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Business leaders speak out for Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as voting begins

Business leaders speak out for Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as voting begins

Members of The City of Houston City Council, with Houston’s openly gay Mayor, Annise Parker (front, center)

Voters will today begin to cast early votes on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).

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 legislation (Proposition 1) contains wide-ranging anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, including protection from workplace discrimination.

The general ballot will be held 3 November, but residents can start casting early votes today.

The Houston Chronicle recently carried a full-page advert featuring businesses leaders who support the legislation.

‘Ensuring Houston remains a welcoming place is critical to our continued growth and creating jobs. Proposition 1 ensures that everyone is treated fairly across our city and reinforces our reputation as a multicultural, welcoming and friendly place.’

Among the 44 business leaders to put their name to the advert were: Lori Vetters, Regional Commercial Executive, HSBC Bank USA; Vernita Harris, Chairperson, Greater Houston Black Chamber; Badar Khan, President and CEO Direct Energy; and Michelle LeBlanc, President American Marketing Association, Houston Chapter.

It follows an op-ed in the Chronicle last week penned by the Vice President of Dow Chemical Co. in support of HERO.

‘At Dow, having a welcoming and respectful culture across our operations is part of what gives us an advantage. Other Houston businesses also need that advantage if the region is going to continue to lead our country’s economic and job growth. That’s why we support the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or Proposition 1, on the Nov. 3 ballot.’

Other associations that have voiced their support include the Houston Association of Realtors. Its chair, Nancy Furst, issued a statement 28 September, saying, ‘The Houston Association of Realtors sees HERO as an extension of the Code of Ethics to which licensed Realtors must adhere each day to ensure the fair and ethical treatment of all real estate consumers.

‘Our 31,000-member association respects and celebrates Houston’s diverse population, and we believe HERO complements the Realtor commitment to conduct business without discrimination of any kind.’

Last week, the chairman and CEO of BBVA Compass, the fourth largest bank in Texas, also voiced his company’s support.

‘As a global bank that values diversity, we see it as a source of strength that will help us build better workplaces and stronger communities,’ said Manolo Sánchez

‘We support Proposition 1 because it’s good for business, it’s good for our employees and it’s the right thing to do.’

HERO will protect Houston residents and visitors from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy – in employment, housing and business services.

The legislation is not supported by all Houston business owners. An initiative called Campaign for Houston is urging people to vote ‘no’ for Proposition 1, which it has dubbed ‘the Bathroom Ordinance’. As the legislation says that individuals should be allowed to use the bathroom of their gender (i.e. trans women can use women’s bathrooms), it objects to the legislation to ensure – as stated on its website – ‘No men in women’s bathrooms’.

Last week, news emerged of a $10,000 donation to Campaign for Houston from Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans football team. McNair said in a statement: ‘I strongly believe that everyone who lives or works in or visits Houston should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Because of the way the HERO ordinance is written, it has begun to separate rather than unite our community.

‘This problem can be solved by defeating the current bill in November, thoughtfully rewriting it and then resubmitting it to the voters.’

Human Rights Campaign has joined with Texas-based LGBT advocates to form Houston Unites, an organization to campaign specifically for a ‘yes’ vote. The organization has the support of Houston’s openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.

Commenting on the support pledged by businesses for HERO, Anna Núñez, Press Secretary for Houston Unites told Gay Star Business, ‘A majority of Houston businesses, large and small, support Proposition 1 because it’s good for business. Discrimination against any Houstonian because of race, gender, veteran status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy is wrong.’

A survey of Houstonians conducted this month by KPRC2 News found that 45% planned to voted ‘yes’ to HERO, 20% planned to vote ‘no’, while 20% said they were undecided.

‘It will be a close race but at the end of the day, we’re hopeful Houstonians will vote to treat everyone fairly and equally under the law,’ said Nix.