Early voting on HERO creates debate on LGBT rights
Early voting on Proposition 1 started Monday, also known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The bill is meant to ban discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, both of which are not covered by federal discrimination laws.
Supporters of the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Texas Freedom Network. Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly-lesbian mayor, is also a large proponent of the bill.
HERO was originally passed in May of 2014, but after serious opposition from groups like the U.S. Pastoral Council and Campaign for Houston, the bill was retracted through a referendum trial.
Campaign for Houston has made the issue of public bathroom access and accommodations for trans people one of their central arguments, citing that the bill would force women to “share restrooms in public facilities with gender-confused men, who – under this ordinance – can call themselves ‘women’ on a whim and use women’s restrooms whenever they wish.”
The group has been adamant about the bill.
“This ordinance will allow men to go freely into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe.”
The U.S. Pastoral Council also apposes the bill on the concept that it would extend extra rights to groups based on sexual orientation and gender identity who “neither of which qualify as true minorities requiring special legal protection,” according to Campaign for Houston.
Mayor Annise Parker has also responded to attacks against the ordinance.
“This was not a narrowly focused, special-interest ordinance,” Parker said. “This is something that the business and civic community of Houston was firmly behind.”
Hotel and restaurant management senior Ryan Foley, who identifies as gay, gender queer or intersex, said he thinks trans restroom access is an important aspect of the bill that should not be struck down.
“Although it’s only a small part of the bill, a lot of people don’t understand how uncomfortable using public restrooms can be for trans individuals,” Foley said. “Houston is a great place for the LGBT community and the bill could end a lot of discrimination and protect people from losing their jobs.”
Even though Houston is the 10th most diverse city in the nation, and currently has a lesbian mayor, LGBT rights groups have historically faced resistance when voters rejected two proposed anti-discrimination bills in 1984 and 2001, approving bans on employment benefits to the domestic partners of city employees.
Opponents of the bill argue that it will infringe on religious freedoms. The U.S. Pastoral Council said the bill will “trample on the God-given constitutionally protected freedom of the majority.”
Campaign for Houston similarly argues on the basis of religious freedom and said the bill will force “beliefs onto all Houstonians, even if that means the rest of us will have to accept and affirm behaviors many of us might consider to be abhorrent or sinful.”
In preparation for early voting, groups like Houston Unite have worked alongside UH LGBT student organizations in an effort to register students to vote and raise awareness to increase voter turnout among students.
According to Women and Gender Resource Center Program Coordinator Malkia Hutchinson the bill will create more legal options for students.
“Most of our students are commuters, so just because they’re here during the day doesn’t mean they’re not out in the wider Houston community where they can experience discrimination,” Hutchinson said. “They should have more options than hiring a lawyer and going through the federal system. Having a local means of protection solves that.”
For more information on voting, Propostion 1 and the groups involved for the fight for and against the bill, visit http://ballotpedia.org/City_of_Houston_Anti-Discrimination_HERO_Veto_Referendum,_Proposition_1_(November_2015)