Showdown in Houston over LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Showdown in Houston over LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance.

HOUSTON (AP) — After a drawn-out showdown between Houston’s popular lesbian mayor and a coalition of conservative pastors, voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city will soon decide whether to establish nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people. Nationwide, there’s interest in the Nov. 3 referendum: Confrontations over the same issue are flaring in many places, at the state and local level, now that nondiscrimination has replaced same-sex marriage as the No. 1 priority for the LGBT-rights movement. “The vote in Houston will carry national significance,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group. Two recent polls commissioned by Houston TV stations showed supporters of the ordinance with a slight lead, but each poll indicated that about one-fifth of likely voters were undecided.

Copying a tactic used elsewhere, they also have labeled it the “bathroom ordinance,” alleging that it would open the door for sexual predators to go into women’s restrooms. “Even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom,” says an ad produced by Campaign for Houston, which opposes the ordinance. The measure’s supporters denounce these assertions as scare tactics, arguing that such problems with public bathrooms have been virtually nonexistent in the 17 states that have banned discrimination based on gender identity. “The fact there is so much misinformation and not just misinformation, just out and out ludicrous lies, is very frustrating,” Parker recently told reporters. “I’m worried about the image of Houston around the world as a tolerant, welcoming place if this goes down.” Parker has vented some of her frustration on Twitter in tweets criticizing former Houston Astros player Lance Berkman. When opponents sued the city — seeking to force a referendum on the ordinance after the city council approved it in May 2014 — city attorneys tried to subpoena sermons from five pastors who opposed the measure. The lawsuit eventually reached the Texas Supreme Court, which in July ruled the conservative activists should have succeeded in their petition drive to put the issue before voters. In a sermon last month, Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, one of the nation’s largest churches, called the ordinance “totally deceptive” and urged his congregation to vote against it because “it will carry our city … further down the road of being totally, in my opinion, secular and godless.” Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Houston Unites, which supports the ordinance, said the measure is not simply about anti-LGBT discrimination but about multiple forms of bias.

Between May 2014 and September 2015, most discrimination complaints in the city related to race and gender; only about 5 percent involved LGBT discrimination. When that occurred via a Supreme Court ruling in June, there was broad agreement among activists that the next priority should be obtaining nondiscrimination protections in all 50 states. At present, Texas is one of 28 states with no statewide protections, although many municipalities in those states have adopted local nondiscrimination policies. Of the other 22 states, 17 prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, and New York will soon join that group.

LGBT activists would like to replace this patchwork of laws with a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination law, and such a measure — the Equality Act — was introduced in July. Now there’s growing GOP support for the latest measure, introduced in August, and supporters believe it will prevail if skeptics can be assured it won’t erode religious liberties. “I’m confident that if this bill is given a vote in the Senate and House, it will pass,” said state Sen. Pat Browne, a lead Republican sponsor. “The people we represent believe this is something we should do.” In Indiana, prospects are unclear for a Democratic plan — backed by many major corporations — to push for statewide LGBT protections.

Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled Legislature incurred a backlash for a religious objections law that critics said would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. In the absence of a statewide law, several smaller Indiana cities — including Pence’s hometown of Columbus — recently joined Indianapolis and Bloomington in adopting local LGBT protections. In September, Fayetteville became the fifth Arkansas municipality to pass an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in defiance of a new state law aimed at prohibiting such local protections.

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