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"It's OK to be gay," say demonstrators

Wednesday, February 25, 2004 by

Governor's Office denies rumor

A handful of protesters showed up at the Governor’s Mansion Tuesday morning to assure Gov. Rick Perry that “it’s okay to be gay,” and to give the governor a chance to address the rumor that Perry and his wife are about to divorce because of an alleged homosexual affair. There is no evidence that the rumor is true and another rumor names a possible future opponent in his own party as the source of the gossip.

Perry was at the National Governors’ Conference with his wife, Anita. Although the Governor’s Office has vehemently denied the story, they have yet to issue a public statement on the rumor, which has been widely circulated among both Republicans and Democrats around the state.

When the scheduled protest began at 10am, members of the media almost outnumbered the protesters. Sonia Santana, no stranger to protests at the Governor’s Mansion, said Perry’s sexuality should be a “non-issue” regarding his performance as governor. It simply doesn’t matter, she insists. She stood with Debbie Russell of the Austin Bill of Rights Committee, holding a hand-written, “It’s okay to be gay” sign.

Russell said the protest was organized with two purposes in mind: to tell Perry, “It’s okay to be gay,” and to “support the choices of our gay brothers and sisters” on the gay marriage issue. Russell admits that she doesn’t know whether the rumors are true or not; although she, like others, has seen it pop up in multiple locations on the Internet.

“Whether or not there was a tryst has nothing to do with whether he is competent to govern,” said Russell, adding that the state should not be in the business of legislating what should be considered acceptable forms of sexuality.

According to a posting on the Austin Freaks’ Journal bulletin board, protesters were invited to “come down to the Governor’s Mansion and show your support for the man’s lifestyle during what must be a difficult time. Urge him to come out of the closet and not bow to internal party pressure to resign if the rumors are true.”

The posting goes on to say that if the rumors are untrue, “this will give him a chance to deny them in front of the cameras and put the whole situation to rest.” The posting concludes, “Gay or straight, Rick Perry is the same man he was before the scandal got picked up. Let him, and the media, know that we stand by that.”

The Governor’s Office issued no response.

Ironically, the protest came only minutes after President Bush announced that he would seek a constitutional amendment to prevent marriage between persons of the same gender. Russell said she could not see the benefit of such an amendment. While members of certain groups espouse that marriage can only be a religious union between a man and a woman, some churches now recognize gay marriage as legitimate, Russell said. To some theologians, taking away the right of gay marriage amounts to taking away freedom of religion.

Santana said gays should not be forced to accept the “separate but equal” status inherent in a civil union.

While some have called opposition to gay marriage a “Republican issue,” Russell labels it a conservative issue and a Bush issue. People on both sides of the aisle are opposed to legislating sexuality, Russell said; even moderate Republicans see intervention in the bedroom as “Big Brother government.”

Doggett delivers good news for city

Nearly $500,000 to repair South Austin Multi-Purpose Center

Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Jackie Goodman joined Congressman Lloyd Doggett on Tuesday to announce that the Congressman had secured nearly $500,000 in federal funding to help repair the South Austin Multi-Purpose Center. The money is coming from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services and will be listed as a separate line item in the city’s budget.

“What’s great about this funding is that at this time, the city is really hard-pressed for dollars,” said Dunkerley. “We’re struggling with an increase in patients at our clinic and we don’t have the money to do some real basic infrastructure things.” The $491,782 from the federal government will go to stabilizing the bed of a small creek and repairing a wall and the foundation of the South Austin Multi- Purpose Center, which provides health services for elderly and low-income residents. “This will literally keep us from sliding into the creek,” said Dunkerley.

Doggett said the multi purpose center played a key role in the community, providing a place for senior citizens to gather and for the city to offer important services to the less fortunate. “It’s about helping people get well and stay well,” he said. He also praised Dunkerley for her efforts to find funding for the city’s health care programs. “This $500,000 will give the city the dollars necessary to stabilize and modernize this clinic, so it can help stabilize the health of this community, particularly in the surrounding Dawson Neighborhood and throughout South Austin,” he said. “I look forward to working with you to get other resources available to help expand an improve our health care system, because we have some dramatic needs here.”

The announcement before a small crowd in the multi purpose center is the second time this month that Doggett has stood with local community leaders to trumpet federal dollars for a local project. Doggett is facing Leticia Hinojosa for the Democratic nomination in the new 25th Congressional district.

Design Commission could help establish retail standards

Resolution to begin writing rules on this week's Council agenda

The Design Commission’s next role may be to assist City Manager Toby Futrell and her staff in the creation of citywide design standards for commercial and retail development.

The Council is scheduled to consider a resolution this week authorizing Futrell to begin work on recommendations for all commercial development in the city. That resolution, sponsored by Council Member Brewster McCracken was not on the agenda for this week’s Design Commission’s meeting but Chair John Patterson did mention the draft ordinance as part of the discussion on the commission’s draft mission statement.

