The Pride Issue
San Antonio's Glacial Progress on LGBT Rights
Published: June 26, 2013
One by one, activists, family members, and allies of LGBT San Antonians stood before their councilmembers, demanding the gay community be treated as more than second-class citizens. Recounting emotional, first-person stories of victimization and intolerance, testifiers urged council to pass a measure that codifies their societal equity by granting them the same protections as their counterparts.
Take Julie Pousson, who had her life thrown into jeopardy as a result of discrimination. When rushed to Northeast Baptist Hospital in 2011 after severe heart complications, Pousson says her nurse stopped, left the room, and prayed after finding a rainbow tattoo on the patient’s skin, “For six minutes I nearly died for being who I was,” said Pousson. Recently diagnosed with kidney failure, Pousson admits she likely has a limited life span. “I don’t want to die unequal. You have the chance to make our San Antonio equal, for me, for my children, for my grandchildren.”
While pro-LGBT rights speakers, many with the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA), far eclipsed the handful of dissenters during a mid-June Citizens to be Heard meeting that stretched well into the evening, the passion of the religious conservative opposition – most notably right-wing Pastor Gerald Ripley’s slide presentation that included a photo of transgender ‘separate but equal restrooms’ – reveals just how steep the climb to social justice is for gay activists in San Antonio.
To them, the battle to gain parity is nothing new and neither is the overt bigotry. Now, for the first time, activists have a dedicated champion at City Hall, which has historically been less than amendable to the LGBT community. District 1 councilmember Diego Bernal is attempting to reverse the trend with a human rights ordinance that promises LGBT equality – and drawing heat from the city’s social conservative base while he’s at it.
The proposed ordinance spearheaded by Bernal shields gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents from discrimination in hiring and firing, public accommodations, fair housing, city employment, contracts, and appointments of board and commission members by adding sexual orientation and gender identity (as well as veteran status) to part of the city’s non-discrimination code. Today, no protections for LGBT residents exist in the municipal books.
That fact doesn’t rest well with CAUSA and the LGBT community, who’ve fought for years to bring San Antonio up to speed with most major metropolitan cities in the U.S. and Texas, like Austin, El Paso and Dallas, which had a similar ordinance in place since 2002. Now, thanks to Bernal, activists have a tangible draft to rally around and push for passage.
They don’t want to stop there, either. They say the “next battle” lies in forming a Human Rights Commission to investigate claims of discrimination and try to rectify them. (The commission isn’t front and center for Bernal at the moment, and may not even be necessary in his opinion; the same mechanics could be achieved through an assigned point person or a few lawyers in the city attorney’s office, he says.)
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