Houston mayor issues sweeping non-discrimination order

Posted on 02 Apr 2010 at 8:56am

Parker’s directives include protection for transgender community

Mayor Annise Parker
Mayor Annise Parker

HOUSTON — Lesbian Mayor Annise Parker has issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees that is possibly the most comprehensive in the nation.

Parker’s 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.

“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 Dallas Voice.

Parker’s order, which includes gender identity/expression, was signed on March 25 and took effect immediately.

“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 goal is to provide a work environment free of discrimination and harassment based on either sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the order. It covers anyone doing business with the city including Houston’s contractors and vendors as well as employees.

Both gender identity and gender expression are addressed.

“Gender identity,” the order explains, “May not correspond to the individual’s body or gender assigned at birth.”

Expression that is now protected relates to “appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, and other social interactions.”

The order states that it’s a violation “to fail or refuse to hire, recruit, appoint, promote or train any individual” based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s also a violation “to discipline, demote, transfer, lay off, fail to recall or terminate” or to “or to limit, segregate or classify employees or applicants.”

The affirmative action division of the mayor’s office will develop and implement diversity training.

The order covers the LGBT community “at every level of municipal government,” which includes city-run facilities such as stadiums, parks and museums.

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

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

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

Menacing behavior, critical or mocking comments and perpetuating stereotypes are listed as behavior inappropriate for the workplace.

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 subject to disciplinary action.

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

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

Dallas has had an employment nondiscrimination policy in place since 1995 that covers sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

A Dallas non-discrimination ordinance passed in 2002 covers sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. But religious groups and government entities are exempt, raising questions about whether the ordinance applies to the city itself.

Houston still lacks domestic partner benefits, which Dallas has offered since 2004. At her election party, Parker said the issued of DP benefits needs to be addressed “at some point.”

Those benefits cannot be offered without sending the issue to voters. After the Houston City Council approved DP benefits several years ago, the issue was placed on the ballot. Not only were the benefits rescinded, but the referendum also mandated that any future change to that policy would need to be approved in another election.

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