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Plano passes equal rights ordinance

How about that?

In a split vote Monday, the Plano City Council passed the controversial Equal Rights Policy over the objections of many residents in the standing-room-only crowd.

The amendment to the city’s 1989 anti-discrimination policy extends protections from housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination to include sexual orientation, gender identity and other categories.

“Providing equal rights for everyone is the right thing to do,” Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said after the 5-to-3 vote. Council members Pat Gallagher, Ben Harris and Jim Duggan cast the dissenting votes, preferring to table the matter until January.

The vote drew angry responses from some residents who shouted that they would vote council members who supported the amendment out of office at the next election.

“Suffice to say, if you pass it, we will sue you,” Jeff Matter, general counsel for the Liberty Institute told the council during the lengthy public hearing.

The Liberty Institute is based in Plano, so you can imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth this engendered, not to mention the lying and the threatening of lawsuits. Unfair Park reveled in teh schadenfreude of it all.

While Frisco has supplanted Plano in the public imagination as North Texas’ most irritatingly shiny and self-satisfied outpost, Plano remains a byword for the deep-crimson conservatism of the Texas suburb. Nevertheless, it’s LGBT ordinance zipped through city government with lightning speed, passing only three days after the item was posted on the City Council agenda. Plano is also different because nowhere else in Texas has the religious right been so satisfyingly brushed aside.

On Monday afternoon, the Liberty Institute warned in a last-minute press release that the ongoing assault on religious liberty that the inability to discriminate against gay people represents was encroaching on its home territory. Despite the late notice, they marshaled a nicely sized roster of indignant Christian conservatives to speak against the ordinance and, in no uncertain terms, promised a lawsuit.

But before the vote, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere delivered an immensely satisfying rebuttal that can best be described as badass. He ticked off an incomplete history of injustices inflicted upon minority groups in the United States: the constitutional definition of slaves, i.e. African Americans, as 3/5 of a person; women being deprived of the franchise; deed covenants barring the sale of homes to Jews and others; signs in New York windows saying “Irish need not apply.”

In each case, he said, attempts to redress those wrongs were greeted with objections similar to the ones that are being offered in opposition to the equal-rights ordinance, claims that extending rights to minority groups somehow infringed upon the rights of the majority.

LaRosiliere dismissed those concerns and answered the question he’s been fielding most frequently: Why now?

“Frankly, the question is not ‘why now?’ the question is ‘what took us so long?'”

I’d never heard of Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere before, but I’ve got to say, he just became one of my favorite Mayors in the country. Well done, sir.

It should be noted that despite the caterwauling of the Liberty Institute, Plano’s newly amended non-discrimination policy is actually pretty restrained.

The ordinance comes with quite a few restrictions. Religious, political, governmental, educational and non-profit organizations are exempt, except those doing business with the city.

There’s a bathroom clause that allows businesses to segregate restrooms based on gender. That condition may be taken by some as a green light to discriminate against transgender employees and patrons of businesses, despite protection based on gender identity.

The governmental exemption doesn’t exempt Plano from discriminating, but it doesn’t require Collin County to provide the same protections in order to continue working with the city.

It’s still progress, and it’s still encouraging to see. We’ll need to keep an eye out for the promised litigation as well as the May election results up there. BOR, Lone Star Q, and Think Progress have more.

UPDATE: Here’s a more comprehensive story from the DMN on the new policy.

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