Trans activist says nondiscrimination ordinance lacks teeth
Nell Gaither isn’t having it with Plano’s equal rights ordinance.
If anything, the Dallas transgender activist and Trans Pride Initiative president says she thinks the nondiscrimination ordinance, passed by the Plano City Council in December, is not just flawed but actually harmful.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21 TPI released a position statement denouncing the ordinance. And the organization did not hold back: “[We are] publishing this statement to express our conviction that the Plano Code of Ordinances Section 2-11, as modified by the so-called ‘Equal Rights Ordinance,’ is detrimental to the trans community and other marginalized persons who may experience discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Among the seven types of exemptions in the ordinance are nonprofit (except for city contractors), religious and educational organizations.
Gaither also believes the ordinance contradicts the announcement by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last year that Title VII of the 1964
Federal Civil Rights Act protects gender identity under the category of sex.
Exempting organizations from the ordinance means any complaint filed under Title VII could be disregarded, Gaither said.
“It’s a green light to discriminate with no recourse,” she added.
According to the 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, released jointly by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, more than half of respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation.
It’s history repeating to Amy Stone, an associate professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio who studies transgender issues. She couldn’t comment on the specifics of the Plano ordinance, but her research shows Gaither is probably right.
“A lot of transgender discrimination happens in public accommodations, including bathrooms, and faith-based nonprofit organizations like homeless shelters. Because of religious right opposition and misunderstandings about the different needs of trans people in the LGB community, transgender protections in many municipal nondiscrimination ordinances are often … weakened by unclear language over who is covered and exceptions like religious organizations and bathrooms.”
And Gaither isn’t the only trans activist decrying the ordinance. In December, Voice contributor Leslie McMurray blasted the ordinance in a column:
“The transgender community is once again left behind and twisting in the wind as the ‘we got ours’ attitude prevails once more. Not one organization that claims to represent LGBT interests stood up and cried foul. The LGB train left the station, again leaving the little ‘T’ far behind. ‘We’ll come back and get you later,’ they say.”
In an open letter also published in the Voice in December, the Transgender Education Network of Texas was blunt: The exemptions allow nonprofits to continue practicing bigotry.
“The city of Plano has created a situation wherein those who most need services such as shelter and other public accommodations can be turned away, refused service and ignored or treated badly simply because of who they are.”
Gaither says Plano and its elected officials don’t bear all the blame.
“Plano shut out the trans community because they didn’t understand the issues or the tactics of the conservative religious groups,” Gaither said. “GALA [ Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas ] has no interest in the trans community so didn’t do the right thing in their communications by insisting that the ordinance actually be an equal rights ordinance. [So] we have a lose/lose situation that is incredibly problematic for the broad community.”
Gaither also chided Equality Texas for accepting an ordinance that doesn’t adequately protect anyone in the LGBT community, especially trans people.
Opposition from the right
Opposition to the ordinance is also coming from the farthest opposite end of the spectrum, with many conservatives arguing it violates their religious liberties. That opposition includes Collin County’s state House delegation, members of whom signed a letter opposing the ordinance.
On Tuesday, Jan. 21, representatives of a group calling itself Plano Citizens United claimed they have enough signatures to force a referendum on the ordinance. According to the Plano City Secretary, only 3,822 of those signatures must be valid.
A similar effort to repeal Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance by the Houston-based US Pastors Council ultimately failed.
But Gaither was clear that she has hardly found allies in the Religious Right. “Even if I do really dislike the Plano ordinance, I just hate seeing the bigotry these folks express. I don’t get where it comes from,” she said.
Jeanne Rubin, vice president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas and a Frisco resident, has felt the heat. She said GALA was not as involved as has been suggested. She agrees the policy doesn’t go far enough, and stresses that her organization “didn’t write or approve anything.”
She also said the policy is an ongoing project, like so much of the political process.
“If you get 70 percent [of what you want], that’s fantastic,” Rubin said, quoting a friend and elected official. “We have to look outside of ourselves. It’s politics.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2015.