Sexually confused: LGBT non-discrimination ordinance opponents can’t get their arguments straight
Pastor Charles Flowers says he plans to fight for his right to discriminate.
That is, against “the homosexuals, the transsexuals,” and any other permutation of human sexuality that doesn’t fit the man+woman=child patch he and other supporters wore on their lapels in the City Council chambers Tuesday afternoon.
After two years of pushing from the LGBT rights crowd, City leaders are finally considering expanding anti-discrimination policies to protect gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender San Antonians. The plan, carried by downtown Council member Diego Bernal, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (along with the non-contentious “veteran status”) as protected classes to portions of city code that cover the hiring and firing of city employees, public accommodations, fair housing, the awarding of city contracts and the appointment of city board and commission members.
As it stands, LGBT citizens aren’t protected anywhere in the city’s non-discrimination language.
As Mayor Julián Castro said during Council’s Governance Committee hearing Tuesday, the move would put San Antonio in line with nearly every other major U.S. metro, including all other major Texas cities – like Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, El Paso. “San Antonio’s not breaking any new ground,” Castro said.
“In San Antonio, sometimes what we consider revolutionary is not. Other big communities in Texas have done this,” Castro said, regretting that “too many times, regarding these issues, we’ve found ourselves catching up instead of being a leader.”
Consider Flowers, and the flock opponents affiliated with the San Antonio Christian Family Association that gathered with him, unenthused about the new non-discrimination language.
Adding those four words to the city’s non-discrimination laws – “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” –forces the devout to accept something they cannot on religious grounds, Flowers, a pastor at Faith Outreach Center International, told me outside City Hall.
“When it comes to gender identity and when it comes to breaking these barriers down, let’s say it allows a pedophile … A pedophile can use this gender identity language to get close to children.”
I tried earnestly to get Flowers to elaborate. He kept falling back on some iteration of, “I’m just saying it’s a slippery slope. …How do you say to someone who’s same-gender attracted that their issue is ok, but pedophilia is not ok? Where do you stop?” Easy, I told him. You stop at pedophilia, or any other crime that victimizes children or others.
When Flowers got done conflating relationships between consenting adults with pedophilia, I found Mike Knuffke, who gave me a more simple explanation of the opposition to the proposed ordinance change.
“Say you take your kids to a movie theater,” he said. “They can’t refuse service to homosexuals, so your kids have to see all this homosexual behavior.” What, I asked, constitutes homosexual behavior? “Holding hands, hugging, same-sex kissing. I dunno, use your imagination,” Knuffke said.
When I approached Pastor Gerald Ripley in the Council Chambers, he insisted that such anti-discrimination ordinances were “bad for babies, they’re bad for adoptions.” He referenced religious adoption programs in other cities that had shut down, under threat of lawsuit, because they refused to allow same-sex couples to adopt.
“Do you think that’s good? Do you think that’s right?” Ripley shouted, demanding an answer. I don’t know the specifics of those cases, I told him, but can’t LGBT couples provide good, loving homes to orphans, just like straight couples?
Ripley abruptly stormed off, darting out of the Council Chambers.
Flowers and others worry churches and other religious groups that refuse to accept, or serve, LGBT folks could be barred from contracting with the City under the new language, despite a religious exemption that’s already written into the City’s existing non-discrimination policies.
“The sort of potential thunder-clap between religious freedom and the First Amendment is solved by continuing that religious carve-out,” Bernal said.
Regarding that religious exemption, Bernal says he’s following best-practices as advocated by the LGBT rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. “There’s a whole body of law that tests and guides how these religious carve-outs work,” explained City Attorney Michael Bernard. “I’m not going to be flippant about it, but it’s not enough to say, ‘I talked to God today and now I don’t like these people.’”
Those opposing the proposal seem to have a sympathetic ear in D5 Councilman Medina, an evangelical Christian who faces a runoff next month against Shirley Gonzales, an open LGBT-rights supporter who won endorsement from the local Stonewall Democrats.
Medina was out mingling with LGBT discrimination proponents like Ripley before Tuesday’s meeting. And at the dais, he questioned whether such discrimination is even a problem in San Antonio. When Medina asked City Attorney Bernard, “Have we seen more complaints, more discrimination?” Bernard said the City, for all intents and purposes, wouldn’t know. “There’s no mechanism by which we would get the complaints,” Bernard said. “Because we don’t prohibit discrimination in, say, the housing area based on sexual orientation or gender identity, we don’t have that prohibition.”
“So there are no complaints,” Medina concluded.
Medina proposed stalling the issue for at least a month before bringing it back to Council’s Governance Committee – outside the meeting, he downplayed concerns he’d exploit the issue during his runoff campaign.
Bernal and Castro ultimately pushed and got the committee to approve sending the issue the full Council for a B Session. A draft of the ordinance should be distributed to all council members by early next week, Bernal said.
Outgoing D3 Council member Leticia Ozuna, who lost to the religiously devout Rebecca Viagran this month, hopes the ordinance comes up for a final vote before Council switches over June 1 so she could vote for it.
At the hearing, she eyed the man+woman=child badges worn by Ripley, Flowers, and other opponents.
“You know, those really are amenable if you draw skirts on the men with a magic marker,” she joked.
UPDATE: Apparently, Medina’s not the only run-off candidate who seems to oppose the changes to the ordinance. At a press conference for groups opposing the measure today outside of City Hall, Rolando Briones, District 8 hopeful, showed up to lend his support to people like David Rosa (pictured with Briones), who claimed the LGBT non-discrimination protections imposed values on San Antonio that its citizens didn’t share, and would somehow distract from other pressing matters like infrastructure repairs.