After many hours of testimony from over 200 speakers, the Houston City Council voted 11-6 to approve the Equal Rights Ordinance, which creates nondiscrimination protections for many classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Houston was one of the only large cities in the country that had no municipal nondiscrimination policy.
During the debate, supporters of the bill spoke to alliances across groups, noting how the ordinance would protect following identity classifications: sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, and pregnancy. Opponents argued that the protections would impose on religious beliefs, forcing individuals to violate their own religious beliefs by serving, as an example, a marrying same-sex couple. They also asked that the ordinance be put to a city-wide vote instead of being approved by the Council.
The ordinance’s protections will extend to employment, housing, and public accommodations. This will help protect LGBT employees, who still face a broken bargain in the workplace due to inequities under the law. Though opponents advanced myths suggesting that transgender people are dangerous, the ordinance will also ensure that the trans community has equal access to facilities in accordance with their gender identity.
Houston is the fourth most populous city in the country. The passage of the ERO mirrors a similarly contentious debate that played out in San Antonio last year. Texas does not offer any state-wide nondiscrimination protections to the LGBT community.