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Denton City Council has passed a new non-discrimination ordinance

Denton County Courthouse.
Denton County Courthouse.

The ordinance would protect Denton residents against discrimination based on protected classes like race, sex and gender identity and make discrimination a criminal offense.

After nearly a year of discussion and debate among residents and the city council, Denton has adopted a non-discrimination ordinance.

First introduced in June last year, the ordinance underwent many revisions by city council members before the finalized version was approved at a city council meeting Tuesday.

The measure prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on a person's race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

More than a dozen Denton residents urged city council members to pass the ordinance, including Ellen Smith, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community.

“It's a scary time to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Smith said. “Every day on the news, you hear something wild that you didn't expect to hear, whether it's sitting senators discussing the overturning of marriage equality or the governor of Texas instructing child protective services to investigate families for supporting their children. But here in Denton, we have the opportunity to make our community members feel safe. Denton can be a safe haven the way that it already has been for many, for generations. It can be a place where people can feel free to be themselves.”

James Jackson also spoke at the meeting, decrying a personal experience with discrimination.

“I was discriminated against for being trans at a Planet Fitness in Denton, which is why Denton needs a non-discrimination ordinance,” he said. “It’s too late for me, but if you pass this nondiscrimination ordinance, maybe someone who will experience discrimination in this town for being trans, intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming, maybe it won’t be too late for them, and they'll receive some validation and discriminatory parties will be held accountable.”

The city council approved the measure in a 5-to-2 vote, with Mayor Gerard Hudspeth and councilmember Jesse Davis being the only dissenting votes.

Mayor Hudspeth did not explain the reasoning for his vote, but Davis — a former prosecutor — said he took issue with incidents of discrimination being classified as a criminal offense.

“[It] is exceptionally difficult to prove intent or what's going on inside of somebody's mind,” Davis said. “I prosecuted hate crimes. It's very difficult to prove criminal intent for a hate crime, for a discriminatory event, very difficult. We will see fewer prosecutions because this is a criminal offense, not more.”

The ordinance takes effect July 20th to allow time for the city to educate the public and to establish the necessary processes to investigate complaints.

Once the ordinance takes effect, a person who experiences discrimination can file a claim within 90 days of the incident. Then, the city will refer the complaint to federal and state agencies if it’s within those agencies’ jurisdiction.

Sarah Kuechler, Deputy Director of Human Resources with the city of Denton, said if a complaint cannot be referred, the city will use contracted third-parties for the investigation and conciliation stages.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

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Rebekah Morr is KERA's All Things Considered newscaster and producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.