Retired Staff Sgt. Eric Alva was the first Purple Heart recipient in the Iraq War, but he told lawmakers Wednesday that Texas law does not protect his rights because it allows employers to discriminate against him because he is gay.
"I've shed blood for this country and there are rights that I don't have," Alva told the Senate Committee on Business and Economic Development. "It is time for this state to recognize people for who they are, on their merit, for their leadership, and their professionalism."
Texas senators on Wednesday began formal consideration of a bill that would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation of gender identity. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said her proposal would allow workers to report discrimination to the Texas Workforce Commission for administrative action, but it would not allow workers to file civil lawsuits.
"I look back at this chamber and think about when we treated those that are African American with less than the dignity they deserved," she said. "Discrimination has no place in our society or workplace, and Texas can and should be better for all of our Texans and all of our workers."
Van de Putte said 21 states and the District of Columbia already have similar laws and several cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio provide such protections to municipal employees.
Representatives from Christian conservative groups Texas Values and Texas Conservative Coalition registered their opposition to the bill along with the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, but none spoke at the hearing on Wednesday. Texas Values recently staged a rally against gay rights at the Capitol calling them an affront to their religious beliefs.
Chuck Smith, the executive director for Equality Texas, said 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies already ban such discrimination and Texas should adopt the law to attract those businesses that support equal rights.
"I'm not here to ask you to support because you are a fan of gay rights," he said. "I am here to ask you to support it because it will be beneficial for the economic development of the state of Texas."
Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, left the bill pending in his committee. He has the power to either call the bill back up for a vote or allow it to languish. Even if the bill was approved by the committee, it would face little chance in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Texas' conservative Republican leadership has been hostile to gay rights in the past. The state has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and Gov. Rick Perry has compared homosexuality to alcoholism. He recently lamented that the United States is in trouble if those who oppose to gay marriage can be publicly vilified.