Anti-Discrimination Proposal Doesnt Protect Illegal Actions
July 3, 2001
801 Texas Avenue, Houston, TX, 77002
By Rachel Graves, Houston Chronicle
A proposed city of Houston anti-discrimination policy attempts to fen d off
an expected argument from social conservatives by spelling out that while gays
are protected, pedophiles are not.
The policy, which goes before City Council for approval today, would
protect city employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,
race, religion, age, gender or disability.
It would exempt "pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism or any unlawful
conduct" from protection against discrimination.
"They put the language in there to kind of make the Rob Todds of the
world happy," activist Ray Hill said. "Theyre yielding to an
argument that has not yet occurred but will occur."
Todd, a city councilman, recently lost a lawsuit against Mayor Lee Brown
over an executive order with similar language to the proposed policy. Todd did
not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
By saying it does not protect illegal behavior, the policy also fails to
protect the sexual activity of homosexual employees. Texas has a rarely
enforced sodomy law that bans sexual acts between people of the same sex.
"Were not going to presume what our gay and lesbian employees do in
bed," said Assistant City Attorney Paul Bibler. "It doesnt say its
against the law to be homosexual."
The state sodomy law, which bans anal and oral sex between homosexuals but
not heterosexuals, has been legally challenged. The 14th Court of Appeals
ruled earlier this year that the law does not violate any constitutional
provisions guaranteeing equal rights or privacy.
The sodomy law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Councilwoman Annise Parker, an advocate of the anti-discrimination policy,
said it bothers her that it does not protect any employees convicted of
sodomy. But she said she would focus her efforts on abolishing the state law
rather than passing a city law that contradicts it.
"Private consensual adult sexual behavior should be private,"
said Parker, an open lesbian.
When council earlier this year considered offering benefits to same-sex
partners of city employees, some speakers at council meetings and pickets
outside called it a sin and compared it to pedophilia and other felonies. The
mayor later dropped plans to adopt same-sex benefits.
Resident Dave Wilson is petitioning for a referendum to prevent the city
from ever adopting same-sex benefits. He also opposes including homosexuals in
the anti-discrimination policy because, he said Monday, sexual orientation can
"Its different from being black," he said. "You cant
change your skin color and be white."
Gays vehemently disagree that their sexual orientation is a choice.
Hill and Parker said it is offensive to gays to have to spell out that
protection of sexual orientation is not to be confused with protection of sex
acts deemed felonies.
"It reflects some of the more hysterical arguments used against
this," Parker said.
But she and Hill said they would rather have the ordinance adopted as is
than not at all.
Parker added that the language will help ward off challenges to the law. If
opponents try to argue that it does protect pedophiles, for example, it will
be clear to anyone who reads it that it does not, she said.
Bibler said the language mirrors that found in the Americans with
Disabilities Act and is intended to prevent any attempts to demand jobs
despite convictions for pedophilia or other things lawyers could call
"We dont want someone to say, My client cant help themselves,
and you have to give them a job even though they engage in these activities,"
he said. "We thought it was an important safeguard."
The Americans with Disabilities Act definition, which applies to physical
disabilities, includes homosexuality and bisexuality as well as unrelated
things such as compulsive gambling, pyromania and substance abuse in its
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