In a second community engagement meeting held March 17, Fairness Works Houston announced it has postponed its pursuit of a nondiscrimination ballot initiative until 2014 or 2015 “now that the draft language is mostly complete,” according to chairperson Bryan Hlavinka.
“The result of the meeting was to take time and do this effort right,” Hlavinka told OutSmart. “We are going to expand the timeline beyond 2012 and build the organization to execute what will be a very large campaign.”
Houston voters have rejected similar protections in the past—twice in 1985, and again in 2001 when a city charter amendment was passed that banned domestic partner benefits.
“This time we will do everything we can to ensure success,” Hlavinka said.
Fairness Works Houston first met February 25 to discuss a city charter amendment to be placed on the November 2012 ballot that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The amendment that the group is pursuing would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.
Hlavinka said he and community leader Mike Craig laid out the framework that will be used in bringing together the Houston business community and various community populations to ensure a broad coalition of support for whichever year the ballot initiative goes before Houston voters for passage.
“Initially it was anticipated by some in the community that this effort might take place in the 2012 election cycle,” Hlavinka said. Instead, he and FWH committee members came to the consensus that FWH will spend the next two to three years “strengthening the organization and building the large coalition it will take to successfully pass the nondiscrimination ballot initiative, rather than rush a measure to the ballot in November.”
Hlavinka said the committee would meet again, “probably in a month. We are still pursuing a poll, and consider that a top priority,” he said.
A poll was conducted in 2010 by Equality Texas, a statewide LGBT lobbying organization, that showed Houston voters would support, by a wide margin, laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The poll indicated 68.4 percent of voters would strongly support such legislation, while 10.1 percent of Houston voters would “somewhat support” legislation banning discrimination.
“We believe voters are in favor of this amendment,” Hlavinka explained. “However, we feel that most of the younger generation believes we already have this protection. Going forward, there will be an education component to inform voters. Our biggest concern is building the organization to run the campaign. This will take time to build, and large amounts of money to assemble and run. Rather than rush it forward for this year, we want to do our due diligence and assemble the right people and resources around this effort. It will be bigger than one person and one organization, taking the combined efforts of multiple community organizations. We will need a large effort and tons of volunteers.”
Individuals or groups seeking to become involved with FWH are encouraged to contact Hlavinka directly at [email protected].