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Petitioners Hit The Streets To Oust Bernal

Ryan Loyd
TPR News
Cynthia Serna talks to a resident in District 1.

Opponents of the city council's anti-discrimination ordinance are trying to get the author of the ordinance, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, out of office.

Volunteers like Cynthia Serna and other members of the Bexar County Conservative Coalition are going door to door to collect signatures -- they need 6,000 to recall the councilman.

In their view, Bernal violated his oath of office when he proposed an update to the city's non-discrimination ordinance by not preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution.

Serna said the ordinance would infringe on the freedom of religion:

"If I want to run for city council, then I want to have the freedom to have my beliefs respected," said Serna.

The ordinance would only add protections for gender identity, sexual orientation and veterans where city business like contracts and employment are concerned.  

In an attempt to dispel myths about the ordinance, Bernal released a fact sheet to say what the ordinance does and does not do.

The ordinance does:

  • Prohibit discrimination LGBT people and veterans
  • Leave in place protections for race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age and handicap (updates the word "handicap" to "disability"
  • Apply to city employees, city contracts and subcontracts, housing and public accommodations (entry and access to businesses generally open to the public
  • Provide protections that are not covered by state or federal law

The ordinance does not:

  • Affect bathroom, locker room or dressing room policies
  • Require city contractors to hire anyone - they just can't discriminate against a qualified person because of who they are
  • Affect hiring/firing practices for private businesses
  • Require businesses to provide domestic partner benefits
  • Prevent anyone from running for city council or participating in boards or commissions
  • Require religious groups to offer their facilities to those they disagree with
  • Require religious organizations to perform ceremonies for those they disagree with
  • Interfere with religious organizations' practice of only hiring members of their faith
  • Require businesses to produce or promote message it does not agree with on religious grounds. They can't discriminate against customers, but they have the right to decide what messages they produce

Several people that the petition group approached were willing to sign. Some expressed alarm when the petitioners told them the ordinance would allow access to women's restrooms by men who are transgender women.

Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR News
TPR News
Bexar County Conservative Coalition member Gina Castaneda talks to a local resident about their petition.

"If my wife is in the restroom and somebody goes in, there's going to be action," said one man Serna talked to. "That's no good. It'll probably never pass, but just the thought of them bringing that crap up, you know?"

Bernal said the restroom canard does not apply to the ordinance.

The final draft of the ordinance will be released Wednesday during the council's B session and Bernal has released a fact sheet to spell out what the ordinance does and doesn't do.

Bernal said even when the democratic process is used against him he still respects it, but not when zealots are spreading lies to get signatures.

"The idea that you want to recall somebody because they want to extend protections to gays and lesbians makes our city looks ridiculous," Bernal said. "This is not that controversial. Other cities have done it without the sky falling. If the fact that I want to extend protections to gays and lesbians is why they want me out of office, it says a lot more about them than it ever would about me."

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.