I had not realized this.
The nation’s largest LGBT political advocacy group indicated this week it is unlikely to help defend a nondiscrimination ordinance in Plano due to exemptions affecting the transgender community.
The announcement from the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign could amount to a costly setback for supporters of the ordinance, as the organization recently poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a similar fight in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Cathryn Oakley, HRC’s legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy, told the Observer on Thursday that the organization hasn’t made a final decision about its role if the ordinance appears on the ballot. However, Oakley also made clear that HRC would be reluctant to join the fight due to exemptions including one that appears to bar people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity—a provision which she called “transphobic.”
“The language in Plano is very problematic and in terms of investing a lot of resources in an ordinance that has a lot of problems, it’s difficult to see why that’s necessarily the best use of resources,” Oakley said. “If we had been consulted in the drafting of this bill, we would have withdrawn our support, and given that, it’s hard to justify defending it as valid.”
Nell Gaither, president of Dallas-based Trans Pride Initiative, has posted blistering attacks on social media saying exemptions in the ordinance amount to bigotry and accusing other LGBT groups of signing off on them.
“This is not a Plano issue. This is a Texas issue, and more,” Gaither wrote recently. “If they get away with the lie that this is an LGBT equality policy it will set a dangerous precedent that will be very difficult to overcome for many, many years.”
I confess, I totally missed this aspect of the Plano equal rights ordinance. My fault for not paying sufficiently close attention to the details and for not having more trans resources in my regular reading list. The Dallas Voice covered Gaither’s criticisms:
Nell Gaither isn’t having it with Plano’s equal rights ordinance.
If anything, the Dallas transgender activist and Trans Pride Initiative president says she thinks the nondiscrimination ordinance, passed by the Plano City Council in December, is not just flawed but actually harmful.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21 TPI released a position statement denouncing the ordinance. And the organization did not hold back: “[We are] publishing this statement to express our conviction that the Plano Code of Ordinances Section 2-11, as modified by the so-called ‘Equal Rights Ordinance,’ is detrimental to the trans community and other marginalized persons who may experience discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Among the seven types of exemptions in the ordinance are nonprofit (except for city contractors), religious and educational organizations. Gaither also believes the ordinance contradicts the announcement by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last year that Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act protects gender identity and sexual orientation.
Exempting organizations from the ordinance means any complaint filed under Title VII could be disregarded, Gaither said.
“It’s a green light to discriminate with no recourse,” she added.
Gaither says Plano and its elected officials don’t bear all the blame.
“Plano shut out the trans community because they didn’t understand the issues or the tactics of the conservative religious groups,” Gaither said. “GALA [ Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas ] has no interest in the trans community so didn’t do the right thing in their communications by insisting that the ordinance actually be an equal rights ordinance. [So] we have a lose/lose situation that is incredibly problematic for the broad community.”
Gaither also chided Equality Texas for accepting an ordinance that doesn’t adequately protect anyone in the LGBT community, especially trans people.
So here we have another object lesson in the need for diversity, and the vital importance of ensuring adequate representation of all stakeholders when undertaking a project like this. I encourage you to read the Trans Pride Initiative’s position paper on the Plano ERO and the specific points of concern it has with it. Their belief is that repealing the ordinance now would lead to a better outcome later. I’m sure some people will disagree with that. I don’t know how I feel about that as a strategic move. But I get where Gaither is coming from, and she totally has a point. Discrimination is still discrimination, and if this law fails to fully address it, indeed if it makes some forms of discrimination easier to get away with, then the bad of this law outweighs the good.
You may recall that this was a similar point of contention in the process that led to Houston’s equal rights ordinance. In the end, it was resolved favorably. It’s truly unfortunate that this didn’t happen in Plano, especially if it was a calculated move.
Although adamant they didn’t sign off on the exemptions, both Equality Texas and GALA North Texas indicated they plan to defend the ordinance if it appears on the ballot.
“While the ordinance is not perfect, it is a fact that it includes protections from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for LGBT residents and veterans in Plano that did not previously exist,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in a statement to the Observer. “While criticisms expressed by leaders in the transgender community are valid, it is imperative that we work together to ensure that this ordinance is not repealed in the short term and is improved in the long term.”
Jeanne Rubin, a spokeswoman for GALA North Texas, called HRC’s likely decision to sit out the ballot fight disappointing.
“In politics, as much of a bummer as it is, everything is incremental, and I know that’s sort of a dirty word for our community,” said Rubin, who’s also an Equality Texas board member. “If this ordinance goes down, not only will Plano not touch this issue with a 10-foot pole, but no other suburban city out here will, and that doesn’t do L, G, B or T any good.”
Rubin and others said they believe the exemptions were included because officials hoped to head off attacks seen in other cities over transgender protections in public accommodations.
But if that’s the case, the strategy hasn’t worked. Despite the exemptions, opponents have repeatedly and publicly asserted that the ordinance would allow men to enter women’s restrooms and prey on children.
In other words, the same lies and bullshit being spread by the same kind of people who call themselves “Christians” as what we’re seeing here. I don’t know how some of these people can look at themselves in a mirror. The real tragedy here is that if we had passed ordinances like the HERO years ago, we wouldn’t be having these problems now. This Trib story, which provides an overview of the ongoing fights in Houston and Plano, provides this tidbit at the end:
In 2000, Fort Worth became the first major Texas city to update its nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual identity. Then-Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said he couldn’t remember facing the kind of opposition council members in Houston and Plano have faced.
“Frankly, I don’t remember any specifics of the debate about it,” Barr said this week. “That speaks to the fact that we passed it without a whole lot of fanfare.”
And to how our politics and our discourse have gotten so debased. Let that be a lesson to us all. Unfair Park has more.