The Biggest Little Gay Rights Battle in Texas: An NDO timeline

It's been a long, bumpy road for a seemingly simple rule update. The City of San Antonio has long had a non-discrimination ordinance in place, which protects citizens from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age and handicap in dealings with City employees, City contracts and subcontracts, board and commission appointments and housing and public accommodations. Starting at least 15 years ago, the local LGBT community has sought to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to those groups protected from discrimination. Some similar protections offered by municipalities stretch as far back as three decades (Austin, which added gender identity in 2004) and even the relatively conservative city of Fort Worth had sexual orientation protections in place since 2000.

While two serious attempts (in 1998 and 2011) to get non-discrimination laws to cover members of the LGBT community failed in San Antonio, cities such as El Paso, Houston and even Waco made efforts to protect gay and/or transgender citizens from discrimination in public accommodations, city employment and city contract bids, among other criteria.

When the Human Rights Campaign released a dismal San Antonio score on their annual Municipal Equality Index, (48 out of 100, four points behind Houston, the second-lowest ranked Texas city) the Mayor's office renewed its efforts to reach out to the LGBT community, simultaneously re-igniting the non-discrimination ordinance debate. But the conservative community wasn't about to let the last major Texas hold-out on these ordinances go quietly, turning what ought to have been a minor, but symbolically significant, code update into a months-long battle royale pitting LGBT citizens and progressives against religious activists and social conservatives which stretched far beyond SA's geographic boundaries.

1998: The City of San Antonio makes its first attempt at protecting municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The measure was withdrawn before a vote due to public controversy.

Summer 2011: CAUSA (Community Alliance for a United San Antonio) forms to, among other things, lobby City Hall for LGBT issues. They begin talking to District 1 council hopeful Diego Bernal about including sexual orientation and gender identity in the city's non-discrimination ordinances.

Fall 2011: While the City passes domestic partner benefits for city employees, talk of protecting LGBT members from discrimination is tabled. Undeterred, CAUSA members resume NDO talks in November.

January 17, 2013: Mayor Castro's newly named LGBT community liaison, Adam Greenup, tells the Current one of his goals is to update the City's non-discrimination ordinance to include members of the LGBT community.

May 7, 2013: District 1 City Council member Diego Bernal, now running unopposed for re-election, announces that he will file a council consideration request to update the city's non-discrimination ordinances (NDO) to include "sexual orientation and gender identity." He believed he could have it up for a vote by mid-June at the latest.

Mid-June 2013: Activists both supporting and opposing the proposed changes to the NDO begin flooding weekly Citizens to be Heard meetings.

"I don't want to die unequal. You have the chance to make our San Antonio equal, for me, for my children, for my grandchildren."
Julie Pousson, NDO supporter

Late-June 2013: Alliance Defending Freedom, a "legal ministry" that advocates for conservative Christian values, holds a conference call for opponents of the NDO, presenting a script for the opposition to follow and encouraging call participants to make San Antonio City Council's phones "ring off the hook."

July 23, 2013: Extreme conservative website WND runs an article on the non-discrimination ordinance with the headline "U.S. City Looks to Penalize Bible Believers."

July 25, 2013: Bernal removes language that would have allowed council to evaluate candidates for city boards and commissions based on whether there was evidence they had discriminated against gay and transgender people in "word or deed." The council member also uncouples the LGBT requirement from a similar requirement to provide non-discrimination protection to veterans.

July 30, 2013: Radio FOX News pundit Todd Starnes, self-proclaimed "gun-toting, chicken-eating, Bible-clinging son-of-a-Baptist" reports on the opposition to the NDO. A day later FOX News' Shannon Bream said on the cable channel's program America Live that "[the] rule could block the hiring of anyone who speaks out against homosexuality because of their moral or religious beliefs, and that includes Christian business owners."

The Washington Times, after reporting on the ordinance on July 24, issues a scathing editorial stating that the ordinance would ban "anyone who believes homosexual conduct is wrong from serving, ever, on a municipal board." The editorial called supporters of the ordinance "bigots."

"George Orwell is alive and hiding in Texas."
The Washington Times, confusing not only the NDO's intent, but also Orwell's beliefs from those he criticized in (we suppose) 1984.

Early August 2013: State Senator Ken Paxton (R-McKinney), State Representative Dan Branch (R-Dallas) and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, the three announced candidates for next year's state Attorney General race (all Republicans), separately voice their opposition to the ordinance. On Aug. 19, Branch sends a letter to Mayor Castro stating as much.

August 2, 2013: In response to the misinformation circulating among national conservative media outlets, Media Matters for America posts "Debunking the Lies about San Antonio's Proposed LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance."

August 4-5, 2013: Cornerstone Church pastor John Hagee speaks out against the ordinance in his church sermon and on Glenn Beck's talk show.

August 6, 2013: CAUSA launches a petition encouraging SA city council members to support the ordinance. At press time, it garnered 1,461 signatures.

August 7, 2013: More than 120 show up for Citizens to be Heard, the first since City Council returned from a month-long recess in July.

August 11, 2013: During service, Pastor Hagee publicly drops his opposition after learning of the re-worked ordinance wording. However, after an outcry among conservative pundits, he later clarifies he is still opposed to the ordinance.

