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Fighting Queer Discrimination in San Antonio

Update 11:30pm CST

NDO Supporters in red chant to opponents in blue.

NDO Supporters in red chant to opponents in blue.

I visited San Antonio’s City Hall tonight for a few hours to support the #LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Ordinance. Supporters of the ordinance were dressed in red, while opponents (much like at the Texas legislature) were in Catholic blue. Queer activists and their allies chanted as groups of opponents left, or when they were speaking inside, where the rally could be heard quietly but clearly from the council chambers. [more]

A Texas-Sized Fight Against Discrimination

NDO 4 San Antonio MemeAs far as the mainstream media is concerned, the fight for LGBTQ civil rights is only about marriage. Yet being queer is not a protected class — there are no federal protections as there are for race, gender, or disability. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act would change this, but it has little hope of passing despite direct action by groups like GetEqual. Only 21 states plus Washington, D.C. have passed LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. During his first candidacy, Barack Obama promised to sign an executive preventing federal contractors from discriminating but he’s refused to address the issue since.

Here in Texas, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso have all passed some form of municipal nondiscrimination ordinance, but San Antonio queers are notably left out in the cold. That could all change in the next days, thanks to a bill before the city council sponsored by District 1 City Council member Diego Bernal and supported by Mayor Julian Castro. Passage of this bill would be the culmination of a 15 year local struggle. Tomorrow’s vote looks promising, but the struggle has been hard fought and victory only shifts the status quo so far — the bill would prevent discrimination in city contracts, public housing, and against patrons of businesses like restaurants and hotels. However, it does not contain generalized workplace protection. Additionally, a troubling amendment added to the ordinance could reenforce pre-existing discrimination against transgendered individuals.

Dozens of local bigots have mobilized to fight the bill, many gathered under the offensively misleading banner of the San Antonio Human Rights Coalition. Others have been bused in from around the state and even Fox News got involved. Their hateful spin has caused a pointless panic around issues like what bathrooms transgendered people might be allowed to use, and whether the bill suppresses the “free speech” (i.e., right to be hateful) of the city’s religious but ethically bankrupt citizens.

Jennifer K. Falcon Talks NDO

GetEqual TX have spearheaded the fight for queer liberty, along with their allies in CAUSA, the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio. Earlier this week I caught up with GetEqual TX’s San Antonio Lead Organizer Jennifer K. Falcon. Not only a leader in LGBTQ activism, she also took part in the June/July protests over abortion laws at the Texas Legislature.

“In the city of San Antonio, if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or even perceived as such, you can be legally removed from any public place. You can be denied or removed from housing once they find out you’re LGBTQ,” Falcon told me. Because the law doesn’t add workplace protections, many people are afraid of publicly supporting the NDO. “It’s a good step for San Antonio, but there’s still a long way to go for us.”

Since May, she’s tracked a disturbing number of incidents of threats and violence against the city’s LGBTQ population, leading the organization to issue a controversial travel advisory for queer people that was opposed by the mayor. Despite Castro’s push back, this issue is very real for LGBTQ individuals in San Antonio. Dozens of queer people have come forward to publicly testify to their discrimination, and hundreds more have communicated with Falcon privately. Life seems especially difficult for one particular part of the queer alphabet soup:

“If you want to know how welcoming San Antonio is, ask any transgendered person. The majority of discrimination cases we’re finding are from from our transgender community getting kicked out of places or asked to move. If they’re denied housing, they don’t have any emergency housing they can go too.” [cont’d.]

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and Occupy.com.