Parker proposed a broad nondiscrimination ordinance that includes LGBT protections for employment in private businesses


Houston Mayor Annise Parker

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

HOUSTON —Mayor Annise Parker on Monday released a draft of her proposed Equal Rights Ordinance that includes employment protections in private business.

In her State of the City address on April 3, Parker said she hoped to pass nondiscrimination protections this spring.

Houston is the only major city in the U.S. with such an ordinance, but in her speech, she only mentioned protection in city employment.

“As I stated in my State of the City Address earlier this month, the Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life,” Parker said Monday. “We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love. It’s time the laws on our books reflect this.”

As currently written, the ordinance would cover discrimination in city employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and employment in businesses with more than 50 employees. Religious organizations are exempt.

Parker had suggested creating a Human Rights Commission to monitor the ordinance. Instead, according to the draft, the city’s Office of Inspector General and the City Attorney will handle complaints. If the subject of a complaint refuses to cooperate with an investigation, the city attorney may ask the City Council to approve the issuance of a subpoena to compel cooperation. The mayor may also create an advisory task force to study and report on discrimination issues.

The draft will be presented to the City Council’s Quality of Life Committee on April 30 and to the full council on May 7.

The draft of the Houston ordinance is 34 pages, much more detailed than Dallas’ which has been in effect for more than a decade. The Houston draft gives detailed explanations of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

That wording was much less common when the city of Dallas adopted its ordinance. City staff is now reviewing that wording for possible updating. In the Dallas ordinance, sexual orientation “means an individual’s real or perceived orientation as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transgender.”

Although transgender is not a sexual orientation, the trans community was always intended to be covered and protected from discrimination.

Violators of the Houston ordinance could be fined up to $5,000. Dallas only allows for a $500 fine.

Parker was originally going to protect city employment only. Instead, she added private employment for companies with more than 50 employees. The Dallas ordinance applies to “any person who has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of two or more calendar weeks in the current or preceeding calendar year, and includes any agent of such a person.”

Equality Texas Field Organizer Daniel Williams said Equality Texas has been encouraging people to call the Houston mayor’s and council members’ offices to expand employment protections. He said 70 percent of Houstonians oppose employment discrimination.

Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor’s Council complained about the ordinance to the Houston Chronicle.

“She is using anecdotal examples of discrimination, which may or may not occur, based on race and veterans’ situations as a front for her promises to ‘her people,’ as she described them in her inaugural address, the GLBT community,” Welch said.

Williams said the Houston Area Pastors Council “pitched a fit,” but they have opposed every initiative Parker has made through her nine terms in office as city councilwoman, comptroller and mayor.

“It’s not surprising people who don’t want the LGBT community to have all the rights and opportunities provided to all Houstonians would be upset that all LGBT people have access to all the rights and opportunities provided to all Houstonians,” Williams said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 25, 2014.