A HERO Falls: Houston Texas Votes No on Proposition 1

Trans man Michael Hughes may now be required to use the women’s restroom

“I feel disheartened and disappointed,” Trans-activist and creator of the #WeJustNeedToPee campaign said to PlanetTransgender about the defeat of Proposition 1 this morning, “but at the same time, more determined than ever. I do believe that justice will prevail, and that we have to stand our ground on this and all issues dealing with equality. It is imperative that we dig our heels in and keep fighting.”

Proposition 1 – otherwise known as Houston’s Equality Rights Ordinance[HERO]– was defeated last night in a vote that only took 45 minutes to count. The ‘No’ vote came in at 60.97% and opponents of the ordinance celebrated the results when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced, “It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters. I’m glad Houston led tonight to end this constant political-correctness attack on what we know in our heart and our gut as Americans is not right.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker after the Houston Unites election watch party for Proposition 1 Photo by Eric Kayne
Houston Mayor Annise Parker after the Houston Unites election watch party for Proposition 1 Photo by Eric Kayne

HERO would have banned discrimination in Houston based on 15 “protected characteristics” including age, national origin, disability, military status, color, race, and ethnicity among others, but it was the “characteristic” gender identity that the conservatives focused on in their campaign. The media dubbed it “NO Men in Women’s Bathrooms” in their advertising spots and it created an atmosphere of fear and misunderstanding. A violation of the law would have made it a Class C misdemeanor with fines ranging between $250 – $500.

I think that many of those who voted no on Prop 1, fell for the lies and fear mongering, spoon fed to them by conservative media. This remained a “bathroom issue” – even though it wasn’t. At all. Voters didn’t bother to read the proposition for themselves, they simply allowed others to tell them how to vote. – Michael Hughes

Dubbed the “Bathroom Ordinance,” I spent some time talking with new Houston resident Michael Hughes this morning to help us understand what this means for Houston and the greater LGBTQ+ movement in Texas.

PT: This bill would have offered protection to a large swath of the Houston population, but it seems like the opponents focused solely on the ‘T.’

MH: Oh, yes- the conservative media made it ENTIRELY about public facilities and Trans people – almost entirely regarding Trans Women. It’s sickening. My visceral reaction, in how this will affect the LGBTQ+ community in Texas, is that it has empowered and encouraged the far right.

I also know that a good number of people stayed home because they didn’t know what to believe regarding Prop 1 – and it was easier to disengage than to educate themselves. And most of them probably didn’t even realize that even by “staying out of it” – they supported the majority.

PT: What kind of impact will this have on the larger LGBTQ+ population in Texas?

MH: I worry that many in our communities will give up on the fight for equality, but I hope that we can remain steadfast and focused and keep the dialogue going.

PT: I heard “on the news” that “most businesses already have HERO like rules and policies in place” making it sound like it was OK that it failed because Houston is already protected.

MH: That and people felt it was also redundant because of federal protections – not understanding what it takes to fight local discrimination at the federal level. Most blue collar folks don’t have the means to retain an attorney to file a federal lawsuit. HERO would’ve protected them locally at no cost

PT: So in theory, and legally, you can go into a woman’s restroom and say, “Fuck you I’m legally required to be here?”

MH: I suppose I could start using women’s restrooms, yes – except the ironic thing is, I still get nasty messages from conservative sheep, saying things like “if I catch you following my wife or daughter into a women’s restroom – I will personally remove you”

PT: And how, if at all, does this bill affect people with assumed passing privilege?

MH: Do you have any idea how many times cis people AND even other trans people have called me out on this issue and asked why I’m making such a fuss?? “No one will question YOU anyway, go into the men’s room if you want to – this doesn’t affect you…”

A – It DOES affect me
B – even if it didn’t affect me personally, it affects MY community

But it does affect me – I chose not to have genital surgery – I could very well be noticed in a gym locker room – I am often forced to use stalls with no doors at clubs especially.  If I say fuck it and illegally use the men’s restroom and someone sees me undressed – I could be arrested, so passable in clothes, yeah sure – but still subject to society’s rules about body parts and according to so many in society, I don’t have the proper parts.”

697In a joint statement released, the Houston Unites, Equality Texas, the ACLU of Texas and the Human Rights Campaign said, “We’ve learned some important lessons, as well,” the statement read. “We have to continue sharing our stories so that more Houstonians know what HERO is really about and aren’t susceptible to the ugliest of smear campaigns run by the opposition.”

Texas is one of the 28 states without a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, however, there is a patchwork of cities with a population more than 100,000 that have passed non-discrimination legislation or rules including Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.

Campaign for Houston, which opposed HERO, hosted a watch party and according to the Texas Tribune, attending Pastor Ed Young of Houston’s Second Baptist Church said the vote against Prop 1 was, “moral issue and not a vote on discrimination.” Young continued, “Everybody’s interpreted this as a political thing, and that’s not the perspective from which I come. This is beyond politics. Someone asked earlier if Houston would be perceived by the national press, and other cities, as a place that discriminates. You know this great city. That’s not who we are.”

The ignorance is astounding – Michael Hughes

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My name is Claire-Renee Kohner and in January of 2014, I came out as transgender. My family fully supports my transition and, along with the Minneapolis trans community, my transition has been extremely positive. My journey should be fun, so keep your arms and legs inside the cart, it's going to be a wild ride.


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