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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 45
Prop 8 redux: Houston rejects civil rights ordinance
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Prop 8 redux: Houston rejects civil rights ordinance

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Houston voters have decisively rejected the city's civil rights ordinance passed in May 2014. The vote was not even close, with 61% of voters in the No column.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) would have established legal protections for 14 protected classes: sexual orientation and gender identity, race, religion, sex, color, age, ethnicity, disability, national origin, marital status, military status, genetic information, pregnancy, and family status.

In a nakedly political July ruling, the Texas Supreme Court ordered the City of Houston either to put the ordinance up for a vote or repeal it outright.

Opponents of the measure successfully demonized the city's Transgender community, claiming that the measure would have allowed 'perverts' to invade women's restrooms.

'This was a campaign of fearmongering and deliberate lies,' Houston's Lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, an original sponsor of the law, told a disappointed election night crowd.

'This isn't misinformation; this is a calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little-understood minority and to use that to take down an ordinance that 200 other cities across America and 17 states have successfully passed and operated under. 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 ideologues and the religionist right, and they know only how to destroy. Not how to build up...

'This is about a small group of people who want to preserve their ability to discriminate, and they're willing to hurt all of those groups that would have been protected by this ordinance to do that.' Parker added that although the law might have passed had it not contained protections for gender identity, she could not sacrifice the city's Transgender community for the sake of Gays and Lesbians.

'It was clear when we passed the ordinance in council that if we had agreed and said 'Oh yeah, we'll take the words 'gender identity' out of the ordinance' that they would have gone away,' Parker said. 'That would have been wrong then and it would be wrong now and it will be wrong in the future.'

Prop 8 redux

Gay journalist and activist Michelangelo Signorile criticized the Yes campaign, calling their unsuccessful effort 'Prop 8 redux,' in a reference to the 2008 California ballot measure that temporarily repealed same-sex marriage.

The same political mistakes were made in Houston, Signorile said. He blasted the Yes campaign for ignoring Houston's communities of color.

'Political strategists warned LGBT activists in the days ahead of the vote: There was little Spanish-language outreach, no big ad buy in Spanish-language media - in a city that is 44% Hispanic - countering the lies of the opposition, who'd certainly been doing their own outreach,' Signorile wrote in a Huffington Post column.

'Monica Roberts, a longtime African-American transgender activist, warned of little outreach in the black community, which makes up 24% of the city.'

Signorile said Houston's LGBT activists relied on big-name celebrities - Sally Field, Hillary and Bill Clinton, and Pres. Obama - instead of going out into the city's neighborhoods with a door-to-door campaign.

'It had the feel to many of a top-down, elite campaign - outsiders swooping in to tell Houston what is good for it - instead of being deeply embedded on the ground, in the communities that were voting, including in their media, where the opposition surely was doing their dirty work,' he wrote.

Work must continue

Activists who had worked on the campaign praised the effort, however.

'Working on the ground in Houston, especially in the days leading up to Tuesday's vote, I witnessed firsthand the passion and dedication of everyone at Houston Unites [the citywide Yes campaign],' Lambda Legal community educator Omar Narvaez said.

'This loss is tough to take, and the hatred and misinformation that was spread about people who are transgender, in particular, was unconscionable. I am proud to have been part of this grassroots effort and truly believe that we will be back and that full and equal protections for all Houstonians will be achieved in the near future.'

LGBT activists said they will continue to work for civil rights protections.

'It's a tragedy that Houston remains the only major city in Texas - indeed, the last big city in the United States - that does not extend equal rights protections to all of its residents and visitors,' Texas ACLU Executive Director Terri Burke said.

'Those of us who have worked to bring equality to Houston will continue the fight to ensure that everyone can live fairly and equally under the law. The next mayor and newly elected members of Houston's city council must prioritize the passage of a new equal rights ordinance as quickly as possible.'

'While the road to justice is long, we will redouble our efforts to secure full freedom, justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people,' said Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr., director of the Academy for Leadership and Action of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

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