It'll be a public statement about discrimination in the City of Houston if a planned anti-discrimination ordinance gets through the council. For her final two years in office, Mayor Annise Parker wants to be working on greening Houston and cutting deeper into the homelessness problem, but it may be the so-called human rights ordinance that gets all the attention.
The wide-ranging anti-discrimination proposal looks to prohibit discrimination in "city employment and contracting, housing and public accommodations." It would include bars, restaurants, retail stores and businesses that serve the public. It's nothing that's different from federal discrimination laws, except for one thing: It adds protections to the gay and transgender community.
"Every other mega city in America has local laws and ordinances that govern how we treat each other. Houston doesn't have any, we default to the federal standards," she said at a press conference on Thursday following her State of the City speech.
The idea, which she plans to have on the city council agenda by May, names a human rights commission of seven citizens appointed by the mayor. The commission would be the place for people to handle discrimination squabbles. Any misdeeds would be looked into by the office of the inspector general, fines an court appearances could result.
"I would invite people to think about how Houston integrated. All of the other cities, the integration of the lunch counters was done with a lot of pain. In Houston, the "Houston way" prevailed, and that was the business community recognized discrimination was not used for business," Parker said.
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But this law stops short of making any mandates to private businesses, especially when it comes to hiring. Lone Star Q talked to the head of the Houston GLBT caucus about the issue:
Maverick Welsh, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said he thinks Parker's fear is that if the ordinance includes private-sector employers, it won't have enough votes to pass the council. However, Welsh said the Caucus supports an ordinance that includes citywide employment protections. "If you favor an ordinance that does not include private sector employment, you're siding with the right of employers to discriminate," Welsh told Lone Star Q on Friday. "My opinion is, put the right ordinance on the table, let the council vote on it in the open. Let them vote on it in the open, so the community can know, and hold people accountable. I don't see any reason for us to compromise on this issue. Discrimination is discrimination."
The details of the ordinance are still being hashed out and Parker said they can always work through the changes. For some, making the point of including the GLBT community is seen as Parker finally coming around to her roots. But by stopping short of making the ordinance apply citywide, it may just be another sign of compromise that has shaped Parker's tenure.
In some corners of the gay community Parker isn't seen as the crusader for the cause that she was when she was building up her base of support in Montrose. Now, in her final term she's starting to push for that base again, but might be stopping a little short.