Houston needs another HERO
November 9, 2015
Houston voters struck down the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on Tuesday that would have protected its citizens from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics including race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. It would have strengthened nearly every Houstonians’ protection from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces such as restaurants or buses. The measure also would have brought Houston into accord with other large cities in providing protections for LGBTQ community members, but transphobic activists managed to whip up a maelstrom of fear big enough to drive Houston back to the past.
Houston is marked by a history of LGBTQ discrimination, including repeals of similar ordinances in 1985. The city council had passed two ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexuality in city employment and was met with incredible anti-LGBTQ backlash. The Committee for Public Awareness was formed and began spreading messages about the supposed dangers of homosexuality. A conversation about anti-discrimination protections for a small group of city employees suddenly became based in fear mongering that relied on stereotypes of predatory, diseased gays. Painted as pedophiles, members of the gay community remained pariahs and the ordinances were repealed with an overwhelming 80 percent majority.
Last week, voters in Houston succumbed to the same alarmism which defined the anti-discrimination debate in the past. This time, opponents of HERO narrowed the conversation to transgender access to public restrooms. Touting the tagline, “No men in women’s bathrooms,” their scare tactics included a video of a young girl being followed into a bathroom stall by a threatening man. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said, “It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters.” This patriarchal reasoning ignores the fact that in cities with anti-discrimination ordinances, there has not been a single reported case of a transgender person harassing a cisgender person, nor have sexual predators pretended to be transgender to commit crimes in women’s restrooms. In an unsettling echo from the past, once again opponents of anti-discrimination have falsely demonized LGBTQ citizens.
If Houston voters really want to rally behind women, instead of protecting them from the stereotypical specter of the transgender sexual predator, they should instead aim to shield them and others from discrimination with the help of ordinances like the one they were so rash to repeal. Next time, Houston residents must seize the opportunity to right this repeated wrong.
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A version of this article appeared in the November 9th print edition. Email Elizabeth Moore at [email protected]