Houston Mayor Annise Parker has signed an executive order that adds gender identity to the city's 12-year-old non-discrimination policy, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The two orders signed by Parker protect transgender individuals who work for the city from discrimination in the areas of employment and accommodations.

“The mayor wanted to put in writing what has already been the city's practice, which is that we do not discriminate,” Janice Evans, Parker's spokeswoman, told the paper.

Gay rights advocates cheered the move.

“This is essential” Kris Banks, president of the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Political Caucus, said. “A non-discrimination provision that protects sexual orientation but doesn't protect gender identity is toothless. … It's quite a thing, having a mayor that really understands all these issues.”

Parker, 53, became Houston's 61st mayor in January after a long campaign that included personal attacks against Parker because she is openly gay.

Dave Wilson, an outspoken gay rights opponent who campaigned to make Parker's sexuality an issue during the mayoral campaign, said he was “sad this is happening in our city.”

The new protections allow transgender individuals employed by the city to use restroom facilities in city-owned buildings for the gender with which they identify. Previously, the city decided the issue on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents say such measures allow men to legally enter women's restrooms, putting women and children at risk. Proponents counter that such behavior would be criminal.