Houston area pastors and their congregants gathered Sunday in protest against Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”. The “Stand for Our Women and Children Rally” was organized by the Houston Area Pastors Council (“HAPC”), the Grace Community megachurch’s Pastor Steve Riggle, and other area ministers.
The Mayor was criticized for overstepping her power, reducing the power of City Council members, and trampling on First Amendment religious and free speech rights. She was politely but firmly reminded that “you work for us.” Ministers and wives from all over the city gathered during a pre-event prayer meeting. Pastor Riggle told the religious leaders that folks had been “burning up the phone lines” and that “it was 10 to 1 against the ordinance.” Texas Values Action sent out an email saying 65,000 emails had been sent to Houston City leaders.
The huge crowd cheered as pastors from Black, Hispanic, White, and Vietnamese churches walked to the front of the sanctuary down the center aisle. Rabbi Aaronson of Congregation Beth Messiah, and Dr. Jeffrey Seif, Professor, The Kings University at Grace-Houston, were also in attendance. Tanya Robertson, Christian and political activist called it a “spiritual experience bringing people that would not normally be together . . . we all have this issue in common.” She added “the Mayor has betrayed us” and has “suppressed freedom of speech and religious rights. If I voice my Biblical belief, I can be sued.”
Dr. Max Miller, Reverend of Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist Church told those gathered that “it’s the restroom issue I want you to really hear about . . . If you think you are a woman and you put a dress and a wig on, you can go into the restroom with our babies.”
Houston City Councilman Michael Kubosh, raised in the Assembly of God Church, brought the sanctuary down with his moving opposition to the ordinance. Kubosh said he “was against discrimination on all levels” but called the Mayor to task for claiming “this was about a black male not getting into a club on Washington Street. She [the Mayor] said it–it’s all about Me.”
A video of the Mayor on the day of the City Council meeting was played where she said “I must have the right to discriminate . . . it is personal, it is not academic. It is my life that is being discussed.” Parker is the first openly gay Mayor of Houston.
Rosy Boggess, a Hispanic woman with two young girls, said that “I have never felt discriminated against. Typical politicians, they want us to be divided. She claims that Hispanics, Blacks are discriminated against but she said three times that it’s all about Me.” Hispanics in the crowd shook their heads at the claim that they were discriminated against and shouted “don’t put me in there!” Television personality and former Harris County Republican Party Chair, Gary Polland said that “if there was as much discrimination in Houston as Mayor Parker claims, she never would have been elected.”
The Mayor was also called to task for claiming to have removed the restroom section of the ordinance but Tweeting a contrary message. The congregation was shown the Mayor’s Tweet which said, “To my trans sisters/brothers: you’re still fully protected in Equal Rights Ordinance. We’re simply removing language that singled you out.-A”
The pastors assert that by removing this section of the ordinance, a man can now go into a women’s facility without being dressed in women’s attire. This is because the ordinance’s gender identity definition, and the public accommodations clause, gives this protection to this protected class.
Jon E. Leis, a congregant, said that “it is unfortunate that Houston would have an elected official use her office for her own agenda. My concern is for all females, young and old, because Mayor Parker’s ordinance would open the door for immoral men to exploit them. When you look at the Mayor’s decision to make a deal with the sex oriented businesses, and now attempt to pass this ordinance, it seems she has a desire to further the degradation of women in our society, rather than to protect their rights, and their dignity. We must pray for her salvation, before her actions come to the place of ‘no return.’ What a waste of valued time she has spent in that office. She could have used this time to make Houston more attractive for businesses to want to come to Houston. It seems apparent that she is dishonoring her elected position, and is using it to continue its moral decline.”
Pastor Herman Castano of Iglesia Rios de Aceite, accused Parker of abusing her power as Mayor and of “not respecting the church.” Speaking in Spanish and English, Castano said it was Parker who was guilty of discrimination because “we invited her here, but she did not invite us to talk about the ordinance.” He chastised the Mayor saying “It’s about My life. What about Our life, Our lifestyle? The Pastor’s wife, Wendy Castano, said that “we are here for Hispanic values which are Biblical values.”
Fellow City Councilman, Jack Christie, said he was “here to listen” and was torn after hearing 367 speakers, and 100 clergy members who supported the ordinance. He said “Do we need an ordinance when we will probably only have 30-40 cases come before us? The crowd cheered when he said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Christie also said that he was in his position “to do God’s Will.”
Harris County County Clerk, Stan Stanart, and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan were also in attendance. Stanart made news last year when he denied a transgendered individual a marriage license.
Reverend Willie Adams, Jr. of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church said that “God does not make mistakes. If you were born a man, that is who you are. I believe also that homosexuality is a choice and not a lifestyle. Those who say that they were born that way, I am a firm believer that they can be born again.”
Pastor Riggle told the pastors in a separate prayer meeting that “if someone said Christians are a special class of people, I would be against that. And just because they choose that lifestyle, does not mean that they are a protected class.” He told fellow ministers that in this fight I have been “called names I cannot pronounce, and do not know the meaning of . . . and some that I do know the meaning of.” The Houston Chronicle published an editorial that conservatives say berated them and others who were against the ordinance.
Dave Welch of HAPC said that “we are here ultimately because of love” but we “will not affirm what is destroying them.” Welch said that sexual behavior was not the same as race and religion. He reminded the crowd that the Mayor had been elected by 8.5% of the vote in 2009, 6.4% in 2011, and 10.1% in 2013, and that 90% of the voters do not vote in city elections. He said that “we will not rest until we remove them from office.”
Joe LaRue of the Alliance Defending Freedom, was an ordained member before he was a lawyer. He said that the Houston ordinance forces Christians to violate their faith. He said that the ordinance was unnecessary to protect from discrimination because Texas and Federal law bans discrimination and protects Blacks, Hispanics, the disabled, and women. He said that “although the Mayor claims the ordinance protects these groups, she knows it does not. She said it–it is personal to her. Sexual behaviors are not something that is unchangeable like race, gender, or disability.” He added that “for the most part, people in Houston are treated the same.”
LaRue cited examples where businesses have been sued, and people put out of business because of lawsuits under similar ordinances. He talked about the case of Elane’s Photography that went all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The owner of the business was not opposed to taking a photo of a homosexual, but it was against her values to photograph a gay commitment ceremony. The Court held that “forfeiture of her rights is the price of citizenship.” Elane Photography is now out of business.
LaRue also told the congregants about a Christian baker who was sued because he would not bake a gay/rainbow wedding cake, and a printer in Kentucky who was sued because he would not print Gay Pride t-shirts. LaRue said that a 75 year old Catholic woman in Hawaii will owe $250K to a half million dollars in fines and will lose her home for not renting to a gay couple.
LaRue said that the Houston ordinance would force a church having 50 or more employees to hire homosexuals and transgendered individuals. He said that the “Bathroom Bill” was dangerous and cited quite a few examples of men in women’s facilities that raped, videographed, or otherwise sexually abused women. LaRue gave the HAPC a list of 46 examples where women and children had been sexually abused in cities having these ordinances.
Pastor Khanh Huynh of the Vietnamese Baptist Church said that “as a Boat People we went through 20 foot waves for our freedom.” He said that “rights are being violated by someone being in the restroom when they are not supposed to be there. This is a privilege, a right.” He compared the Mayor to the “Communists, who took by force with guns what belonged to others.”
Pastor Riggle promised that “he did not want the fight but we aren’t backing down.” “We will go turf-to-turf on legalities and bring our own lawyer.” LaRue and Alliance Defending Freedom are helping the pastors in their fight. The City Council is set to vote on the ordinance on May 28th.