Under Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Human Rights Ordinance, businesses throughout the city would be barred from discriminating against LGBT customers. However, those same businesses could still discriminate against their own LGBT employees.
On Friday, the president of Houston’s largest LGBT group slammed Parker for failing to include citywide employment protections in a draft of the Human Rights Ordinance. As I reported Thursday, Parker unveiled details of the long-discussed ordinance for the first time this week. According to her statements, the current draft of the ordinance would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination citywide in housing and public accommodations. However, it would not prohibit discrimination by private-sector employers citywide.
On the Houston Matters radio show on Monday, host Craig Cohen specifically asked Parker whether the ordinance would include private-sector employment. Parker responded that the ordinance would ban anti-LGBT discrimination by city contractors, but not by other private-sector employers.
“It will affect the private sector inasmuch as they do business with the city of Houston,” Parker said. “It will affect the private sector if they operate public accommodations or multi-family housing. But the first draft I’m working on does not apply to the private sector otherwise.”
The mayor and LGBT leaders reportedly have been debating the issue behind the scenes for months. But LGBT advocates now say they are convinced that Parker plans to put forward an ordinance that leaves out citywide employment protections.
Maverick Welsh, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said he thinks Parker’s fear is that if the ordinance includes private-sector employers, it won’t have enough votes to pass the council. However, Welsh said the Caucus supports an ordinance that includes citywide employment protections.
“If you favor an ordinance that does not include private sector employment, you’re siding with the right of employers to discriminate,” Welsh told Lone Star Q on Friday. “My opinion is, put the right ordinance on the table, let the council vote on it in the open. Let them vote on it in the open, so the community can know, and hold people accountable. I don’t see any reason for us to compromise on this issue. Discrimination is discrimination.”
Welsh added that the Caucus will still support the proposed ordinance if it doesn’t include citywide employment protections. “I don’t think the perfect has to be the enemy of the good,” he said.
Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans declined to comment on specifics of the ordinance Friday.
“Details of what is and isn’t in the ordinance will be public when it is finalized,” Evans said in an email to Lone Star Q.
Houston is the only major city in Texas, and one of the few in the U.S., that doesn’t ban anti-LGBT discrimination citywide. Houston already protects LGBT city employees from discrimination under an executive order Parker put in place shortly after taking office five years ago.
Welsh said the argument against citywide employment protections is that they would amount to over-regulation that hurts business. But Welsh said citywide employment protections would actually make Houston more competitive.
“If we have these protections in place, we’re going to attract the best and brightest talent,” he said.
Welsh said some also believe that if the ordinance includes citywide employment protections, opponents will gather enough signatures to place a recall on the ballot — a relatively simple process in Houston. But Welsh said he expects that to happen no matter what.
“She’s going to take all the political heat for this anyway,” Welsh said of Parker. “We compromise against ourselves, and they still go crazy.”
Nondiscrimination ordinances in other Texas cities vary when it comes to banning discrimination by private-sector employers. Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth ban employment discrimination citywide. The cities of El Paso and San Antonio have nondiscrimination ordinances that apply only to housing and public accommodations.
Texas is one of about 30 states that don’t have statutes banning anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the private sector. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban anti-LGBT job discrimination nationwide, passed the Senate last year. However, House Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote.