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article imageHouston voters reject LGBT equal rights ordinance

By Brett Wilkins     Nov 4, 2015 in Politics
Houston - Voters in America's fourth-largest city rejected a ballot measure that would have outlawed discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and others in city contracting, business services, housing and employment.
The Texas Tribune reports HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, failed by a wide margin on Tuesday, with 61 percent of Houston voters rejecting the measure as 95 percent of the votes had been counted.
HERO would have banned discrimination against individuals based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure was supported by equality advocates, including LGBT groups and Mayor Annise Parker, as well as scores of corporations and businesses, President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
"While the administration generally does not take a formal position on specific proposals or initiatives, the president and vice president have been strong supporters of state and local efforts to protect Americans from being discriminated against based on who they are and who they love,” White House spokesman Jeff Tiller told the Washington Blade. "We’re confident that the citizens of Houston will vote in favor of fairness and equality."
But many religious and conservative groups staunchly opposed the measure, as did many of the city's black voters, who have traditionally espoused anti-LGBT views. Mayor Parker, whose office was flooded with around 1,000 bibles sent by anti-HERO groups and individuals last year, blamed right-wing scare tactics, which appealed to social conservatives and anti-gay bigots, for HERO's defeat.
"This was a campaign of fear-mongering and deliberate lies," Parker said following the vote. "No one's rights should be subject to a popular vote."
HERO opponents had framed the measure as the 'bathroom ordinance,' with Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, arguing that the proposed ordinance was "not about equality" but rather "about letting men in women's locker rooms and bathrooms." The staunchly anti-LGBT Campaign for Houston also ran campaign ads falsely claiming HERO would allow men into women's bathrooms, playing to transphobia and the oft-debunked myth that transgender women are deviant sexual predators and that some men would pretend to be women to gain access to female restrooms.
"I know that this concern persists but I personally have not seen any factual basis for it," Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, said in response to persistent conservative claims of predatory men using anti-discrimination laws to gain access to women's bathrooms. "I am not aware of any increased sexual assault or rape in women's restrooms as a result of Maine's 2005 adoption of protections in the Maine Human Rights Act for sexual orientation."
Still, HERO opponents, who dubbed the measure the 'Sexual Predators Protection Act,' went ahead with the ad, in which it is claimed that "any man at any time can enter a women's bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day." A separate radio ad by Campaign for Houston blasted transgender women who use the restroom that match their gender identity as "filthy, disgusting and unsafe."
But as the Houston Chronicle reported, Mayor Parker repeatedly pointed out that “it is illegal today to go into a place of public accommodation for the intent of committing a crime. It was illegal before, it’s going to be illegal after" HERO.
Many religious and conservative leaders were among those who celebrated Houston's rejection of HERO. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said the vote "showed values still matter."
“I just hope that cities across the nation are watching,” Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church in Houston said after the vote. “And that leaders… will step up and stand up and stand against this thing that’s encroaching across the nation with intimidation and fear and telling people who just believe in common moral decency that they have no voice.”
“I’m glad Houston led tonight to end this constant political correctness attack on what we know in our heart and our gut as Americans is not right," Lt. Gov. Patrick told a cheering crowd at an election night party in Houston. “It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters" from "men in women's ladies rooms."
Many conservative media outlets also hailed Tuesday's vote, with the popular right-wing website Breitbart rejoicing that "perverts lose in Houston as voters say no to men in ladies' rooms."
LGBT advocates lamented HERO's defeat.
“We are disappointed with today’s outcome, but our work to secure nondiscrimination protections for all hard-working Houstonians will continue,” Houston Unites, a pro-HERO coalition that includes the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said in a statement. “No one should have to live with the specter of discrimination hanging over them. Everyone should have the freedom to work hard, earn a decent living and provide for themselves and their families.”
Brynn Tannehill, a transgender Navy veteran, told Raw Story that the campaign against transgender rights in Houston has endangered trans people there.
“Religious leaders have been so successful at dehumanizing transgender people there, that its only a matter of time before some vigilante kills another transgender woman, just for using the bathroom,” wrote Tannehill. “We have seen 22 transgender women slain this year already, breaking the old record by a wide margin.”
Tannehill added that actions like rejecting HERO send a clear message to transgender people in Houston: “‘Leave. Disappear. You’re not wanted. In fact, we hate you. You are vile. You are a threat to women and children.'”
“How can transgender people go through life on a day to day basis knowing that’s what people think of you?” Tannehill continued. “Then these same religious bigots remark, without a trace of understanding of irony of it all, on how transgender people need religious help because we so often suffer from anxiety and depression.”
Others argued that Houston stands to lose money and prestige by rejecting LGBT equality.
"This will have stained Houston's reputation as a tolerant, welcoming global city," Mayor Parker said, according to KHOU. "I absolutely fear there will be a direct economic backlash."
Ric Campo, a real estate developer who is the chairman of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, told the New York Times that the committee has had conversations with National Football League (NFL) officials about the ordinance. Houston is slated to host the Super Bowl in 2017.
“I don’t think it’s the straw that creates the imbalance where you don’t get a Super Bowl or lose a Super Bowl, but it’s definitely part of the equation when people make decisions,” Campo said.
Writing for Outsports, Tannehill asserted that "the NFL must choose whether it stands for or against blatant discrimination against LGBT people."
"The only way to remain ethically consistent, and show that respect, is to move the 2017 Super Bowl to a location where people like me are not put in mortal danger every time we need to use the bathroom," argues Tannehill.
Although LGBT Americans achieved marriage equality earlier this year as a result of the Supreme Court's historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision, deeply entrenched anti-gay discrimination and sentiment, much of it rooted in religious beliefs, remains widespread. In 28 states, it remains legal for anti-LGBT employers to fire people solely for their sexual orientation.
More about houston equal rights ordinance, lgbt rights, transphobia, transgender rights, annise parker
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