Eric-Johnson

Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas)

 

Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) this week filed an employment protection bill in the Texas House of Representatives that includes sexual orientation and gender expression.

Current Texas law protects workers against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability.

“Every Texan should have the opportunity to work hard and provide for their families,” Johnson said. “Right now the law allows someone to be fired simply for being him or herself or for whom they love. This is a civil rights issue.”

The Legislative Budget Board, which analyzes the cost of proposed legislation, estimated 500 credible cases of discrimination could be reported each year.

Resource Center spokesman Rafael McDonnell said that even in Dallas and Fort Worth, which have nondiscrimination ordinances, the only way to strengthen protections is through state legislation.

“This is long overdue for Texas to have,” McDonnell said.

Fairness Fort Worth President David Mack Henderson said passing the bill would be an uphill battle in this legislative session.

“We all know this is going to be a difficult legislative session,” Henderson said. “We need to keep the flame alive. Kudos to [Johnson] for carrying the torch.”

At a rally on Wednesday, Jan. 7, opposing the new Plano nondiscrimination ordinance, Collin County representatives vowed to file legislation making local nondiscrimination ordinances illegal in Texas. The reasons ranged from “there is no discrimination in Plano” to “Christians are being persecuted.”

Johnson said he filed the bill on Jan. 8 in honor of the anniversary of Harvey Milk taking office in San Francisco. Milk, one of the first openly-gay people in the U.S. elected to public office, passed the first nondiscrimination ordinance. Since then 21 states and hundreds of cities have added sexual orientation and many have also added gender identity and expression to their employment laws.

Polls show more than 75 percent of Texans support employment nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The Legislature is lagging behind the people of Texas in this issue,” Johnson said. “We need to catch up.”

In Congress this week, the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of representatives and senators to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 9, 2015.