My husband and I recently hosted a grassroots community meeting focused on passing an Equality Ordinance here in Denton, TX. We had nearly 60 people in attendance, including 3 city councilors, and candidates for county commissioner, state house, and US Congress. The local paper even heard about it and sent a reporter and photographer. You can read the news story here.
A few of you walked in late, and several others couldn’t make it but wanted to get involved, so pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in — here’s a long but important recap:
What happened and where we’re at right now:
Currently, there are no federal laws that would protect an LGBTQ person from being fired from their job, losing their home, or being denied services at a place of business due to who they are or who they love. Previous administrations have historically argued in court that certain sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do include clauses “on the basis of sex” that protect against discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. But the Trump/Pence administration and the current Department of Justice is now arguing the exact opposite, and many of the gains that the LGBTQ community have made in the last 50 years are being systematically stripped away.
Though there are no nationwide protections, nearly 2 dozen states have adopted non-discrimination legislation. Unsurprisingly, Texas is not one of them, but 5 cities in Texas have successfully passed similar laws anyway. San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano all have NDO’s (non-discrimination ordinances), and Denton can and should be next.
Denton is one of the fastest growing communities in the United States right now, so the need is urgent. And I’m tired of waiting for city council to act. That’s why we held this initial meeting, and why I’m asking for your help to get this done.
We currently have the votes needed on city council to pass an NDO. But with a city council election happening in May, that vote balance could change. Fortunately, we have some momentum behind this, and I’ve seen in the past how quickly city council can act when there is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. When an ordinance needed to be written, I’ve seen it happen in a matter of weeks. (Remember the predatory lending ordinance a few years ago? Denton practically copied the one in Dallas and got it done in record time. To date, we still haven’t been sued as a city, and neither has Dallas.) If we’ve done it before, we can do it again.
A note about politics:
As was pointed out, we DO have the votes on city council to pass this today. But the agenda committee (specifically: Mayor Chris Watts and Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Hudspeth) has not scheduled this item to be heard in a work session yet. Without a scheduled work session, nothing more can happen, because they can’t actually work on it! There is definitely room on the calendar for it to be scheduled — so why isn’t it yet?
UPDATE: There is a work session scheduled on this topic for February 25. I don’t have word on what time yet, but expect it to be early afternoon. While this is a great step, I am still hesitant to get too excited. For example, the last time city council had a work session on this, it was October 2018. That was 15 months ago. My concern is that this will come to council on 2/25 and they’ll be like “great! let’s keep talking about this! oops, the calendar is all full up so how about we schedule this for the next opening which is sometime in july…” — so keep up the pressure to make sure this moves forward as quickly as possible! I’m tired of waiting for equality in my town!
We need to move fast on this. There will be five seats up for election in May, and on a council of just seven people, that’s a lot.
I’ll be watching these races closely, but here’s what we can expect right now:
Both Councilperson Keely Briggs (who was in attendance at our meeting) and Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Hudspeth (who was not) are running for mayor. (Our current mayor, Chris Watts, has reached his term limit and will not be able to run again.) Keely has been a reliable ally to the LGBTQ community for her entire political career and has advocated for a lot of great changes and policies at city hall that has helped to move progress forward on this issue.
Because Keely and Gerard are running for mayor, that also means that their seats (Districts 1 and 2) will be open. If you live in one of those districts are interested in running for city council, GO FOR IT! Don’t know which district you live in? Click here and type in your address to find out.
Councilperson Paul Meltzer (also in attendance) will be up for re-election, and already has an opponent. Jim Mann, the pastor of New Life Church, has declared he will run against Paul “because of LGBT bathrooms and stuff.” You can hear Jim’s declaration in his sermon by clicking here. The first 4 minutes says it all. You may remember Jim Mann from the public debate that was held last July, when Councilperson Jesse Davis hosted a community conversation on whether or not Denton should pass an NDO. Jim was adamantly opposed, and is kind of locally famous for writing bigoted op-eds in the local paper. ( After this last essay, he hasn’t been invited to submit anything since.)
Councilperson Deb Armintor was also at our meeting last night and expressed concerns about any language that might carve out religious exemptions. While I agree with her that we don’t want to take any steps backwards with this, the language that is currently proposed for this future-work-session-item is consistent with federal law. The same carve outs that are made for churches at the federal level (like not requiring Catholic churches to hire women as ministers, for example) is exactly the language being proposed here. To me, it seems like a great consolation to Jim Mann and others like him in Denton — because nothing we do at the city level could supersede the federal level anyway. Making it explicit in our ordinance would likely earn it more support among other city councilors and the wider community. Deb is up for re-election this spring as well, and I have not heard of any opponents yet.
Battleground Texas was at our meeting last night helping people register to vote and update their voter registration. The deadline to register to vote for the March primaries is February 3! Check that your voter registration is accurate by clicking here.
Now the good stuff: what YOU can do!
Now that you’re updated on where we’re at and what’s happening in May, I’m asking for your help to move this forward. We have the votes. Now we need to use this momentum to encourage city council to make this a priority and get this NDO passed once and for all!
Here’s what we need to have happen:
Write postcards! Let city council know that this is important to you, and that you’ll be voting for someone who believes this is important, too. If you have a compelling story of discrimination that you’ve experienced here in Denton, be sure to include that too!
I have a ton of postcards with a blank backside so you can write whatever you’d like. For those of you who took postcards home with you last night, please bring them to city hall on Monday or Tuesday afternoon at the latest, so that city council will have these before their meeting on Tuesday evening. If you don’t have a postcard, meet me at city hall on Tuesday at 5:45 pm and I’ll get you as many as you need! (more on that later)
Write emails to city council! Same thing as with the postcards — encourage them to put this on the work session agenda ASAP and to make this a priority! If you have a personal story of discrimination in Denton (or a story of someone you love who experienced this) please include that in your email. Click here and scroll all the way down to the end of the page to send an email directly to everyone on council.
Help us put together a website! We’d like to build an online resource specifically about this NDO. If you have a personal story, we’d like to share it online. We can find a way to make it anonymous if you’d prefer, but your story needs to be heard! Shoot me an email or fill out this private form here and we can talk about ways that would feel comfortable for you to get your story out there. Thanks!
Contact local businesses and ask them to sign on in support! Do you have a boss who would totally support something like this? Ask them to write an email to city council too! If you’re looking for economic talking points on this, check out TexasCompetes.org
Rally at City Hall! Let’s be a visible reminder that this is important! City council meets most Tuesdays at 6:30, so if we arrive early we can greet them (and the public) as they enter the council chambers. Wear purple, bring a sign, and be visible! We can gather inside the lobby and on the steps, but we will not be able to protest or bring signs inside council chambers. Don’t get in the way of people entering the room, either. We’re there to be firm, but polite. I’ll also have more postcards with me at each of these events, so arrive closer to 5:45 if you’d like to grab one and write it out before the rally. More information, dates of the rallies, and RSVP here.
Remember, City Council works for US, not the other way around! So if this is important to you, make a commitment to do one or more action items and share this information with your friends! Together, we can pass an Equality Ordinance for Denton!