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Houstonians Prepare for a Fight to Defend HERO

by: Genevieve Cato

Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 03:00 PM CDT

As Houstonians across the city celebrated the passage of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the ordinance's opponents were quickly rallying support to challenge it through a referendum on the ballot. However, supporters of the non-discrimination ordinance are ready for the challenge. At a press conference last week, Mayor Annise Parker addressed the possibility of a referendum:

The Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life. We don't care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or whom you choose to love.  I am confident voters will soundly defeat any challenge to the ordinance.

More on the referendum, and the response to the opposition, below the jump.

Since the ordinance was passed in May, opponents have spread misinformation and fear - much of it focused on bathrooms - to gain support for a referendum on the ballot. Despite Houston city laws that make it illegal for someone to use a bathroom intended for those of the opposite gender to cause a disturbance, opponents of HERO have had great success with the frightening image of assailants using HERO to gain access to a private and vulnerable space.

Mayor Parker also addressed this concern, saying "Let's be clear, this in no way grants men the unfettered right to access women's bathrooms or locker rooms. It is simply not true and I know Houstonians are wise enough to see through the misrepresentations and exaggerations."

In order to place the referendum on the ballot in November, the opposition must collect 17,269 signatures which must be validated by August 4th. The deadline for the Houston City Council to vote on whether to place the referendum on the ballot is August 18, 2014.

Many community members and leaders are speaking out in support of the ordinance, including Councilmember Ellen Cohen:

I sponsored the Equal Rights Ordinance because I believe all people deserve to be treated fairly and equally and protected from discrimination. I led the Houston Area Women's Center for 18 years - working to eliminate sexual and domestic violence against women. This law protects women and girls - and does absolutely nothing to put their safety at risk.

The ordinance was groundbreaking legislation for Houston, and integral to protecting all Houstonians from discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing 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.

The ordinance was endorse by more than 80 current and former elected officials, community organizations and nonprofit groups. It was also backed by the Greater Houston Partnership, the NAACP, Rice University and the Houston Association of Realtors.

Even if the opposition to HERO succeeds in getting a referendum on the ballot, Mayor Parker is confident that the support for the ordinance is strong and the attempt to defeat it will fail:

If opponents of equal rights succeed at putting a referendum on the ballot, we will forcefully defend the Equal Rights Ordinance and make sure that Houston stays a place where everyone can work hard, provide for our families and give our kids the opportunity for a better life. That's why a diverse coalition from the Greater Houston Partnership to the NAACP to LULAC to more than 70 faith leaders across Houston worked to support this ordinance.

A copy of the ordinance can be viewed here.

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