This news is a couple days late, but the Omaha City Council failed to approve the LGBTQ anti-discrimination amendment at their Tuesday meeting. After hours of testimony, the vote was: 3 for (Ben Gray, Pete Festersen, Chris Jerram), 3 against (Jean Stothert, Garry Gernandt, Thomas Mulligan), and 1 abstention (Franklin Thompson).
Next Tuesday, the council will consider Thompson’s proposal to put the issue to a citywide vote (the reason he abstained). As Meredith Bacon noted at the meeting, that hasn’t been done for any of the other protected classes in the city code, and if Tuesday’s council meeting wasn’t a vote on a civil right, an all-Omaha vote sure is. Further, Thompson’s proposal doesn’t include language regarding gender identity and expression.
So there are two paths from here. One is to lobby Thompson and the other councilmembers (particularly Ben Gray, who introduced Tuesday’s amendment) to add gender language to the 2012 ballot issue. I don’t consider the omission acceptable; orientation and gender norms, and the concept that challenging one can threaten the other, are deeply tied together, and the effort so far has come from the entire LGBTQ community. To leave trans and genderqueer Omahans out does them a disservice and deprives us of their passion.
At the same time, opening the matter to a popular vote sets a definite precendent that rights are votable. It subjects the masses, all of whom are minorities in some way, to the tyranny of the majority — they came first for the Communists. Consider, too, that the vote was 3-3-1, thiiiiiis close. I think the community’s efforts are best focused on talking to Thompson in particular (who is for the principle if not the process of the amendment), and the opposing councilmembers. Tell them why a council vote is the best way to go about this, and tell them why it’s so important that their vote is “for” these protections. We only have to convince one more person; it’s not like the thing can’t be reintroduced.
I haven’t had the time to view it myself, but the City Council posts video of their meetings, so you can watch the whole thing here; look for video from 10/26. I’ll dig through for quotes and analysis later, but the World-Herald quotes one in particular:
“I find it offensive that we would equate this with civil rights,” said Pastor Cedric Perkins of Pilgrim Baptist Church. “Those rights were based upon a person’s color of their skin, which they could not change.” (Emphasis is mine.)
Gender is at least not a choice, and more likely a construct of debatable significance. That sexual attraction isn’t a choice is old news; the APA recognized that when they took homosexuality out of the DSM in 1973. There’s the implication, sometimes stated outright, that the morality of acting on sexual attraction is the issue. As a big small-government fan, I hope I can find agreement in Omaha that the government’s duty to the citizens isn’t to legislate morality, it’s to protect us from external harm. The victimless “crime” of consensual homosexual sex is out of this scope; it’s a moral concern if it’s any concern at all.
I’d also remind Pastor Perkins that the presently-recognized civil rights include freedom of religion. It’s not like you’re born with your religion; people can and do change their affiliation. It’s foolish to argue that the only rights that ought to make it into the lawbooks are ones that reflect your right to be what, in being born, you didn’t choose to be.
There’s a lot of room for education in this town. If Omahans have a chance of enjoying these protections, especially if they do come up for a citywide vote in 2012, people need to be confronted with the facts. They’re out there. People don’t know them, won’t recognize them, or just don’t care about them. It’s obvious to the LGBTQ and allied community that orientation and gender have no effect on job performance. What’s not obvious to a large share of the population is that because, yes, some people say they do matter, these protections are worth fighting for.
Blacks don’t have the capacity for complex reasoning; women are too hormonal to be effective managers; Jews are greedy and can’t be trusted with our money. Gays and trans people spend their workdays peeking under the stalls in the bathroom. Which of the above are true descriptions of workplace behavior? Which of the above do we have laws for, to prevent idiots from using them to justify bigotry? Which should we?