A coalition of organizations led by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus has announced plans to place a city-wide nondiscrimination charter amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would make it a misdemeanor to deny employment, housing or public accommodation to a person because of their “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.” The amendment would also allow the city of Houston in institute a “plus-one” health insurance system, allowing city employees to add an additional person to their city-provided healthcare coverage.
Currently in Houston (and in much of Texas) it is perfectly legal to discriminate against a person for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
In order to place the charter amendment on the ballot the group will need to collect 20,000 signatures from Houston citizens. Noel Freeman, president of the Caucus, says that the group has not finalized the language of the proposed charter amendment adding they hope to begin collecting signatures within a few weeks.
Houston voters have rejected similar protections in the past, twice in 1985 and again in 2001 when a charter amendment banning domestic partner benefits passed. If recent polling data is to believed, however, the civic attitude may be changing. A 2010 poll conducted by the Glengariff group for Equality Texas, a statewide LGBT lobbying organization, indicates an overwhelming percentage of Houstonians support laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Respondents also indicated they supported extending domestic partner benefits to state employees. Here’s the data:
Would you support or oppose a law making it illegal to fire someone or deny housing in Texas to any person solely because he or she is gay or lesbian?
Houston: Strongly Support 68.4% Somewhat Support10.1% Somewhat Oppose 3.6% Strongly Oppose 14.6% Don’t Know 2.4%
Would you support or oppose a law making it illegal to fire or deny housing in Texas to any person solely because they are transgender?
Houston: Strongly Support 62.8% Somewhat Support 10.9% Somewhat Oppose 6.1% Strongly Oppose 15.8% Don’t Know 3.6%
Would you support or oppose extending domestic partnership benefits for things like health benefits to gay and lesbian employees that work for the government and public universities so that they match the same benefits offered to heterosexual employees?
Houston: Strongly Support 50.6% Somewhat Support 15.4% Somewhat Oppose 5.3% Strongly Oppose 21.9% Don’t Know 6.1%
Clearly Houston isn’t as homophobic of a city as some would suppose (we have elected lesbians to citywide office eleven times after all), and the public support for such a measure is obviously there. The question then is if the organizers behind the charter amendment can get enough people to the polls in November to pass it.