In the wake of both sweeping national changes and historic movement in another Texas city, many eyes are now turning to Houston, and wondering when we will follow suit with a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance. But this debate has been very active in the Bayou City for a while. In fact, Texas Leftist asked Houston Mayor Annise Parker directly about her reluctance to move such a measure back in April. Here’s a reminder of that exchange…
Texas Leftist: During your administration, you’ve tackled some of our city’s toughest issues… Chapter 42, city pensions, etc. and as a result have made tremendous progress. But why has so little been done regarding the LGBT community? With the exception of city government and some other select businesses you can still be fired for being LGBT because we do not have a non-discrimination ordinance for general employment. This lags behind other Texas cities such as Dallas, Austin, and Ft. Worth. When will you work to pass city-wide non-discrimination laws for our city? And even if it weren’t to pass council, isn’t the conversation worth having for the sake of all Houstonians?
Mayor Annise Parker: The conversation is worth having and as an openly lesbian politician, it is clearly not an issue I’m afraid to tackle, but see the answer above. I am unwilling to bring an issue forward when I know there aren’t sufficient votes to pass it. A non-discrimination ordinance would be important, but I am more interested in seeing discrimination removed from our city charter.
The city is prohibited by charter from offering domestic partner benefits or from recognizing the domestic relationships of our gay and lesbian employees. It would require a vote of the citizens to undo. I hope Council will join me in placing it on the ballot at the appropriate time.
Of course, that was then, and thanks to San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and some very brave city council members, this is now. When asked yesterday if a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance is something Houston should do, this was the Mayor’s response, directly from Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle…
“It is absolutely something we should do, and the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance,” said Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. “But this is an issue that requires all of council to be engaged and agree it is time to move it forward. When it happens, we will do that.”
So the Mayor confirms what many in the city have suspected… the majority of Houston City Council is probably in support of a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance. But no one knows for sure because the council members themselves have not been put on record for their stance on equality.
Thankfully though, the day has come. If you haven’t checked out Off the Kuff’s 2013 election page and listened to his interview series, I highly recommend it as an essential voter resource. So far this year, he has asked every candidate for City Council whether or not they support domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, and as it turns out, the responses are mostly in favor from the data he’s collected at this point. The question is out there, and unlike past years, Houston City Council will have to answer.
Of course he’s asking only about domestic partner benefits, and not about a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance. Which is why I included it in the very first Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire (TLCQ), currently being distributed (via email) to all Houston municipal candidates. If Mayor Parker thinks that “all of council” should be engaged in the subject for political action to occur, then it’s time to help make that happen.
And if you’re wondering where the Mayor’s top challenger Ben Hall stands on LGBT equality, you’re going to have to keep doing so, as he has refused entirely to give an opinion on the issue. Hopefully Mr. Hall knows that whoever stands to be the next Mayor of the City of Houston will not have the luxury of ignoring monumental shifts in the fight for LGBT rights. And if he wants any credible chance of winning this year’s election, he won’t be able to ignore for much longer.