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City council passes Denton’s first non-discrimination ordinance

City council passes Denton’s first non-discrimination ordinance

City council passes Denton’s first non-discrimination ordinance
March 24
12:12 2022

The Denton City Council passed its first non-discrimination ordinance Tuesday night, a piece of legislation introduced two years ago, officially adding gender identities and sexual orientation as protected classes.

Denton is now the fifth city in Texas to pass a non-discrimination ordinance for its LGBTQ+ residents, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Without the ordinance, there were no protections for individuals regarding sexual or gender identity in housing, employment or public accommodations.

“We’re not blazing new trails,” said Paul Meltzer, city council member and mayor pro tempore.

An amendment to the ordinance added Article VIII to the city’s existing Code of Ordinance’s Chapter 14, which covers health and human services. Article VIII, titled “Non-Discrimination in Public Accommodations, Employment Practices, and Housing,” added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Chapter 15 of the ordinance code already addressed housing but did not include the new protections, so it was absorbed and replaced by the new Article VIII.

A meeting attendee speak to the council during the Denton City Council meeting on March 22, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

The ordinance was approved with a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Gerard Hudspeth and Council Member Jesse Davis voting against it. While Hudspeth did not comment on why he did not support the policy, Davis spoke against the ordinance during the meeting.

“The very first ordinance that staff presented is something I would have voted for immediately that day,” Davis said. “Since then, the ordinance has changed.”

Davis said the three aspects of the current ordinance he did not support were making violations of the legislation a criminal offense, the absence of religious exemptions and the lack of restrictions on individuals from certain restrooms or changing rooms. Davis then proposed an amendment to be considered by the other members which, if passed, would still allow individuals to be restricted from said rooms.

“There are perfectly legitimate, non-bigoted, non-amoral reasons to exempt bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms from ordinances like this,” Davis said.

The amendment failed after no one would second the motion. Council members Deb Armintor and Vicki Byrd then spoke in favor of the ordinance as it was.

“We’re supposed to take care of one another, not hurt one another,” Byrd said. “And above all, we need to mind our own business.”

Byrd said as long as she was on the council, she would fight for the people who would benefit from the non-discrimination ordinance.

“I really feel that after this vote tonight I can step down and just be proud,” Armintor said.

After the ordinance was officially introduced to the council floor by Deputy Director of Human Resources Sarah Kuechler, attendees were given the opportunity to step up and share their opinions and stories on the record. A majority of people stepping up to speak came from OUTreach Denton, a local nonprofit for LGBTQ+ resources that attended the meeting together.

A sign in favor of the NDO sits on the ground in the Denton City Council meeting on March 22, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

“I’m here today because this is great,” said George Ferrie, Denton resident and local activist who ran for city council in 2019 and 2020.

When Ferrie ran for city council, the ordinance was included on his platform. Ferrie called it the “bare minimum” for marginalized people in his address to the council.

“We’ve been fighting for [the ordinance] for years,” Ferrie said. “It’s important work. We will continue to do it.”

One group supporting the ordinance came from Open Worship, a community from a local Christian Methodist church. The speakers who addressed the attendees and council told them not to use religion as their basis for voting no. Another ordinance supporter who addressed the council was Kathleen Hobson, director of the University of North Texas’ Pride Alliance.

“I’ve personally worked to support current students and alumni who have experienced discrimination on the basis of their gender and/or sexuality,” Hobson said.

While the university itself had an NDO, it did not extend to where LGBTQ+ Denton residents need it, said Hobson.

Following the vote, supporters waved flags and cheered before leaving to allow the council to go on with its agenda for the rest of the meeting. The ordinance will take effect in 120 days, allowing time for the city to organize and prepare to enforce it.

Featured Image: Those in attendance celebrate the vote of the NDO during the Denton City Council meeting on March 22, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

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Alex Reece

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