San Antonio’s proposed nondiscrimination rules — which many conservative Texans say amounts to stepping on religious freedoms — aren’t much of an issue in Austin.
Austin has had similar rules for years that prohibit employers, housing providers and public places such as clubs from discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Of the various types of discrimination with which the city of Austin deals each year, sexual orientation makes up a fairly small portion. Of the 130 to 200 employment discrimination cases the city’s federally funded Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office handles each year, about three to five cases involve sexual orientation, said Jonathan Babiak, the office administrator.
“These rules are good for San Antonio for a number of reasons, including the economy, because they help attract skilled workers” protected under the rules “and the companies who employ them,” said Paul Rhea, chairman of Austin’s Human Rights Commission.
As gay rights have gained wider acceptance nationally, Austin’s rules have become more accommodating. For instance, in 1993 the city extended health insurance benefits to domestic partners, both same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual couples — only to see voters repeal the decision a year later. In 2006, Austin voters reinstated the benefits.
Since 1992 , the city has also required companies bidding for city contracts of more than $50,000 to sign a form saying that they don’t discriminate, with gender identity added in 2005.