Mayor Parker Debunks Equal Rights Ordinance Myths
Mayor Annise Parker took to the internet to debunk some myths about H.E.R.O., the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. The ordinance passed city council a month ago to the praise of LBGT advocates.
“Winning approval of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was a long, hard fight,” Parker wrote in a guest post for the Harris County Democratic Party. “While I don’t consider this the biggest accomplishment of my administration, it is the most meaningful to me personally.”
The Equal Rights Ordinance remains unloved by some conservative opponents, though. It drew massive amounts of criticism for a section spelling out the rights of transgender individuals to use the bathroom consistent with their public gender. After a long debate, it was removed.
The final ordinance removed the specific protections but kept blanket nondiscriminatory clauses protecting sexual orientation and gender identity. Any public business may not deny a public service because of those qualities. Bathrooms count as public services.
Interestingly, Parker stakes out a business-friendly position in her piece and tries to debunk the idea that the ERO is bad for Christian business owners. Remember, they believe that allowing transgender people to use their preferred restroom is infringing on their faith.
“A business owner, therefore, retains the right to deny a person use of a sex-designated facility if there is a reasonable belief that such person is of the opposite sex,” she wrote.
“Whether the proprietor is correct or not, acting on this belief would not constitute intentional discrimination; moreover, such exclusion would be consistent with existing City ordinance which makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex without the permission of the owner or another supervisor for the calculated purpose of causing a disturbance.”
Translation: business owners can still bar people from using a restroom if they feel that person isn’t of that gender.
This statement is a fig leaf to the many, many protesters who feared that this ordinance would open the door for perverts to dress as women and sneak into the women’s restroom (the prospect of female perverts sneaking into the men’s restroom never came up with the protestors I talked to).
Parker saying this also shows that she remains dedicated to her original, unamended version of the Equal Rights Ordinance. She still wants to leave an exception for business owners (or at least for us to think she does).
The amended ordinance actually made things worse for Christian business owners, as they realized after the fact. It spelled out protections and a method of protest for them. Without that, they’re stuck in a legal gray area.
“What we did in the original language is say, ‘We know this is going to be controversial, we are gonna make a separate category, pull the transgendered community out, and give an affirmative defense to the business owner,’” Parker said before. “We were actually trying to be extra accommodating to the business owner.”
With this post, our mayor is trying to reach back out to those affected groups.
The Future of the Ordinance
Parker also spoke about the petitions in the works to get the Equal Rights Ordinance onto a city-wide referendum. Opponents are working on those now.
“Should any of these efforts make it onto the ballot, I believe they will be soundly defeated because the Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life,” she wrote.
“We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or whom you choose to love.”
Well said, Mayor.
by Kyle Nazario