The Greater Houston Partnership came out in support of Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed equal rights ordinance, giving the measure a boost as it heads to a City Council committee hearing on Wednesday.
Parker plans to put the measure before the full City Council for a vote next week.
The Partnership initially had reservations about the sweeping anti-discrimination proposal, aimed at private businesses as well as city employment and contracting, but President Bob Harvey said most of the group’s concerns had been addressed by the time the mayor’s office released a draft of the ordinance last week. The Partnership’s executive committee voted unanimously on Friday to support the proposal.
“The business community and the community in general views our city as remarkably diverse and welcoming,” Harvey said. “I think this ordinance is consistent with what this city stands for.”
That’s exactly right. Many large companies have had their own version of this for years, so it’s something they’re comfortable with. Via Houston Legal, the Houston Business Journal makes this message even more explicit.
If Houston businesses are concerned about the potential unintended consequences of Mayor Annise Parker’s Equal Rights ordinance, they should look to the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Stephen J. Roppolo, a regional managing partner and employment law attorney at Fisher and Phillips.
“All of us were concerned that 40 million people were going to be declared disabled,” Roppolo said. “There were some jokes at legal seminars that were only half jokes that claimed, ‘If you’re follicly challenged, you’re disabled.’”
The net result of ADA, Roppolo said, “was not nearly as bad — as expansive — as everyone thought.”
Gender identity can be confusing to some people, Roppolo said, but he’s confident human resources departments at most Houston businesses are already prepared for this. In fact, businesses have been dealing with gender identity issues for some time.
“Everyone likes black-and-white, easy-to-decide issues. Gender identity is not black and white; it’s shades of gray,” Roppolo said. “What I tell employers is that if you’re focused on whether that person, whomever they are, is doing the work in a way that helps the business, that’s all that matters.”
Furthermore, Roppolo said employers are increasingly sensitive to workplace harassment.
“It’s not productive,” he said. “When people are doing that kind of stuff to one another, they’re not doing work.”
But the biggest message that Roppolo and other lawyers have for Houston employers is: Relax.
“Sit tight,” he said. “This is going to be fine. At the same time, I am telling employers that this is going to take some work to get your front-line supervisors to understand what the new parameters are.”
Yes, it’s going to be fine. It’s good to have the GHP officially on board, since that ought to shut up anyone that wants to claim this fairly benign ordinance would somehow be harmful to business. If anything, it’s the opposite, as the kind of innovative employees that companies like to recruit want to live in a city that reflects their own values. There’s nothing controversial about this ordinance, which as CM Ellen Cohen, the chair of the Quality of Life Committee, noted has been revised multiple times after much feedback from stakeholders.
That doesn’t mean the usual suspects won’t piss and moan about it, of course. Back to the Chron:
Major Republican donor Steven Hotze sent an email from his Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC that dubbed the proposal “Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act,” suggesting the measure will create a loophole to allow people to lie about their gender to enter bathrooms where they could attack women and children. He also wrote against protections based on sexual orientation.
“This would make those who engage in deviant sexual acts a new minority class equal to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other legitimate minorities. This is a slap in the face of true minorities,” the email read.
Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor Council, echoed Hotze in saying the ordinance is a solution to a problem that does not exist and that the true reason for Parker’s proposal is to force the Houston community to accept her same-sex marriage.
Texas Leftist has a copy of Hotze’s hate mail. I’m loathe to give these d-bags the attention they so desperately crave, but a reminder of who they are and what they stand for is always useful. They represent a small and shrinking group, and they deserve to be ignored. When Council finally takes up the NDO – in two weeks, since I assume someone will tag it – I hope Council passes it unanimously, or at least overwhelmingly. Don’t be with the losers here, Council members. Campos has more.