The Pride Issue
San Antonio's Glacial Progress on LGBT Rights
Published: June 26, 2013
While the non-discrimination plan makes its way to the council’s agenda this August, some still feel the process is moving glacially, a product of local government’s long-standing failure to fully include and engage the LGBT community.
Not everyone at City Hall has seen eye-to-eye on the ordinance’s necessity, says Bernal. “In my mind, we [candidates and elected officials] had been thinking about it and talking about it for a long time… I was wrong in that assumption, let’s just put it that way.”
The ordinance’s progress – or lack thereof – is perhaps a microcosm of the city’s own evolution as an LGBT-friendly environment. With a progressive mayor at the helm, outspoken about marriage equality, and a councilmember serving as a receptive conduit to the gay community, San Antonio may finally be making the headway activists have long hoped for – albeit incremental and overdue.
“I feel like being safe to come out [as gay, lesbian, or transgendered] here is a very recent development,” says Bernal. “Forget the ordinance and politics, I think the atmosphere has evolved at a slow but steady rate. We’re at a point now where everyone knows someone that’s part of this community and so the issue has become personal for many people.”
Dan Graney with Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio remembers when a moment like this felt far out of reach. In 1998, the City attempted to protect municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, but swiftly retreated following condemnation from a vocal and organized opposition. “The religious right came out as a mob and slammed it as immoral,” says Graney. “The council got intimidated and pulled it from the agenda.”
CAUSA revived their call for the non-discrimination ordinance about two years ago but the City’s move to pass domestic partner benefits, strictly for city employees, temporarily drowned them out. Today, gay rights activists refuse to sit quietly by, showing up to council meetings in droves and usually outnumbering the other side – a feat once unimaginable.
“What’s happening now would not have happened 15 years ago. At the time, our community only had three or four speakers, we didn’t have anywhere close to the numbers we have now… We’ve come a long way,” Graney says.
Graney attributes the marked shift to “courageous” new local leadership (chiefly Mayor Julián Castro and Bernal) as well as the appointment of an LGBT liaison to SAPD and more recently, in city hall. Shortly after the sting of a below-average 2012 municipal equality index (MEI) ranking by the Human Rights Campaign, the mayor’s office named senior policy advisor Adam Greenup as the go-to for the LGBT community at the start of this year. Coming in behind any other major city in Texas, San Antonio scored 48 out of 100 when evaluated for LGBT inclusion in municipal law. For a city whose mayor gained national notoriety for championing gay rights, including marriage equality, the failing grade startled City Hall.
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