After HERO Defeat in Houston, Dallas Lawmakers Strengthen Transgender Protections


Council Votes Unanimously To Amend Nondiscrimination Ordinance

Take that, Houston.   

Just one week after voters overwhelmingly repealed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, the Dallas City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to strengthen their city's nondiscrimination law. 

HERO was defeated largely due to opponents' false claims that transgender protections in public accommodations would allow men to enter women's restrooms and prey on victims. But in Dallas, the council actually voted to clarify transgender protections that have been in place since 2002. 

When the Dallas ordinance was approved, "gender identity" was erroneously included under the definition of "sexual orientation." The ordinance prohibits discrimination citywide in employment, housing and public accommodations. On Tuesday, the council voted to list "gender identity and expression" separately alongside sexual orientation, and more clearly define the terms.

"This is very near and dear to us," Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for the city's LGBT community center, told the council prior to the vote. "Words have meaning, and your vote today will give life to those words, and be seen not only in Dallas but around the country as support for the LGBT community." 

The 15-member council approved the changes with little discussion. 

Councilman Adam Medrano, who heads the city's LGBT Task Force, which proposed the changes, thanked members for their work. Mayor Mike Rawlings thanked Medrano. 

"We're a very diverse city," Rawlings said. "We want to make sure everyone's protected."

Oliver Blumer, a transgender man who serves on the city's LGBT Task Force, told the council the amendments will help local employers recruit and retain talented workers. 

"It's good business," he said. 

Omar Narvaez, another member of the Task Force, which proposed the new language, noted that in 2014, 77 percent of Dallas voters approved an amendment to the city's charter protecting LGBT city employees against discrimination. The amended citywide nondiscrimination ordinance mirrors the language in the charter. 

"We've always been a leader when it comes to LGBT rights, not just in the state of Texas but across the nation," Narvaez said. "Let's keep Dallas a state leader on equality."

Patti Fink, another member of the Task Force, said although the 2002 ordinance legally protected transgender people, the language wasn't clear. 

"The transgender community believes they're not included, because the definition of gender identity is stuffed into the definition of sexual orientation," she said.  

Minutes prior to Tuesday's vote, the anti-LGBT hate group Texas Values notified its followers on Facebook. Texas Values was among the groups that helped defeat HERO in Houston. 

"Breaking: City of Dallas is trying to fast track a bathroom bill similar to the one defeated last week in Houston," Texas Values wrote. "Spread the word." 

Phillip Jones, CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, said last week he feared the repeal of HERO in Houston could hurt the entire state when it comes to booking national conventions. But Jones also said HERO's defeat could allow Dallas — which recently launched an LGBT tourism campaign called "All Love is Big Love" â€” to lure conventions away from Houston. Jones even joked that the city's new slogan should be, "Dallas: Aren't You Glad We're Not Houston." 

Under Dallas' amended ordinance, gender identity and expression are defined as "an individual's real or perceived gender identity as male, female, both, or neither." Sexual orientation is defined as "the actual or perceived status of an individual with respect to the individual's sexuality," including heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual."

In addition, the council added a declaration saying the city of Dallas encourages all entities to recognize the rights of all individuals, regardless of whether they're exempt from the nondiscrimination ordinance. For example, the ordinance exempts religious organizations and companies with fewer than 15 employees, as well as state and federal government agencies.

Violations of the Dallas ordinance are a class-C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, but the city strives to resolve complaints through mediation. In 2014, officials reported that none of the 61 complaints received since the ordinance took effect 13 years ago led to a prosecution.

Read the changes to Dallas' amended citywide nondiscrimination ordinance below. 

Image by City of Dallas/Twitter

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