For the first time, I saw the NDO debate firsthand at City Council's Citizens to be Heard last night. With hours, maybe even minutes, before the long-awaited vote on this ordinance, which would add "gender identity" and "sexual orientation," I'm trying to process what I saw last night, for the four hours I observed testimony (Mary Tuma picked up the first two-and-a-half hours).
More than 700 people signed up to speak, but even with stringent time limits enforced, by 11:15pm the council was barely on No. 200 on the list of testifiers, prompting Mayor Castro to offer to people who wanted to testify but couldn't keep waiting through the night to come back in the morning and speak during the A session. At that point many people left, and the entire crowd that remained were able to speak in less than 1 hour and 45 minutes.
WINNERS: At first blush, the night belonged to the blue-shirted folks who oppose the non-discrimination ordinance. They certainly seemed to have numbers on their side early on and cheered loudly after nearly every fellow blue-shirt spoke. Here's why: overwhelmingly the opposition is Christian-led, giving blue shirt recruitment a somewhat easy pool to tap into of several local congregations, some of them quite large. The people who spoke against the organization did include professional partisans like Weston Martinez and Jonathan Saenz and other middle-aged professionals, but many were from an older, likely retired, demographic or were stay-at-home mothers, giving them the time to line up in front of City Council chambers earlier in the day, and thus getting more seats on the Council floor.
By contrast, the red-shirts that support the NDO are comprised (though certainly not entirely) of a younger base, many of whom had to come to Council after work or school, while they were present, they didn't seem proportionally represented on the Council floor, and their cheering was much more reserved. Some also chose to stay outside Council and rally support from passing cars when their energy might have been better used (and noticed) inside.
LOSERS: While the blue-shirts had the numbers, the just didn't have a cohesive argument. During Mary's and my time there last night we heard that Council should oppose the argument because of: AIDS, pedophilia, promotion of the "gay lifestyle," the Bible and thought policing. Even the more coherent argument against, that this infringes on one's freedom of religion, has always been incorrect since religious organizations have an exemption, and private businesses, I believe, still have the right to refuse service to anyone (and suffer the consequences).
The red-shirts were much more on-message as a group. From the beginning, NDO supporters have claimed that sexual orientation and gender identity merit inclusion in non-discrimination rules via evidence of discrimination in public housing and community boards. They have also accurately claimed that San Antonio is one of the last major cities not only in Texas, but in the nation, not to protect such groups. Many of their testimonies presented stories of discrimination and even death, and the night really belonged not to LGBT citizens themselves, but their family members who stayed late into the night to advocate for their loved ones. Our columnist Richard Farias' mother, a Catholic, said she simply wanted Richard to be treated with the same respect and protections as afforded to her other five straight children. Lauryn Farris' son spent his birthday, along with his wife, waiting to testify that his mother, president of the San Antonio Gender Association and a transgender woman, deserves protection under the ordinance. Ginger Clattenburg, whose brother was slain for allegedly making an ill-advised pass at a straight man, received one of the few standing ovations given by the red-shirts. Trinity professor Amy Stone and advocates in social work and fair housing brought compelling statistics showing local evidence of discrimination.
THE FINALE: Opponents of the NDO are now asking for the issue to be put before a citywide vote, which isn't likely to happen, but gives fuel to the social conservative's fears that without such a move, the passage of the NDO represents some sort of tyrannical PC state (which one testifier hilariously said would have San Antonio leadership standing with Che Guevara, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin).
The blue shirts haven't been able to come up with a cohesive, compelling argument for their reluctance of saying what it is they're actually asking for: the continued right to discriminate against LGBT citizens, or at least not afford them protection from said discrimination, based solely on religious beliefs. There is no apparent endgame that would be achieved from said discrimination, aside from preventing bogus drag queen bathroom attacks on unsuspecting women, and perhaps the eventual "self-deportation" out of the "gay lifestyle" and back into the warm embrace of heterosexual norms and safely away from influencing future generations. Or maybe if that doesn't work, they just want to drive their LGBT neighbors, coworkers, friends and maybe even family members to self-deport from the city, if not the planet (via suicide), by making it damned uncomfortable for them to lead normal lives here.
Instead, from early on in this fight, opponents to the NDO have gleefully doled out heaps of misinformation and conflation (Gregg Abbott's recent insistence on tying the NDO to gay marriage is a memorable one) in order to rally people behind their cause. When your main tactics are confusion and outright lying, you've got a rhetorical problem on your hands. Many in the Council know it, many in the city know it, and many LGBT citizens and allies throughout the country know it. The choice is clear, you either want to continue to allow unchecked discrimination of a vibrant, growing portion of San Antonio's population, or you don't.
Today, City Council should do its job, to represent its constituents in matters such as this to the best of their ability, and not turn it over to a popular vote that would unnecessarily waste more taxpayer money and government time. Follow Mary Tuma live at City Council @TumaTime for real time updates on the expected vote.