At 8 PM this evening, Houston's City Council finally passed the Equal Rights Ordinance they've been working on for some time now. I've ranted about it in this space before. It's a sweeping but not unreasonable ordinance, helping to protect our LGBTQ community and many others--heck, all Houstonians!
I have listened/watched almost all of the open sessions with public testimony, feedback from the city attorney, and council discussion. Listening has not always been easy--witnessing hard truths and flagrant falsehoods. Much energy has percolated around two unlikelies.
#1- A provision in the ordinance around gender identity and bathrooms was thrown around as "Bearded Men In Dresses Will Go In The Ladies Room and Rape Your Daughters!"
It was horrible--no amount of expert testimony or studies could get past the fear-mongering.
Even this evening, as the council people were making their final comments, one member said he was concerned that there would be a Willie Horton incident.
#2- Having to make a "Gay wedding cake" as slippery slope to Jewish restaurateur forced to open his restaurant on his Sabbath to make pork for demanding public. Ummmm.
It's probably not especially mature that my knee-jerk reaction is to go into cake decorating. I'm really not that crafty and my most sought-after cakes are meatcakes.
I would learn a lot from the MCC minister sitting just behind the audience mike, smiling softly, his hands tented or crossed in prayer as people spoke against him, his congregation, and some of his most deeply-held values.
People of faith were present on both sides--Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church, and Episcopal churches were represented with both clergy and laity to talk about loving all people, the importance of equality and respect, the call to justice, and so much more. The love was a stark contrast to those speaking of fornication, unnatural lifestyles, and a whole lot of hell. A Whole Lot of Hell.
Today the chamber was packed, mostly with the pro-ordinance folks wearing red. Wonderful sight, let me tell you! Testimony started a little after 10, and excepting a half hour lunch and a few shorter breaks, kept going until well after 7. A total of two hundred nine Houstonians spoke to the City Council on the measure today alone. The youngest to give testimony was perhaps eight years old, and the oldest was likely in his eighties.
We've known for weeks now that the ordinance had some pretty strong endorsements--the major business organizations, rights organizations, and many community strongholds.
And yet. Hope is a slippery fish, especially in Houston. Yes, it's the fourth-largest city in the nation, but it's in a pretty red state, with one heck of a history.
Thirty years ago when Houston considered anti-discrimination clauses for the gay and lesbian community, it was beyond ugly. As one of today's speakers reminded the council, the Ku Klux Klan came to City Hall back in 1984. And in 1985, a mayoral candidate famously said that one way to deal with the growing AIDS epidemic was to "shoot the queers."
Thank goodness, things have changed since the 80s. I can't summarize thirty years in a single paragraph, but Houston has become a more diverse and accepting city. And yet our policies were not keeping up with these new realities.
Listening to our elected representatives talk through the issues, it was evident that while they have learned a lot, they (like all of us), have room to grow. In the end the vote was eleven for the ordinance, six against.
And now for the ordinance to be implemented, and hope that there is not a referendum to overturn this work already done.
Still, it's good to celebrate.