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Wednesday, April 17, 2024 — Houston, TX

Will you allow legal discrimination in Houston?

10/29/15 7:51am

Despite the fact that Houston is the fourth-largest city in America with one of the most diverse populations in the country, it remains one of the only major cities without a nondiscrimination ordinance. Our rapidly growing city does not provide its millions of citizens with comprehensive, local protections to discrimination.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was enacted with the support of Mayor Annise Parker in 2014, then petitioned by opponents and suspended until a public vote, and now will appear on the ballot this Nov. 3 election as Proposition 1. This election is your chance to help Houston affirm and protect the rights of all its residents to live, work and raise families without fear.

Houstonians experience discrimination based on many characteristics, which include sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy. HERO provides everyone in Houston city-level recourse in these unjust situations without forcing people who have suffered discrimination to file lengthy and expensive federal lawsuits which may not go anywhere.

We see repeatedly in the news and hear from our friends and loved ones that discrimination continues to be an issue in our city. During the 232 days HERO was in effect, 58 percent of reported cases of discrimination were based on race or national origin, 17 percent were gender based, 15 percent were based on age, 4 percent were based on disability, 4 percent were based on sexual orientation or gender identity and 2 percent were based on veteran status. This information provides more evidence that Houston needs a nondiscrimination ordinance because the absence of one affects a broad range of Houstonians.

Though the federal government identifies certain characteristics of humans as protected classes, such as religion, ethnicity, national origin and pregnancy, and allows people to counter discrimination based on these classes, these laws do not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, the laws protecting these classes require people to file complaints or lawsuits through expensive, lengthy, understaffed and overworked federal or state agencies to find recourse.

Opponents of HERO mainly attack it based on claims that it will allow men to pretend to be transgender women and enter women’s restrooms to assault them. This claim has no basis in reality. Since 1972, the Houston city code made it illegal for anyone to knowingly and intentionally enter a restroom of the opposite sex “in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance”. HERO does not contradict this law, and in fact, does not mention bathrooms anywhere in its text. Furthermore, passing HERO and allowing people to express their gender identity via the corresponding restroom would not contradict established laws.

Since HERO was proposed its opponents have insisted it will increase assaults, of transgender people in particular, using restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. The data strongly contradicts this fear-mongering. Over 19 states and 180 cities and municipalities have enacted non-discrimination laws protecting gender identity, some of which have been in place for decades with  absolutely no increase in assault in bathrooms in any of these places. In fact, some reports show that 66 percent of transgender people have experienced assault, and overwhelmingly these people have been proven more in danger of being harmed by others by using bathrooms corresponding to their birth assigned sex than they are in danger of being possible threats to cisgender (non-transgender) people.

Finally, it is important to note HERO will change nothing for college students, postdocs, faculty and staff. Because Rice University falls under both Title IX, Title VII, and follows Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, we are all already protected from discrimination based on the 15 classes protected by HERO. This ordinance would extend the safety we currently enjoy to the entirety of Houston.

Your vote matters in this tight election. HERO has been surrounded by controversy and unfortunately poll numbers are very close. Early voting began on Oct. 19, and you can vote early at any polling location. On election day, if you live on campus you can vote in the Rice Memorial Center. If not, please check your polling location at www.harrisvotes.com . Remember, in order to vote you must bring a valid form of identification such as a Texas driver’s license, Texas state ID, Texas voter ID, passport or concealed handgun license.

Help give Houston the same protections we enjoy on campus and on Tuesday, Nov. 3, support equality and vote Yes on Proposition 1.

Sarah Grefe, on behalf of the Gender and Sexually Diverse Graduates & Postdocs Club Officers. 

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