The AP and some Houston news stations are now reporting that Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance failed at the polls.
For the time being, the fourth-largest, most diverse city in the country cannot protect equal rights in employment, housing, and public accommodation at the municipal level.
Three kinds of voters brought us to this point:
Voters unafraid to stir up ignorance, fear, and hatred. These are the fear-mongers who gave us heinous ads promising male predators dressed as women lurking in bathrooms to rape your girl children, and the politicians, like Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who were willing to repeat and amplify the lies.
Voters who didn’t take the time to think for themselves, but allowed themselves to be swayed by malicious propaganda, hate, and ignorance. History will judge them, and it won’t be kind.
Voters who tried to disguise their homophobia and transphobia as dispassionate concern for legal drafting. These are the people who voted against the ordinance claiming that they support it in concept, but didn’t like how it was written. That’s chickenshit. They were just dressing up their bigotry, and they’ll be lumped in with the haters in the history books.
I ran across a great framing of the issue that I wish the people in the second category of voters would have seen. Gwendolyn Zepeda, Houston’s first poet laureate, shared some words of true wisdom:
“One of the most useful things my dad ever taught me was to consider people’s motivations. Doing that helps me navigate my workplace, achieve my goals, and get through life.
“Let’s say that it’s true that there’s a proposed ordinance on today’s Houston ballot that would make it legal for men to call themselves gay, to walk into the women’s restroom, and to watch women pee and to molest little girls.
“Why would there be such an ordinance? Who would go through the trouble to write it and campaign for it? Why did the Houston City Council already approve it? Is it because they all want men to watch women pee and molest little girls?
“Let’s say there’s a proposed ordinance on today’s Houston ballot that cracks down on discrimination, trying to fill all the loopholes left by the laws currently in place here.
“Why would someone be against such an ordinance? Why would anyone make up lies about it in order to get people to vote against it?
“I can imagine that there are people who don’t want extra limits on who they can fire and refuse to hire.
“I can’t imagine that there are people who would go through the trouble of creating an ordinance for the convenience of child molesters or pee perverts.“
And yet, here we are.
HERO did not pass.
Make no mistake.
Houston will suffer because of this vote.
Companies will consider relocating to cities and towns where young, dynamic, diverse employees can expect equal treatment.
Convention-goers will spend their hotel, entertainment, and travel money elsewhere.
And what will happen with the 2017 Super Bowl? In 1990, after all, the NFL moved the game out of Arizona when the state refused to recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. They’ve got time to go elsewhere, and they’ll face national pressure to do so.
The economic impact, however, pales in comparison to the message this vote sends to our Houston neighbors who would have been protected by it, especially our transgender Houstonians.
They’ve been maligned, vilified, and lied about for months on end. Their very right to exist has been questioned and flat-out denied by statewide elected officials, and by people who call themselves pastors and claim to be Christian.
There are children—children—who will think that who they are, and what they believe about themselves, is wrong and shameful. This vote hurts them, and puts them in danger.
That’s why I know the pro-HERO forces will continue organizing. Houston’s demographics will change, as surely as time passes, and reason, compassion, and respect will prevail.
The New York Times calls Houston’s “most valuable asset” our “longstanding culture of inclusiveness.”
Houston will live up to that. Houston is not afraid to work hard, and adversity doesn’t stop it. We won’t let our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and partners go without protection.
Burnt Orange Report sends our thanks and appreciation to the many activists who stood up, spoke out, made calls, walked blocks, and pressed flyers into peoples’ hands to secure equal rights for all. We know we’ll be writing about you again soon, and we know that we’ll be celebrating with you, too. We’re just sorry the celebration has been put on hold for a bit.