What's next for the gay rights movement in Texas

Photo by Benson Kua

Texas must brandish its business brand, not bruise it.

That's why the conservative Texas Association of Business recently announced its opposition to legislative proposals that discriminate against hardworking gay and transgender Texans. The association's president, Chris Wallace, said, “We are a very conservative business association as the state chamber … [and] we’re all working together to make sure we keep Texas open for business, and that we are seen as a place that welcomes all people and not one that excludes any groups of people.”

The issue of fairness and opportunity in the workplace is, of course, not partisan. So it makes sense that many politically and culturally diverse voices, from the Texas Association of Business to the new multimillion-dollar campaign Texas Wins, have come together to protect Texas’ vibrant business climate from policies that are, well, anti-business.   

Here's the deal. Most people are shocked to learn it’s still legal in Texas to fire gay and transgender people for who they are. It’s perfectly legal, too, to kick them out of a restaurant or deny them an apartment simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The obvious must be said: Everyone needs to earn a living and provide for his or her family, and workplace discrimination is not in line with our values of opportunity, freedom and treating people how we would want to be treated. 

From a corporate perspective, inclusion is good for business and good for the bottom line. In this highly competitive marketplace, companies want to recruit and retain the best and the brightest, and to judge their employees on job performance — nothing more, nothing less. That's why major businesses with a massive presence in Texas, like AT&T and American Airlines, as well as many Fortune 500 companies nationally, have their own nondiscrimination policies.

Unfortunately, the quickly shrinking anti-gay caucus in the Texas Legislature is going in the other direction, not listening to the concerns of respected business leaders (or the overwhelming majority of fair-minded Texans). Lawmakers this session have introduced a jaw-dropping number of proposals that would pave the way for more discrimination in the workplace, in schools and in restaurants.   

Bills by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, would take away rights by undoing local ordinances in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Plano and San Antonio that protect gay and transgender workers — and all military veterans (who are not protected under state law) — from bad-apple employers who discriminate. This is nothing but big government run amok. If Texas cities want to make their own rules, they have the freedom to do so. It's called local control. 

The business case for equal treatment — not special treatment — for all employees is beginning to be heard. State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, introduced a proposal that would undo local nondiscrimination ordinances but then walked it back due to the harm it would do to the state's business climate. The Texas Association of Business praised the move, calling for more of Villalba's "brand of common-sense conservatism" in the Legislature.

The Arizona Legislature last year wrestled with an odious bill allowing businesses to deny service to gay and transgender customers. That didn’t go too well. The NFL and the Super Bowl Host Committee, among other major businesses, scoffed, and the governor then vetoed the bill. Texas is hosting the Super Bowl in 2017 — and should take a page from Arizona’s playbook.  

As marriage equality waits in the wings, basic equality in employment, housing and public accommodations isn’t covered in Texas. Let's get it done.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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