A referendum led to the ultimate rejection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (or HOPE) Tuesday, Nov. 3. According to the Huffington Post, this legislation, which was first approved by Houston’s City Council in May 2014, would consolidate and extend existing protective measures banning discrimination based on race, sex, religion, etc. in employment, housing and public accommodations to include LGBT people.
However, following a lawsuit calling for residents’ votes, it was decided that the ordinance, which by that point had reached the Texas Supreme Court, had to either be repealed or put to ballot. Conflict escalated during the 18 months following its initial approval as both sides clashed in the national debate. Supporters such as Hillary Clinton and a variety of LGBT organizations, among others, across the nation called for legal protection against discriminatory practices for members of the LGBTQ community while opponents claimed that such an ordinance threatened their religious liberties and personal security. The persisting point around which this conflict was centered concerned the law’s implications on the use of public bathrooms, prompting the nickname, “the bathroom ordinance.” Those arguing the opposition’s stance purported that HERO could potentially allow male sexual predators to follow girls and women into public bathrooms.
These arguments, along with campaigns, protests, rallies and even commercials denouncing the ordinance for this specific reason, among others, were deemed as scare tactics by Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker, who herself has been openly gay since her history-making election in 2009 (NBC News). The ordinance, according to Fox News, was rejected by close to a 2-to-1 margin, joining Texas with the 28 total states without statewide LGBT-protection law. Although many local governing bodies in the state of Texas have enacted nondiscriminatory policies and measures, the referendum turnout has made Houston one of the largest metropolitan areas without such an ordinance (Texas Tribune).
Sophomore psychology and Chicano/Chicana studies double major Christopher Reynoso considers this outcome to be demonstrative of the lack of priority given to LGBTQ individuals and their second-class citizen status."Denying someone protection due to their sexual orientation is saying that their lives are not worth protecting or being respected," he said. "It's basically bull****. LGBTQ individuals deserve the same rights and protection as anybody else. What ever happened to the separation of church and state? Why is religious freedom more important than the freedom to love? It shouldn't [be]."
Leaders from both sides expressed their opinions concerning the vote. “Unfortunately,” said Parker following the referendum's results, “I fear that this will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming, global city...And I absolutely fear that there will be a direct economic backlash as a result of this.”
From one of the now-defeated law’s opponents, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted the day before the vote: "HOUSTON: Vote Texas values, not @HillaryClinton values. Vote NO on City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women's bathrooms."
In a previous Loyolan article, "Religion, colleges and the LGBT community" by current Managing Editor Sarah Litz, the call for separation of church and state is discussed in the context of American universities' policies, and more specifically, the LMU community. "In order to encourage learning, the education of the whole person, the service of faith and the promotion of justice," Litz said in the article, "our community needs to continue accepting Lions of all identities and extending this acceptance to other religious college campuses." This mentality at the collegiate level resembles the argument that supporters of the ordinance promoted up to the day of the referendum.
Associate psychology professor Adam Fingerhut, Ph.D expressed sadness over the failure of citizens from a U.S. city as large and diverse as Houston to promote equality and fair treatment. He commented on how HERO's defeat reveals the lack of equality that persists in U.S. society despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling for marriage equality last June. "Rhetoric relying on stereotypes and unjustified panic seems to have ruled in the community and at the ballot box," said Fingerhut.
"The gay panic defense that was used a generation or two ago to justify violent discrimination against gay men and lesbians, a defense that was successfully implemented in the trial of Harvey Milk’s assassin, is now being replaced by a panic against transgendered individuals," added Fingerhut. "We cannot permit policy decisions, those made (or destroyed) at the ballot box or in the legislature, to be guided by unfounded ideas and false stereotypes."