This morning, the Houston City Council considered a measure that would have repealed the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO.
HERO was approved in May of 2014 with an 11-6 vote, making Houston one of a handful of cities in Texas with an anti-discrimination ordinance that explicitly protects residents against discrimination based on sexual identity and expression. Since the measure passed, it has faced an onslaught of attacks from conservative religious groups who take offense at the protections now offered to LGBT Houstonians.
Municipal ordinances like HERO are central to the fight for true equality in Texas and across the country. There are no protections in state or federal law that currently protect LGBT Texans from discrimination on the basis of their gender expression or sexual identity – which means that, though they can now legally be married, LGBT Texans can still be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or refused service simply because of who they are and who they love. In the absence of such protections at the state and federal level, cities like Houston have stepped up to protect their citizens from discrimination.
But HERO doesn’t just help LGBT Texans. The ordinance also prohibits discrimination based on “…sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status,” the Houston Chronicle reported. However, homophobia is at the heart of the opposition to this ordinance, which led the Council to consider repealing the ordinance at the meeting today.
Immediately following the passage of HERO, these opponents filed a petition to repeal the ordinance, but the petition was rejected on the grounds that they had failed to collect the necessary number of signatures, along with other issues with the petition’s content.
When the petition failed, those fighting against HERO sued the city. Though they lost their case at the district level, the Texas Supreme Court last month ruled that Houston must either repeal the measure or let voters decide by placing it on the ballot this November.
In the lead up to today’s hearing, activists in Houston have worked tirelessly to ensure that the breadth and scope of HERO’s protections were known. They have also employed more creative techniques in seeking support for the ordinance, including #BeyBeAHero – a movement asking Beyonce, a Houston native and supporter of equality, to weigh in and bring awareness to the situation in her hometown. So far, Queen Bey has been unavailable for comment (but that hasn’t stopped the hashtag’s momentum).
HERO was able to clear this first hurdle without the famous Houstonian’s help, as Councilmembers voted overwhelmingly against repealing the measure and for placing it on the ballot in November, the Dallas Voice reported.
Councilmembers also voted against any amendments to the language that will appear on the ballot in November, amendments which many Councilmembers, including Ellen Cohen, contended would have led to confusion and made it harder to pass the initiative.
HERO remains on the books, but it cannot be put into practice until the voters approve the measure in November.