Houston votes against equal rights

Houston, ya done boofed it.

You voted against your own Equal Rights Ordinance yesterday, an ordinance that passed with a comfortable majority in your city council, and it wasn’t even particularly close. The only reason you even got to vote on it in the first place is because of a procedural quirk and a court case. But vote on it you did, and you voted the wrong way. And not the normal “I disagree with your vote but respect your decision” kind of wrong way. I mean the objective, “you voted against your own rational self interest” kind of wrong way.

How do I know? Because the sole rationale provided to you for voting against the ordinance was a bold-faced lie. Religious conservatives promised you that if HERO passed, it would be open season on your women and girls. You were told that men would be able to follow them into the bathroom, rape them and cite this non-discrimination law when called on it. Of course, this has never happened in the more than a decade since these kinds of non-discrimination laws have been on the books in other cities in Texas, but you believed it all the same.

Houston, via Wikimedia Commons

Houston, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a reason why scores of Houston businesses — including many with bathrooms! — unequivocally supported HERO: because it isn’t about protecting men in women’s bathrooms; it isn’t even about protecting transgender people (who remain one of our country’s most-stigmatized groups) in particular. It’s about protecting everyone from being discriminated against based on who they are, because discrimination is bad for business and it’s bad for community. And if you had stopped to think for a second about whether non-discrimination advocates were really fighting for the right to enter the wrong bathroom — if that was really a law that a city council or other group of presumably normal people would put high on their priority list — maybe you would have realized how ridiculous such a claim was. Maybe you would have voted differently.

But at the end of the day, that’s on us, the folks who supported HERO and asked for your vote. We made the mistake of trusting you, and of assuming that you trusted your community leaders, nearly all of whom told you that HERO was a good bill worth supporting. We also made the mistake of assuming that the same things that matter in high-turnout races for federal office — having more money, leading in public opinion polls — matter in low-turnout, local races. We didn’t think we’d have to fight all that hard for this win because it was just so obvious that HERO was a good bill, and that good people would support it, because it’s been getting better for the LGBT community of late. Equality has been winning and discrimination has been losing; and in the back of our minds, maybe we thought it was always going to be like that. In the face of major wins for the LGBT community on the national level, we forgot that a good old-fashioned scare campaign can still work if not addressed head-on.

Which is why you shouldn’t expect the same kind of trust from us next time, Houston. The next time you — or anyone else, for that matter — gets told that non-discrimination ordinances mean men claiming to be women just to rape your daughter in the bathroom, we’re going hit you over the head with the rather obvious message that that’s effing stupid, and you’re dumb for believing it. Non-discrimination ordinances mean that no one in your city can get fired or denied service simply for being gay, or trans, or black, or a woman, or any other identity over which they have no control. Period. And since this apparently bears repeating, no, it doesn’t mean self-identified men are protected by law if they go into women’s bathrooms. I could hazard a few guesses as to why religious conservatives are the only people who, when they hear non-discrimination, think sex in bathrooms. But I won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that when they say the kinds of things they said in order to repeal HERO, they’re wrong. And they’re lying. They should be ashamed of themselves, and we should be ashamed with ourselves for letting them get away with it.

Next time, we won’t.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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