San Antonio is hosting a full-on freak-out over proposed changes to the city’s non-discrimination policies that would cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Christian conservatives are claiming that the revised ordinance would allow men into the women’s restroom, ban Christians from city government and infringe on their religious freedoms to be intolerant of gay people. Proponents have countered by pointing out that it does no such thing and that the current draft is similar to ordinances in Austin, Dallas, Houston and other major cities.
The pot was stirred a bit more today when a secret tape of Councilwoman Elisa Chan’s unvarnished views surfaced. In the recording, Chan describes LGBTQ people as “disgusting,” saying they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt and that homosexuality is “against nature.” Former Chan staffer James Stevens surreptitiously recorded Chan’s comments on his iPhone during a May meeting on the proposed ordinance. Stevens provided the recording to San Antonio Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff, who published a damning article today.
At one point in the recording, amid a tittering exchange about pansexual people, Chan interjects her opinion on the nature of homosexuality.
“You know, to be quite honest, I know this is not politically correct,” she said. “I never bought in that you are born, that you are born gay. I can’t imagine it.”
As the talk shifted back to pansexual people, whose sexual orientations encompass all gender identities, Chan asks, “How can that be?”
“I will say, ‘Strip down! What equipment do you have?’” she continued. “I’m telling you. Crazy. We’re getting to crazy realm.”
Stevens agrees that it’s “politically incorrect in some circles” to claim that people choose to be gay. “The newspaper will get to you,” he warned.
Chan was evidently aware that her homophobic remarks could get her in trouble politically, and vowed to keep them under wraps in public.
“That’s why I never would say that outside because they kill me,” Chan said. “When I say that it’s … behavioral preference, they say that, ‘No, you’re born with it.’ But I never bought into that.”
I spoke with Stevens earlier today about why he decided to come forward with the recording and what he hopes to see come of it.
Stevens, who is straight but has gay friends, began working as an intern in Chan’s office in the fall of 2012 and was hired full-time on May 13. Slightly more than a week later, on May 21, the 28 year old sat in on his first staff meeting. He was in for a surprise.
“I didn’t go into it thinking I was going to record anything,” Stevens said. “What I was expecting was to discuss policy and to really get into maybe the nuanced arguments on both sides of the debate. … After a few minutes of the conversation really going toward just talking about how disgusting the [LGBTQ] community is I decided that this is something the people of San Antonio should know about, that this is what’s going on behind closed doors.”
Stevens said the conversation began with Chan asking her staff to explain what the “T” stands for in LGBT. (It stands for “transgender.”)
“Her reaction of disgust is what sparked everyone to join and talk about how disgusting it is,” Stevens said, who he was “uncomfortable” during the conversation.
“If I could say one thing to the LGBT community, I wish I could’ve been stronger during that meeting and made more of the points that in hindsight I’d like to make. But being there and especially being my first staff meting and not knowing if this is normal, I didn’t know how to behave.”
He sat on the tape for months, hoping that there would be another chance to discuss the ordinance “in a more mature way. But that never happened.”
What pushed him to finally release the audio was Chan’s unwillingness to consider that gay people might be born that way. “It’s one thing to be ignorant,” Steven saids, “and I can forgive ignorance. But willful ignorance is inexcusable, especially from a representative.”
Stevens doesn’t think Chan will vote for the ordinance now, but he hopes that it might persuade other council members to distance themselves from Chan and her position. He also hopes that the LGBT community will be heartened to know they have straight allies in government who are willing to stand up for equality.
“There are people out there that believe in equality who are going to support you and are going to make sacrifices to do the right thing. There aren’t many of us, but I felt like I was in a position to help and so I did.”