And as we finally head for a vote, the hysteria and fearmongering have reached a fever pitch.
In just five words, Mayor Annise Parker handed her increasingly vocal opponents exactly what they wanted in the battle against her proposed equal rights ordinance: “The debate is about me.”
That comment, part of a longer utterance at Houston City Council’s last meeting, at which the body delayed a decision on the ordinance to this Wednesday, was just what political and religious conservatives have accused Parker – the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city – of doing for weeks: Pushing the ordinance to further her “gay agenda,” or to reward gay advocates for their political support.
In laying out the proposed ordinance last month, Parker acknowledged the debate would focus on gay and transgender issues because those groups are not protected under existing laws, but she stressed the proposal was comprehensive. It would ban discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.
Parker’s recent comments undercut that comprehensive message, however, as she sought to remind council members the issue is “intensely personal.”
“It’s not academic. It is my life that is being discussed,” said Parker, who faced death threats and had her tires slashed as a gay activist in the 1980s. “And while we can say around this council chamber that it applies to the range of protected groups – and it does and it is right and appropriate that the city of Houston finally acknowledges a local ordinance that respects African-Americans and Hispanics and those of different religions – the debate is about me. The debate is about two gay men at this table.”
Parker added to her comments after the meeting, saying she understands how “incredibly painful” it is for gay residents to hear opponents say, “I don’t hate gay people, I don’t hate transgender people, I just ought to have the right not to let them come into my business.”
Councilman Michael Kubosh – elected with a coalition of conservative and black voters last fall – drew scattered yells of support from the otherwise civil audience in rebutting Parker’s comments minutes later.
“I know you say it’s about you, but, mayor, this is really about all of us,” Kubosh said. “It’s not really about you; it’s about everybody here.”
Every successful politician in America has had personal reasons for running for office, and personal motivation for the causes they sought to advance through legislation. Most of them are very clear about this, as it’s a big part of the answer to the question of why they are running for that office. The personal connection they have to the cause they’re advancing – the hurt they’ve felt, or the help they’ve received – is a key component of who they are as a candidate and later (they hope) as an officeholder. It’s how they hope to win the support of the people they think should be voting for them. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. I can help. Would Michael Kubosh have established residency in the city of Houston to run for City Council if he had not been personally affected by red light cameras? I rather doubt it. Of course he will say that it wasn’t just about him but about all of the people that were affected by red light cameras and who felt they lacked a voice in the process. He wouldn’t have gotten himself into a position to be elected if it weren’t for that, and if he couldn’t make a connection to the people who felt the same way he did. How is that any different from Mayor Parker?
And I have to laugh at the “accusations” that Mayor Parker is pursuing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as some kind of sinister payback for her “core” (read: gay gay gay gay gay) supporters. Because of course only the gayest of her gay supporters support the HERO as something that is just and fair and right, obviously. And because of course no politician in America has ever been so crass as to pursue policies that their most ardent supporters wanted. I laugh because I can envision how the Dave Wilsons and Steve Riggles and apparently Michael Kuboshes imagine this must have played out in the backroom scented-candle-filled Secret Gay Power Broker Centers around Houston: “Our plan is foolproof! We will win multiple elections, then attempt to pass an ordinance via the public legislative process involving many opportunities for feedback and a majority vote of the democratically-elected City Council! That’ll show the bastards! Bwa ha ha ha ha!” I can sure see why that would be front page news.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s grant Dave Wilson and Steve Riggle and Ed Young and Michael Kubosh and Max Miller their fondest wish and stipulate that Mayor Parker is ramming this ordinance down their throats to appease her most ardent supporters The Gays, because as noted no politician in the history of America has ever done something like this before. Let’s remind ourselves what it is that she – and, you know, a majority of the members of City Council – are pushing: An ordinance that forbids the official discrimination against people because of who they are. Under this ordinance, you can’t be fired, or denied service at a bar or restaurant or retail establishment, or evicted, or any other thing that Wilson et al take for granted for themselves because you’re gay, or black, or Jewish, or a woman, or disabled, or whatever. It’s an ordinance that guarantees equal treatment for all people, with a mechanism to enforce it. I’m always…”amused” isn’t quite the right word, but it will have to do…when I hear a Dave Wilson or one of his intolerant brethren screech about LGBT folks demanding “special rights”, as if the right to hold a job or buy a house or not be arbitrarily tossed out of a restaurant is “special” in any meaningful sense. If you look up the word “projection” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of one of these clowns begging to be allowed to keep his special right to discriminate against people he doesn’t like while complaining that their demand to be treated as equals constitutes the real special treatment. It would be kind of funny if it weren’t so very, very pathetic.
And finally, to bring it back to those five little words Mayor Parker said, I have to agree with Campos: With all due respect to the Mayor, this debate really is about all of us. I want to live in a city that values all of its residents. I want to live in a city that embraces its diversity and makes no group of people feel second class. I’m one of an increasing majority of people that sees the so-called “morality” of people like Dave Wilson for the toxic injustice that it is. I see where the country is going, and I want to get there now. There’s more people like me in this town than there are people like Dave Wilson. If we’re forced to prove it again at the ballot box this November, we’ll be ready.
[Council Member Ellen] Cohen said she expects, however, to see the mayor’s comments become fodder for a push to overturn the ordinance by referendum, an effort for which opponents say they already are gathering signatures. Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.
“People who are opposed to the ordinance will use any and all methods they possibly can to destroy the credibility of anyone who’s trying to vote for it,” Cohen said, pointing to threats of recall elections targeting council members who vote in favor. “It saddens me. Intimidation is a terrible way to conduct a democracy.”
That’s presumably in addition to the recall effort, which who knows what will happen. In this case, we know from the red light camera experience that there’s a 30 day window after the ordinance passes to gather the signatures for a vote to repeal. We’ll cross that bridge when and if we get to it, too. The SEIU and Mustafa Tameez have more.