015) that includes gender protections, and the revised act (House Resolution 3685) that removes such language. HRC announced that it would support HR 2015 but would not oppose representatives who intended to vote for HR 3685.

“Since 2004, HRC has had in place a policy that supports only a fully inclusive version of ENDA and the board of directors voted to reaffirm that position,” Solmonese said in a statement released on October 2. “Therefore, we are not able to support, nor will we encourage members of Congress to vote against, the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill. And we will continue working with our allies in Congress to support a comprehensive, legislative strategy to achieve passage of a fully inclusive ENDA as quickly as possible.”

This “neither support nor oppose” decision placed HRC in opposition to the consortium of GLBT groups that backed the original version of ENDA and demanded a boycott of the revised ENDA. The first and only transgender member of the HRC board of directors, Donna Rose, resigned on October 3.

TBaldwin
Tammy Baldwin -- puts TG protections back into ENDA.

On October 16, Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin announced plans to introduce an amendment to HR 3685 that would restore transgender protections to ENDA. Baldwin, the other openly GLBT member of Congress, had previously expressed her support for HR 2015. Barney Frank stated that he would lobby members of the full House to vote for the Baldwin amendment.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the few mainstream news organizations that has followed the ENDA story, Washington bureau chief Carolyn Lochhead reported, “Noting a strong response from around the country, Baldwin stated, ‘This extraordinary opportunity to advance LGBT rights in America is proud evidence of democracy in which the people decide what is possible.’”

The House Education and Labor Committee approved, in a 27–21 vote, the HR 2015 version of ENDA on October 18. Four Democratic committee members, including presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, voted against the bill because of the lack of trans protection.

HR 2015 was expected to reach the full House for a vote on October 23, at the earliest. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is expected to submit a version of ENDA in the Senate. Even supporters of ENDA, whether the trans-inclusive version or the bill that only includes sexual orientation, concede that President George W. Bush is almost certain to veto any ENDA bill that reaches his desk.

As OutSmart went to press, the local chapter of HRC announced plans to hold a community town-hall forum on ENDA. The tentative date for the event was November 1. Other details, including the time and location, were not determined. Updates as available will be posted at the top of the OutSmart website home page under Breaking News.

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Victory Fund Announces Key U.S. Races, Including One in Texas

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports GLBT candidates, has announced seven “races to watch” on Election Day, November 6. Candidates in these races include Joel Burns, who is running for Fort Worth City Council. Burns currently serves on the Fort Worth zoning commission.

Other Victory Fund-designated notable races:

• Michelle Bruce, Riverdale, Georgia, City Council
• Reed Gusciora, New Jersey State Assembly
• Karen Allen, Lakewood, Colorado, City Council
• Frank Kruszewski, Miami Beach, Florida, City Council
• Jass Stewart, Brockton, Massachusetts, mayor
• Brian Bates, Doraville, Georgia, City Council

Locally, the Victory Fund has endorsed City Controller Annise Parker and City Council member Sue Lovell in their bids for reelection. The organization has also endorsed Lupe Valdez for a second term as Dallas County sheriff.

Nationwide, the Victory Fund has endorsed 71 candidates, a record number for an election year with no presidential race. “Our community increasingly understands that politics is a path to equality,” Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe said in a statement. “Having a place at the table of power also means we have an equal voice and an equal vote. That leads to real change.”

On November 6, the Victory Fund will post election returns on its website, www.victoryfund.org.

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Bering Omega Community Services Receives HOPWA Increase

Bering Omega Community Services recently celebrated the approval of a one-year contract with the City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department to distribute $1,136,500 in Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) funds—a $390,710 increase from last year’s $745,790 contract.

The goal of the Bering Omega Housing Assistance Program is to reduce and/or prevent homelessness. According to agency representatives, these funds will assist clients with rent, mortgage, and utility payments.

This increase in funding allows Bering Omega to expand its Housing Assistance Program in ways that will benefit a larger portion of the local HIV-positive community, representatives said. This includes a recently expanded collaboration with the Montrose Counseling Center, where the Bering Omega program will now maintain an office. Details: www.beringomega.org.

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Viracept Recalled From European Markets

In June 2007, excess levels of ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) were detected in a pharmaceutical ingredient of Viracept (nelfinavir mesylate), a commonly prescribed HIV medication.

“EMS is a potential human carcinogen, so once the process-related impurity was discovered, Roche recalled Viracept from all their European Union markets,” explains Kelly A. McCann, chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston.

