This week, Mayor Annise Parker formally announced an upcoming Human Rights Ordinance for the city of Houston. This all inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance would codify an existing executive order that prohibits discrimination by city government and its contractors and covers housing and public accommodations.
So what does that mean? It means that means stores, restaurants, bars, and any service provider with a physical location could be cited for discrimination based on age, sex, race, veteran status, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Then the city's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and a 7 member 'Human Rights Commission' would investigate complaints and attempt mediation, and if that failed the offender could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined.
On April 7, 2013 the screening committee of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats sat down with Mayor Parker when she sought our endorsement during her last mayoral campaign. During that discussion we talked about the lack of nondiscrimination protections for Houstonians. At that time, Mayor Parker made a pledge to HSYD to bring a nondiscrimination ordinance to City Council for a vote in her last term as mayor, and to work with community leaders to not only win the vote at Council, but be prepared to fight a ballot referendum from opponents.
Well, the opponents are already foaming at the mouth over the idea of an ordinance of any kind.
The Texas Pastor Council has already chimed in saying an ordinance that protects Houstonians, “assaults not only the values but the basic First Amendment rights of city citizens, business owners and churches to live, speak about and practice their faith.”
They're using the "religious-freedom" argument that we're seeing in places like Mississippi and Arizona.
Republican candidate for State Senate District 7, and former Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector, Paul Bettencourt said, “This is political correctness gone nuts... There's no reason for this. ”
Our enemies are already preparing to rally around a repeal effort of an ordinance that has not even been fully drafted.
Mayor Parker has kept her word.
For months, she has been engaging various organizations and individuals in ongoing discussions about a proposed ordinance. She has even assembled a group of business leaders to explore the inclusion of private sector employment. Organizations like HRC, Out & Equal, and HSYD have also been reaching out to business leaders attempting to garner support for an ordinance that includes private sector protections.
HSYD's online petition has been live for months, and we have been attending community events gaining contact information of supporters who may need to be called upon to speak in favor of an ordinance at City Council - in particular seeking out business owners.
Organizations and their leaderships have been working to prove there is support among the private sector for these type of protections.
At the end of the day, HSYD will stand with Mayor Parker to support an ordinance that has the ability to pass City Council and begin protecting Houstonians - to do otherwise, would only serve the interests of organizations like the Texas Pastor Council and Republicans opposed to equality.
Protecting the LGBT community and advancing equality is a constant journey. This ordinance, in whatever form is put before City Council, is just another step in that journey.