Houston is gearing up for a vote next week on whether or not to keep a local law that provides broad protections against discrimination, particularly when it comes to housing, employment, and city services.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says that in the lead-up to the vote, groups opposing HERO have launched transphobic ad campaigns, although the law provides an exemption for religious institutions. SPLC writes:
Despite that exemption, right-wing groups have unleashed a barrage of vitriol based on their fear that transgender people could use public restrooms that correspond to the gender with which they identify. The groups assert that HERO endangers women and children because male sexual predators could claim they’re trans women, and thus are entitled to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms under the ordinance, in order to seek out and attack victims.
It's a transphobic myth that has been debunked repeatedly. In one ad from a group opposing the law, Campaign for Houston, the prospect of trans women using women's restrooms is presented as a threat to the safety of women, children, and society at large.
The law was first introduced in April 2014, but after lobbying from groups, including Campaign for Houston, the Texas Supreme Court suspended HERO in July this year. The court ruling required that the city put the amendment to a vote or repeal it entirely.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of any city in the U.S., said at the time, "Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance is similar to measures passed by every other major city in the country and by most local corporations. No matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations, or sexual orientation, every Houstonian deserves the right to be treated equally. To do otherwise, hurts Houston's well-known image as a city that is tolerant, accepting, inclusive and embracing of its diversity. Our citizens fully support and understand this and I have never been afraid to take it to the voters. We will win!"
Houston will vote on whether or not to keep HERO on Nov. 3.