HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Less than 72 hours after Houston's annual public expression of "Pride," Harris County's leadership took action some consider historic - a non-discrimination policy specifically protecting lesbian-gay-bisexual, and transgender employees.
"The message it sends out is that we may be deep in the heart of Dixie, we may be in the reddest of red states, but we are sensitive, we are inclusive, and we want people to be who they are," said Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Precinct 1.
Opponents of the measure sited both the absence of grievances from current LGBTQ employees and the county attorney's belief that existing anti-harassment rules offer adequate protection without opening up a fresh avenue for lawsuits.
"Frankly, that's what this is. This is a litigation nightmare," said Dave Welch, leader of the Houston Pastor Council.
As an alternative, Commissioner Jack Cagle offered an all-inclusive anti-discrimination policy.
"I don't care who you are, what your background is, we should not be harassing anyone," said Cagle, who represents Precinct 4.
But activists, including former Harris County employee Kandice Webber, insisted specific protections are necessary and long overdue.
"The reality is LGBTQI people do not have to stir up trouble, trouble comes to us in the form of hate, bigotry, discrimination. We lose our jobs. We lose our ability to care for our families," said Webber, a longtime leader of Black Lives Matter Houston.
Before the final vote Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia poignantly recalled the life-long struggle of his gay brother who he lost in 1995 after a battle with AIDS.
"Here we have a opportunity to say people matter. That they will be protected," said Garcia.
The new protection from discrimination in the County workplace due to sexual orientation or gender identity passed by a vote of 3-2.