This past election day, Houston voters rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent, according to The New York Times. You’d think people would vote in favor of something with “equal rights” in its name, especially since its acronym is HERO, but not Houstonians.
HERO bans discrimination in housing, employment and businesses based on a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin and military status. Houston legislators enacted HERO earlier in the year only to have the Texas Supreme Court order the ordinance to either be repealed or put on a ballot. So here we are.
Preceding the election, those who opposed HERO mainly focused on one small aspect of the ordinance. HERO detractors argued that because discriminating based on gender identity in businesses (and in bathrooms, by extension) would have been illegal under the ordinance, any man would be able to enter a woman’s restroom by “claiming to be a woman that day,” as one spooky anti-HERO ad put it.
First of all, no. If preventing sexual assault in public restrooms were a top priority for those opposing HERO, their time would have been better spent advocating for broader laws on preventing sexual assault. They would care about sexual assault outside of just the bathroom.
The ordinance’s opponents also made the mistake of assuming that all sex offenders are men who target young girls. As it is, a man could walk into a men’s restroom without question and assault another man or boy. A woman could do the same to girls in a women’s restroom. Gender has nothing to do with being a disgusting, scum-of-the-earth human being.
And intentional or not, HERO opponents fought the ordinance by dehumanizing transgender people, and transgender women in particular. They essentially advocated hostility towards those who do not conform to typical gender roles. The anti-HERO crowd was ultimately saying, that when a person enters a restroom that does not match their outward appearance, they should be treated with disgust.
Transgender women can’t even use the men’s bathroom without fear of being assaulted. The bathroom is the one place a trans woman can escape from the patriarchy and affirm her gender identity. According to Trans Student Educational Resources, nearly half of all transgender people reported being physically abused in a 2007 survey, and transgender women have 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. At least let a trans woman be herself in the bathroom if you won’t let her do it safely in public.
Republican politicians and religious leaders also accused Houston’s gay mayor, Annise D. Parker, of pushing her gay agenda upon the city with HERO before her final term is over, the The New York Times reported. May I say, what a genius idea on her part.
According to a White House spokesman quoted in the Times, both the president and vice president were “confident that the citizens of Houston [would] vote in favor of fairness and equality.”
I was on the same side as the president, thinking that maybe people wanted to treat each other with respect and dignity by passing this ordinance. To me, passing marriage equality seemed like it took an eternity (and I’m only 19). I just hope that it doesn’t take too long for Americans to learn how to be nice to trans people. C’mon, Houston. Get it together and lead the way.