It appears that the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance has survived an attempt to be forced onto the ballot. According to City Secretary Anna Russell, opposing forces to the new law did not successfully attain the over 17,000 signatures needed to require a referendum. According to Janice Evans in the Mayor’s office (via Twitter), the city was able to verify only 15,249 signatures of those turned in.
Even before the H.E.R.O.’s final passage, opponents had begun to organize in the effort to defeat the law. From those with the HOUequality group, an independent community effort that was also checking petitions separately from the City Secretary, it was clear that some pages had to be thrown out because their collection dates were before the law was signed by the Mayor. In other cases, people printed their name and then didn’t sign, or their information was illegible. Another issue seen by the independent group was that petition collector were not City of Houston voters. These are just a couple of reasons that municipal officials likely invalidated petition pages.
“There are simply too many documents and irregularities to overlook. The petition is invalid.” City Attorney Feldman said.
“Clearly the majority of Houstonians were not interested in a repeal process.” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
However, the Mayor also said that implementation of the ordinance will be delayed, as further legal challenges are anticipated.
Opponents of equal rights failed to submit the required number of valid petitions for one reason and one reason only: Houston is a city that doesn’t discriminate. Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance modernized our nondiscrimination laws in a balanced way with the support of the broadest coalition of Houstonians – from the Greater Houston Partnership to the NAACP, Rice University, LULAC, the GLBT Caucus, the League of Women Voters, the Houston Chronicle, public safety professionals and faith leaders. The Equal Rights Houston campaign will defend against any attempts, whether in the courts or at the ballot box, to overturn the basic, common sense protections the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance provides to all who live and work in our great city.
It’s a moment that was years in the making, and for some Houstonians, a moment that means so much more than words on any page could convey. The silent, and often private struggles of discrimination have long been endorsed by the city of Houston… an endorsement via inaction and refusal to address those who are oppressed. But on May 28th 2014, that endorsement of discrimination ended in the Bayou City, as Houston City Council has passed a comprehensive, non-discrimination ordinance. Known now as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, it passed Council by a vote of 11 to 6.
Both sides argued passionately for and against H.E.R.O., though many questioned how much of the opposition’s argument was based in factual information. Speaker after speaker gave eerily similar scenarios that all revolved around some imaginary figure in a bathroom waiting for the opportunity to molest a child. But in the end, this vast cloud of falsehood did not win out, and the city took an important step forward to protect all of its citizens.
From a political standpoint, many see the passage of H.E.R.O. as “a victory for the Mayor” or a victory for her base, being the LGBT community. I don’t see it that way, but instead this is a victory for everyone in the city of Houston. A city that seeks to protect all of its citizens is a city that is safer for all. Ask anyone in the LGBT community… it takes real courage to live as an out individual. Just like someone who goes around hating openly gay people… there’s a strong possibility that the person initiating the hatred is gay themselves, but haven’t found the strength to deal with their internal feelings. They lash out against others because of fear of themselves. Laws like H.E.R.O. get rid of that fear by helping to create an environment where that person can walk their individual journey in a healthier way. They are less likely to lash out… less likely to cause any harm to others. By standing up for equal protection, Houston is sending a message that we care about everyone’s safety.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Annise Parker has accomplished much as Mayor of the City of Houston. In 4 short years, she has shepherded historic growth and prosperity for the city and region… tackling a host of problems her predecessors were too scared to face. But one has to believe that she was uniquely skilled for this moment in time. Parker will be long remembered for her bravery and expert strategy to get the ordinance through. Because of her leadership, we are a better city today than we were yesterday, and 2.2 million Texans have a home where discrimination is no longer acceptable.