Austin APD Lesbian and Gay Peace officers Association
Austin is, not surprisingly, at the forefront of progressive attitudes and actions in Texas when it comes to acceptance and rights protection of the LGBT community. And it's not just our citizens who feel strongly about this — it's our legislators and law enforcement as well.
On Sept. 27, the Austin City Council unanimously approved a resolution to support marriage equality in Texas — the first city in the state to take an official stance. The resolution was sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and co-sponsored by Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Laura Morrison.
“It is a great day for Austin to recognize diversity and respect for civil rights and show in public action our support for marriage equality,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cole. “At a time when our national institutions have not yet fully embraced this basic civil right, it is important that we support non-discrimination actions at every opportunity.”
Passage of the resolution sends the message to state and national leaders that Austin is a community that values equality for all of its citizens. The resolution will also send the message that the City of Austin believes all couples in loving and committed relationships should be given the opportunity to create stronger and more successful families through civil marriage.
“We have a robust and diverse LGBT community in Austin and I am proud to stand with them and defend their right to equal marriage,” said Mayor Leffingwell. “The tide is changing in America and I hope that by joining this loud chorus, our city can play a significant role in helping set us on a path to full marriage equality in our country in my lifetime.”
"The whole city is our gay-borhood. That doesn’t mean gay people haven’t faced discrimination or even oppression. Just that, on the whole, the city has made a good home for its gay citizens." - Michael Barnes
The City Council resolution is consistent with the principles and policies of the City of Austin to ensure that everyone who lives here is treated fairly, says Chuck Smith, Interim Executive Director of Equality Texas. The non-profit is the largest civil rights organization in Texas dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, and was a major supporter of the marriage equality resolution.
"Austin is a community that continues to demonstrate that it respects the equality and the value of all of its residents," Smith says. "Those principles of equality are further demonstrated by a comprehensive employment nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression; the provision by the City to provide access to partner health care benefits; and the existence of an actively engaged Austin/Travis County Hate Crimes Task Force."
Michael Barnes, the well-known social columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, says that Austin has always been a comparatively open, kind and smart town. "That has translated into an oasis of friendliness for the gay community," Barnes adds. "It also partially explains why we have no gay ghetto. The whole city is our gay-borhood. That doesn’t mean gay people haven’t faced discrimination or even oppression. Just that, on the whole, the city has made a good home for its gay citizens."
Barnes, who writes the Out & About column at the Statesman, feels that the marriage equality vote reflects the city's affinity for equality. "LGBT issues are not seen in isolation here. They are related to how we all treat each other with respect and dignity."
"Our doors are open, they're welcoming, and we will be here to embrace you no matter who you are, where you come from or what your background is." - Art Acevedo
Yet as a city, we still struggle with hate crimes against the LGBT community. Just a few weekends ago, during Austin Pride Day, Andrew Oppleman and Nick Soret were severely beaten. The men had driven from Houston for the pride festivities and were standing in line for pizza when they were attacked for no apparent reason, other than homophobia.
"As I waited for Nick to grab his pizza and leave, another patron started screaming at Nick 'What are you looking at?' over and over again," Oppleman recalls. "As he grabbed Nick’s hot pizza and threw it on Nick’s face, arm and body the man proceeded to start punching him."
The assailant then turned on Oppleman, punching him to the ground and continuing to hit Soret. The night ended with eight hours at Brackenridge Hospital, where Oppleman suffered six missing teeth and both men began recuperating from busted lips and multiple bruises. In response, Oppleman organized a March Against Hate to the Capitol, which took place on Oct. 6.
While it is tragic, infuriating and unacceptable that instances like this still happen at all — especially in a city like Austin — we are also fortunate enough to have a police department dedicated to erasing such hate crimes, and additionally supporting the rights of the LGBT community.
The LGPOA video is also meant to educate the greater community, serving as a testament to the our city's mindset. The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential and positivity their lives will reach — if they can just get through their teen years. Its overarching goal is to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better. The message was heard loud and clear in Austin and beyond — within one week, the video received more than 84,000 views from over 140 countries across the globe.
Chief of Police Art Acevedo not only supports the initiative, but participated in it. "One of the things I have always valued as an immigrant myself... I've always valued diversity," Acevedo says in the video.
"Whether it's black or white, straight or gay, man or woman, young or old, it doesn't matter. No matter who you are, we've created a safe environment for our employees and our number one goal is to create a safe environment for you. Our doors are open, they're welcoming, and we will be here to embrace you no matter who you are, where you come from or what your background is."