Houston again rejects equal rights law in heated contest

US city one of the few nationwide without some form of nondiscrimination law

Houston voters soundly rejected the city’s embattled equal rights law on Tuesday in one of the most heated local political contests in recent memory.

The row drew national scrutiny and sparked months of impassioned back-and-forth about social issues, particularly transgender rights.

The decision leaves Houston the only major city in Texas and one of the few nationwide in the United States without some form of a nondiscrimination law. It also marks the third time Houston voters have rejected protections or benefits for gay residents, as they did in 1985 and 2001.

Local protections

The equal rights ordinance, known by its acronym Hero, would have extended local protections against discrimination to 15 groups, ranging from veterans to pregnant women to gay and transgender residents, with the latter proving the biggest flashpoint for conservative opponents of the law.


Critics pinned their campaign on the controversial claim that the law would allow men dressed as women, including sexual predators, to enter women’s restrooms.

Opponents’ most talked-about advert featured a man bursting into a bathroom stall occupied by a young girl as ominous music played in the background.

Anti-Hero campaign spokesman Jared Woodfill said the results proved the messaging worked, calling it a "David v Goliath" battle. "If anything is scary about this ordinance, it's the truth," Mr Woodfill said. "All we did is identify a very scary reality, it wasn't a scare tactic, it was a dangerous truth that Mayor Parker tried to hide from the public."

Supporters of the law, who more than tripled their opponents’ fundraising efforts with a nearly $3 million (€2.75 million) haul, warned that the vote would have wide-ranging repercussions. Houston’s mayor Annise Parker said: “I absolutely fear there will be a direct economic backlash.”

‘Personally revolting’

Greater Houston Partnership president Bob Harvey released a statement saying he was "disappointed by the defeat". Ms Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major US city, also called opponents' demonisation of transgender residents "personally revolting".

“They just kept spewing an ugly wad of lies from our TV screens and from our pulpits,” she said. Term-limited Parker said she would not attempt to pass a new version of the law during her final two months in office, leaving that decision to the next mayor.

The two mayoral candidates who qualified for the runoff on Tuesday differ on the law, with State Rep Sylvester Turner backing it and former mayor of Kemah Bill King saying he doesn't support the law as written.

The law banned discrimination based not just on gender identity and sexual orientation, but also 13 classes already protected under federal law: sex, race, colour, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

– (New York Times service)