August 14, 2013: Pastor Charles Flowers and others hold a prayer rally outside City Hall opposing the NDO. "The ordinance is taking away our rights as Christians," Nancy Goettman, chairwoman of the Bexar County chapter of the Christian Coalition of America.

On the same day, 300+ show up for Citizens to be Heard. Eric Alva, a disabled veteran speaking in support of the ordinance, is booed.

"When this ordinance passes, because it will, I will never have to worry about getting fired from a job, getting denied employment from a job or even being banned from an establishment for who I am." Eric Alva, the first American soldier wounded in Iraq

August 15, 2013: Brian Chasnoff at the Express-News publishes a secret recording made in a May 21 meeting in which District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan refers to homosexuality as "so disgusting" during a meeting to discuss how to spin her opposition to the ordinance. She also makes disparaging remarks about the transgender community and LGBT couples hoping to adopt.

The story is picked up by national media sites from Wonkette to Buzzfeed to the LGBT blog Towleroad. Even George Takei, the gay Asian-American actor, posted to his 4.4 million Facebook fans that "personally, I find this woman's actions repugnant."

Mayor Castro responds calling Elisa Chan's remarks "hurtful and ignorant."

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz releases a statement opposing the ordinance.

August 16, 2013: CAUSA holds a press conference calling for Chan to undergo education and sensitivity training, if not resign as District 9's council rep. CAUSA co-chair Dan Graney claims he had two separate conversations in 2009 with Chan in which she indicated she would support the measure.

District 8 representative Ron Nirenberg places on "indefinite leave" a former Chan staffer who advised her to "be a culture warrior" on the NDO fight and later made his way to District 8. Nirenberg also announces his support for the ordinance.

August 20, 2013: GetEQUAL issues a travel alert for all LGBT individuals traveling to San Antonio, claiming the city was not safe for LGBT tourists due to it not having non-discrimination protections.

Elisa Chan holds a press conference where she claims her staff meetings are "free-speech zones" and says she will "not change her own values or beliefs for political gain or survival … political correctness will not win this day; standing firm as an individual in service to the whole community does." She does not apologize for her May 21 remarks.

Late August 2013: Cris Medina in District 7 comes out in favor of the ordinance.

August 24, 2013: A campaign to recall Bernal, the ordinance change request author, is initiated. In response, NDO supporters, including entire neighborhood associations, hold rallies and make announcements in support of Bernal.

August 26, 2013: State Attorney General Greg Abbott, not incidentally running for Governor, issues a statement opposing the ordinance, claiming "it would not prevent discrimination, but impose it" via burdening people's right to exercise religion. He also said that the ordinance would run afoul of the Texas Constitution, which prohibits religious tests and defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. (Ed. Note: Marriage, we'd like to point out, doesn't come up in the ordinance at all.)

August 27, 2013: District 9 residnt D'mitri Kosub files a complaint alleging Chan and her staff violated City Ethics by discussing partisan politics using city staff, time or property.

August 28, 2013: Pro-LGBT groups are surprised to learn a "bathroom provision" has been added to the NDO language, which clarifies a state law that only recognizes the gender identity a person is born with in regards to the use of public restroom and shower facilities. While many in the transgender community dislike the inclusion, most vow to continue to support the measure.

More than 500 people sign up to speak for or against the NDO in San Antonio. Chan and District 10 council member Carlton Soules propose that the NDO be put on a citywide ballot to deafening cheers from NDO opposition.

August 29, 2013: Conservative State Sen. Dan Patrick releases a statement in opposition to the NDO, writing the ordinance "runs counter to the Holy Bible" and U.S. Constitution. Fellow State Sen. Donna Campbell sends a letter to Mayor Castro making similar points.

August 30, 2013: San Antonio-area Democrat state lawmakers Mike Villarreal, Ruth Jones McClendon, Justin Rodriguez, Joe Farias, Roland Gutierrez, Trey Martinez-Fischer, Phillip Cortez and Jose Menendez send a joint letter of support of the NDO to Bernal.

September 3, 2013: U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett sends a letter to Bernal in support of the NDO. The San Antonio Spurs send a similar letter to Mayor Castro, citing the team and the NBA’s own non-discrimination policies.

Between 50-70 religious leaders convene a press conference in support of the NDO, including the interim rabbi of San Antonio’s largest Jewish congregation, as well as clergy from Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian Christian congregations.

September 4, 2013: Ken Mercer, who represents part of San Antonio on the Texas Board of Education, sends an email to his mailing list titled “The Culture War—San Antonio at Ground Zero” which is primarily concerned with the possibility of allowing males into female dressing rooms and showers, claiming “If the NDO passes, child molesters and sexual deviants will love this ordinance.”

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center convenes a press conference on local civil rights leaders who support the ordinance, including members of LULAC, Texas Indigenous Council, Council on Islamic Relations, Southwest Workers Union and the ALF-CIO. Previously, minority religious leaders had taken offense at the LGBT Rights movement being compared to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

729 people sign up to speak at the final Citizens to be Heard, which stretches until after 1 a.m.

September 5, 2013: City Council passes the update to the non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

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