In the United States, drug makers use a different manufacturing process, and Pfizer (the manufacturer of the drug in this country) found substantially lower levels of EMS than were found in Europe. Nevertheless, in September, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement to provide guidance in the use of Viracept.

While there was no change recommended for the use of Viracept in most patients, the guidelines recommended that pregnant women new to treatment and pediatric patients should not be prescribed Viracept.

The guidance encouraged physicians to consider alternative treatment options, such as Kaletra (Lopinavir/Ritonavir), another in the protease inhibitor class of medication. Moreover, as a precautionary measure, the FDA suggested that pregnant women currently receiving Viracept should be switched to a different course of antiretroviral therapy.

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Family Pride Now Family Equality Council

Seeking to “better capture the full breadth and scope of our work and our collective vision of a world that treats all loving families equally,” representatives have announced that nonprofit Family Pride advocacy group has changed its name to the Family Equality Council.

“While we continue to have pride—in our work, in our families, in our children—our new name more accurately reflects our purpose: achieving family equality,” Family Equality Council executive director Jennifer Chrisler said in a statement to the press. “Our new name and expanded vision reinforce our commitment to working across communities and issues and to joining forces with other progressive advocacy groups to create meaningful change for all loving families.”

The 30-year-old group, based in Boston, is dedicated to the issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parents. Houston Gay & Lesbian Parents is one of groups in Texas affiliated with the Family Equality Council. Details: www.familyequality.org.

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Political Caucus Adds Endorsements

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus political-action committee has added five candidates or bond issues to its list of endorsements in the November 6 election since publication of the endorsements in the October (“Some of Our Own”). Principal among these nods is the endorsement of Bill White for reelection to his third term as Houston mayor.

The caucus PAC endorsement of White points to the influence of the caucus in local elections, say caucus sources. The mayor, who had been endorsed in his first two campaigns by the caucus PAC, had decided not to screen with any local political or civic groups for his third and final run (term limits preclude him from running again). Jenifer Rene Pool, caucus president, then contacted White’s chief of staff, Richard Lapin, and asked the mayor to screen with the GLBT group. White agreed and met with the screening committee, which then voted to endorse him.

“We spent an hour and fifteen minutes in the meeting, and he answered all our questions,” Pool says. “As we were leaving, he commented on the refreshing nature of his conversation with the committee.

“It’s gratifying that the mayor chose to screen with the caucus. It is because of the hard work of [board members] Maria Gonzalez, Jack Valinski, the board, and our community volunteers that we have produced results in the last three election cycles that have gained the respect of elected officials and candidates.”

The other additional caucus PAC endorsements support:

• Peter Brown for City Council At-Large 1

• To approve Texas Proposition 15. This constitutional amendment authorizes $3 billion in general obligation bonds to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

• To approve Harris County Proposition 6. The Port of Houston Authority requests $250 million in bonds for improvements.

• To approve HISD bonds. The Houston Independent School District requests $805 million in bonds for new construction and renovation of existing facilities. In early September, the caucus initially postponed a decision to endorse the bond initiative, which has been controversial, primarily because of plans to consolidate some schools. After meeting a second time with HISD representatives about a revised bond request, the caucus board voted on September 23 to issue an endorsement.

During the caucus PAC screening process, HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra appeared before the screening committee to answer questions. “This is the first time an HISD superintendent has ever met with the GLBT Political Caucus,” the caucus blog reported.

For a complete list of endorsements, visit the caucus website, www.hglbtpc.org.

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Trans Day of Remembrance Event Set for Nov. 17

A local ceremony marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held on November 17, 7 p.m., at Holocaust Museum Houston. The internationally observed day memorializes individuals killed during the preceding year because of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

The Houston Transgender Unity Committee organizes the event, which always includes a reading of the names of the murdered people. The event this year will also include remarks by local trans people who have recently been victims of violence. Local politicians, including City Controller Annise Parker and City Council member Sue Lovell, are expected to attend. A 6:30 reception will precede the program.

More information is available at the Unity Committee website, www.htuc.org, and the TransHouston site, www.transhouston.com.

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BAR ASSOCIATION PRESENTS GAY LEGAL SEMINAR

Attorney Mitchell Katine presents a seminar on for other lawyers on gay and lesbian legal issues on November 9 as part of the Houston Bar Association Downtown Area Seminar series. Katine, of the firm Williams, Birnberg and Anderson, L.L.P., speaks at 1 p.m. at Harris County Jury Assembly Room (1019 Congress Plaza). Continuing-education credits are available. There is no cost for the seminar for bar association members ($15 for written materials); admission for nonmembers is $25, which includes written materials. Details: www.hba.org.

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