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cover4HOUSTON– Is Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Equal Rights Ordinance a step is in the right direction for a “World Class” city?

Mayor Parker said the ordinance is simply a move to embrace diversity, not a political power move to promote lifestyle choices- as some suggest.

“Houston not only cares for those who cannot always care for themselves; we also open our arms to change.,” Parker said about the ordinance. “We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love.  Yet, Houston is the only major city in the nation without civil rights protections for its residents.  It’s time to change that so that the laws on our books reflect what Houston is.”

The proposal would ban discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, family status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as federal laws do, and also would cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The measure would extend to private businesses with 50 or more workers, businesses that serve the public, housing, city employment and city contracting; churches would be exempt.

Houston remains the only major city in the country without civil rights protections for its residents.

State Sen. John Whitmire said the ordinance makes a strong statement about discrimination that is needed in city that promotes itself as “world class”.

“Discrimination does exists in community and neighborhoods,” he said. “I would hope that this ordinance would be a way to reduce it and send a strong message to hold people accountable who practice discrimination and let them know it will not be tolerated.”

Only those who discriminate have to something to worry about, he added.

The Houston Area Pastors Council does not think so. Their opposition is clear on the issue.

In response to Parker’s introduction of her proposed ordinance, pastors describe it as creating a new power and scope of city government over potential “discriminatory and unequal treatment”:

“We simply ask this, ‘Mayor Parker, where is the discrimination?’,” said Dave Welch, executive director of TXPC. “Why impose a massive new set of onerous regulations on the private sector that places businesses and, we believe, eventually even churches under constant threat of investigation and punishment for a fabricated problem?”

The council charges that Parker’s proposal includes the forced opening of every restroom in every business in the city with more than fifty employees – that is at least her starting point – to cross dressers, sexual predators and those suffering from gender identity disorder.

The Houston Area Pastor Council is an inter-racial, inter-denominational coalition of over 300 pastors throughout the city that is involved in speaking to social, cultural, moral and public policy issues.

Welch makes it clear that Parker’s motives have little to do with the issue of discrimination itself

“The comparison of this ordinance to civil rights is not only offensive it is abominable,” he said. “The Civil Rights movement was birthed to right a moral wrong; the GLBT movement was birthed to force acceptance of a moral wrong.  There is no civil right to call God a liar by denying His created order and to do what He calls sin.”

Civil Rights Activist and Houston Ministers Against Crime Founder Pastor F.N. Williams  agrees with pastor council leaders and said Parker is wrong and joins efforts to turn back the ordinance.

“She is carrying an agenda for the Gay and Lesbian community,” he said. “This is not a civil rights issue. It’s a morals issue and man made legislation can ever supercede or overturn the Word of God.”

Parker contends she is working for the kind of city that is accepting, tolerant, diverse, understanding, inclusive, open-minded and unbiased, does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life.

Pastors still are not convinced or impressed stating: “The clear truth is that there is no evidence of any systemic discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or sex/gender in the city of Houston.  This is clearly about Parker fulfilling her promise to “her people” as she described the GLBT community, to add sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity and now even genetic information to protected status.”

Houston has a history of playing down issues in favor or maintaing its teflon image.

However, History be damned because Houston is a city that dodged, manipulated and managed the civil rights movement to keep the city from having the kinds of issues and problems between Blacks and Whites hidden from public view.

While other cities experienced in boycotts, marches and protests in places like Birmingham and Selma Alabama, or the violent lunch counter confrontations of Nashville, Tennessee and Wilmington, North Carolina, Houston dimmed the lights on its racism problem by sweeping it under the rug and keeping it out of the national eye.

From a Black perspective, Black people understand the need to raise the awareness about discrimination having been the racism lab rat for over 400 years during Slavery.

For the past 149 years, African-Americans have endured integration, separate but equal, Jim Crow Laws and domestic terrorism actions from some in White America who refused to bow or bend to the law.

At one time in the South, it was against the law to teach a Black child to read. At one time, Black could not use the same bathrooms or drink from the same water fountains as Whites.

Being discriminated against because of the color or your skin was and is reality in America, Williams said.

“This situation seems like this minority (group) is working to segregate the majority on this issue,” he said. “I do not believe in discrimination, but this ordinance has a dangerous after effect. It is trying to force us to accept it and then make us pay for it (if we don’t).”

Other Texas cities have similar laws that are working and protecting citizens affected and impacted by discrimination.

The question is where will this ordinance leave Houston as a city?

Since passing its nondiscrimination ordinance last fall, San Antonio has had three reports of alleged discrimination in areas other than housing, all against transgender or gay residents.

In Dallas, 12 complaints have been registered in 10 years of that law being on the books.

El Paso reports two incidents of alleged discrimination in places of public accommodation.

Over 100 community citizens appeared before the city council supporting passage of the ordinance.

Now, all must wait this week to see which group has the final say on the fate of the ordinance and future of the city.