Lawsuit Filed Against Plano for Hiding Criminalization of LGBT Ordinance

The city deliberately withheld its plans to expand a nondiscrimination ordinance from the public.

By Rachel Alexander Published on May 1, 2017

A city in Texas secretly criminalized certain views of sexuality and then quickly passed it in a public meeting before citizens had a chance to respond. Two residents are suing the city for doing so.

Plaintiffs Greg and Laura Hatch filed a lawsuit against the city over secretly revising a “nondiscrimination” ordinance. In 2014, the city expanded the ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It prohibited discrimination “based on race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, familial status or United States military/veteran status.”

The new ordinance imposes criminal penalties on  businesses, city contractors, housing and employment. It exempts nonprofit, religious and political groups. Violators can be fined $500 a day. Many small business owners in Plano are concerned how the law will affect their religious freedom.

However, businesses may prohibit people from using bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex. That exception has upset transgendered people and LGBT advocates.

According to the city of Plano:

Gender identity means “a person’s innate, deeply felt sense of gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physical anatomy and also includes a person’s gender expression through external characteristics and behaviors including, but not limited to, dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions, that are identified with a particular gender or sexual orientation.”

Sex means “gender and the biological differences between men and women.”

Plano city ordinances

The city’s attorney called the suit “frivolous and unethical.” It is also “a desperate attempt” to affect upcoming local elections, he told the Plano Star Courier.

The Hatches told the newspaper that “We are disappointed in our city officials. … Every Plano citizen, regardless of faith or belief, deserve the right to observe or participate in his or her government.”

Violation of Open Meeting Law

The plaintiffs are asking a court to void the “Equal Rights Policy.” They claim that the city council violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) with secret discussions. TOMA requires that city officials discuss important matters in public meetings. There must be “openness at every stage of deliberations.”

Emails reveal that city officials hid the planning process. They agreed in advance to the changes behind closed doors. The public meeting was held only to officially pass the ordinance, not to get public input.

Before the vote, Texas State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R) asked the council if there was anything that might be of interest to the public. The council said no. Also before the vote, a council member told a citizen that the changes had already passed 8-0. The public vote was just for show.

After the officials secretly agreed to the changes, they reached out to select groups for support. This was to create an appearance of public support at the public meeting. They stirred up LGBT and other activist groups. As a result, the complaint states, some of the small businesses that opposed the changes had their websites defaced. There were vulgar verbal attacks on their employees.

Inappropriate City Council Emails

Emails reveal that comments made by city officials and their allies were inappropriate, crude and offensive. Council member Frank Turner said prolonging the vote could “result in disastrous black eye to image as a progressive global business community.”

A Plano Chamber of Commerce official emailed a council member during the public meeting, “Got several Bibles in the audience … this could make us look so backwards.”

Former mayor Florence Shapiro called opponents bigots in a text to Mayor Harry LaRosiliere. LaRosiliere called a deputy mayor a profane word for hesitating. He also called Plano citizens an “embarrass[ment]” and “downright hateful and nasty.”

The city asked Jamee Jolly of the Plano Chamber of Commerce for input. “Got several Bibles in the audience,” he emailed the council during the public vote. “This could make us look so backwards.” A former member of the Chamber’s board emailed City Manager Bruce Glasscock that the people objecting are “dangerous.”

Cleve Doty represented the plaintiffs while an attorney with First Liberty.* He told Breitbart Texas that the revised law also violates the Constitution. In particular, it tramples on freedom of speech and religion. “It establishes a moral code for sexuality, sexual conduct, and social interactions,” he said. “It criminalizes anyone who does not agree with or live by that code.”

Editor’s note: This sentence has been corrected to reflect the updated situation since Doty’s original quote.

Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC

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