After Susan Duty realized LGBT workers in Texas could legally be discriminated against in employment because of who they are, she started looking into what she could do locally in Waco.
“It means something to me,” she said, adding that she has a gay brother and gay friends. “I wanted to do something about it.”
Duty, a straight ally, attended an Equality Texas event a few months ago, learning that the state doesn’t offer protections against anti-LGBT job discrimination. Legislation has been filed for the current legislative session to add the statewide protections.
“When I found out that it was legal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, I was like, that’s ridiculous,” Duty said. “We can’t change it in the state, but we can change it in our city. We can change it in our community.”
Duty then began her research on how to add the employment protections to the city of Waco’s nondiscrimination policy. She and a friend drafted a letter requesting that the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee recommend the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to City Council. The policy currently protects employees based on race, gender, color, religion, national origin, age and disability.
The letter will be read to the six-member committee Thursday, Jan. 24, and members will vote whether or not to recommend it to the City Council, which is comprised of five members and the mayor.
Several cities like Dallas and Fort Worth have nondiscrimination ordinances prohibiting discrimination citywide in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Duty said she thought it would be easier to just have the protections added to the employment policy.
Duty said she’s prepared for opposition and has already prepared to take the issue to City Council, where she expects to have a harder fight. She’s talked to council members who have agreed to sponsor the changes and bring the issue before the council, which would likely happen in February.
Daniel Williams, field organizer for Equality Texas, said the local response during his Waco trip was very positive and those in attendance wanted to know what they could do locally after hearing about the statewide legislation that’s been filed.
Williams said he is “extremely optimistic” about the committee sending the proposal along to the council to ultimately approve the additions. He said just because Waco is known for being conservative doesn’t mean the city’s leaders won’t stand for equality.
“Waco is absolutely a conservative city, but I think it is a mistake to make the assumption that simply because Waco is conservative that means that Waco is homophobic,” he said.
Duty said she is also optimistic about the vote because she’s gotten to know some of the committee members and some have already agreed to vote for it. She added that she’s asking them to send it on to City Council to discuss and vote on, not asking the committee to vote in favor of including the protections.
“We’ve got some conservative people here that get really, really scared when you say LGBT. They don’t care what you’re talking about, but they get scared,” she said. “It’s not a super big deal, but you never know.”
Duty attends Baylor University and said the university has been progressive in recent years. Although it wouldn’t officially recognize the gay group Sexual Identity Forum as a student group that started a few years ago, she said its organizers worked with university officials to change the college’s policy about hiring gay faculty. The policy now allows gays to be hired but prohibits them from talking about their relationships or being gay, she said.
Duty said her beliefs about accepting the LGBT community differ from the traditional anti-gay Christian belief Baylor and Waco are known for. And while she fully expects Bible verses to be quoted from those who oppose the LGBT employment protections, she hopes the religious intolerance won’t play a part in halting city progress.
“I consider myself a spiritual person, maybe not necessarily to the Baptist school, but I just think that religion doesn’t have a lot to do with this,” Duty said. “Justice and equality is something that should be recognized and worked for no matter what your religious leanings.”
Read Duty’s letter below.