While the local LGBT community, basking in a recent historic win to combat city-sanctioned discrimination, consider council members who supported the non-discrimination ordinance tantamount to heroes, a small yet aggressive faction of conservatives slowly mount retribution for those members who cast a vote in favor of the ordinance.
During the NDO debate earlier this month, threats to members’ political lives abounded, with several anti-LGBT speakers taking the podium to guarantee swift revenge in the form of a recall election for not only the NDO’s key sponsor, District 1’s Diego Bernal, but Mayor Julian Castro and any other elected official on the dais unwilling to appease the religious and right-wing opposition. The effort to recall Bernal began before the vote was cast. Spearheaded by Weston Martinez of the Bexar County Conservative Coalition and Texas Freedom PAC, a group of residents went door-to-door with a clipboard, collecting signatures to oust Bernal from his seat in late August. Martinez says thousands of unreturned calls were placed to council offices to discuss their concern with the NDO, prompting them to take action. “That’s when we pulled the trigger on the recall. We had no other option to get their attention,” he said.
After council members in Districts 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (plus the Mayor) cast ‘yes’ votes to include LGBT groups in the City’s current Non-discrimination ordinances, a similar strategy to unseat the majority of council began. Martinez says the plan ranges from knocking on doors to showing up wherever council members may be— from public and community meetings to member-hosted events—with the mission to collect signatures. The faction says they’re even planting themselves outside district field offices with the hopes of wrangling in more petitioners. The ordinance opponents need 6,000 signatures from registered voters (valid 180 days from the first signer) to begin the recall process for council members and 75,000 for Castro.
Bernal says the group is free to invoke their right to recall, but questions the legality of campaigning against the council members, “I’m not really convinced their efforts are necessarily legitimate. I can’t even put a campaign sign in the yard or in the front of my field office because it’s city property.”
With all the revisions meant to afford compromise to conservatives, Martinez admitted the NDO has been “watered down to a degree,” but in the same conversation said it was harsher than any other ordinance in the country, leading him to bring lawyers to the table to talk a possible suit.
Over the phone, Martinez echoed anti-NDO testifiers, who time and time again lambasted the parallels between the gay rights struggle and the mid-20th century battles against segregation and racial persecution. He delved into how many, including himself, found claims that the LGBT population experiences similar oppression as African-Americans did during the Civil Rights Era, “offensive.”
“Show me the Freedom Bus, show me the Woolworth’s store,” said Martinez. “Go see the new Oprah movie, The Butler. Is there discrimination? Yeah, I get discriminated all the time because I’m an Anglo-looking Hispanic, look at my name.”
Despite previous criticism from opponents that the NDO was a ‘political football,’ Martinez and the recall army seem perfectly content to play politics now. However, they won’t be able to rely primarily on a few large and/or out-of-town religious congregations to drive home the recall effort since the signatures can only come from each recall target’s district. The effort may backfire in another way, by making those members who supported the NDO seem all the braver in the face of this adversity.
“I’m confident in saying I’ve moved my district in the right direction,” says Bernal. “If these people want me out of office simply because I want to treat everyone in this city fairly and equally, it says more about them than it does about me.”