Nondiscrimination is key to a prosperous Dallas

Photo by Andreas Praefcke

When the Dallas City Council adopted an ordinance offering basic protections for our LGBT citizens, supporters noted that it was long overdue.

A few dozen people spoke at City Hall in favor of the measure, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums.

Among those to speak in favor of the measure were American Airlines Chairman and CEO Donald J. Carty and a Methodist minister.

"Ultimately, the issue transcends self-interest to something more important," Carty said, according to a Dallas Morning News article. "Taking a stand against discrimination — whether based on race, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation or anything else — is not politically correct. It is simply correct."

Two people spoke against it. The year was 2002.

More than 13 years later, a handful of people — many of whom either don't live in Dallas or only get their news from commentators who have never been to Dallas City Hall — are suddenly concerned about this ordinance. Yet, all laws prohibiting lewd behavior are intact and enforced. Concerns are fueled by misinformation. Infatuations with public restrooms are obfuscation of a deep-rooted hatred of diversity.

The anxiety comes after our city council voted unanimously this week to update language in the 2002 ordinance for the first time. The purpose of the change was to distinguish between the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression." But the 13-year-old ordinance already protected against discrimination based on perceived gender identity.

So why make the change at all?

One key reason is that last year, our voters overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment to prohibit discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation," as well as "gender identity and expression." The council's unanimous decision was consistent with the electorate's approval by an overwhelming 3:1 margin of 77 percent for versus 23 percent against.

More importantly, it speaks to the diversity and tolerance of the Dallas citizenry. We support our LGBT friends, colleagues and loved ones because it's good for the health of our city. It's good for business, tourism, neighborhoods, public safety, education, arts and culture and the economy. Sixty-six percent of all Fortune 500 companies now include gender identity in their employment protections.

In Dallas, we ensure that city employees are treated equally in pay, benefits and opportunity to advance. We refuse to allow any characteristic — other than job performance — to stand in the way. We also ensure that our citizens are free from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. It is shameful that some people would withhold this basic constitutional right.

Across Texas, hundreds of employers have signed the "Texas Competes" pledge, which recognizes "the clear economic and business case for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, families customers and tourists."

Among them are Dallas' own Tenet Healthcare, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Associa, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, the Dallas Mavericks, the Dallas Regional Chamber, the Dallas Entrepreneur Center and the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. The wise leaders of these entities recognize that the message we must send across the state and the country is one of inclusion, not rejection.

As elected leaders, we must welcome families of all backgrounds. While we work to minimize the intrusion of government on the private lives of individuals, we have a duty to ensure that all of our citizens are protected from discrimination in any form. It is unfortunate that in this day and age discrimination still exists. It's even worse that those who espouse its practices are elected to state offices. It is our duty to protect Dallas citizens from the whims of political rhetoric.

And, if you don't think such bigotry exists, you should see some of the despicable tweets and messages many councilmembers have received.

Dallas is a "home rule" city, authorized by the state legislature to self-determine policies and ordinances. Some state legislators in Austin want to control Texas cities the same way California politicians in Sacramento do. We must stand up to their desire to concentrate power in state government. Dallasites have the right to self-determination and to be free from the tyranny of the state legislature.

The highly toxic political environment in our state too often fuels debates based on misrepresentations and scare tactics. That may be good for Twitter and Facebook, but it's not good in the real world.

Our city council is proud of the groundwork our predecessors laid for us more than 13 years ago on LGBT protections. It is insulting to them and, more importantly, to our LGBT citizens, to reduce these important issues to potty hysteria.

Lee Kleinman

Dallas City Councilman

@LeeforDallas

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