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FW Council Protects Gays in Housing, Jobs

By Suzanne Sprague

FORT WORTH – Kenneth Barr, Mayor, City of Fort Worth: Motion by a vote of six to one. [Clapping]

Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: There were hugs and tears following the council's vote. Members and supporters of Fort Worth's gay community had been working more than two years for a non-discrimination clause. On Tuesday, those efforts culminated in nearly three hours of often-emotional public debate. While opponents frequently steeped their arguments in religious doctrines, supporters of the measure said it was a matter of civil rights.

Gay man: I'm here to say this is about fairness and equality. You can debate the Biblical issues [with] someone else, but this is about giving me - not giving me rights, because I have those; I was born by my creator with those. This is about you protecting and recognizing my rights as an individual.

Sprague: One man told the Council he had to let his boss know he was gay in order to attend the meeting. Another reported how an apartment complex refused to rent a one-bedroom unit to him and his partner. But Tarrant County Republican Chairwoman Pat Carlson, who opposed extending the anti-discrimination clause to gays, said the measure would hurt local businesses.

Pat Carlson, Chairwoman, Tarrant County Republican Party: I'm afraid that this will set Fort Worth on a slippery slope to becoming a city like San Francisco. It is so homosexual-friendly that they will not even accept city contracts with companies that do not have domestic partner insurance.

Sprague: The final vote came with little surprise. All but two members of the Council (Jeff Wentworth and Clyde Picht) had signed off on the non-discrimination clause. Wentworth was not at yesterday's meeting, but Picht said he thought the measure was bad policy.

Clyde Picht, Fort Worth City Council member: I just have a hard time thinking, absent a body of evidence that supports homosexuality and bisexuality, transsexual conduct as a genetic or as a something other than a choice - I would have [to] agree with those people who think this is not a good ordinance.

Sprague: The biggest surprise, perhaps, was the vocal support from Chuck Silcox for the measure. Silcox helped table the proposal when it came before the Council in January of last year. At the time, he said he didn't believe people were losing their jobs or homes because they were gay. But since then, Silcox says he has met several people who were discriminated against. Still, he was quick to temper the effect of the proposal.

Chuck Silcox, Fort Worth City Council member: This is an anti-discrimination ordinance and nothing more. It does not offer any benefits. It offers no insurance. It does not endorse any kind of lifestyle. It just says if someone has a job, they shouldn't fire them because I don't like your lifestyle.

Sprague: After the vote, opponents of the anti-discrimination clause said they were resigned to the Council's decision. The new language makes Fort Worth's anti-discrimination clause one of the strongest in the state because it applies to all businesses in the city. Dallas, for example, only prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians in hiring for city jobs. Fort Worth's new measure will allow gays and lesbians to take their housing and employment grievances to the city's Human Relations Commission. The commission will then decide if the case should go to court. Violators can be fined up to $500 a day. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.