Dodging Bullets

With a battle looming, gays and their supporters seek high ground

"We amended two things: civil service rules and affirmative action programs," recalls Hall. "That was in my view prostituted by opponents as affirmative action for gays and lesbians, when it in fact was a nondiscrimination provision and provided no affirmative action goals or anything."

This time Hall is determined to keep affirmative action walled off from the debate.

"I will be overseeing the writing of this ordinance, and that mistake will be corrected," vows Hall. "It will be written in such a way that it is clear these are job-protection provisions."

City Attorney Anthony Hall says he has learned much from the '85 vote.
City Attorney Anthony Hall says he has learned much from the '85 vote.

It remains to be seen whether an antidiscrimination ordinance will draw the same level of opposition as same-sex benefits. Conservative Republican consultant Allen Blakemore, who represents westside religious activist Dr. Steven Hotze, compliments the strategy worked out by the mayor and the gay community.

"It's a skillful severing," says Blakemore, "to get off of benefits and preferences and onto discrimination." According to Blakemore, most conservatives are taking a wait-and-see approach to the promised antidiscrimination ordinance.

Other reaction was less amicable. Dave Wilson, who has made unsuccessful races for mayor and council, immediately announced that his political action committee, Houstonians for Family Values, has launched a petition campaign to rewrite the city charter. It would ban domestic-partner benefits and "privileges in promotion, hiring or contracting to a person or group on the basis of sexual preference."

The credibility of Wilson's committee was not exactly enhanced when one member, Grace Baptist Church minister Aubrey Vaughan, offhandedly offered his final solution to the controversy to reporters outside City Hall.

As a KHOU-TV camera focused on him, Vaughan asked, "What should be done with the sodomites?"

"Well, I think they ought to have 'em an island. They got plenty of money -- they ought to buy them an island and every sodomite ought to go out there to that island and just stay there," opined the reverend, indicating he's been watching way too many Survivor episodes.

"And maybe we can drop a little food to them if they don't know how to grow their own food," he continued. "And in about two years they'd all die out with AIDS, I believe. That's what we ought to do with them."

If it comes down to a contest for the votes of rational Houstonians, opponents like Vaughan may provide the most persuasive argument available that city employees -- gays included -- need all the antidiscrimination protection they can get.

Democratic Splits

In a preview of the sort of internal fights that may be provoked by the mayor's race, members of the Young Democrats of Harris County are already flinging barbs over Councilman Chris Bell's challenge to Lee Brown.

In an e-mail, Jill Garrison urged members to attend Bell's recent candidacy announcement and to volunteer for his campaign. Garrison happens to work for the Kaleidoscope Group, which is employed by the Bell campaign. She signed off using her title as the Young Democrats' communications vice president.

That drew a riposte from Cruz Giovanni Garibay, the state youth chair of the Young Tejano Democrats. He criticized Garrison for leaving the impression that the Young Democrats were supporting Bell. Garibay went on to attack comments made by Bell's campaign team in the Houston Press ("First Out of the Gate," by Tim Fleck, February 8).

"Personally, I find the manner in which the Bell campaign conducts itself to be completely unprofessional, and the personal insults the Bell consultants lob at the mayor are juvenile at best."

Garibay concluded with an admonition to Garrison to stop "associating the good name" of the YDs with Bell's minions.

With Brown and Bell fighting over the same inside-the-Loop constituency, you can expect a steady stream of these organizational catfights between now and November.

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