Keller youth petitions his city to add LGBT protections

Posted on 20 Apr 2012 at 4:51pm

GSA president collected more than 2,000 signatures before making a presentation at City Hall

Keller High School student Isaiah Smith, right, collected signatures to urge his City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance. The mayor said the council has not decided whether to take action.

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

KELLER— Isaiah Smith, 16, made a presentation to the Keller City Council on April 17 after collecting the signatures from about 1,200 adult residents and  800 youth. He’s petitioning to his city to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in restaurants in the city.

“A person can be denied service at a restaurant,” he explained. “I view this as an injustice. All people should be treated equally.”

Smith was inspired by an episode of the ABC show What Would You Do? that was filmed at Norma’s Cafe in North Dallas. Actors played a waitress and a lesbian couple couple with kids,  and mostly patrons defended the lesbian couple.

Smith said that under state law, he needed to submit his petition to the city within 180 days of collecting the first signature.

He said he was the first signer on Oct. 22, making his deadline April 19.

Bernardo Vallarino from GLSEN Greater Dallas, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said: “He was very eloquent. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Vallarino postponed another meeting to attend and was delighted that he got to hear Smith speak.

“He was as good as any lawyer who addresses a city council,” Vallarino said, adding that Smith was a cut above most citizens who speak before council.

Vallarino said one of Smith’s best points that seemed to catch the attention of council members was that nondiscrimination affects everyone. Smith explained that no one should be singled out because of sexual orientation, whether gay or straight.

Assistant City Manager Steve Polacek said later of Smith: “We certainly appreciate his energy and respect his passion. He’s working for something he loves.”

Mayor Pat McGrail allowed Smith seven minutes to speak, more than the usual three minutes. After Smith finished, a counselor from the Keller school system addressed the council and told them that she is a lesbian and would benefit from having a nondiscrimination ordinance on the books.

Later in the week, Mayor McGrail said, “We certainly applaud Mr. Smith’s passion and commitment to his cause; however, council has not discussed nor decided on any action at this time.”

Soon after he began collecting the signatures, Smith was featured on the Channel 33 news. He said that after that, one woman recognized him and asked him if she could sign. Most of the signatures he gathered by going door to door and discussing discrimination with people in Keller.

Smith, who said he would like to enter politics, said he’s learned quite a bit about the law.

“I had some officers tell me I needed a solicitation permit,” he said. But an attorney confirmed to him that the type of canvassing he’s doing doesn’t require a permit.

“I spoke to the city secretary,” he said. He called her to ask about the procedure to submit a petition and have the signatures verified.

“She was shocked and said she never had a petition like that before,” he said.

He had copies of Dallas and Fort Worth nondiscrimination ordinances that are much broader, covering employment, housing and public accommodations.

“If you work in government, you need to make sure there’s no discrimination,” he said.

While he gets little support from his family, he said he gets lots of support at Keller High School.

“Middle school was hell on wheels,” he said. “But my school is very accepting.”

Keller High School had a controversy with its GSA when it first formed. A Facebook page appeared in October 2011 called “Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.” As a result of the controversy, the GSA had to move from a small classroom to a large lecture hall to accommodate the number of additional students who began participating.

Now the group has settled in, and Smith said they have movie nights and a number of regular activities.

“They tried to start a ‘straight alliance,’ but no teacher would sponsor,” Smith said. “My school won’t allow a bigoted organization to be part of the school.”

And if they did, they’d have to contend with Smith.

After the jump, the text of Smith’s council presentation:

Good Evening Keller City Council

As you may know, my name is Isaiah Smith and I am 16 years old. I am also a gay rights activist. I’m the type of person that wants to fix injustices in my community. I want to put the pieces of the puzzle back together and form a perfect, beautiful puzzle. As humans, we are not perfect, but I hope that as the years pass, and as the future spars at us, that we as a society will become more perfect in equality that we were before or are today.

In 29 States in the U.S.A, it is current legal for a restaurant to deny a person service based on that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and how that person expresses their gender identity. When I say it is legal, it is not illegal or legal for a restaurant to discriminate on those reasons; therefore restaurants fully can legally deny a person service based on those reasons. Other states, excluding the 29 states, already have state laws banning that. Now let’s zoom to Texas, that State in which we live {in}. Texas as a whole has no state law protecting GLBTQ {gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, or questioning} Americans from discrimination in restaurants. Only 4 cities in Texas currently have non-discrimination ordinances banning those things. The cities are: Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso and Austin. The city of Houston {TX} had one, but it got voted down. Any other city besides those 4 cities in Texas, a straight or a non-straight individual can be denied service for being themselves. That is not right. I watched a news clip from ABC { What would you do} with John Quinones. In the clip that was filmed in Farmers Branch Texas, a lesbian couple entered a restaurant, and then sat down at a table with their children. When the waiter came over, he asked the couple whose children are these. Then they both said that they were married and got married in another state. Then the waiter starts to bashing the couple for being lesbians {gay}. After I watched that film I was extremely shocked that in the 21st century, this is still an issue. That restaurant owners have the full right to discriminate against people based on that way that they are. After I watched that video, I did some research on that topic and I found out that it is legal in 29 states in the U.S.A for that to occur because there are no state laws banning that. An article that I read also noted that there are no current LGBT movements that are working to end this kind of legal discrimination. In my mind, I was thinking that since this is legal, legal in my city currently because there is no city ordinance banning it, I wanted to be apart of the first lgbt movement that would help end this type of legal discrimination. No small city in Texas has a non-discrimination ordinance banning that. If the City Of Keller establishes a non-discrimination ordinance, this city will be the first small city in the whole state of Texas to establish that type of ban. That is why I am here today and that is what I am proposing. So on October the 22nd, I started a petition: to make it illegal for a restaurant to deny a person service based on that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and how that person expresses their gender identity. Now let me get one thing straight, this petition does not cover belligerent actions{ a.k.a people acting like fools}, or even those who are somewhat odiferous. This petition is also not in support of PDA {Public Display of Affection}.

