During public testimony before the Houston City Council on Tuesday, religious-right activists and spokespeople railed against the proposed Equal Rights Ordinance. The ordinance would protect Houstonians — regardless of race, gender, religion, military status and a long list of other characteristics — from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. But religious-right activists focused their opposition almost exclusively on nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.
They denounced the LGBT community as “evil” while at the same time insisting that LGBT people don’t really face discrimination. And they bizarrely complained that the ordinance would discriminate against them if they couldn’t discriminate against people they don’t like. Many identified themselves as Christians and declared that the ordinance would limit their religious freedom — but churches are exempt and, in any case, we don’t recall Jesus turning away gay folks when he fed the multitudes.
But the most common themes in the attacks on the ordinance remain sex and fear. Opponents have suggested over and over that transgender “predators” will be stalking little girls in public restrooms if the City Council passes the ordinance. Some religious-right groups even call the ordinance the “Sexual Predator Protection Act.” Texas Values, lobby arm of the religious-right group Liberty Institute, builds on that theme by calling the ordinance “a threat to public safety.”
Texas Values also continues to portray LGBT people as defined almost entirely by sex and criticizes the ordinance for seeking “to equate race with sexual conduct.” For them, the lives of LGBT people are reduced to little more than sexual acts.
Yet one after another, LGBT people have gone before the City Council to express what this ordinance would mean for their lives and their families. For their ability to earn a living free from the fear of being fired for who they are and whom they love. For their access to public services that other people take for granted.
No, racial discrimination isn’t always the same as discrimination against LGBT people. Each community faces its own challenges, and the consequences of discrimination can play out in unique ways. But reducing the targets of discrimination to caricatures and stereotypes is a pretty common tactic haters use, whether those targets are African American, women or LGBT.
So it’s no surprise that opponents of the Equal Rights Ordinance are trying to turn the debate into an argument about sex. They’re trying to play off the repugnant stereotype of LGBT people as perverts and sexual predators instead of human beings with the same desires as everyone else — to love and be loved, and to be treated with equality, dignity and respect.
Meanwhile, religious-right groups are already calling on pastors to preach against the ordinance — and in favor of discrimination against LGBT people — at church services this Sunday. “It is IMPOSSIBLE to overemphasize how vital it is that our Houston area pulpits be on fire this Sunday to inform and mobilize our congregations,” reads an email today to activists from the Houston Area Pastor Council.
The City Council has delayed a final debate and vote on the ordinance until Wednesday, May 14.