In the aftermath of last month’s historic victory for the LGBTQ community, legislators in one
Texas city are still fighting to outlaw discrimination.
For the past 15 months, the city of Houston has been engaged in a highly partisan battle
over its non-discrimination ordinance. Known as Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the
legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex,
military status, ethnicity, marital status, disability, national origin, age, genetic information, and
familial status. Houston’s city council adopted Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in May 2014,
in the face of intense opposition from anti-LGBTQ groups who immediately began petitioning to
have the ordinance put to a vote for a potential repeal.
Since its inception in early 2014, HERO has been the target of conservative anti-LGBTQ
propaganda. The Houston Area Pastor Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, Texas Values and
other conservative groups attacked the ordinance in the usual bigoted way: by lying about the
ordinance and spreading false information about its implications.
HERO’s opponents claimed that the ordinance would undermine religious liberty and cause
expensive and unnecessary lawsuits. Unsurprisingly, these detractors also relied on transphobic
myths to stir up fear in would-be voters. Conservative activists claimed that HERO would allow
sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Though this
baseless lie has been debunked time and again by advocates for sexual assault victims, law
enforcement experts, and government officials, horror stories about sexual predators became
an impasse in the debate over HERO. Some opponents became so fixated on this desperate
grasp at legal straws that they took to calling the ordinance “The Sexual Predator Protection
Though common sense and basic legal knowledge would adequately explain that a
non-discrimination ordinance does not legalize sexual assault and that sexual predators chose
to assault regardless of the legality of their actions, this did not stop the media from uncritically
parroting the bathroom myth in its reporting of HERO. Led by Mike Huckabee and presidential
candidate Ted Cruz, the battle over a local Texas ordinance morphed into a collective
conservative tantrum, with participants decrying the bill as an affront to family values.
On July 24, the Texas Supreme Court struck down a district court decision and ordered
Houston to either repeal HERO or put its passage on the ballot for the November 2015 election.
Following that decision, Annise Parker, Houston’s openly lesbian mayor, expressed her belief
that Houstonians would approve the bill if they were given the chance to vote on it.
Adreanna Nattiel is a writer, activist, and queer feminist based in Atlanta, GA. Her primary interest is media and pop culture studies and how they intersect with body politics for people of color. She is a real-life witch, aspiring cat lady, and horror junkie. Her plan is to take over the world, one flawless brow at a time.