Laila Khalili
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Houston has a HERO

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By Laila Khalili

“We don’t care where you’re from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations or who you love, we put Houston and Houstonians first,” Mayor Annise Parker, State of the City Address April 16, 2015

Late on Friday afternoon, District Judge Robert Schaffer ruled that opposition to Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance did not gather enough valid signatures in their petition to force a referendum on the ordinance.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), was passed by City Council on May 28th, 2014, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, and pregnancy. HERO was intended to protect all Houstonians and, as of Friday, the ordinance has gone into effect.

Opponents to HERO, a group of conservative activists and pastors, sued the city last summer when their petition was rejected for not meeting the minimum requirement of 17,269 valid signatures. The primary objection opposition has with the ordinance is that it includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

“This is a great victory in the courts, and a great day for civil rights in Houston, Texas,” said City Attorney Donna Edmundson. “The jury found for the City, and now the judge has found in favor of the City too.  I am gratified that the judge signed a final judgment rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims and confirming that their pro-discrimination referendum petition failed.”

Brad Pritchett, an organizer for HouEquality, explained that supporters hope HERO is finally here to stay, but they are also expecting opposition to appeal the court’s ruling.

“The time for juries, trials and petitions is over and it’s time for HERO to do what it was intended - protect Houstonians from discrimination. But opponents are now saying they will file with the Court of Appeals or try to take it straight to the Texas Supreme Court. Supporters in Houston have to be ready to fight for HERO at the ballot box at the drop of a hat, and we will be.”