Houston group: Boycott over LGBT protections

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In a desperate attempt to stem the tide of LGBT equality, an anti-gay Houston-based group is declaring war on businesses that support local nondiscrimination ordinances in Texas.

Dave Welch, whose Houston Area Pastor Council is leading efforts to repeal LGBT protections in Houston and Plano, issued a thinly veiled threat of boycotts against two large corporations in the Texas Observer this week.

It's been widely suggested that Plano's equal rights ordinance, which passed last month, was drafted in response to Toyota USA's decision to move its headquarters to the city, after employees relocating from places like California expressed concerns about the lack of LGBT protections in Texas. The ordinance was also publicly backed by Plano-based Frito-Lay.  

But Welch (photo) argued that Texas' strong economy is a result of its “family-friendly” climate, so repealing LGBT protections would not hurt the state's business climate.

“We’re not going to let corporations, Toyota or anybody else, come in and dictate to the community what our standards are going to be on a moral level and religious level,” Welch told the Observer. “Companies like Frito-Lay had better take thought of who their customers are before they start trying to step up and ramrod these things though, because we will remember.”

As in Plano, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance has garnered key support from the business community, including a broad coalition of individual companies, as well as the Greater Houston Partnership. It's unclear whether Welch's group plans to target those entities as well.

In addition to threatening boycotts, Welch told the Observer that four GOP state lawmakers from Plano are drafting legislation that would ban LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in Texas. The bill would also nullify protections in cities that have passed them, which — including Houston — are home to 7.5 million Texans.

In other words, the proposed legislation amounts to a stunning example of anti-LGBT lawmakers — who've long advocated standing up to the federal government on issues like same-sex marriage — hypocritically attempting to strip municipalities of local control. But it’s an approach that appears to have the backing of Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, who last week targeted local bans on plastic bags and fracking.

Welch said the bill, which has not yet been filed, would prohibit political subdivisions of Texas from adding classes to nondiscrimination ordinances that aren't covered under state and federal civil rights laws. That would include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It should be a uniform standard statewide, and cities can’t just arbitrarily create new classes that criminalize a whole segment of the majority of the population,” Welch told the Observer. “It’s just self-evident that they’re going to try to do it city by city. We’re dealing with a broad public policy that creates criminal punishments. That’s a pretty serious issue, and when it’s based on a special agenda by a small, tiny fragment of the population … that’s a legitimate need and reason for the state Legislature to act.”

The Texas proposal reportedly will mirror a law passed in Tennessee in 2011, which was carefully written to skirt the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1996 ruling in Romer v. Evans.

In Romer, justices struck down a Colorado ban on sexual orientation protections, saying the law was unconstitutional because it unfairly singled out gays and lesbians. But by enacting a general prohibition on classes that aren't included in state and federal law, anti-LGBT lawmakers aim to stave off legal challenges.

Of course, regardless of whether it's explicitly stated, such laws are clearly designed to ban LGBT protections, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights is challenging the Tennessee law on that basis in court.

Shannon Minter, NCLR's legal director, told the Observer the Texas law likely would face similar challenges. Minter also said the Tennessee law passed in part because the business community was delayed in voicing its opposition.

“Hopefully this time in Texas the response will be more immediate, and I hope the legislators listen to the business community and do not do something that’s going to really hurt the Texas economy,” Minter said.

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