Annise_ParkerTestimony in a trial for five Houston-area pastors suing the city to have an election on a transgender ordinance has begun, with one minister accusing the city of calling “an entire community of churches and citizens criminals.” The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of pastors and groups in Houston who oppose an ordinance council members adopted at the urging of lesbian Mayor Annise Parker. The measure requires Houston businesses and organizations to recognize transgenders with certain rights and privileges. The pastors immediately collected signatures to overturn the ordinance, but the city’s lawyer, working on behalf of Parker, stepped into the dispute after the city secretary had affirmed there were enough valid signatures and disqualified pages and pages of names. Pastor Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council was on the stand as the trial opened Tuesday, responding to claims by the city that the names were not handled properly. “Given the fact that we pre-verified over 30,000 signatures as being registered voters, and every single person went before a notary public, and swore and oath, before the law, that they indeed were the person who gathered those signatures, many of which came out of the churches, we had every reason to believe those were done honestly, ethically and properly before the law,” he told the court. “Frankly,” he responded to city attorneys at one point, “what you are doing is calling an entire community of churches and citizens criminals. Fraud and forgery are crimes; that’s exactly what you are asserting, and I find that offensive.” The city, which previously delayed the case, recently lost an argument in court in which officials demanded that a special master be assigned to the case and that a judge make the decision rather than a jury. More