After years of planning, a slew of phone calls, repeated trips to City Hall, organizer trainings, exhaustive blog posts and countless closed-door meetings with Council Members, citizens finally found a voice when the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was passed on May 28th. The new law instituted an historic new level of protections for all Houstonians, and for many was a cause for celebration.
But today, after being dealt what in their view was an affront to their values, the opposition to HERO struck back, turning in 50,000 petition signatures to City Hall (pending verification by City Secretary Anna Russell). If at least 17,000 of them are verified as residents of the city, then the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance will be placed on the November ballot, and could even be voted down. Supporters of HERO will have to work even harder to thwart the litany of lies, and convince voters to keep this critical law on the books.
The referendum is going to be hard work, but it could actually end up being very good, not only for Houston Progressives, but for Progressive causes across Texas. Here are the reasons why.
For starters, Houston is ready for the referendum. Long before a non-discrimination bill came before Council, supporting organizations have been preparing for the possibility of a city-wide vote. The campaign to defend the ordinance is well under way, and has already engaged a broad coalition of organizations and elected officials. You can learn more about the Equal Rights Committee at the Equal Rights Houston website.
Secondly, as a city-specific referendum, the math is on HERO’s side. The opposition is asking voters to repeal a law that their elected representatives passed. In general, that’s tough to do. But that vote also occurs only in the city of Houston… the same electorate that sent Mayor Parker to office three times in a row. In every past election, similar argument’s about Parker’s “evil LGBT agenda” have been waged against her, and they have never won. After seeing Houstonians through a recession, and 4 years of record job growth and prosperity that other cities in the nation only dream of, are Houston voters really going to get enraged enough to vote this down?
As Houstonians like the talented Christopher Busby prove, Equal Rights should NOT be a Democratic or a Republican issue. Sad though it is, the fight for HERO has become politicized, with most of the opposition’s coalition being Republican (again, not all but most). Because of this, a referendum will likely serve as a motivator for Democrats to vote in Houston and Harris County. It could even stand to boost turnout for Democratic candidates. Again as mentioned in the above, this is specifically the city of Houston, whose electorate has already proven that they vote on the Progressive side. This assumption could be wrong, but barring some smoking gun to move the issue, it’s not likely. Giving Houston’s Democrats another big reason to get out the vote is sure to have statewide implications.
Finally, the opposition is built on lies and misconceptions about the law. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance isn’t a mystery anymore. It’s a real law, and is available on the city’s website for any and all to read. Even for the people that are confused, they can go to the link above and actually read the ordinance. The Mayor said it best in today’s press conference…
“It is illegal today, it will be illegal tomorrow, it will be legal after HERO for a man to go into a woman’s bathroom.”
Like the childhood legend of monsters under the bed, fear dissipates when mom or dad flips the light on. HERO has been brought to light, and there’s NOTHING scary about it.
There’s still a possibility that the petitions could be invalidated, but for now, it’s time to plan as though the referendum is going on. HERO needs some heroes again, and I strongly suspect that they are on the way.