As the rest of the country took part in gatherings to commemorate the 50th-year anniversary of Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” speech, the people of San Antonio gathered to debate the civil rights of their city's LGBT community.
Nearly 500 people filled the San Antonio City Council Chambers yesterday afternoon, as people from both sides of the issue passionately gave testimony on behalf of their beliefs.
The hotly debated ordinance — which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of city's protected classes — gained national attention earlier this month after a secret recording of City Councilwoman Elisa Chan was released by one of her former staff. In the recording you can hear Chan's very disturbing homophobic and transphobic beliefs, and her true reasons for why she opposes protecting the city's LGBT community from discrimination.
Now, the city of San Antonio has turned into the country's next battleground for LGBT rights.
Read more about yesterday's meeting, and the aftermath that has occurred since the secret recording was released.
Supporters of the non-discrimination ordinance wore red, while those opposed wore blue.
The meeting comes weeks before the council is expected to vote on the ordinance Sept. 5. Lines stretching around the building Wednesday hoped to get inside to speak before the council about the city's proposed non-discrimination ordinance.
Those in opposition of the ordinance believe it to be anti-Christian, and that the ordinance would restrict their perceived religious freedom to discriminate against gays and homosexuality.
“I suspect that this is actually a political agenda being shoved upon us by some who want to please the elite in Washington because they'd like to move there someday,” said Brenda Saunders to the council in opposition to the ordinance. “We see you. Your agenda is showing.”
Councilwoman Chan, one of the opponents of the ordinance, believes gay people choose to be gay and, therefore, are not entitled to be protected from discrimination because of their “choice” in “lifestyle.” She defends these views as part of her First Amendment rights.
Chan has made no secret of the fact she is seeking to run for a higher office. She has been targeting the seat currently held by conservative State Senator Dr. Donna Campbell, one of the most extremist Republicans serving in the Texas Legislature.
Chan is now facing charges of ethics violations by a local citizen and Democratic consultant. They filed a complaint as a direct result of the secret recording that shows Chan being insulting of LGBT people and using her tax-payer paid staff and office for political purposes, which is a direct violation of San Antonio city council rules.
After Chan's homophobic recording went public, GetEQUAL Texas issued a travel alert for any lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers headed to San Antonio. San Antonio City Mayor Julian Castro fired back at the group stating the city of San Antonio “has always been and remains welcoming to all.” GetEQUAL Texas argued city officials have “repeatedly delayed a vote” on the proposal.
Many City Council members have now publicly come out in support of the ordinance since. The council members from Districts 4 and 5 came out in support after District 7 Councilman Cris Medina and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg publicly announced their support for the revision following Chan's secret recording controversy.
District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña said that confusion surrounding the revision's effect on religious freedom is unwarranted.
“If this was a threat to religious freedom, we'd be concerned,” Saldaña said. “We've already (taken) some things out, and rightfully so, that could possibly be (seen as threatening) that.”
Their combined support, along with those who previously supported the ordinance, brings the tally to at least six “yes” votes, the number needed to pass the ordinance.
Cities like San Antonio have had to step up and pass these kinds of anti-discrimination laws only because they belong to one of the 29 states where gays and lesbians can be fired or evicted at will. Only 21 states plus Washington, D.C. ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and all but 5 also include protections for gender identity or expression.
While much progress has been made across the country regarding marriage equality, people who are LGBT can still be legally fired and evicted in more than half the country. Congress is still attempting to pass a federal law that protects LGBT people from employment discrimination, in the year 2013.
Perhaps one of the most wisest statements, one that perfectly embodies the nature of this debate and that drew large applause from the crowd, came from an 8-year-old girl that testified yesterday afternoon.
“People should be nice to each other,” she said.