Mayor plans to remove controversial aspect of equal rights ordinance

HOUSTON - Mayor Annise Parker's office has confirmed that she will remove a controversial component of her proposed Equal Rights Ordinance.

The plan would ban discrimination in housing and employment, but the issue getting the most attention is known as the "bathroom clause."

On Tuesday, The mayor announced she will remove a plan to allow transgendered people to use public restrooms facilities of the gender with which they most closely identify.

"The solution is to remove that particular section of the ordinance," said Mayor Parker. "We have a strong commitment on council and across the community for the base ordinance."

The revised ordinance has been endorsed by the Greater Houston Partnership.

"We believe this change is an appropriate response to the concerns raised in the community regarding privacy and security," said GHP President and CEO Bob Harvey.

The mayor stood with several religious, business, political and community leaders at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Her office released a letter signed by more than 70 clergy members who say they support the measure. The letter read in part, "As spiritual leaders from a variety of faith traditions the city of Houston, we write to ask you to support passage of an Equal Rights Ordinance for our city."

However, this proposal had created a backlash with many conservative religious groups and others who said it put children in danger and was the wrong move by the city.

Various pastors along with several hundred people gathered outside Houston City Hall to protest the proposed ordinance. They say the measure would infringe on their religious liberties to speak out against what they called the gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyle.

"How could any of you have been in favor of an ordinance that would have put me, my daughters and my granddaughter at risk by simply walking into a restroom," asked Becky Riggle, of Grace Community Church.

Many of the groups waved signs and held bibles and said the ordinance threatened religious liberty and was an attack on their beliefs.

"Regardless of the mayor's two steps forward, one step back approach in  temporarily pulling the open restrooms clause from this unnecessary ordinance, the camel's nose in the tent is still contented to the rest of the camel," said the Houston Area Pastor Council statement.

Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis said he will introduce the amendment striking the controversial language from the ordinance.

"This section being removed from the ordinance will affirm that it's not a permission slip for a man to walk into a woman's restroom or vice versa," said Davis.

The council was expected to vote on the proposed ordinance Wednesday. It's similar to a disputed one that passed last year in San Antonio.

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