01 November 2013

Why Anti-Discrimination Laws In San Antonio Matter

In Milk, a gay teenager calls on the film's eponymous subject--Harvey Milk--for advice. He's isolated in a small town in Minnesota. This young man asks Milk--the first openly gay elected offficial in the US--what he should do.

"Get on a bus and go to any really big city," Milk counsels the young man.  What Milk doesn't--can't--know is that the boy can't walk.

At least there's a happy ending to that story within the film:  A few months later, the young man calls Milk to tell him that he's in Los Angeles with a new-found circle of gay friends. 

At that time--in the 1970's--it seemed that every young LGBT person wanted to move to L.A., San Francisco or New York--or, perhaps, Miami.  Some gay men I knew at the time--the first I would ever know--also mentioned Minneapolis as a "gay friendly" city.  Ironically, the young man in the film didn't move to St. Paul's "twin" city--which, I would think, is much closer than L.A. to his home town.

Anyway, I was thinking about all of that as I read an article someone passed on to me.  I never would have thought of San Antonio--or, for that matter, any place in Texas--as places for enlightened thinking about law and social policy related to LGBT people.  (I'll concede that I've never been to SA, and that my experience of Texas is limited to Houston and Galveston.)  But the good folks of San Antonio not only passed a truly progressive (even by SF or LA standards) anti-discrimination ordinance in September.  The best thing about the law, though, is the process that led up to it.  

That the battle to enact such an ordinance began after other cities adopted, or were in the process of adopting, anti-discrimination legislation may have been a blessing:  From the outset, the law contained language that protected gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation.  Here in New York, it took more than two decades to get gender identity and expression included in non-discrimination laws that already covered sexual orientation as well as race and ethnicity.  Other jurisdictions had laws that protected racial or ethnic discrimination but endured protracted battles over whether or not to protect LGBT folk.

From reading the article, and doing some other research, I have learned that San Antonio may actually be more left-leaning than I'd realized.  Even so, I think the value of such a city passing such a broad anti-discrimination law is immense.  After all, it's in Texas, which much of the rest of the country--and the world--views as more prototypically American than, say, New York or California

No comments: