Opponents falsely claim ordinance protecting LGBT people would ‘punish those who speak out against homosexuality’


CONFLICTING SIGNS | An anti-gay activist, far left, stands next to pro-LGBT counterprotesters at a rally in San Antonio’s Milam Park on Aug. 3. (Sam Sanchez)


SAM SANCHEZ  |  Contributing Writer

SAN ANTONIO — LGBT activists in San Antonio learned late last week that a City Council vote on the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance will most likely occur on Sept 5.

The vote, which has been delayed several times, has proven controversial after local opponents dubbed the measure “anti-Christian.”

Opponents of the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, which adds citywide protections for LGBT citizens, are speaking out to complain (erroneously) that the revisions would “punish those who speak out against homosexuality.”

The proposed changes would be made to sections of the city code that cover public accommodations, fair housing, city employment, city contracts, and appointments to city boards and commissions.

The language in the code would be amended to include sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status as protected classes. The cities of Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin have similar ordinances.

In late July, articles in online publications including The Washington Times, One News Now, World Net Daily and Biz Pac Review, and reports on KENS-5 TV and KABB Fox, ignited a firestorm of criticism nationwide that has yet to subside.

A copy of the proposed ordinance changes were made public in June after the measure was slated for discussion by the City Council. The passage opponents have been citing says:

“No person shall be appointed to a position if the City Council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age, or disability.”

This language already existed in the city code for decades, and the only difference is the addition of sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

“Me standing here, or anyone standing here in opposition of this particular ordinance are not allowed to be on any committee in the city and that goes against my freedom of speech,” Mike Knuffke of the San Antonio Family Association told KENS-5 TV.

Soon after those complaints surfaced, City Councilman Diego Bernal, who is leading the effort to enact the ordinance changes, removed the language from the draft.

Despite that, the attacks in conservative media have continued.

Many of those conservative media reports are spreading untruths about the ordinance, including that it threatens free speech, that it bans Christians from public office, and that religious businesses and organizations will be shut down.

In an Aug. 2 interview with MediaMatters.org, Bernal said: “I don’t mind people saying they disagree and listing the reasons why they disagree. And there’s a very stately or gentlemanly way to do that. But I’ve been taken aback by the amount of purposeful misinformation and I find that to be very harmful.

“Because I believe that instead of saying ‘you should oppose this because of these reasons’ or ‘you should oppose this based on moral or religious grounds,’ they’re saying if this passes it will result in this, and whatever this is, isn’t true,” he added. “Whether it’s keeping people off working commissions, disallowing them from running for council, or resulting in the arrest of Christians. That is ludicrous.

“So at any point someone speaks to the public or addresses the public and tells them that something will befall them that is not true, not only is it scary but it’s dangerous.”

On Aug. 3, about 150 anti-gay Christians, mostly Catholics, held a protest rally at Milam Park. There was little discussion of the nondiscrimination ordinance and more about protection of “traditional families” and anti-abortion rhetoric. LGBT protestors mingled with the crowd, often standing side by side with them during prayers and singing of hymns. The event was sponsored by the Texas Leadership Coalition, the San Antonio Family Association and the St. Joan of Arc Brigade.

While the City Council was on vacation during July, CAUSA (Community Alliance for a United San Antonio), the coalition of LGBT groups and allies that’s promoting the nondiscrimination ordinance, has been working to help assure passage of the measure.

In the past two weeks, CAUSA met with several City Council members, including Rey Saldana, Ray Lopez, Shirley Gonzales, Ron Nirenberg and Cris Medina.

Three of those meetings, with Saldana, Lopez and Gonzales, resulted in assurances of support for the ordinance.

In the other two meetings, Nirenberg and Medina did not reject the measure but have asked for more time to make their decisions. Passage of the ordinance changes requires six votes out of 11 on the City Council.

CAUSA organizers say they hope to meet with all 10 council members prior to the final vote. Two city council members, Elisa Chan and Carlton Soules, have already said they would vote “no.” Mayor Julian Castro supports the ordinance.

CAUSA has started a Change.org petition urging citizens to sign in support of the ordinance. As of Thursday, Aug. 8,  588 people have signed it. To sign, go to TinyURL.com/saordinance.

Also this week, Equality Texas issued an action alert: Equality Texas is asking that people contact these four city council members and ask them to support the ordinance:
• District 2, Ivy Taylor: 210-207-7278
• District 3, Rebecca Viagran: 210-207-7064
• District 7, Cris Medina – 210-207-7044
• District 8. Ron Nirenberg – 210-207-7086.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2013.