By Tawseef Ali, Public Editor
San Antonio City Council passed a controversial non-discrimination ordinance by an 8-3 vote this afternoon guaranteeing equal protection of the LGBT community. In a separate vote, council voted 9-2 to approve veteran status to the city code.
The updated ordinance expands San Antonio’s anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.
But today’s victory came after months of tension, anger and resentment.
On Aug. 28 and Wednesday, the San Antonio City Council Chamber was packed with steadfast citizens, as a line of people waiting to speak wrapped all the way around the building that often broke into chants for and against the city’s recently revised non-discrimination ordinance.
The budget hearing was on the agenda, but hundreds of locals from every district gathered to speak or witness citizens’ concerns regarding the heavily debated ordinance that passed earlier today. Both hearings went into the early hours of Thursday. Citizens were told that they were not guaranteed to speak due to time constraints. Additional rules on speaking and approaching the council were added to Wednesday’s hearing.
People wearing blue shirts, against the passage of the ordinance, and people wearing red, in support of the ordinance were present at both hearings.
Ordinary people came to voice their opinions. On Aug. 28, an 8-year-old girl, who had to stand on the chair to reach the microphone, said, “Treat other people how you want to be treated,” based on what she was taught in school.
On Tuesday, more religious groups voiced their support for the proposed ordinance.
On Wednesday, Mayor Julian Castro was accused by a citizen in blue of dividing San Antonio by saying those who were against the ordinance were for discrimination. The citizen believed that disagreeing with a specific lifestyle was not a crime.
The ordinance has passed, however the resentment lingers. A community of people have earned their right to live as others do and others claim that they lose their right to practice their religion as they see fit. San Antonio cannot win, if everybody cannot win.
In hindsight, both sides made heavy arguments. Both sides conveyed they deserve an opportunity to communicate their views in a civilized manner, in consideration of one another.
Let’s review the ordinance and how it came to be. Last year, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal proposed amendments to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. Since then it has faced criticism from religious groups on grounds that the ordinance violates constitutional and religious rights. Since then, numerous edits have been made to the draft and the latest draft added provisions to conserve traditional restroom access in public spaces. This amendment was made less than 24 hours before “Citizens to be Heard” Aug. 28.
Over 180 cities in the nation already have such protections in place for their public and Michigan approved a similar ordinance Aug. 27.
After the private recording incident of District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan, it was evident that the chamber was split into two at the Aug. 28 hearing. The last hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, a day before voting. (Full video available here.)
Lauryn Farris, a transgender activist and speaker for the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA), told me at the end of July that District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran was not willing to meet with the organization until Aug. 14. Texas A&M-San Antonio is located in Viagran’s district.
On Aug. 28, I attempted to contact Viagran and her staff informed me that she is yet to take her stance on this issue because she was still meeting with different interest groups. Viagran voted “Yes” this afternoon.
Now that the ordinance has passed and a new student organization on this campus supporting the LGBT community is rising, there will be deeper discussions between both sides.
Faculty, staff and students are invited to contribute to the forum by posting below.