With only 7 percent of the state’s population, Austin has more than 30 percent of its patents and over half its venture capital, according to Mayor Steve Adler.
That’s partly because the city is known as inclusive, which attracts talented, creative people and the companies that employ them, Adler said.
But Austin’s reputation could be threatened by anti-LGBT proposals in the 84th Texas Legislature, he warned, pointing to recent backlash from businesses over “religious freedom” laws in Indiana and Arkansas.
“Apple is here, Google is here, because the people who work for Apple and Google, they want to live here,” Adler said. “It’s real important that we not go down that path, and it is scary to me that our state Legislature right now is considering doing that.”
Adler was among the speakers Saturday evening at a rally on the south steps of the Capitol to protest a record number of anti-LGBT bills in the Legislature, including proposals similar to the Indiana and Arkansas laws.
Nearly 100 people gathered below a banner reading, “We Are More Than Marriage. Full Equality Now.” With dusk falling, speakers addressed the crowd through a bullhorn while an activist waved a hybrid Texas-gay Pride flag in the light breeze.
The rally, organized by GetEQUAL, was among three this weekend in as many states as part of the group’s #HateOutbreak campaign, inspired by anti-LGBT legislation across the country in response to the spread of same-sex marriage.
Jan Soifer, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, decried the use of religion to justify discrimination, pointing to proposals like Senate Joint Resolution 10, by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). Although religious opposition to homosexuality is often rooted in a single verse from the Book of Leviticus, other Old Testament passages forbid things like sex with women who are menstruating, and working on the Sabbath, Soifer said.
“If we adhere to biblical marriage, does that mean we should legalize men having concubines?” Soifer said. “In truth, there is no legitimate religious basis for discrimination against members of the LGBT community, and we must call people who advocate for it in the name of religion what they are. They are bigots, plain and simple, and we must fight bigotry everywhere we see it. … We cannot allow the Texas Legislature to enshrine hatred and discrimination into our laws.”
Former Rep. Glen Maxey (D-Austin), who was the state’s first openly LGBT legislator, said when he moved to Austin in 1981, he feared if anyone found out he was gay, it would ruin his political career.
Thirty-four years later, Maxey said, you can’t walk into an office in the Capitol where staffers and legislators don’t know an LGBT person. But the fight for equality is far from over.
“We cannot ever sit back and take it easy,” he said. “It saddens me on this weekend that’s seen as the holiest weekend of the Christian religion, to be here talking about bills that denigrate our community in the name of religion. I want the people in this building who call themselves Christian to remember the one single law that was put down by the leader of the Christian movement, Jesus Christ, and that was, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”
Watch a clip from Maxey’s speech below.