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Human Rights Commission prepares to take on Trump and SB 92

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 by Cate Malek

Austin’s Human Rights Commission is testing how much influence city government can have at both the state and national levels this year.

Members of the commission are proposing to take a strong stand against President-elect Donald Trump in January and are preparing a recommendation for City Council to condemn some of his statements and conduct as well as ban official use of Trump products and services.

The commission is also preparing to fight upcoming Texas Senate Bill 92, which would preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances, many of which have been passed to protect LGBTQ communities. At a meeting on Nov. 28, the commissioners voted 7-1-1 to pass a recommendation to reaffirm Austin’s Commitment to Inclusion, Freedom and Equity for All, a local ordinance that would be threatened if SB 92 passes. Commissioner Tucker Royall voted against the recommendation; Tim Miller abstained and Kuo Yang was absent.

Commissioner Garry Brown co-sponsored both recommendations and said he was inspired by Council Member Greg Casar, who called for resistance against the president-elect earlier this month.

“When Council Member Casar used the word ‘resistance’ and (said) that he was going to resist, that really resonated with me,” Brown said. “I wanted to be a part of that resistance, and, for me, co-sponsoring this resolution is part of that.”

The commission was also responding to a rash of harassment in Austin that has been reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center since the presidential election on Nov. 8. Examples of incidents include graffiti sprayed around the city, including a woman’s door that was tagged with “dyke,” “#Trump” and a swastika.

In another incident, a Latino man was crossing the street when a truck driver slowed down and dumped a bag of garbage on him, and then told the man to “go back where you came from.” More than a dozen other incidents of harassment were detailed in the backup materials for the meeting.

Commissioner Joe Miguez co-sponsored the recommendation to condemn Trump’s statements and actions against minorities, women and others. He said he was inspired to co-sponsor the recommendation after speaking with a family friend, a young Muslim lawyer who feared for her safety after Trump’s victory.

“She began texting me and my wife in what I can only describe as horror and panic asking if this was still her country, if this was a place she could and should stay, if she was going to be safe,” Miguez said. “It’s unprecedented in my lifetime that anybody would have that level of just genuine raw fear at the results of a presidential election.”

The commission originally planned to vote on the recommendation last week, but decided to take another month to work on making the language as clear as possible.

“It was more important to me that the statement be made, and made correctly and made strongly and with as much consensus as possible that it was something that was done in November instead of January,” Miguez said.

If Council chooses to move forward with the recommendation, Austin would join other cities such as Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minnesota. But Miguez said he was less interested in setting a precedent than in taking a stand. Referring to derogatory statements that Trump has made about minorities and women, Miguez said he was worried about the direction in which the U.S. is headed.

“If that’s the tone that’s going to be set at the top, then voices from down here need to be making a fairly strong, unified statement that we won’t accept that kind of conduct or that sort of talk from our leaders,” Miguez said.

Photo by Jamelle Boule made available through a Creative Commons license.

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