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How the Equal Rights Ordinance Compromise Is a Net Positive for the LBGT Community

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The revised Equal Rights Ordinance may make matters worse for the people who changed it, in an unexpected bit of irony.

Some citizens initially disliked the loss of transgender protections from Mayor Annise Parker’s Equal Rights Ordinance. The law lost the section spelling out the right of transgender Houstonians to use their preferred bathroom in public.

“The ordinance, as it stands today… still fully protects the transgender community, the gay community, as well as all of the other protected groups in the federal statutes and those that we have added locally,” Parker said at a conference last Tuesday.

She said the paragraph spelling out the law for transgender use of the bathroom proved too controversial and had to go because it was stopping conversation around the ordinance.

“[The amendment] does not in any way diminish the protections offered to those communities,” Parker said.

Some gay rights groups agree.

“The issue in that section is that it created a lot of confusion, and some people jumped all over that section,” LBGT Caucus president Noel Freeman told Free Press Houston. “My understanding is that the mayor would like to see it go forward in a cleaner fashion.

“At this point, honestly, it doesn’t matter. We’re satisfied with the ordinance that’s put forth and we’d like to see it passed.”

The Backlash

Funnily enough, the very people the amendment was meant to appease are the ones who dislike it most.

Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, sent out an email to its members encouraging them to keep fighting the bill. He takes issue with the mayor’s compromise, saying it places Christians in a worse position than before.

“Do not grow weary of doing good!” Young exhorts his email audience. “Elimination of the bathroom provision does even more harm for businesses because they will lose the good faith defense which was previously available.”

He’s not wrong. The bill’s previous language carved out a broad exception for business owners who had a “good faith belief” that a customer’s expressed gender didn’t match their preferred bathroom. Basically, Parker left a giant hole for Christian businesses to squeeze through.

“What we did in the original language is say, ‘We know this is going to be controversial, we are gonna make a separate category, pull the transgendered community out, and give an affirmative defense to the business owner,’” Parker said.

“We were actually trying to be extra accommodating to the business owner.”

Now that’s gone. Technically transgender people are still covered under the ordinance, as gender identity is a protected characteristic under revised city policy. Even if the paragraph spelling out transgender restroom rights is removed, transgender citizens are still covered under general anti-discrimination laws for places of public accommodations.

The ordinance looks like it still protects transgender rights. The loss of a specific bathroom rules stings, undoubtedly, but in theory the ordinance should still offer protections without the loophole.

The Next Battle

At this point, the ordinance will likely pass. Parker claimed she had the necessary votes at the last meeting and delayed out of courtesy to other council members. Everything I heard at the city council meeting confirmed that assertion.

The real question is what will happen when it’s out in the wild. Without a pre-planned legal route of protest, violators (e.g. Christian businesses) could end up in court. Stay tuned to see if the ordinance holds up before a judge.