Embattled councilwoman Elisa Chan was greeted by a standing ovation from supporters as she took her place on dais Wednesday afternoon before the work session focusing on proposed changes to the non-discrimination ordinance.
The district 9 representative has been an outspoken opponent of a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected categories under the NDO, and recently defended her position following a firestorm of controversy over the release of secret recordings of a staff meeting last May concerning the ordinance.
Wednesday, she again voiced concerns that the changes would discriminate against those who speak out against gays based on their religious beliefs.
"Just by adding those additional categories, it created a lot of confusion," she said. In my personal opinion, it has the unintentional consequences of really stifling freedom of speech and individual thoughts."
Mayor Julian Castro asked the city attorney for clarification about how the proposed changes would affect religious expression and whether a person could speak out against homosexuality based on religious beliefs, while serving on a city board or commission.
"In your private life in a non-city capacity, you can do whatever you want, but what we're trying to get at here is that in your official capacity as a member of the zoning commission, you cannot discriminate," said Castro.
He asked for clarification from City Attorney Michael Bernard.
"Let's say that it's Sunday. Can that person still preach whatever they want to preach?" asked Castro.
"Absolutely," replied Bernard.
Another concern that continues to be raised by opponents is the effect of the proposed changes on the use of restrooms and locker rooms.
Bernard said that's determined by state law. He says under Texas law, the sex of a person is defined at birth by their chromosome, and that determines which restrooms people use.
"People are going to go to the restroom two weeks from now the same place and the same way they did two weeks ago. Nobody checks the plumbing. Nobody does a chromosome count," said Bernard.
The mayor says the purpose of the changes is to make sure that no one is discriminated against.
"Making sure that we respect people's beliefs and religious beliefs and you have exemptions as part of this ordinance, but that we also ensure that no one is treated like a second-class citizen," said Castro.
The council is scheduled to vote on the changes September 5, but Chan is suggesting that the decision be left to the voters.
"I don't know if this council would like to consider putting this ordinance on the ballot so that the voters can decide," said Chan.
Hundreds of people voiced their opinions last night following the city council work session.