“You know, to be quite honest, I know this is not politically correct, but I never bought in that you are born, that you are born gay. I can’t imagine it.”
The quote heard ‘round the state. Thanks for that gem, San Antonio Councilwoman Elisa Chan: now the citizens of San Antonio know whom to vote out of office! Chan said the above quote in a private conversation that was recorded and made public when she and some of her colleagues were discussing San Antonio’s Nondiscrimination Ordinance (NDO). The ordinance eventually passed 8-3, but not without a fight.
United Against Discrimination
“When [the ordinance] was originally proposed, we didn’t see that there was going to be any opposition,” said Robert Salcido, an executive board member at Pride Center San Antonio. “A lot of the things that were said and done over the course of the last months were fueled by misinformation. I think it opened up a conversation in the city that had not happened yet.”
The NDO was supposed to be able to pass without a hiccup: it simply added ‘sexual orientation and gender expression’ onto the city’s current NDO. All it took was that ten minute recording in which Chan and her colleagues expressed their disgust with the LGBT community to light the match that eventually drew the attention of the nation.
San Antonio became a battleground. The city’s LGBTQ community and their allies were already organized in support of the NDO, united under the umbrella group Community Alliance for a United San Antonio, or CAUSA. The newly formed San Antonio Pride Center played a big role in the rallying, as did GetEQUAL TX.
But, according to Jay Morris—the State Co-Lead of GetEQUAL ’s Texas Chapter—the most important group of people that helped get the NDO passed was the opposition.
“They came out so misinformed,” Morris explained. “The untruths they were telling before City Council and the hate language they were using, they did not hold back in what they said. City Council got a hard lesson in what it’s like to be LGBT in Texas.”
Salcido went out of his way to speak with the opposition, just to get a feel for why they were so vehemently opposed to an NDO that would protect San Antonio’s LGBT community.
“I speak to everybody. I’m a friendly person!” Salcido said. “One woman’s response was ‘I really don’t know what’s going on, our pastor just told us that we needed to be here.’ There was another one that said, ‘If this passes, they’re going to take our Bibles away.’ For me, if you’re going to oppose something, at least oppose it for the right reasons.”
Holding Out for a Big Win
One of the most tricky elements to the process was making sure that the language in the NDO was the most inclusive. San Antonio didn’t wait years just to cover the L and the G of the LGBT spectrum: according to Morris, the nuances of the originally proposed NDO would still allow for discrimination against transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex people. One week before the vote, the NDO’s author, Councilman Diego Bernal, added language that would have denied protection to transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex people. Until that point, it was a fully inclusive ordinance.
“We stuck to our guns. We said that we didn’t accept the revision and that a lot of members of CAUSA would withdraw support, effectively killing the bill,” Morris explained.
“That would have been politically damaging not only to Bernal but also to Mayor [Julian] Castro, who has his sights set on a national office. He needs the support of the LGBT community.”
In the end, after numerous packed Citizens to be Heard hearings, flip-flops and revisions to the language of the NDO, San Antonio’s LGBT community won big. The bill—the one revised to be inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming people—passed 8-3, and the entire room erupted into applause.
“We were victorious, but we’re really going to need some time to heal as a city. Once the healing happens, I believe it’s going to make an even stronger community than San Antonio had before,” Salcido explained.
Progress, March On
San Antonio, the seventh-largest city in the United States, finally has a fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. But that just won’t do: just because discrimination and bigotry are institutionally unacceptable doesn’t mean that they won’t persist. So what’s the next step?
Pride Center San Antonio is still relatively young: it only achieved its 501c3 status in July of 2012, and has been working hard to getting a physical brick-and-mortar location to serve the city’s LGBT community. Salcido explained that the organization plans to rent a location and build before expanding to their own building in two to three years.
“We were victorious, but where do we go? People have mentioned that the Pride Center as being a catalyst in being able to provide the next step that our community needs. One of the biggest things that we had as a takeaway is education, and as a center, we’re in the right spot to offer the education that’s needed,” Salcido explained.
The center currently offers sensitivity training for the San Antonio Police Department, and has plans to offer sensitivity training to any and all in the city who want it.
“First and foremost, we need a safe space to meet, an open area for these individuals who are going to be using our center. One of our long-term goals is to be a center that can open our doors to other nonprofit organizations in the community that aren’t large enough to have their own location, too. We want to be able to provide a resource center and a referral type process, and to provide that space for everybody to enjoy,” Salcido said.
Morris and GetEQUAL have plans to confront bigotry and discrimination on a legislative level, expanding and building on the foundation they helped set in San Antonio and other cities around the state. Morris has high hopes for the prospect of turning Texas into a more progressive state, based on what he saw in San Antonio and in Austin this summer with the rallying around the anti-abortion legislation.
“We saw so many people band together. Human rights aren’t just an LGBT issue. They aren’t just a women’s issue. They aren’t just race issue. They aren’t just a religion issue. They are human rights; they impact all of us. The moment we allow one group to be kicked around by politicians, we’ve all lost. We’re recognizing that in Texas. We must align ourselves so that it’s mutually beneficial.”
“This is just one stepping stone toward to where we’re going next,” Morris said. “We’re not done.”