Houston Equal Rights Ordinance faces opposition through ballot referendum

Houston Mayor, Annise Parker, has announced that the City along with a broad-based group will ardently defend the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) from being repealed. Opponents of the bill have submitted 30,000 verified signatures, passing the 17,269 required signatures to place the referendum on the November ballot. On July 3, 2014, Mayor Parker expressed in a press conference her confidence in Houston voters to vote down the repeal:

The Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally, and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life. We don't care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you have have, or whom you choose to love. I am confident voters will soundly defeat any challenge to the ordinance.

Opponents of HERO have been spreading misinformation about the bill, trying to frame it as a 'Sexual Predator Protection Act,' in reference to transgender individuals' rights to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. In the same press conference, Mayor Parker emphasized:

Let's be clear, this in no way grants men the unfettered right to access women's bathrooms or locker rooms. It is simply not true, and I know Houstonians are wise enough to see through the misrepresentations and exaggerations.

OutSmart, a publication based in Houston, spoke to City Council Members Ellen Cohen and Robert Gallegos to verify or debunk some of the information circulating about HERO. Their findings: 

The following statements about the HERO are TRUE.

  1. Before the HERO was passed, Houston was the only major metropolitan area in the country that did not prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodation. [Our city had] no protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Houston believes that all persons living in or visiting the city are entitled to be treated with equal dignity, respect and status, and have the right to be free from discriminatory and unequal treatment. —Council Member Robert Gallegos
  2. The ordinance is good for business. Yes, the ordinance is good for business. Frankly, if we didn’t pass it, I think it would have put us at a disadvantage. It would have threatened organizations, conventions, and businesses in terms of moving here. As you’ve seen happen in places like Arizona, [a number of organizations] said they just weren’t going to come to Arizona because of the business position [that lawmakers were] taking. We heard from the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Sports Authority, and they believed that not passing the ordinance would be detrimental to the business of Houston. Passing the ordinance tells the rest of the world to come to Houston—we’re open and we’re receptive.—Council Member Ellen Cohen
  3. The ordinance does not apply to religious organizations. The ordinance provides exemptions for religious organizations in the provisions that deal with places of public accommodation, private employment, and fair housing. — Council Member Gallegos
  4. This ordinance is designed to conciliate, not to punish. It’s designed to bring people who have been discriminated against together with people who may have done the discriminating, to see if we can’t have some kind of understanding. It’s not designed to be punitive. It’s really designed to conciliate. — Council Member Cohen
  5. Complaints filed with the Office of the Inspector General—part of the Legal Department—will be subject to existing confidentiality protections, to the extent permitted by law. — Council Member Gallegos
  6. Anyone living or working in Houston is entitled to be treated with equal dignity and respect. And that’s what this ordinance will do. — Council Member Cohen
  7. The ordinance provides the average person on the street a quick and expeditious way to file a complaint on an establishment that may have violated these rights. HERO mirrors federal laws and policies many private employers already have in place which ban discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identity. —Council Member Gallegos

The following statements about the HERO are FALSE.

  1. The ordinance will allow men to put on dresses and enter women’s restrooms to prey on women and children. Clearly, that’s a falsehood. It doesn’t allow men to throw on a dress and run into a women’s bathroom. It allows people who identify with the sex that they feel most closely related to to use the bathroom that most closely relates to that gender. But more importantly, Houston is the only major city that didn’t have an ordinance like this. The ones that already have similar ordinances have not seen a stream of men in dresses running in to [women’s] bathrooms—in fact, we don’t think there have been any cases. —Council Member Cohen
  2. Businesses will be required to build a third, unisex restroom facility. False. Transgender persons already use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. —Council Member Gallegos
  3. We don’t have discrimination in Houston. We know we have discrimination in Houston because of all the true, actual stories that people have told [to City Council] about experiencing discrimination. So although we are the most ethnically diverse city, we still have it. — Council Member Cohen
  4. HERO will put women and children at risk of sexual assault. False. Similar non-discrimination ordinances and private-sector policies have not led to increased assaults. —Council Member Gallegos
  5. This ordinance is just for the LGBT community. That’s clearly not true. This is not an LGBT ordinance. It’s an ordinance for the City of Houston, which includes the LGBT community among the other communities that are being discriminated against. —Council Member Cohen

GLAAD has been working to separate the truths from the lies and to correct the myths that have been commonly cited in the media. News outlets should avoid the misinformation, misrepresentations, problematic language, and exaggerations of anti-LGBT activists, and instead report the facts. For guidance, refer to GLAAD's Media Reference Guide, here.