Voter fear scuttled rights ordinance


Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) failed by a wide margin Tuesday.
Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) failed by a wide margin Tuesday. Houston Chronicle via AP

Because Houston lost its HERO, Fort Worth’s equal rights ordinance might be in trouble.

Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO, or Proposition 1) was passed in 2014, giving protection against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, among others. Tuesday’s voting was a referendum on the ordinance.

Who was protected by the ordinance?

“The City of Houston seeks to provide an environment that is free of any type of discrimination based on 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 states.

But the opposition ignored all of that and focused on only one thing: bathrooms.

The opposition took one sentence (“It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to intentionally deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity”) out of the 36-page document and built an entire campaign out of it.

They told the public to vote “no” on the proposition because it would allow men into women’s restrooms, painting a picture of leering sexual predators stalking females (even with HERO, sexual predators stalking females would still be illegal).

This campaign tapped into voters’ fears, and it polarized the community. The national media have been covering the voting outcome while social media have been abuzz with commentary. Everyone has something to say about the inaccurately named “bathroom bill.”

One sentence took out an entire framework for protection against discrimination.

That’s Houston. But backers of Fort Worth’s similar ordinance should be prepared.

The Fort Worth City Council passed an equal rights ordinance in 2009. It has the opposite stance on bathrooms, but with all the media attention and controversy surrounding HERO, its advocates might need to batten down the hatches.

They should be prepared to dispel voter fears if Houston’s experience ricochets this way.