Just last week, the Houston City Council voted against repealing Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, and instead will place the measure on the ballot for Houston voters to decide – on the same ballot as a hotly contested mayoral race in November.
The vote was the result of a Texas Supreme Court ruling, which required the Houston City Council to either repeal the measure outright or allow the voters in the the city to decide whether the measure would go back into effect. Last week’s vote was a small victory, and one that signals a long fight to bring voters out to the polls months from now to vote to preserve Houston’s ground-breaking equal right ordinance.
Before HERO’s passage in May of 2014, Houston was the only major city in the country without such an ordinance protecting residents from discrimination. HERO echoed commitments at the federal level prohibiting discrimination, adding protections for LGBT Houstonians to the list, which includes race, gender, and military history.
In the weeks leading up to the pivotal vote, another movement was taking place alongside the push to inform Councilmembers and hold them accountable: #BeyBeAHero.
It started with a piece on Huffington Post. Carlos Maza, Media Matters’ LGBT Program Director, used the platform to point out that one post from Beyonce on social media about the importance of voting for HERO could change the fate of LGBT Houstonians, who face a return to legal discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression should HERO fail to pass in November.
Once the idea was out there on the internet, there was no way to stop it. Ismael Melendez took the request to Twitter, and the rest, as they say, is history.
— #BeyBeAHERO (@IsmaelRGV) August 3, 2015
On many levels, this ask makes sense. Beyonce’s instagram alone boasts over 42 million followers. Her reach is vast, and her love for her hometown (Houston, in case you somehow missed it) has been enshrined forever in lyrics from some of her most popular songs. The singer released a short video in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling in July that overturned all existing bans on gay marriage, including in Texas.
The ballot measure’s success faces many hurdles – especially that of abysmally low voter turnout in off years, when the election will be held. With no major statewide or federal races to pull Houstonians out to the polls, there is genuine reason to fear that there will simply not be as much motivation among those who support the non-discrimination ordinance as there is with those who oppose the measure due to bigotry and fear.
Hatred is a powerful mobilizing force, and opponents of HERO have been brazenly wielding it in their effort to garner community support to force a repeal of the equal rights ordinance. Supporters of HERO are looking for something equally powerful to bring Houstonians out to protect these hard-won rights – which not only impact LGBT residents, but include Houstonians of a variety of backgrounds.
This leaves two obvious questions: will Beyonce answer the call – and how much would it matter if she did?
Yes, she has 42 million followers on Instagram – but how many of those followers are registered to vote in the city of Houston? Will a response from her now, in August, be powerful enough to carry sway through to election day in November, which is still almost two months away?
While the answers to these questions remain to be seen, one thing is certain: #BeyBeAHero is not going away any time soon, and neither, supporters hope, is HERO.