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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 30 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 22
Houston passes nondiscrimination ordinance
Section One
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Houston passes nondiscrimination ordinance

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Houston's City Council voted on May 28 to pass an expanded nondiscrimination ordinance that for the first time offers protections to the city's LGBT community. The vote was a convincing 11-6.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker signed the measure into law immediately, as cheers broke out in the packed council chambers.

When the law goes into effect in 90 days, all private employers with 50 or more employees can be fined up to $5,000 for discrimination claims. The employee limit will drop to 25 in the second year of the ordinance, and 15 in the third year. The ordinance also provides protection in housing and for city workers and contractors.

The controversial section that allowed Transgender workers to select which restroom to use was amended out of the bill before it was passed.

Supporters, including Mayor Annise Parker, said the measure is about offering protections at the local level against all forms of discrimination in housing, employment and services provided by private businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Parker, Houston's first openly Lesbian mayor, said passing the ordinance was not the most important thing she has done in office, but was the 'most personally meaningful thing I will do as mayor.'

Opponents of the legislation, including some local pastors, said it is unconstitutional and would infringe on their right to speak out against Gay sex. They advocated that Houston citizens should be allowed to vote on the issue through a referendum.

Among opponents of the ordinance is Houston Community College Board of Trustees member and longtime anti-Gay activist Dave Wilson, who was behind the Gay-baiting flyer campaign against Parker during her first mayoral campaign in 2009.

In an interview with KHOU 11 News, Wilson threatened that he and other anti-Gay leaders would launch a recall petition to remove Parker and the City Council members who voted for the ordinance.

'[W]e consider them to be incompetent,' Wilson told KHOU, citing a state law allowing removal of incompetent public officials.

'This is absurd, it's unheard of,' he said of the ordinance, adding, 'It's nothing but pure payback for the mayor. She's paying back her core constituents that supported her.'

Legal experts said 2,500 signatures would be enough to mandate a recall election for a city council member, but recall expert Joshua Spivak wrote on his Recall Elections Blog that the incompetence claim 'probably will be extremely difficult to hold up in court.'

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio all have already passed similar nondiscrimination ordinances without ill effect.

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