The battle over Houston’s nondiscrimination law took a real ugly turn last week when opponents aired one of the most outrageous and disgustingly deceptive ads in their effort to repeal it at the ballot box in November. Even though the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) protects 15 different characteristics from discrimination in Texas’s largest city, those who want to kill the legislation are focused on only one of them: gender identity. And they are ginning up support and misinformed hysteria by calling it “the bathroom ordinance.”
Take a look at the ad from an outfit called the Campaign for Houston. The last frame is as terrifying as the entire ad is flat-out false.
Any man at any time could enter a woman’s bathroom at any time simply by claiming to be a woman that day. No one is exempt, even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom and if a business tried to stop them they’d be fined. Protect women’s privacy. Prevent danger. Vote “no” on the Proposition 1 “bathroom ordinance.” It goes too far.
What goes too far is this bigoted ad and its perversion of the facts. It is an outright lie to say “any man at any time could enter a woman’s bathroom at any time simply by claiming to be a woman that day.” Such a statement reveals a willful ignorance of what it means to be transgender. In addition, the so-called “bathroom ordinance” people completely ignore a rather specific Houston law that has been on the books since 1972.
According to Code 1968, § 28-42.6; Ord. No. 72-904, § 2, 6-2-72, “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex without the permission of the owner, tenant, manager, lessee or other person in charge of the premises, in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.” In short, if you’re in the bathroom for any purpose other than relieving yourself, you’re breaking the law. And if you’re in there to molest children or commit rape, you’re also a monster.
Due to a legal challenge to HERO, the Texas Supreme Court ordered the Houston city council to repeal the law or put it up for popular vote this November. The straightforward question asks whether the law should go into effect.
“Are you in favor of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?”
Of course, the answer to the Houston ballot question should be yes. HERO foes ignore the fact that nine other Texas cities with more than 100,000 already have anti-discrimination laws on the books. According to Texas Monthly, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin have had them “for at least a decade.” Space City isn’t breaking new ground here.
That there is such a pitched battle over the Houston statute is further proof that the fight for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans did not end with the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality ruling in June. And it makes clear that opponents will stop at nothing to ensure that full equality never comes.
Last week, Samantha Power received an award from the Council for Global Equality. The group, which pushes to have American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, presented the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with its Global Equality Leadership Award. While Power’s remarks were focused on gay rights around the world and had nothing to do with Houston, the sentiment they expressed definitely applied to Houston.
“If we are horrified by [the Islamic State] singling out LGBT people for attacks and executions, and of course we should be, why shouldn’t we be horrified when other rights of LGBT persons are violated? When, for example, police refuse to investigate attacks against LGBT persons? Or when businesses, schools or other institutions turn away LGBT persons because of who they are?” Power asked. “While the gravity of these abuses vary, all of them reject the inherent rights and dignity of LGBT people.”
Power then added this: “We are all striving to create respect for LGBT rights in those countries because we are not willing to accept a world where basic human rights can only be enjoyed in constricted places. Whether that place is a home or a neighborhood or a state or a country. There can’t be no-go zones for these rights to be real.”
If the voters of Houston reject Proposition 1, they will create a no-go zone for LGBT people. And they better be prepared for the backlash that will result.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj