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Houston mayor issues non-discrimination policies
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Houston mayor issues non-discrimination policies

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Openly Lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker has announced sweeping new city anti-discrimination policies.

For the first time, Transgender city employees are explicitly protected, and various forms of hate speech - including electronic media - are banned in city workplaces.

Parker's executive order replaces one signed by her predecessor, Bill White, the Democratic nominee for Texas governor.

White's order covered sexual orientation and was similar to protections for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual employees in Dallas. Parker has added protections for gender identity and expression.

Her order was signed March 25 and was effective immediately.

Executive orders by city mayors are important because Texas has no statewide anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT residents.

"I felt it important that our written policy reflect what has long been the practice of the city, which is we do not discriminate," Parker told the Dallas Voice newspaper.

"The purpose of this Executive Order is to prohibit discrimination and/or retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity at every level of municipal government, including hiring, contracting and/or access to City facilities and programs/activities," the order states.

The order says that it is a violation "to fail or refuse to hire, recruit, appoint, promote, or train any individual" based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is also a violation "to discipline, demote, transfer, lay off, fail to recall, or terminate" or to "limit, segregate, or classify employees or applicants."

Both gender identity and gender expression are addressed in the new policy.

"Gender identity," the order explains, "may not correspond to the individual's body or gender assigned at birth."

Protected gender expression now includes "appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, and other social interactions."

The affirmative action division of the mayor's office has been directed to develop and implement diversity training for all city departments.

A second executive order issued the same day provides further protection to the LGBT community.

That order prohibits racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and other slurs.

The second order prohibits not only degrading verbal comments but includes posters, cartoons, drawings, and specifically mentions electronic media, like screen savers.

Menacing behavior, critical or mocking comments, and perpetuating stereotypes are all listed inappropriate workplace behavior.

Employees violating the policy are subject to disciplinary action up to indefinite suspension. Supervisors or managers who do not act on allegations or evidence are also subject to disciplinary action.

A third executive order signed in February also goes into effect this month. That one relates to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The coverage for Houston city employees is now more comprehensive than protections for Dallas city employees.

Houston still lacks domestic partner benefits, which Dallas has offered since 2004. At her election party, Parker said that domestic partner benefits need to be addressed "at some point."

By law, those benefits cannot be offered without sending the issue to Houston voters.

Several years ago, the Houston City Council passed domestic partner benefits, but conservatives succeeded in putting a referendum on the ballot. Not only were the benefits repealed, but the referendum also mandated that any future change would need to be approved in another election.

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