Groups launch recall petition against author, flood City Hall for meetings, but LGBT protections appear headed for passage Sept. 5
SAM SANCHEZ | Contributing Writer
Opponents of San Antonio’s proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, which would add protections for LGBT citizens, are ratcheting up their efforts and seem to be growing angrier as it becomes apparent that the measure is set to pass when it comes up for a final City Council vote on Sept. 5.
Last weekend, Christian extremists set their sights on City Councilman Diego Bernal, who is leading the effort to pass the ordinance. The Bexar County Conservative Coalition announced they would begin collecting signatures in an attempt to recall the councilman.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that the opponents of the ordinance were telling voters that it would allow men to use the women’s restroom in order to persuade them to sign the recall petition. The group hopes to collect the 6,000 signatures needed to proceed with the recall. They hoped to have 100 block walkers collecting signatures. However, news reports indicated only about 15 people showed up on the first day of the effort.
In retaliation, some residents of Bernal’s district who support the ordinance are putting signs on their doors that say, “Don’t knock on our door! #NDO4SA – Love lives here.”
Meanwhile, the leading opponent of the ordinance on the City Council is also facing calls to step down.
On Aug. 23, former City Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna called for the resignation of Councilwoman Elisa Chan, who was secretly recorded making disparaging remarks about gays during a staff meeting where she was devising a strategy to oppose the nondiscrimination ordinance.
A former aide to Chan made the recording, and the Express-News published an edited version Aug. 16 in which Chan is heard saying LGBT people are “so disgusting.”
In the unreleased portion of that recording which was made public on Aug. 23, Chan discussed Ozuna’s family, making comments about Sophia
Parafina, the transgender woman who is Ozuna’s spouse. The couple have two children.
“I am terribly saddened to learn that me and my family were used as subjects of ridicule and criticism by Elisa Chan and her staff,” Ozuna said in a statement. “We wholeheartedly believe that the public trust has been compromised. I believe that Elisa Chan should no longer remain in a position of making prejudiced, ill-informed decisions that could cause irreparable harm to the good people of San Antonio.”
Chan apologized to Ozuna but not to others she disparaged on the recording.
“I apologize profusely to Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna and her family for referencing their lives in our private conversation,” Chan said. “I did not address the withheld minute of the recording earlier because it was never my intention to hurt anyone.”
The proposed ordinance has also become a political issue for candidates in 2014 races.
Three Republicans who are running for Texas attorney general — state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, state Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman — have all come out against the proposal, saying that it would discriminate against people of faith.
Republican AG Greg Abbott, who’s running for governor, also joined the fray. “Religious expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution, and this ordinance is also contrary to the clearly expressed will of the Texas Legislature. Although the proposal has been couched in terms of liberty and equality, it would have the effect of inhibiting the liberty of expression and equality of opportunity for San Antonians,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s potential Democratic opponent in 2014, state Sen. Wendy Davis, voted in favor of a similar ordinance while a member of the Fort Worth City Council in 2000.
In a City Hall rally on Aug. 27, black and Latino pastors assembled about 350 people to voice their concerns about the ordinance.
Opposition leader Pastor Charles Flowers, who in 2007 was arrested for dragging a teenage girl behind a truck at his Christian bootcamp, told the rally,
“The homosexual, lesbian and gender confused community has sought to piggy back on the civil rights movement.” He went on to warn that today “is the beginning of a movement” for Christians to fight for their values and their faith.
The same day as the Christian rally, Democratic operative D’mitri Kosub, filed a sworn complaint of ethics violations with the City Clerk against Councilwoman Chan, saying she violated a “San Antonio administrative directive and city ordinance by using city staff, city time, or city property for a partisan political purpose.”
Chan has become something of a local hero and icon for Christian extremists. In a City Council meeting on Aug. 28 where the nondiscrimination ordinance was discussed, Chan was greeted by a standing ovation. She received a second standing ovation when she suggested the ordinance should be put on the ballot for a vote in the next election.
For that meeting, Christian groups bused in hundreds of followers, outnumbering supporters by at least five to one. The crowd was so large the city provided two overflow rooms where the meeting was televised via live feed.
Outside council chambers, those Christians who could not get into the meeting created a prayer circle while a group of ordinance supporters, including a few gaudily attired drag queens shouted, “Equality Now!” Tweets from inside the meeting reported the protestors chants could be heard loud and clear.
Supporters of the ordinance were dealt a blow on Wednesday when Councilman Bernal released changes to the draft. One of those revisions codifies the right of businesses to deny the use of restrooms to transgender citizens.
The new language reads: “Nothing herein shall be construed as directing any policy or practice regarding the use of restrooms, shower rooms, or similar facilities which have been designated for use by persons of the opposite sex.”
Supporters of the ordinance made their views known immediately. “Equality Texas and coalition partners oppose the restroom language in this draft and we are working with coalition partners to have it revised,” wrote Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith in a Facebook post.
Lauryn Farris of the Transgender Education Network of Texas said the organization “stands in solidarity with other trans communities in opposing the language recently added to the San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance. We whole-heartedly support the ordinance and the efforts being made by City Council, but we cannot support the bathroom exclusionary language.”
After the ordinance changes were released, Texas Public Radio commentator Ryan Lord wrote: “Groups on both sides of San Antonio’s proposed nondiscrimination ordinance have fought fiercely about the matter . . . But now, no one is in agreement over the ordinance.”
It is not clear whether opponents of the new language will have any luck in persuading Councilman Bernal to change it.
Despite efforts pro and con, the ordinance already has enough votes on the City Council to assure its passage. The only question now is how two remaining undecideds, Councilwomen Ivy Tayor and Rebecca Viagran, will vote.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 30, 2013.