The resolution is part of a larger discussion, led by McCracken, on the placement of acceptable big-box stores. According to the draft of the resolution, “high quality architecture and good urban design contribute to an improved civic environment, enhance quality of life, sustain economic development and maintain a community’s unique identity.”

The Smart Growth matrix was a carrot to lure developers into meeting design standards in Downtown Austin. The program provided for the waiver of hundreds of thousands of dollars in city fees in exchange for meeting design standards. As one commissioner said, the matrix was the “bread and butter” of the Design Commission’s existence. Now that matrix is gone.

Subsequent efforts to codify some design standards for downtown design were met with some resistance from downtown developers who preferred to see good design “incentivized” rather than mandated.

Now the effort to set those standards may be stretched to the area beyond downtown. Developer Perry Lorenz, who sits on the Design Commission, says that standards laid out by the resolution take the city’s efforts “a lot further,” at least geographically.

“I think it takes the Design Commission’s role out of downtown and potentially makes it citywide,” Lorenz said. “That’s a decision that City Council will have to make.”

The draft resolution would direct Futrell, in consultation with stakeholders, to prepare recommendations for citywide design standards. The Design Commission previously completed design guidelines that affected downtown, at the behest of former Mayor Kirk Watson. Those guidelines are fairly substantial and are the basis of Smart Growth incentives.

The design guidelines would include, at a minimum, standards for landscaping, materials for building facades, use of windows, articulation, lighting, convertibility, design modularity, development orientation, pedestrian amenities, public spaces, neighborhood access, parking signage and screening of loading areas and mechanical equipment.

Yesterday McCracken explained that the work “will raise Austin from having the lowest design standards in the region to have the best practices of communities around the country.” The guidelines would encourage innovative design within a framework of general rules to be developed for different corridors of the city. Mayor Will Wynn and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman are co-sponsoring the resolution.

'The Council would also direct Futrell to identify priority corridors for design character analysis. Those corridors would be characterized as urban corridors or corridors with high scenic value. Code amendments could be drafted to address particular corridor issues. The two highest priority corridors, one urban and one scenic, will be kicked off immediately.

The staff would present to the Design Commission and other boards for comment and review before sending items on to the City Council. Staff members anticipate that the reviews will be completed by April 30.

Once again, the Design Commission tinkered with its own mission statement. Language has changed at each of the last two meetings. The focus of the statement, however, is that the Design Commission is intended to provide advice and recommendations on urban design because of the direct tie between good design and quality of life.

Mining those channels . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken confirmed yesterday that the city is looking into the possible sale of some channels back to Time-Warner. McCracken said he and Mayor Will Wynn have been looking for ways to fund a city film office. Representatives of Austin’s film community are “pretty unanimous we need a film office,” McCracken said, noting that the city has eight channels, including Channel 6. Travis County uses one, AISD uses two through interlocal agreements, three are community access channels and the final one is the Austin Music Network. McCracken said he had learned that a new idea for AMN is to convert the channel into a regional music and film network. Assistant City Manager John Stephens is investigating the matter for the city. McCracken noted that Atlanta had gotten $2 million when it sold a number of channels back to the cable company . . . Local reaction to Bush statement. . . Yesterday, President Bush came out in support of a constitutional amendment that would prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying. Reaction was swift across the country, and here the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus announced that it would ask Austin voters to oppose the proposal to define marriage in a way that excludes gay and lesbian citizens. “ ALGPC is asking all members of Austin’s gay and lesbian community, our supporters and friends, to attend their party precinct caucuses beginning at 7:15pm on March 9 to support a resolution that would put their caucus on record as being against the proposed amendment” . . . There were undoubtedly people on the other side making preparations to do the opposite, but they did not forward their plans to In Fact Daily . . . Press conference on local economy today . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley, former Mayor Gus Garcia and local small business leaders will make an announcement regarding the impact of small businesses on the local economy at a press conference at 11:30am today. The group will discuss how Austinites can support small local businesses. The group, which will also include representatives from the various Chambers of Commerce, will gather at City Hall in Room 304 . . . Today’s meetings . . . The City Council Committee on Telecommunications Infrastructure is scheduled to meet at City Hall in Room 304 at 3:30pm . . . The Historic Preservation Task Force is scheduled to meet at 6pm in Room 240 of One Texas Center to discuss the thorny matter of tax exemptions for properties within historic districts, as well as membership qualifications for Historic Landmark Commissioners and the process for setting the commission’s agenda . . . Hinojosa in town tonight . . . Democratic Congressional candidate Leticia Hinojosa will be the guest at a reception in her honor at 6pm tonight at Maudie’s Too, 1212 S. Lamar. Hinojosa is running against Lloyd Doggett for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 25 . . . Vote ‘04 . . . Second day totals in early voting were only slightly better than on Monday. Still, only 1856 voters showed up at early voting sites on day two. The University of Texas and Northcross Mall reported the heaviest turnouts. Thus far, 3,481 Austinites have voted.

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