Compromise Reached on ERO’s ‘most divisive’ Provisions

In the increasingly heated battle over Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, set to be voted on tomorrow by Council, Mayor Parker announced a major compromise today.  She was flanked by several Council Members that were originally on the fence about said provisions.  Here’s the scoop from Jayme Fraser of the Houston Chronicle

Mayor Annise Parker and supporters of her proposed nondiscrimination ordinance announced a compromise Tuesday in hopes of deflecting controversy over a small provision that had dominated discussion on the measure.

A paragraph specifying that no business open to the public could deny a transgender person entry to the restroom consistent with his or her gender identity had outraged conservatives. Church and Republican political leaders have used the clause to claim the ordinance “provides an opportunity for sexual predators to have access to our families.”

Members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community were equally outraged, however, by a clause that would give businesses an out if the defendant had a “good faith belief” that the person’s claim of being transgender was disingenuous.

The proposed amendment would remove that paragraph of the expansive ordinance. Transgender people barred access to a restroom still would be able to file a discrimination complaint to the city’s Office of Inspector General under the process outlined for all protected characteristics, such as race and veteran status.

Though bathroom protections are highly preferred by HERO supporters, the compromise of dropping the controversial ‘good faith’ clause is a reasonable one.  In nearly all of their speeches, those opposed to the measure have brought up the bathroom provision almost to a fault.  Removing this portion of the ordinance takes a huge bite out of their stated arguments to equal protections.  Those that do suffer discrimination will still have a local avenue to bring up complaints through the Office of Inspector General, a protection that doesn’t exist under today’s laws.

On the other hand, the ‘good faith’ clause is an ambiguous statement that gives people ability to claim religious exemptions from prosecution, and could be easily abused.  The removal of this provision strengthens the overall ordinance, and further discourages discriminatory practices.

This compromise does not include amendments offered by Council Members, which will be voted on tomorrow after thorough consideration.  Council Members Gallegos and Gonzalez presented important amendments that would help to strengthen the measure, while Council Member Pennington’s would eradicate most protections.  Check out Off The Kuff for more on this, and stay tuned here for fast moving developments.

HERO press conference

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