You may or may not have missed it. San Antonio’s city council is in the news again, and it’s not because of Mayor Castro. City Councilman Diego Bernal has recently offered a proposal to bring the Alamo City’s non-discrimination policies into the 21st century.
Indeed, a recent study from the Williams Institute shows that LGBT employees suffer immense discrimination at their workplace once they come out of the closet. Proposed amendments to the existing municipal code include additional language protecting against discrimination based upon sexuality and gender identity. The proposal reads in part:
“No person shall be appointed to a position if the City Council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age, or disability.”
As Equality Matters reported, such language is nothing new and actually reflects updates to the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was recently approved in a Senate committee earlier this month. Such an act would also bring San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinances on par with Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
[Editor’s Note: After several critics of the above section protested, Bernal has since proposed removing it entirely.]
Regardless of the fact that our veterans are allowed to openly be who they are in public and at work, whether that means they are straight or gay, Bernal is expected to “divide the question” (in parliamentarian’s terms) by allowing one up or down vote on the veteran addition and another vote on gender identity and sexual preference.
Still, it seems the most controversial aspect of Diego’s proposal may deal with who San Antonio does business with. The proverbial question remains: will the city hire contractors who abide by our non-discrimination policies or not?
Opponents to the proposal insist that if Councilman Diego has his way, contractors who discriminate based upon “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability,” will not do business with the city.
The argument goes that if one does not agree with, say for instance, the LGBTQ lifestyle, then one might be considered in violation of the municipal code and therefore shall be unable to do business with the city or hold public office. Others have claimed that such a proposal only “penalizes Bible believers,” and paves the way to remove or prevent Christians from holding any city office whatsoever, thereby infringing upon their own religious freedoms.
I’m still perplexed as to what religious freedom that might be for Christian opponents of the ordinance. Surely choosing to hire or fire someone based upon whether or not they have sinned leaves little room for any hiring or firing by anyone. You know, “he without sin, sign the first pink slip?”
A Washington Times editorial recently opined on the council’s “bigotry” and “malfeasance” in the matter, claiming that Bernal’s proposal was simply discriminationatory. “Such discrimination is proposed under the cloak of a “non-discrimination” ordinance,” it reads. “George Orwell is alive and hiding in Texas.”
If he is, I’d like to meet him. My wife loves Animal Farm.
Should it be any surprise to find such rhetoric coming from the Times, whose writers have infamously railed against the ‘unhuman nature’ of homosexuals, and have compared homosexuality to pedophilia and beastiality?
Opponents of the measure, including the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF), argue that Bernal’s proposal would remove or prevent Christians from holding public office. Obviously, according to the ADF, such a statement presupposes that if one is Christian, then they should also be anti-gay and therefore would be prevented from participating in public politics.
Would we really be having this conversation, if for instance, a potential contractor decided to ignore any other provision of the municipal code? Such codes would only be enforced if they were already on the books, preventing business with anyone having a prior history of ignoring established city ordinances. As it turns out, Bernal’s proposal is still a proposal, so I welcome the debate.
Citizens will certainly have an opportunity to voice their own opinions on the subject this coming Wednesday, August 7 at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. But those wishing to speak their minds need to sign up prior to the event, and can do so online by submitting a written testimony at the city’s official website (click here).
But the irony in this mess has much to do with the existing San Antonio municipal non-discrimination codes, in that none of Bernal’s opponents have been able to document one instance where such measures have been used in the past to remove anyone from office or preclude any freedom of religion or speech. Perhaps this is because it might look bad to argue that, say potential city contractor, Mr. Smith, decided not to hire someone because they were African American. That wouldn’t do much for the cause, now would it?
These codes exist to provide a legal cover for employees who stand to lose their jobs or suffer harassment due to who they are. As such, the city’s municipal code on non-discrimination also stands to evince our public ethos regarding persons at risk. So in this day and age, to not include certain demographics means we are still declaring a moral statement.
In other words, being silent means we’re picking sides.
Recent arguments from Bernal’s opponents seem to center upon the First Amendment, specifically upon matters of free speech and the freedom of religion. Opponents argue that it is their Christian duty to denounce homosexuals and homosexuality, reminding me of a time when Christians also used similar arguments to denounce other minorities for the same reasons. Thank God we now have ordinances to protect people on the basis of race.
“And since when has religion in America discriminated against anyone?” said too many people with a history of persecuting others.
Ignoring the ghastly history of religious intolerance in our nation, an interesting argument comes from the Washington Times, whose selective memory and ability to spin revisionist history has me holding my head in dumbfoundment:
“The Pilgrims came to these shores centuries ago to escape the “group think” of monarchy and to practice their faith as they pleased. Freedom of religion is one of the first and most enduring freedoms that made America the exceptional nation. From California to San Antonio to New Jersey, it’s a lesson the courts must soon teach the lavender lobby.”
Finally! Someone willing to argue the tolerance of the Pilgrims! You know, those paragons of forbearing Christian virtue who burned Quakers and Catholics through the power of their State religion after ironically leaving England due to their own religious persecution in that country? Need I mention King Philip’s War, where the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation annihilated the very indigenous tribes who secured their survival during the period of the so called “first Thanksgiving?” Need I point out that Philip was actually the Christian baptismal name (yes, he was a fellow Christian) of the Wampanoag leader who was decapitated and quartered after being captured during the war, just before finding out that his family would be sold into slavery in the Caribbean by the very Pilgrims who baptized him and his family?
Tangential rant about the Pilgrims aside, the Washington Times editorial makes an important statement that needs more unpacking. Freedom of Religion, it is true, is a foundational aspect of our country–but so is the freedom from religion–especially when religion persecutes.
So let’s be honest. The real issue here isn’t about Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Religion, its about people that just don’t like – to say the least – homosexuality. Anyone can tell as much from reading the opinions of those who label such efforts as the “lavender lobby.”
Tyler Tully is a writer and blogger based out of San Antonio, Texas. A graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University with a BA in Religious Studies and Theology, Tully is currently pursuing an M.Div. from the Chicago Theological Seminary. He is active in promoting the Irish culture in San Antonio and was named as one of the Irish Echo Magazine’s ”40 Under 40” in 2013. You can also follow Tully’s theological blog, The Jesus Event.