The group then called police to help them once they had been removed from Chico's. El Paso has a non-discrimination ordinance that prohibits businesses from denying service due to sexual orientation.
"Si seguian con sus payasadas, los vamos a sacar de aqui, no permitimos que anden haciendo cosas aqui de jotos. (If you keep clowning around, we are going to get you out of here. We don't permit doing gay things here)."
The situation was then made worse by the fact that the El Paso police officer responding to the scene stated that the group could be forced to leave under the Texas law on homosexual conduct, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code. This is the section was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas. The El Paso officer's lack of knowledge of the city non-discrimination ordinance and the State Penal Code is inexcusable. Worsening matters, the day after the incident, the El Paso Police Department released this statement,
"While there is a homosexual conduct ordinance in the state's penal
code, We don't enforce that law, there's been court decisions about Texas' law
on that. We don't enforce it and what happened there wouldn't have even have met
the elements of the offense, even if it had been enforceable."
The El Paso Police Department's decision to reference a law that has been ruled unconstitutional as an excuse for their actions shows a lack of understanding of sensitivity to the GLBT community and extreme poor judgement. It also is an example for the need of sensitivity training for law enforcement officals.
El Paso City Council Members were quick to denounce actions of the restaurant and El Paso Police. After investigating the incident, Eastridge Mid-Valley City Rep. Steve Ortega said he was troubled, not only by the incident itself, but the response by the police spokesman that the restaurant had a right to refuse service though El Paso has an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. "That highly incorrect," Ortega said in response to the Police Department's statement.
There are multiple disturbing issues that are of concern to the GLBT community which arose from this incident. First being the lack of knowledge of the responding officer of the El Paso
ordinance banning discrimination of people due to their sexual orientation. The Police Department's response was also in poor taste. Trying to defend their officer's actions by referencing an unconstitutional law is insulting. The department then tried to explain the mishap by later admitting the responding officer had very little experience.
The fact that Section 21.06 is still on the books as a law in Texas even though it is unconstitutional is something that should be taken up by GLBT supportive State Representatives here in Houston, and the law should be removed from the Texas Penal Code.
A bright spot here is it sounds as if the members of El Paso City Council were extremely upset with the response of their police department, acting swiftly to condemn the incident and ask for better training for their police officers.
One of the members of the group tossed from Chico's, Carlos Diaz de Leon, has filed a complaint with the El Paso Police Department's Internal Affairs Division. We hope this complaint will get to the cause of the sloppy police work and ensure a similar situation does not occur again.
The El Paso Times has the story on the events here and on El Paso City Council's action here.
Equality Texas, Texas' statewide GLBT advocacy group, blogged here on the story.
A local GLBT group in El Paso, Puentes LGBT Resource, released this statement after the incident:
Puentes LGBT Resources Press Release
July 7, 2009
I am writing you today to bring to light a recent
incident of anti-gay discrimination, which occurred last Sunday night (07-05-09)
at a Chico’s Tacos on the eastside. A group of young gay men were ordered
to leave the restaurant by the security guards because a couple within the group
was kissing inside the restaurant. Outraged by the security guard’s
orders, the group called El Paso Police Department for assistance, but the
police officer who responded to the call defended the security guard’s actions
by stating to the group of men that it was against the law for two men or women
to kiss in public. This is simply untrue. The City of El Paso holds
a city ordinance that protects all individuals from discrimination in public
accommodations. Below is an excerpt of this ordinance. You can find
a full copy of the ordinance athttp://www.elpasotexas.gov/muni_clerk/_documents/ord_15410.pdf
It is unlawful for any person, firm, association or corporation, or any
agent, servant or employee thereof within the City [of El Paso], to refuse, deny
or withhold from any person, for any reason directly or indirectly relating to
the race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, religion, ethnic
background or national origin of such person, any of the accommodations,
advantages, facilities or services offered to the general public by place of
In closing, everyone has varying views on public displays of affection
(kissing). Some do it; others don’t. Yet we should not lose sight of
the real issue. This story surpasses the question of whether or not any
two individuals kissing is inappropriate in a public place. The core issue
is about equal rights to public accommodations for everyone, including lesbians,
gays, bisexuals and transgender persons. For all the details on this story
Cesar M. Campa
The Houston GLBT Caucus stands by Puentes LGBT Resources in their efforts to fight discrimination.