San Antonio City Council Votes to Pass LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance, A Victory for Equality

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The San Antonio City Council voted to pass the non-discrimination proposal authored by City Councilman Diego Bernal and Mayor Julian Castro.

Starting at least 15 years ago, the local LGBT community has sought to add sexual orientation and gender identity to groups protected from discrimination. Two serious attempts in 1998 and 2011 to get non-discrimination laws to cover LGBT rights failed to pass.

After a long and hard fought struggle, the LGBT community and straight allies of San Antonio can finally claim victory.

The final vote was 8-3, putting the ordinance into effect immediately.

“This ordinance fundamentally is about ensuring that whether you are white or black, whether you are Christian or Jew, whether you are straight or gay, San Antonio belongs to you too,” said Castro. “This is a city that belongs to everyone. This ordinance is about saying there are no second-class citizens in San Antonio.”

Read statements made by the council members, and what brought us here today after the jump.District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez began the debate by stating he struggled with his faith coming up with a decision but holds no regrets and can sleep at night:

“No one likes to hear somebody thinking that your actions are going to keep you from going to Heaven. That hurts,” said Lopez, a devout Catholic. “Who am I to judge?”

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña took the floor to clarify misunderstandings of the ordinance, clarifying point after point to everyone that the ordinance did not take away anyone's First Amendment rights.

District 7 Councilman Cris Medina made references to the struggles our parents and grandparents underwent to achieve equal rights, just a few decades ago:

“When most of our parents were kids, blacks and Hispanics were not welcomed at the polls, in our restaurants, and were forced to endure humiliating separate-but-equal policies in our country,” said Media. “The struggle for equality is an issue our entire nation has struggled with since the founding of it. But I believe we are a stronger country for our diversity.”

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales believes part of the reason why she was elected was because of her strong support to equality:

“I do have so many family members who are part of the LGBT community. I have three separate family members who have adopted children, and who are so loved by our family,” said Gonzales. “And so then it became personal that I felt that I had to support and to protect my own family, and then extend it to my community.”

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who was undecided, ultimately supported the ordinance.

“As I see it, as I understand it, as it has been explained to me, and as I have been assured, this ordinance does not take away any rights but instead adds protection to those currently marginalized and vulnerable in our community, and it maintains First Amendment rights to all people,” said Viagran.


District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg shared a personal religious passage he heard at his Church. Nirenberg called on us to be “medics,” who help and treat everyone with fairness and dignity, as opposed to “bystanders” or “police,” who stand by without helping those who suffer or go along with the motions of what is deemed “right.”

District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal shared his personal stories and experiences with the LGBT community, and why he authored the ordinance.

“No one's rights are more important than the others',” argued Bernal. “You can't choose one or the other, it has to be balanced.”

District 2 Councilwoman Ivy R. Taylor was the first to cast her vote against the ordinance. She said despite her vote, she does not believe in any form of discrimination. Taylor, who is African-American, said the LGBT community had the wrong “sister” in the council if they thought she'd protect them because they are also an oppressed minority.

District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan, who came under vast criticism for her very homophobic and transphobic views, followed after.

“Just because I disagree with the lifestyle choices of the LGBT community, doesn't mean I dislike them,” said Chan. “Similarly, just because one opposes this ordinance, does not mean that one is for discrimination.”

Chan called to table the legislation, but the motion failed during vote.

District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules brought up for discussion again transgender people and their ability to access public restroom facilities. Soules also criticized his fellow council members for supposedly not involving others, despite an ordinance draft being out for months and multiple opportunities for discussions, debate, and edits that were made by those that talked to the authors.

Mayor Castro ended the debate with a very powerful and well-articulated message about the struggles every group goes through to obtain civil rights:

“There is no doubt this has stirred a lot of passion. But that has also been true every time that people have sought in our nation's history to make people equal,” said Castro before calling for a vote. “That was true during the time of our founders. That was true during the time of women suffrage, the time of the civil rights movement, and it is true today with the LGBT community.”

The City of San Antonio made their first attempt in 1998 to protect municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The measure was withdrawn before a vote due to public controversy.

CAUSA, the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio, was formed in 2011 and has since fought to include the LGBT community among the nondiscrimination protected groups. The City passed domestic partner benefits for city employees that Fall, and talks about a nondiscrimination ordinance began again in November but did not succeed.

After the Human Rights Campaign gave the City of San Antonio a pitiful score of 48 (ranged from 0 to 100) on their annual 2012 Municipal Equality Index report, the Mayor's office renewed its efforts to reach out to the LGBT community this year, reviving the non-discrimination ordinance debate.

District 1 City Council member Diego Bernal, who is now running unopposed for re-election, announced in May that he would file a council consideration request to update the city's non-discrimination ordinances to include sexual orientation and gender identity. A vote was expected sometime in mid-June, but the opposition stirred fear in religious groups by telling them the ordinance was anti-Christian. That they would be persecuted because of their religious beliefs. The vote was pushed until September for further debate and clarification that the ordinance does not discriminate against Christians or religious groups.

The hotly debated ordinance gained national attention last 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 true reasons for why she opposes protecting the city's LGBT community from discrimination.

The comments were covered nationally, which later Chan defended as free speech. Mayor Julian Castro responded by calling Chan's remarks “hurtful and ignorant.”

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. Castro had to defend city of San Antonio by saying the city “has always been and remains welcoming to all.” GetEQUAL Texas argued city officials have “repeatedly delayed a vote” on the proposal.

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. This is a direct violation of San Antonio city council rules.

Many elected officials, businesses, and religious groups came out in support of the ordinance. Among the supporters were the eight San Antonio-area Democrat state representatives, the San Antonio Spurs, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, Texas State Board of Education member Marisa B. Perez, the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Between 50-70 religious leaders convened a press conference on Tuesday in support of the ordinance, including the interim rabbi of San Antonio's largest Jewish congregation, as well as clergy from Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian Christian congregations.

San Antonio now joins Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and Houston in passing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. Our cities have had to pass such ordinances because Texas is one of the 29 states where gays and lesbians can be fired or evicted at will. Only 21 states and Washington, D.C. ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and all but 5 also include protections for gender identity.

No federal legislation currently exists that protects LGBT individuals from discrimination.


About Author

Omar Araiza

Staff writer Omar Araiza covers immigration, Latino voters, the U.S.-Mexico border, and LGBT issues. He is a proud South Texas native, born and raised in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Omar tweets from @AraizaTX.

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