The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a controversial law guaranteeing various anti-discrimination protections, was voted down by a significant majority in the Nov. 3 election.
HERO, a measure initially passed by the Houston City Council in 2014, prohibits employment, housing and public space discrimination due to many characteristics including race, marital or military status, sexual orientation and gender identity. The final two were additional protections beyond what is already established by federal law.
After HERO opponents submitted a petition to the city against the ordinance, legal challenges ensued that culminated in a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court requiring Houston to either repeal the law or include it on the election ballot. The campaign surrounding Tuesday’s vote gained state and national attention.
With all voting precincts reporting, a total of 100,427 citizens or 39 percent voted in favor of Houston Proposition 1, supporting HERO, while 156,882 or 61 percent voted against, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office.
Kathryn Hokamp, public relations representative of campus advocacy group Queers & Allies, expressed surprise at HERO’s defeat.
“Even after hearing the results, even after talking to opponents, I still can’t process that so many people were against HERO,” Hokamp, a Martel College senior, said. “It’s extremely eye-opening to the amount of prejudice toward LGTBQ people in this city. HERO was a bill that should have helped everyone.”
Hokamp, who served as Queers & Allies president last year, said the reason for HERO’s defeat was opposition to transgender rights. Campaign for Houston, an anti-HERO organization, widely distributed advertising during the campaign alleging that HERO could allow men to pose as trans women in order to gain access to women’s restrooms.
“When the opposition to HERO became about bathrooms, it became about transphobia. We live in a hugely transphobic city, and the election results confirm that in a scary way,” Hokamp said. “I’ll probably end up leaving Houston because I am tired of hiding my sexuality and gender identity in professional contexts … in Houston, any of my employers could fire me if they find out I’m gay or genderqueer, and Houston voters made it that way.”
David Cirillo, the campus leader of pro-HERO organization Houston Unites, said he believes the vote does not reflect Houston’s true values.
“Houston turned out based on fear and based on lies, but I know Houston does not value discrimination,” Cirillo, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said. “Equality is a Houston virtue and it will not be ended by a vote of ignorance.”
Cirillo is also involved with the Rice Queer Resource Center and Rice affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as serving as a communication director for the Rice Young Democrats. He said he was confident another version of HERO would be introduced to Houston’s City Council.
“Thank you to every Rice student who voted,” Cirillo said. “I know, with the support of every Rice student, that an equal Houston will soon become a reality, regardless of any vote tonight that may say otherwise.”