Before I actually set up the petition, I researched the petition requirements in the state of Texas. In order for a petition to be a legit petition in this state, the petition must be in compliance with 277 of the Texas election code. So since October the 22nd of 2011, my petition is in compliance with that. I have recently discovered that my petition was not in compliance with 3 parts of the city charter. You must be 18 years old to submit a petition and force it to be on the ballot and you must be 18 years old in order to validate the signatures and you must have at least 5 percent of the number of registered voters in the city. Now, just to let you guys know, I am 16 years old and there is nothing that I can do about my age. I can however swear that this petition is in compliance with every other rule to the best of my knowledge. I have also not received 5 percent of the city’s voters on it. According to the U.S census the population for the City Of Keller in the year of 2012 will be about 40,000. If you do the math, 5 percent of 40,000 is 2,000. Now, I have over 1060 adults who have signed it. 2,000 minus 1060 is 940. I am only 940 signatures off, if you are only looking at the adult signatures. If you combine the adult and the youth signatures together then I would have a total of 1923 signatures and would be 77 signatures away from getting 5 percent of this city. Even if you guys are not going to accept the petition as being legit; I am going to still turn it in. I have worked extremely hard on this issue. Since I started this petition, from October the 22nd of 2011 to now, I have endured much. During me petition rounds, I have had the police called on me, even though I was on a public sidewalk in a public establishment. I have also been called terrible names, but still I did not and will not give up, even when I sometimes felt like doing so. I have had people who normally talk to me, stop talking to me because I am standing up for what I believe in, in an appropriate manner or course. I even have had my own parent throw away this petition, and put people’s personal information at risk, but I found it, retrieved it, and reassembled my petition back together.

I am proud to stand up for that in which I believe. I fight for my civil rights in an appropriate fashion. America was founded on the bases of free speech and to fight for what you believe in. The majority of the times, most people have been nice on my cause. I have over 1060 adults plus over 865 youth who have signed it, including one Federal Judge. Signing the petition called: Operation Equality Texas Petition #1, does not mean that you agree that being gay is right, it just means that you agree that you agree that everyone under the law has the right to be treated as a human and not as an animal. I also want to bring up the point that my petition has nothing to do with your religion or your religious morals at all.

I hear some people bring up the argument that because their religion is not for gays that they cannot support my petition or any issue involving gay rights and that their does not need to be legislation protecting a certain class. Well I disagree because of the fact that I am a strong believer of the separation of the Church and the state. I believe that as a society we need to keep religion out of politics because if the church and the state combined, then you can have some politician telling your church what to believe, who God is or telling your church leader how to preach. Now you do not want that. Going back to what I just said on how some people did not sign my petition because they believe that we do not need to protect a class. I would then say that petition is not protecting a certain class. It is protecting everyone. Sexual orientation refers to all the orientations that there are. Gender identity refers to how masculine or how feminine a person is and how a person expresses their gender identity refers to that individual’s attire. That is not protecting one specific class that is protecting everyone. Due Process equals equality under the law. How one person is treated should be how everyone is treated under the law and in general. Another argument that people may have is that they do not see my petition as being a major issue. Well let’s think closely. As a society we create lows to prevent discrimination for occurring and when it already is occurring. For instance, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was created to prevent restaurants from discriminating against people based on your race and religion. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prevented discrimination in places when discrimination was occurring and where it was not occurring. With that in mind, not restaurant is currently allowed to deny a person service based on your race and religion. So people do not want the government to add sexual orientation in their because some believe that it is a chose while the gay community believes that they were born that way. Well let’s think about it. We all know that being or following a religion is a choice and that you are born a race, either black, white or any color. Therefore, why can’t sexual orientation be added in there. One day I hope that is so but currently am only dealing with local issues. Locally this can happen at any point, hour or day. The fact of the matter should not be when this happens; it should be that this can happen.

I acknowledge some individuals concerns, who oppose legislation when we do not need it. I tend to agree with them at an extent but even those individuals with that view point have signed my petition because it can happen.

I want you Keller City Council to accept my petition as a whole and of course to validate the signatures. Mr. Dan O’Leary told me that you {Mr. Pat McGrail} would not sign my freedom to marry pledge because you did not want to get involved into a national campaign effort and you wanted to stay on local issues. Well this is not a national campaign effort and this is a local issue. People in the city want a mayor who is not afraid to stand up for equality of all people and we want a mayor who will help fight off discrimination. We do not want a City Government that will just not talk about a taboo issue of subject, but we want a city government that will stand tall and proud in supporting local anti-discrimination measures. We the people want you to help create a non-discrimination ordinance and help this city be the first small city in Texas to have such a ban. At the conclusion of the pledge of Allegiance, we state: for liberty and justice for all and that is what we the people want and should apply to our daily lives. Please accept this for liberty and justice for all.

I know some people disagree with me and also a lot of people agree with me but I want to thank you all, very sincerely for coming and listing. I really appreciate it.

Thank You!!

 

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