In the Nov. 3 election, voters rejected HERO – the Houston equal rights ordinance – by a 20-point margin.
Nevertheless, Mayor Annise Parker vowed to keep fighting.
“Justice in Houston will prevail. We will be back,” she said back then. “This ordinance you have not seen the last of.”
Matt McTighe with Freedom for All Americans, which helped organize the campaign for HERO, made a similar promise.
“I think the fight is far from over,” he told News 88.7 after the ordinance was defeated. “And we’re going to continue, as I know all of the local groups here in Texas and in Houston will, to advance these issues and to educate the public about why they are so important.”
After initially signaling that she would try to introduce a new nondiscrimination ordinance before she leaves office this month, Parker has given up on the idea.
It’s now up to the next mayor, but at least at this point in the campaign, neither candidate seems interested.
Bill King says he wants to consult with pastors and the LGBT community to determine what if anything should be done to address discrimination, but he told Houston Matters’ Craig Cohen, “I don’t think we need an ordinance and I don’t think it’s a priority.”
Sylvester Turner was a supporter of HERO before it was repealed, but he will not say whether he would consider bringing back a nondiscrimination ordinance.
Experts agreed that HERO lost on Nov. 3 because voters were convinced by the opponents’ message that it would lead to men dressed as women going into women’s bathrooms.
The ordinance protected 15 different characteristics from discrimination, including gender identity.
A reasonable conclusion then could be that the ordinance would have passed if you only take out that part.
But according to the News 88.7/KHOU 11 News Runoff Election Poll, that is not the case.
“We specifically took that off the table and said, ‘Would you still support or oppose if you knew that sexual identity, as opposed to sexual orientation, would no longer be a protected right,’” says Rice University’s Bob Stein, who conducted the survey of 469 Houstonians who are likely to vote in the Dec. 12 runoff.
“And still almost a majority, 49 percent, would oppose it. Only 35 percent would support it.”
Stein says that suggests there is more to the controversy than who gets to use which bathroom. Or, he says, HERO still has a bad ring for many.
“They may have remembered something about that ordinance, and they hear HERO and they have what I will call a reflexive condition against it,” Stein says.
Jared Woodfill with the anti-HERO group Campaign for Houston says his group opposes any kind of local anti-discrimination law, whether it includes gender identity or not.
“Our complaint focused a lot on the bathroom ordinance in that it was something new that was not already currently protected by federal and state law,” he says. “But from day one, we had always said that there are already remedies in place to deal with race discrimination, to deal with allegations of discrimination based on handicap, sex, what have you.”
Woodfill says he will “absolutely” start an effort to repeal a new equal rights ordinance, even one without gender identity protections, should the Houston City Council pass one at some point.
Dave Welch with the Houston Area Pastor Council, which was part of the campaign against HERO, also says he would oppose any type of nondiscrimination ordinance. But he is a little more tentative about trying to repeal it, saying it would depend on the exact wording of the ordinance.
Bob Stein says the strong opposition from anti-HERO voters may be one reason the candidates for mayor try to stay away from nondiscrimination –especially Turner, who has the support of many of those who voted for the equal rights ordinance.
“I don’t think he wants to mobilize the anti-HERO vote,” Stein says. “Remember, in our November poll what we found was that people who opposed HERO cared more about that position than people who supported it.”
The ACLU’s Terri Burke says she’s not shocked that a month after the very effective campaign against HERO people are not ready to support an equal rights ordinance, but she’s convinced Houston will have one within the next few years.