A new campaign seeks to bring nondiscrimination ordinances to all Texas cities
by Christina Canales Gorczynski
If you’re reading this, you probably already get it. But now more than ever, we need everyone to get it.
“It” is the need to end discrimination, once and for all, against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans. Most people are shocked to learn it’s still perfectly legal to fire a gay or transgender person, or deny them housing or a table at a restaurant—not because of anything they did, but simply for who they are. While that’s troubling in and of itself, a few vocal politicians have actually begun to consider expanding discrimination based on race, veteran status, and pregnancy.
Although polling continues to show strong majorities of Texans think gay and transgender people experience discrimination, a few legislators—unrepresentative of mainstream Texans—have proposed constitutional amendments that would allow some to claim that their religion gives them the right to ignore civil-rights laws.
I’m not joking. It’s jaw-dropping and completely against our values as Texans and Americans. That’s why Texas cities need nondiscrimination ordinances like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to protect all kinds of people from those who really do seem to want more discrimination in their city.
There are tens of thousands of LGBT people living and working in Houston—our family members, friends, and co-workers who just want the same (and not special) rights when it comes to basic equality. Most employers want to do the right thing. So it’s hard to understand why a small and vocal group of opponents are so strongly against providing protections and recourse from employers and businesses when good judgment breaks down. This is what the HERO does, explicitly, by calling for “an environment that is free of any type of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.”
Sometimes our laws lead the way. Other times, our laws need to catch up. Corporate America is way ahead of local and state government when it comes to adopting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies for its workers. Texas’ largest employers—AT&T, Texas Instruments, American Airlines, Dell, BP, and Chevron—have been on record for a while in their support of workplace equality for all employees, including gay and transgender employees. They believe in judging employees on job performance—nothing more, nothing less.
Houston has more Fortune 500 company headquarters than any other city in America, except for New York. Major businesses in the city and tons of Fortune 500 companies nationally have their own nondiscrimination policies. The Greater Houston Partnership, which is comprised of more than 1,200 member companies that collaborate to influence Houston’s business sector, strongly supported HERO. They see the problem and have provided a solution. They value hiring and retaining top talent in a highly competitive marketplace, and they believe inclusion is good for business.
According to census data, our city is the most racially and ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in America. With museums, universities, and great cuisine, everyone should be able to experience all aspects of a great city like ours. As a native Houstonian, I love my hometown, and I believe in Houston’s promise of being a city of freedom and opportunity for all people. But as an openly gay woman, I haven’t always felt comfortable here.
When I moved back to Houston in 2005 to attend law school, I was reluctant to return to a place that I remembered being unfriendly to LGBT people. And just as I was returning in 2005, the divisive and discriminatory Proposition 2 campaign to ban marriage for same-sex couples in Texas was being put to a vote.
As one of the few openly gay members of my law school class, some of my peers approached me simply to boast about their vote in favor of Proposition 2, trying their best to make me feel unwelcome in my home state of Texas. I was being told that I did not fit in. Facing people who celebrated discrimination against me—and the ultimate success of Proposition 2—was demoralizing. The only reason I stayed was because I found a few like-minded friends and allies who encouraged me—and because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I belonged here in Houston.
Now, 10 years later, Supreme Court observers are expecting marriage equality to become legal nationwide this summer. While that victory will include the great state of Texas, for too long our state’s anti-equality forces have had the run of the field, and that must end now. We must continue the conversation beyond marriage equality. As a community, we must shift our focus to the lived equality of all members of our community.
All hardworking Houstonians should be able to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. So it’s shocking that gay and transgender Houstonians can still be fired from their jobs or denied housing simply because of who they are. And, just as bad, our state legislature might soon be voting to potentially expand such discriminatory policies beyond the LGBT community to include veterans, single moms, people of faith, and many others. This is a can of worms we don’t want to open. Discrimination of any kind is not in line with our values.
That’s why I am honored to be the campaign director of a new campaign called Texas Wins. This new initiative will demonstrate—and illustrate—true Texan values of opportunity, freedom, and treating everyone as we wish to be treated. The statewide campaign will give voice to the majority of fair-minded Texans who do not support discrimination.
Texas Wins will ensure that all Texans—including those who are LGBT—are protected from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. So far, the coalition includes Equality Texas, Texas Freedom Network, Texas Research Institute, ACLU of Texas, Athlete Ally, Faith in Public Life, Resource Center Dallas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, Black Transmen Inc., and the Human Rights Campaign. Through our outreach to businesses, strategic communications, advertising, opposition research, and grassroots mobilization, the campaign will amplify the values of opportunity and fairness shared by a majority of Texans. Mark McKinnon, who was previously George W. Bush’s media advisor, will serve as chair of Texas Wins.
From Abilene to Houston, Harlingen to Austin, in every community across our beloved Texas, all Texans should be able to work hard and provide for their families without fear of being fired, denied housing, or refused service simply because of who they are or whom they love. Texas is a beacon for business and should follow corporate America’s lead on this one.
We need Texans from all walks of life joining together under the core principles of freedom and fairness that define who we are as a state. Help kick off this campaign by sharing why you support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Texans at txwins.org.
There is much work to be done to advance protections for gay and transgender people—and with Texas Wins, I have no doubt that together we can make Texas a place that all people will be proud to call home.
Christina Canales Gorczynski is campaign director for Texas Wins (texaswins.org). Texas Wins ensures all Texans, including those who are gay and transgender, are protected from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.