The San Antonio City Council has voted to pass the proposed -- and controversial -- nondiscrimination ordinance.
After weeks of battling back and forth over the ordinance -- which would list sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status as protected classes -- the council voted 8-3 in favor of passing the ordinance.
“I was born and raised in San Antonio and this is a relief. It’s a huge relief,” said Katy Stewart, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
“The truth is the only people who lost rights today are the ones that want to put prejudice into practice,” said Justin Nichols.
As supporters of the ordinance celebrated on the steps of council chambers Thursday afternoon, opponents clad in blue began collecting signatures to recall the eight council members who voted to approve the ordinance.
“They’ve awoken a sleeping giant,” said Gina Castaneda. “We're going to be going through the city from house to house to get this. They woke up a sleeping giant."
The day began with more than 100 people addressing the city council for a final time after Wednesday’s marathon “Citizens to be Heard” session.
“We will not back down,” said 19-year-old college studen, Ruben Verastigui, an opponent of the ordinance.
Dozens of religious leaders spoke during the three-hour session, claiming the law violates their right to religious expression.
Meanwhile, business organizations such as the AFL-CIO and the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce announced its support for the measure.
With the vote, San Antonio has joined other major Texas cities with ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign says nearly 180 other U.S. cities also have similar protections.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said the ordinance is level-headed and overdue. And those who supported the ordinance say it grants the LGBTQ community the rights they deserve.
Castro pleaded for both sides to come together.
“Whether you’re white or black, whether you’re Christian or Jew, whether you’re gay or straight, San Antonio belongs to everyone,” Castro said. “After people get into a fight, often times they make up and sometimes they become friends and there’s often a healing that happens after division. I believe that will happen here.”
Conversely, opposition to the ordinance was strong in the weeks leading up to Thursday's vote. Hundreds signed up to voice their disagreement with the proposed changes, saying it would discriminate against people who disagree with the lifestyle of the LGBTQ community by prohibiting them from expressing their beliefs.
“Just because I disagree with the LGBT lifestyle does not mean I hate them,” said District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan, whose secretly recorded remarks on homosexuality sparked outrage in the LGBT community.
Chan called the vote one of “political correctness” and not policy.
“We have shattered the trust of the community we're here to serve,” she said. “The lack of transparency shown by this council should be frightening."
The last council member to address the audience was District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal. Bernal spearheaded the policy updates at city hall, making him the target of those who oppose the policy.
During his remarks, Bernal recounted the times when members of the LGBT community have helped him and the impact those experiences had on his life.
He maintained that the ordinance does not grant special rights.
“If you (a business owner) are looking for a policy that allows you to say, ‘I don’t serve gays,’ that’s discrimination,” he said.
Thursday's vote was broken down thusly: