Houston Lawmaker Files Bill That Would Outlaw Discrimination Against Gays, Lesbians, and Transgenders
[AUSTIN, TX] - State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) has filed the first pro-gay bill to be proposed before the current session of the Texas Legislature.
Farrar's House Bill 574, submitted to the Texas House of Representatives on Jan. 27, would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Farrar's District 148 includes the heavily gay Houston Heights and Near Northside neighborhoods north and northwest of downtown Houston.
"This is an extremely important issue," Farrar said. "Employment discrimination strikes at a fundamental American value: the right of each individual to do his or her job and contribute to society.
"Gay, lesbian and transgender people face pervasive discrimination across the state of Texas," she added.
No federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, it is legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation in 37 states, including Texas. In 48 states, it is legal to do so based on gender identity.
Farrar's bill would extend employment discrimination protection currently provided based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The far right wants you to believe that this bill would give special rights to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, and that is simply not the case," Farrar said. "This bill is about fair employment practices for all Texans.
"These policies are good for business and for Texas," she added. "The closer a company is to the top of the Fortune 500 list, the more likely it is to have such a policy. Seventy-nine percent of the Fortune 100 companies have policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and over 88 percent of the Fortune 50 companies have such policies."
This week, leaders at the Houston GLBT Community Center praised Farrar's proposal and announced that they will help sponsor transportation from Houston to Austin in order for gay rights activists to lobby state lawmakers in support of House Bill 574 and other gay-friendly policies.
"Jessica Farrar has been a friend to the GLBT community since her days as a council aide at City Hall," said center President Clarence Burton Bagby. "Jessica's non-discrimination bill raises the important issue of equal employment opportunity and draws attention to the fact that GLBT Texans face discrimination every day at work."
Farrar pointed out that a number of cities"including Houston"already have non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and/or gender identity as protected statuses.
"In recent years many local governments and state agencies have implemented non-discrimination policies that have included sexual orientation," Farrar said. "I will be the primary author of this bill and I will seek co-sponsors to help."
A similar bill was proposed and backed during the last legislative session by gay-friendly lawmakers such as Debra Danburg, Glen Maxey and Harryette Ehrhardt. Since those sponsors are no longer representatives at the state Capitol, Farrar said she will lead the way on this issue.
"I will be working closely with the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas as well as Houston advocacy groups like the Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, GLBT Community Center and PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to push forward this piece of legislation," she said.
According to Farrar, a new House leadership in the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature means many issues will be handled in a much different way.
"I will find innovative ways this time around to push legislation forward," Farrar said.
According to a press release from the Houston GLBT Community Center, the facility's Public Policy Program is working with the HGLPC and PFLAG Houston to organize a bus trip to Austin on Sunday, March 16, for LGRL's March on Austin. One bus will stay through Monday afternoon in order for the group to lobby state legislators for equal rights for gays.
Bagby said the groups will be lobbying for H.B. 574 and against H.B. 194, the anti-gay foster care bill.
"While thousands of Texas children in state custody need stable caring families until permanent homes can be found, extremist lawmakers are making anti-GLBT legislation a top priority," Bagby said. "They need to focus their energies on solving the state budget crisis and not on finding new ways to discriminate against GLBT Texans.
Filed in November in advance of the current legislative session, H.B. 194 would disqualify gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in Texas from serving as foster parents. State Rep. Robert Talton (R-Houston) is author of the bill.
On Thursday, H.B. 194 was referred to the Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee. No other lawmakers have signed on as co-authors or co-sponsors.
The anti-gay H.B. 38 was referred to the State Affairs Committee on Jan. 30.
A number of state lawmakers have signed on as joint authors and co-authors of bill, originated by Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa). The bill is also known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Last week, Chisum circulated a memo inviting fellow House members to sign on as co-authors, and at least 22 did so. Another four signed as joint authors of the bill, which would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions.
LGRL and other gay rights activists have called Chisum's H.B. 38 a "slap in the face" to gay Texans, and have labeled it "redundant."
Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Texas already does not have to recognize same-sex couples united in other states. The federal law also creates a definition of marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
Among the House members who signed as co-authors to the Chisum DOMA bill are several Harris County lawmakers: District 132 Rep. Bill Callegari (R-Houston), District 127 Rep. Joe Crabb (R-Kingwood), District 129 Rep. John Davis (R-Houston), District 133 Rep. Joe Nixon (R-Houston), and District 128 Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown).
Last session, a Texas Defense of Marriage Act was passed out of the Senate, but failed to make it out of committee in the House of Representatives, LGRL officials note. Lobbyists contend that the shift in the balance of power in the House after the November elections increases the possibility of this session's bill passing both chambers of the Legislature.
Thirty-six states across the country have enacted laws in recent years that limit legal recognition of civil marriages to heterosexual couples.
March on Austin
Transportation from Houston
Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus
Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas
P.O. Box 2340
Austin, TX 78768
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