On November 3, 2015, Houston voters rejected an ordinance that made it unlawful to discriminate against an individual based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy. The ordinance encompassed discrimination in various sectors, including employment, contracting, public accommodation and fair housing.
Like most federal and state non-discrimination statutes, the Houston ordinance did not seek preferential treatment of individuals in protected classes; it was designed to promote equal treatment and equal protection, to assure that individuals were not denied opportunities on the basis of these factors. Yet, somehow the fundamental tenet of equality twisted into a pissing match (sorry, pun intended) histrionically declared as a means by which predators would stalk our children and grandmothers in toilets all over the city.
For Pete's sake. It's a bathroom. Unmarked, but likely no different from the ones we have all frequented at, say, camp sites and concerts. It's just a bathroom.
The real focus of these fear-mongers, of course, is not some antiquated concern for the public safety of women and children going about their business. It is, instead, a clawlike-hold onto discrimination against the transgendered community, since that is the population targeted by the Equality Opposition.
But from a legal perspective, forbidding toilet equality to The Transgendered will not be sufficient to accomplish the real goal of the opponents to this legislation. With the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision this summer, sexual orientation, genetic information and gender identity are creeping their way into the roster of protected classes.
Fortunately, federal statutes like the Civil Rights Act protect individuals from most forms of discrimination contemplated by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, so in those cases, victims of unlawful discrimination in that city still have recourse to address their issues. As to sexual orientation and gender identity, while not specifically protected by federal anti-discrimination laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted those characteristics as being covered under sex discrimination.
In September 2013, the City of San Antonio updated its 1994 Non-Discrimination Ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status. A precursor to the propaganda espoused by Houston opponents, the bathroom issue reared its head in San Antonio, leading the council to amend the ordinance by adding the proviso: "Nothing in Division 5 will be construed as allowing any person to enter any sex-segregated space for any unlawful purpose." Opponents further asserted that the expanded San Antonio ordinance would infringe upon their freedom of speech and on Christians' religious freedom, even though the ordinance provided exemptions for qualifying religious organizations. The San Antonio City Council decidedly passed the measure by an 8-3 vote. In the two years since its passage, doomsday prophecies of men lurking in women's bathrooms have not materialized, nor have predictions of widespread religious persecution and infringement on free speech.
In a way, local-level discrimination ordinances like the Houston ordinance are almost symbolic in nature; a way for communities to declare their intolerance of discrimination in any form, and to affirm the promotion of equality. Naysayers attempting to use the legal process are unquestionably going to find their paths more and more frequently blocked.
What is it about The Transgendered population that so offends? Perhaps it is uneducated fear that motivated the recent Houston histrionics. If so, then perhaps a review of a recent study performed by the Boston University School of Medicine might be of interest. These researchers decided that the body of work analyzed suggested a biological cause for transgender identity. Boston University Medical Center. (2015, February 13). Transgender: Evidence on the biological nature of gender identity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 17, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150213112317.htm
Whilst fear certainly has precedent in determining controversial opinions, science should not. And perhaps, a bit of compassionate understanding of a biological condition could change the opinions of Houston voters.
Please return to The Law Office of Lisa A. Vance,PC