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New Dallas ordinance protects gays and lesbians

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Suzanne Sprague, Reporter: During her campaign for mayor, Laura Miller pledged to help champion an anti-discrimination clause if she were elected. But members of Dallas' gay community have been working on such a measure for two decades. Going into yesterday's vote, most were confident the measure would pass. But just to be sure, supporters brought in local corporate leaders, including American Airlines Chairman Don Carty, to speak on behalf of the proposal.

Don Carty, Chairman and CEO of American Airlines: But ultimately the issue transcends into something more important: taking a stand against discrimination, whether based on race, gender, class or sexual orientation or anything else. It's not just politically correct. It is correct.

Sprague: The new ordinance makes it illegal to deny housing or employment to someone based on sexual orientation. Religious institutions are exempt from the measure. But that didn't pacify some objectors.

Flip Benham, Operation Save America: I'd like to start by just reading a scripture to you...

Sprague: The Reverend Flip Benham of Operation Save America urged council members to vote against the anti-discrimination measure because he believes homosexuality is a sin.

Benham: Your vote on this issue will say whether you stand for God or you oppose Him. I just call that to your attention.

Sprague: Other objections came from Councilman Mitchell Rasansky, who feared the ordinance was unfair to small business owners, and Councilman Alan Walne. Walne said he opposed discrimination but felt the ordinance was too much of a burden on the city to enforce.

Dallas Councilman Alan Walne: What I am concerned about though is that we're not just making a statement, we're adding a cost to government first of all. We've been told it's about $150,000 a year.

Sprague: Fort Worth recently adopted the same ordinance, but has received very few complaints. Walne questioned if that justified the expense of staffing the program. However, Councilwoman Veletta Lill pointed to a staff report that said the measure would actually cost the city $15,000 a year in new monies.

Dallas Councilwoman Veletta Lill: That's not cost. That's investment and the return is a great one.

Sprague: After almost an hour of discussion, the Dallas Council passed the anti-discrimination ordinance, 13 to 2. Rasansky and Walne voted against it. But Councilman James Fantroy said he changed his mind to supporting the measure because of his friendship with former Plan Commission Chair Hector Garcia, a local gay activist who was in the audience.

Dallas Councilman James Fantroy: You know I've told you over and over again that I respect you, regardless of what anybody thinks about you, you and I are friends and I hope we will always be friends. And so with that said, Hector, I am going to support this wholeheartedly because I believe in what you're fighting for and trying to do out there.

Sprague: Roger Weddell, the vice president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said he was pleased he was pleased with the vote.

Weddell: We really were confident of about 10 votes going in. And as you heard in the council chamber, some hearts and minds were changed today by the testimony and presentations from their constituents. So, we're especially pleased with that.

Sprague: The city's fair housing office will enforce the new anti-discrimination clause. Violators will be fined up to $500. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.

To contact Suzanne Sprague, please send email to ssprague@kera.org.