Homophobic rant casts shadow over city ordinance’s progress, but LGBT leaders say they have the votes needed to pass it Sept. 5
Sam Sanchez | Contributing Writer
SAN ANTONIO — LGBT activists called for San Antonio Councilwoman Elisa Chan’s resignation this week after a secret recording of her homophobic comments was made public.
Chan made the comments during a secretly recorded staff meeting in May made headlines across the country since they were released late last week.
The recording, which was posted online by the San Antonio Express-News, was made by former aide James Stevens. In the recording, Chan said gay people are “disgusting,” that same-sex couples should not adopt children and that gender identity is a matter of choice.
Chan also discussed how to oppose the nondiscrimination ordinance without sounding anti-gay.
The measure would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status. Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston have similar ordinances.
In response to Chan’s remarks, GetEQUAL TX issued a travel advisory this week for tourists and visitors to San Antonio, warning them of possible discrimination in public accommodations and advising them to eat and stay at LGBT-friendly businesses. The advisory is scheduled to end Sept. 6 — the day after the expected vote on the ordinance.
The Citizens Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA), the coalition of LGBT groups and allies promoting the nondiscrimination ordinance, called for Chan’s resignation during a press conference at City Hall on Aug. 16.
CAUSA co-chair Dan Graney said Chan’s remarks “clearly reflect her ignorance on just who we are.”
“We cannot know who the real council member is when we hear what she says behind closed doors,” he said. “Because of the clear animus she holds against a segment of her constituency, she is no longer fit to remain in office. CAUSA therefore demands that she resign immediately.”
Chan later said in a statement that her comments were her “personal opinions” and she was guaranteed her right to express her beliefs under the First Amendment. In a hastily called press conference on Aug. 20, Chan offered no apology for the comments, saying instead that “political correctness will not win the day.” In a show of defiance, Chan said she did not share the views of the LGBT community and she would not change her personal values for political gain.
Chan’s anti-gay rant has begun to overshadow positive developments in the upcoming vote on the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.
Mayor Julian Castro, a vocal supporter of the ordinance, called Chan’s comments “hurtful and misinformed.” He also spoke out against Get- EQUAL’s travel advisory, saying the city has always been welcoming.
“This advisory unnecessarily stands to hurt the city,” Castro told the Express-News. “The fact is that San Antonio always has been and remains welcoming to all.”
San Antonio added domestic partners of city employees in 2011. The city also added sexual orientation to city’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy in 2007.
The Express-News editorial board called for Chan to step down on Wednesday, writing “Bigotry and intolerance might define
Chan’s personal view on homosexuality and gender identity. But they have no place in public representation. Elisa Chan should resign from City Council.”
A Facebook page titled, “Elisa Chan Should Resign” went up this week and had 268 likes as of press time.
For organizers at CAUSA, Chan’s rants have been more of a distraction than a setback. One positive result from all the publicity over her comments was that Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who was undecided on the ordinance, came out publicly to endorse the measure.
Nirenberg issued a statement of support of the measure, explaining that “after months of deliberation and refinement” he was announcing his support for “the latest draft of the nondiscrimination ordinance. Every San Antonian deserves equal protection under the law, and I look forward to casting my vote to ensure it.
“We need to heal our divisions as a community, and we can only achieve that by revealing them and addressing them together,” Nirenberg added.
Nirenberg joins Castro, Council members Diego Bernal, Shirley Gonzales, Rey Saldana, Cris Medina and Ray Lopez in supporting the ordinance. Those seven votes, if they stand, will assure passage of the ordinance.
Still undecided are Councilwomen Ivy Taylor and Rebecca Viagran. Many political observers are saying that at least one of these two will most likely vote yes. Passage of the ordinance with eight votes would make it effective immediately.
There are two definite no votes: Chan and Councilman Carlton Soules, who said he sees no “empirical evidence” that a nondiscrimination ordinance is needed.
Meanwhile, CAUSA is continuing its advocacy full force, holding rallies and encouraging the LGBT community to speak before the City Council. On Wednesday, it hosted another City Hall press conference that included speakers from the religious, veterans and business communities.
CAUSA co-chair DeeDee Belmares said at the press conference that the “ordinance will ensure that all citizens and visitors will be treated fairly and equally. “We are confident that the ordinance will pass in September.”
The likelihood that the ordinance will pass has not silenced the opposition.
State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who represents part of Oak Lawn, sent a letter to Castro asking him to pull the ordinance from the council’s consideration. Branch has an issue with people of faith not being able to discriminate based on religious beliefs.
“The proposed ordinance itself discriminates — against people of faith,” Branch wrote. “The proposed city ordinance would exclude citizens from being appointed to city office … if they believe — as millions of people of faith do — in the traditional institution of marriage.”
TV evangelist John Hagee of the Cornerstone Church, who on Aug. 12 said he no longer opposed the ordinance, did a flip-flop after meeting on Aug. 19 with 200 civic and religious leaders who oppose to the measure.
“While the most egregious violation of the First Amendment has been removed, I oppose the ordinance,” Hagee said. “The group agreed that the ordinance violates both the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Act. We will work together to ensure the voice of San Antonio’s religious community is heard, and our ability to abide by God’s commandments is not abridged.”
The final vote on the nondiscrimination ordinance is scheduled for the morning of Sept. 5.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 23, 2013.