Dallas has a message for the rest of the world: We're not Houston.
Just one week after Houston voters rejected a nondiscrimination law, the Dallas City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday morning to update a city ordinance to explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
"We're a very diverse city," Mayor Mike Rawlings said, according to the New Civil Rights Movement. "We want to make sure everyone's protected."
Members of the transgender community in Dallas celebrated Tuesday's decision.
"To see somebody stick up for us makes me feel good," Leslie McMurray, a transgender entrepreneur who works in the city, told WFAA. "It's about employment and housing and access to health care... things that just allow us to live our lives."
The move stands in sharp contrast to the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) last week, which saw opponents using scare tactics such as claiming the measure would allow male sexual predators to use the women's room.
"In the entire United States, no one has been arrested for being transgender in a bathroom because somebody was threatened by a transgender person," Patti Fink of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance told Fox4 News. "It's never happened."
Opponents of the Dallas measure took to Twitter to claim that it was done secretly and with no public notice. Don Huffines, a state senator who has tried to outlaw nondiscrimination ordinances such as the one in Dallas, called it a "sneak attack" and wrote:
However, city officials say it had been under discussion for a year. Councilman Philip Kingston fired off a sharp retort, bluntly telling Huffines to "stop lying."
In fact, the ordinance was actually passed in 2002 and already offered protections based on "an individual’s real or perceived orientation as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual or an individual’s real or perceived gender identity," according to the Dallas Morning News.
Tuesday's move tweaked the language, separating sexual orientation from gender identity.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the change in language strengthens protections for members of the city's transgender community.
"In the wake of a vicious campaign in Houston that attacked transgender people and led to the repeal of common sense protections, Dallas today sent a vital message that they will fight to protect and advance the rights of transgender people," Griffin said in a news release.
Across the state, business leaders in Houston are worried that fallout from the HERO defeat combined with Dallas strengthening its protections for trans people could have financial ramifications for the city.
"The concern now is that we’re the only major city in Texas that doesn't have an equal rights ordinance," Mike Waterman, president of the Greater Houston Conventions and Visitors Bureau, told the Houston Business Journal. "By default, that puts us at a disadvantage, and my counterpart in Dallas has already indicated [in local media] that businesses can come to Dallas because they have an equal rights ordinance. So it’s possible that other cities could exploit the fact that we don’t have an equal rights ordinance."
Omar Narvaez, a member of the Dallas LGBT Task Force, put it more succinctly.
"We don’t stand for discrimination in the city of Dallas," he told the local CBS station. "And we haven’t for many, many years.”
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