Human Rights Campaign
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Fort Worth council votes to expand anti-discrimination ordinance
FORT WORTH — The Fort Worth City Council voted 6-3 late Tuesday to expand its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, capping a marathon debate over a series of gay-rights proposals that were forwarded after a controversial inspection of a gay bar.
A majority of council members spoke in favor of the proposal when it was introduced last week.
The inspection at the Rainbow Lounge in June left a man injured and sparked protests in the city.
Fort Worth officials appointed a task force to recommend ways to mend fences with the gay community shortly afterward.
The vote dealt only with one facet of the proposals: expanding the city's anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people. The ordinance already prevented discrimination based on race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.
A lot of the debate, though, centered on broader proposals, some of which the council has already tacitly approved. City staffers will be trained on dealing with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and the police department has appointed a liaison to the community.
Other recommendations will require further study, including offering domestic-partner benefits and expanding the city health insurance plan to cover gender reassignment procedures.
Crowded council meeting
More than 200 people packed the council chambers, lining the walls and spilling into overflow rooms.
“We believe, as you do, that we should respect each other,” said Jon Nelson of Fairness Fort Worth. “The foundation of these recommendations isn't preferential treatment, it's equal treatment.”
Three transgender people — two transsexual women and a cross-dressing man — were among those who spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“Being a transgender person has nothing to do with a person's ability to do their job,” Victoria Van Fleet said.
Conservative protesters saw the proposals as violating traditional morals. “Is it our city's responsibility to take taxpayer money and promote a lifestyle based on sexual preference or gender identity?” asked Richard Clough, a Republican activist.
Ron Armstrong stood on top of his Bible in front of City Hall to symbolize that he was “standing on the word of God.”
“The law says clearly no man is supposed to lie with a man the way he lies with a woman,” he said.
The city's Human Relations Commission was already working on transgender issues before the Rainbow Lounge incident. About 10 transgender people have complained about discrimination over the last few years, but it wasn't clear if the anti-discrimination ordinance protected them, city Human Relations Director Vanessa Boling said.
The commission took testimony from people who were threatened or ridiculed because they were transgender, or who had problems finding jobs and housing, said the Rev. Estrus Tucker, chairman of the commission.
“It wasn't about choice, it's who they are,” Tucker said. “When you listen to some of the stories, people wouldn't choose to go through it.”
MIKE LEE MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICES