Mayor extends city's non-discrimination policy

HOUSTON The existing policy of non-discrimination was first issued by Mayor Bill White. Now Mayor Parker has expanded that to include transgendered individuals. That policy was just implemented in the last week.

Mayor Annise Parker downplayed the significance of her latest executive order, a wide-ranging non-discrimination order that expands what already in place at the city.

She said, "Our belief has always been the city's non-discrimination policy protected gay and lesbian employees, as well as transgendered employees. This executive order now explicitly states that."

The order, issued a few days ago, explicitly prohibits discrimination or retaliation "based on sexual orientation, a person's gender identity and gender expression."

Kris Banks, head of the Houston Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) Caucus, welcomes the move.

"This also protects people against discrimination in use of city facilities, in restrooms and other facilities," Banks said. "They say that the city cannot tell anyone that they are not allowed to use any city facility based on their sexual orientation or gender identity."

The sweeping policy would affect every city employee from park workers to police officers, and not everyone thinks it's a good idea.

Conservative activist Eric Story said, "It doesn't surprise me but it does trouble me."

Story says it's just more government involvement in people's lives.

"We're taking and expanding the role of the government in business even further by saying who you can and who you can't hire," he said.

But Mayor Parker says she's simply putting in writing what's already in practice.

"Any city employee ought to feel safe in the work place being who they are in daily life," she said.

Because of a referendum that was passed several years ago, the city cannot offer benefits to same sex partners of city employees.

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