Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and also has the distinction of being the largest American city with an openly gay or lesbian mayor. And that mayor, Annise Parker, was bursting with pride last week after the Houston City Council passed a broad anti-discrimination ordinance which she introduced and which includes protections for LGBT people.
“I think it’s an uphill battle in any city where gays and lesbians have been added to an existing equal rights ordinance,” Parker said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “But what is unique about Houston is that — and we are the last major city in America, and certainly the last big city in Texas, to pass such an ordinance — but we didn’t have any kind of equal rights ordinance. A lot cities have local ordinances that mirror federal protections. So it wasn’t just, ‘Let’s add sexual orientation and gender identity to the laundry list.’ It was, ‘We had to write an ordinance from scratch, with 14 different categories in our ordinance.’”
In addition to protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, the ordinance protects people on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, and pregnancy. Although some anti-gay leaders have vowed to try to repeal the law at the ballot, Parker is confident Houstonians will vote to retain it for that reason.
“Before I even put out the first public draft of the equal rights ordinance, there was a group of local right-wing, religious conservatives who said they are going to fight and they’re collecting signatures as of today to repeal,” she said. “It’s a fairly low bar [to get it on the ballot], 18,000 signatures. [But] I think that they will have a very high standard before the voters, because they can’t just say, ‘We want to just take the gays out,’ or, ‘We want to just take [transgender people] out.’ They would have to repeal the entire ordinance. And the entire ordinance protects everybody.”Mayor Annise Parker Of Houston Discusses Attempt To Repeal Equal Rights Ordinance by SiriusXM News & Issues
One of those who led the charge against the ordinance is anti-gay crusader Dave Wilson, a member of the Houston Community College Board of Trustees and an opponent in Parker's second race for mayor, who also threatened to lead a recall effort against Parker and against any council member who voted for the ordinance, which passed 11-6. During Parker's first successful race for mayor, Wilson made robocalls warning voters about her “alternative lifestyle,” and mailed out anti-gay fliers.Mayor Annise Parker Of Houston Talks About Opponents Anti-Gay Fliers by SiriusXM News & Issues
“In that first campaign he put out that flier,” she said. “It shows me being sworn in as city comptroller with my hand on the Bible and my right hand in the air, and my wife standing beside me. And I’m being sworn in by an African-American woman, a federal judge. And the caption is, ‘Is this the image of Houston we want the world to see?’ And I kept a copy of it and framed it. Because it's a black woman? Or the fact that there’s a woman judge? Or is it that I’m a woman officeholder? Or is it that I’m a lesbian? There’s a whole lot of subtext to that flier, and I think they were all in his head.”