Houston, you are no HERO



(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Rita Palomarez, left, and Linda Rodriguez pray during an election watch party attended by opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on Tuesday, Nov. 3, in Houston. The ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in Houston did not pass.

Staff Writer Marialuisa Rincon

Staff Writer Marialuisa Rincon

Dear Houston,

I’m disappointed in you.

You’ve done a lot of things right. You’ve become an international powerhouse in business, oil, education — the list goes on. You’ve become known nationwide as a place where anyone can come to build a new life — a city where anyone with a big enough dream who puts in the hard work can become whatever they want. You elected the first openly gay mayor of a major American city a mere six years ago — which is what makes what happened here last night so confusing.

For the purposes of this letter, I am referring to the 62 percent of you who voted against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I’m talking to the 156,882 Houstonians who thought that a vote against HERO was a vote for women’s rights, which is rich considering that there’s a big overlap between them and people who actively work to tell women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies – but that’s an issue for another day.

A little over a hundred and a half thousand people decided what life will be like for the rest of the 6.22 million of us. This isn’t a case of bad voter turnout. In fact, a little over 26 percent of Houstonians made their way to the polls yesterday — way over the projected 20 percent, and the highest number since 2003.

Through a campaign of fear and misinformation, various (mostly religious based) groups in the Houston area convinced already shaky voters that a bill meant to protect the rights of every single inhabitant of this city could be boiled down to one little paragraph that scared them more than anything else — that men should be allowed in women’s bathrooms.

There is literally nothing in the ordinance that mentions bathrooms — unisex, transgender, or otherwise — in fact, there is a 1972 law that states that it is “unlawful” to enter a restroom with the intent to harm someone. HERO would not have protected rapists or sexual predators, and it would not have allowed men to use women’s bathrooms or locker rooms. This is simply because the text just isn’t there.

Unfortunately, the law only applies to law-abiding citizens.

Under HERO, discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing based on a number of things would have been a Class C misdemeanor, carrying a $250-500 fine, with the exception of religious institutions and organizations. What the majority of people didn’t understand at the polls was that they were, in essence, voting against themselves.

One in four Houstonians are foreign born, one in two are Latino or of Latino descent, one in four are black, and 0.3 perent are LGBT. That’s only part of the huge population that has been opened up even more to marginalization. This is a huge step backward for a city that until now had come into the spotlight for its opportunities and progress.

The sad thing is, you’ve proven the conservative Texas stereotype right. How could you not when the Governor of Texas himself spoke out against HERO in an effort to undermine his political opponent, or worse, what if he actually believes what he’s saying?

We thought the fight was over when Mayor Parker and City Council passed the Equal Rights Ordinance last May, but the truth is that before the Texas Supreme Court demanded it be put on the ballot, HERO was never even fully put into effect. The

Inspector General still received discrimination complaints based mostly on race, gender, familial status and sexual orientation.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said. When I woke up this morning I was heartbroken at seeing my Facebook timeline full of disappointing links and angry statuses bemoaning the death of a law that could have helped so many.

In a perfect world, justice and equality will prevail. I haven’t lost my faith in you yet, Houston. This was a disappointing election on many levels, but there is no way lawmakers can ignore the huge percentage of people who will be undoubtedly affected by this development.

I hate saying “would have been” in reference to this bill. Today should have been a day for celebration of equal rights for all. In 2015, it’s ridiculous that Houston is the only major city that doesn’t protect its minority citizens on a municipal level. As a Houstonian and a Hispanic woman myself, I personally fear what lies ahead for me if I come across the type of person who lets someone’s race, gender or religion determine their worth.

So, I’ll ask you again Houston.

Are you in favor of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy?

If you said no, you put a nail in your own coffin.


Marialuisa Rincon