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Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, an openly gay man, had his right leg amputated and received a Purple Heart after a landmine exploded.
“I could be fired from a job or be denied from applying for employment, it doesn’t matter that I’m a decorated veteran, disabled, or Latino. I would be denied employment because I am also a gay individual,” Alva said. “I once took an oath at 19 to defend this country. There are rights that I still do not have to this day.”
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, said allowing all individuals to feel secure in their jobs would be good for the state and for the Texas economy.
“I find it unacceptable that qualified hardworking Texans can be denied a job or fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,” she said. “Many go to work afraid they’re going to lose their job based on factors that have nothing to do with [job performance].”
The bill, which also received testimony from a transgender woman and the first openly gay member of the Texas Legislature, Glen Maxey, was left pending in committee.
If passed, the bill would outlaw the discrimination of employees or potential employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. That includes segregating the employee or failing to hire them on the basis of gender preference. It would add on to the state labor code that already prohibits discrimination because of race, color, disability, religion, sex or national origin.
Cathy DeWitt, the vice president for governmental affairs with the Texas Association of Business, and Kathy Barber with the National Federation of Independent Business of Texas were against the bill, but chose not to testify.
Van De Putte said she spoke with both women who expressed concerns with the possibility of employers being sued. Van De Putte said the bill would allow anyone who believes they were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission, but does not amend the section of code allowing for civil action.
Similar bills by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, went through the motions the last three legislative sessions but failed to pass. Villarreal filed a companion bill this year that will be heard by the House Economic & Small Business Development committee.
Some cities, including Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, have local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.