A group of Waco residents is seeking a city ordinance to bar public and private employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Advocates of the measure plan to propose it Thursday to the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee and hope to get Waco City Council to consider it in coming months.
The as-yet-unnamed group wants the city to follow the lead of cities including Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, which have passed citywide policies against sexual orientation discrimination.
Spokeswoman Susan Duty said she was disturbed to learn recently that state and federal laws do not bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates, unless they are federal employees.
“It’s perfectly legal for an employer in the state of Texas to fire someone just because they are gay,” said Duty, who described herself as a “straight ally” to gays and lesbians. “Other cities have created ordinances to protect workers, and we wanted a way for responsible LGBT citizens to feel safe in their employment, no matter what it is.”
Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith said cities such as Houston, San Antonio and El Paso have policies against sexual orientation discrimination within city government.
But Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin go further, with “human rights commissions” that hear complaints against workplace and housing discrimination, including discrimination against LGBT residents. The commissions are allowed to impose fines of up to $500 for discrimination.
Smith said he thinks such fines are infrequent, but the committees also can resolve employment discrimination claims without resorting to fines.
Smith said most corporations already forbid discrimination against LGBT workers by their own internal policies.
“None of these cities saw a huge wave of activity,” he said.
He said ordinances can be written to exempt religious institutions such as schools and universities.
Here’s a copy of the letter that was sent to Waco’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee. What’s extra cool about this is that one of the signers, Carmen Saenz, was a high school classmate of mine. She’s the one who tipped me off about this. The EEOAC’s agenda is here. My understanding is that this item isn’t on there now but will be discussed at a subsequent meeting. Here’s more from the Dallas Voice:
Duty, a straight ally, attended an Equality Texas event a few months ago, learning that the state doesn’t offer protections against anti-LGBT job discrimination. Legislation has been filed for the current legislative session to add the statewide protections.
“When I found out that it was legal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, I was like, that’s ridiculous,” Duty said. “We can’t change it in the state, but we can change it in our city. We can change it in our community.”
Duty then began her research on how to add the employment protections to the city of Waco’s nondiscrimination policy.
Duty said she’s prepared for opposition and has already prepared to take the issue to City Council, where she expects to have a harder fight. She’s talked to council members who have agreed to sponsor the changes and bring the issue before the council, which would likely happen in February.
Good on you, Susan Duty. We could use many more people like you. Be sure to read that linked article in the excerpt, it’s a great overview of what equality advocates hope to achieve and aim to oppose this session.
One more thing from that Waco Trib story:
Paul Derrick, a supporter of the LGBT advocacy group, said an anti-discrimination policy at least would send the message to gays and lesbians that they are welcome members of the community and workforce.
“It seems to me this is just another civil rights issue,” said Derrick, who was involved in civil rights ordinances and legal battles in Waco in the 1960s and ’70s.
“I think outside Waco, it would have a positive image. It would show that Waco is not stuck in yesteryear, but is moving along with the currents of the larger society.”
I think that’s exactly right. Remember how much positive press the city of Houston got around the world for the election of Mayor Parker? It wasn’t that big a deal to us, but there were an awful lot of people whose reaction was basically “Wait, HOUSTON did that??” They had an image of Houston that wasn’t consistent with who we are, and the news of that election made them rethink it. I doubt Waco will get coverage of that magnitude when they get this done, but it will be noticed and it will be good for them. I wish the people pursuing this the very best of luck with their effort.