LGBT advocates and campaigners have been left stunned and disappointed by the overwhelming repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
Although the final count has yet to be announced, supporters of HERO (Proposition 1) conceded defeat last night when it became apparent that Houstonians had voted overwhelmingly to repeal the law.
Houston City Council originally passed HERO in 2014, but opponents to the legislation were able to amass a sufficient number of signatures to prompt the Texas Supreme Court to ask the City Council to either repeal it or put it to pubic ballot.
The vote took place yesterday. Early results had pro-HERO votes at just 37.5% against 62.5% for those wishing to see it repealed.
The pro-HERO coalition, Houston Unites, issued a statement saying: ‘We are disappointed with today’s outcome, but our work to secure nondiscrimination protections for all hard-working Houstonians will continue.
‘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.’
Campaigns against HERO had focused on the fact that it would bar discrimination in public accommodations – allowing transgender people to use bathrooms in fitting with their gender identity. Campaigners for repeal dubbed it the ‘bathroom ordinance’ and said that it would allow predatory men to use female washrooms.
However, HERO supporters had said that it was, and would remain, illegal for anyone to enter a bathroom to harass or assault others.
Houston’s openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, who had urged people to support HERO, called the campaign against it, ‘a calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little-understood minority.’
‘They just kept spewing an ugly wad of lies from our TV screens and from pulpits. This was a calculated campaign by a very small but determined group of right-wing idealogues and the religious right, and they know only how to destroy, not how to build up.’
She went on to tell supporters at a downtown restaurant as the results began to emerge: ‘I fear that this will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming global city and I absolutely fear there will be a direct economic backlash.’
The legislation would provide anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people in employment and housing, as well as offering protections to other who face discrimination, whether it be based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy.
Chad Griffin, President of HRC, one of the partners of Houston Unites, sent an email titled ‘Stunned’ to supporters saying it was ‘It’s almost unbelievable that this could happen in a city like Houston.’
Houston is the further largest city in the US, and the biggest not to have anti-discrimination protections such as those included in HERO.
Chuck Smith, Executive Director for Equality Texas, said: ‘We experienced some of the most vitriolic and divisive tactics ever seen here in Texas from our opponents during this election.’
He went on to praise those who had campaigned in support of HERO: ‘Volunteers, grassroots organizers, and an array of faith-based and civic leaders came together to work tirelessly with dedication until the very last vote was counted … As an organization we are truly humbled by the efforts of everyone who made up the Houston Unites coalition.’
Michael Silverman, Executive Director of The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) said, ‘This vote is a setback for Houston and for equal rights.
‘Houstonians turned their backs on their city’s historic embrace of diversity and inclusion.
‘Leading up to the vote, those opposed to HERO waged an all-out war against it, spreading fear and misinformation about the law’s protections for transgender Houstonians. Anti-transgender activists made false and offensive claims designed to exploit the public’s lack of familiarity with the transgender community and the unique challenges it faces.’
Kenneth D. Upton Jr., a Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, issued a statement saying: ‘We knew this vote would be an uphill battle, and we witnessed the opponents of HERO pull out all the stops, launching a campaign full of distortions and fear-mongering designed to mislead and confuse voters.
‘Sadly, the ugly and divisive tactics of the opponents of HERO succeeded in persuading a majority of Houstonians to vote no. But we have faced disappointments before that did not stop us – this fight for fairness is far from over.’
Those against it included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who stumped up $70,000 of his own money to help fund a TV advert against the ordinance. He issued a statement when the result became apparent.
‘I want to thank the voters in the City of Houston for turning out in record numbers to defeat Houston Prop 1 – the bathroom ordinance. The voters clearly understand that this proposition was never about equality – that is already the law. It was about allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms – defying common sense and common decency.’