After Prayer Rally Against Non Discrimination Ordinance, Debate Wages in Council Chambers

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The steps of San Antonio City Hall transformed to a Christian pulpit Wednesday afternoon. A bilingual sermon from local pastors, including vocal opponent of gay rights, Pastor Charles Flowers, called for God’s intervention to stop the passage of a proposed LGBT non-discrimination ordinance.

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About 300 blue-clad protestors stood outside City Hall Wednesday evening, where local pastors conducted a prayer rally denouncing a proposed non-discrimination ordinance. Photo by Mary Tuma

“Let the wheels fall off this wicked movement,” cried one pastor, whose words were quickly translated to Spanish. Dressed in blue and raising hands in prayer, the roughly 300 anti-NDO residents in attendance identified their district numbers on their shirts and on signs that read, “VOTE NO”.

“I want to see God rescue our city. God loves Texas, God loves San Antonio,” said Nancy Goettman, chairman of Bexar County chapter of the Christian Coalition of America and protest attendee. “The ordinance is taking away our rights as Christians. It takes away our freedom of speech. They are trying to take that away from us even though it’s in the Constitution.”

Expected for a vote on Sept. 5, the NDO protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents from discrimination in hiring and firing, public accommodations, fair housing, city employment, contracts and board appointments by adding sexual orientation and gender identity (and veteran status) to the city code. It does not offer “special rights” as several anti-LGBT protests signs claimed, but simply places the community on equal footing with other residents. It also brings San Antonio up to speed with other major metro Texas cities with NDO policies like El Paso, Dallas and Austin.

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Protestors opposed to a non-discrimination ordinance falsely claim it would provide "special rights" to the LGBT community. It would only place them on equal footing with other residents. Photo by Mary Tuma

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition started by local LGBT-right group, Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA) has garnered more than 900 signatures.

Shortly afterward protestors migrated to city hall chambers, where a Citizens Heard hearing was underway. In a line that stretched out the door, more than 300 SA residents signed up to testify largely for or against the NDO vote–a figure that seems to increase each week.

At the podium, the LGBT community and its supporters ask council to afford them the basic human right of equal protection and now have taken on the extra burden of debunking the religious right’s false assertions. A Latino, disabled gay veteran, who received a standing ovation, pointed to the fact even after serving his country in the Iraq war he could still be fired for his sexual orientation. Stand on the right side of history, testifiers told council.

“Some have stated several times that these protections seem unjustified. Looking around the nation and here in Texas, I constantly see cases of discrimination, violence and sometimes murder of my LGBT brothers and sisters,” said pro-LGBT testifier Randy Bear. “Do we really need an incident in our own city to justify that protection?”

Over the past few months, the hearings have become the outlet for LGBT community to express their support for the ordinance as well as the platform for anti-LGBTers to vocalize their staunch and oftentimes erroneous objection. As the Current reported, testimony from the opposition during last week’s hearing was rife with claims steeped in myth–and many of those false claims surfaced again yesterday evening.

For instance, the point of most contention for anti-LGBT activists stood a clause that prevented a resident who opposed homosexuality in “word or deed” from serving in public office or obtaining city contracts. The opposition’s allegations of curbing free speech rights emanates from this provision– but following discussions with religious leaders, it has since been removed by the ordinance’s author, District 1 council member Diego Bernal.

And while the religious right continues their misguided attack on the ordinance–continually suggesting the NDO erodes First Amendment protections– those changes were good enough for influential television evangelist Pastor John Hagee, who recently announced during a sermon at his San Antonio-based Cornerstone Church he no longer disagrees with the ordinance after the modifications were made, the San Antonio Express-News reported. Considering the actively anti-gay Hagee once called marriage equality for gays and lesbians part of “demonic forces that are attacking our nation,” according to Right Wing Watch, it’s difficult to imagine just how extreme the remaining opposition must be.

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