5 Things You Need to Know About the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance
Early voting is upon us and the November 3rd election is right around the corner. One of the big items on the ballot is Houston’s Proposition 1, also known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO.
There has been a lot of talk about this ordinance, some factual, and some not-so-factual. Here are the top five things you need to know about HERO before you vote.
One. First things first. Let’s clear up any confusion about what the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance isn’t.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance does not make it legal to harm someone in a bathroom. It does not protect sexual predators, it does not allow men to freely use women’s bathrooms or locker rooms, and it does not let rapists off the hook.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is not a “bathroom ordinance.” There is literally nothing in the ordinance language that says anything about bathrooms.
Additionally, there is a 1972 Houston law that specifically states, “It shall be 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, tenant, manager, lessee or other person in charge of the premises, in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.”
That means it’s illegal to go into a bathroom with the intent to harm someone. And, last time we checked, rapists and abusers are going to behave as you would expect them to behave-without regard for the law, with or without an equal rights ordinance. If you need any more convincing on this point, check out the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s op-ed about HERO.
Two. HERO protects every single Houstonian from discrimination.
The ordinance reads: “Houston seeks to provide an environment that is free of any type of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy.” That’s 15 protected characteristics!
Three. Houston, while being the most diverse city in the nation, is the only major city in Texas and the U.S. without a non-discrimination ordinance. NYC, L.A., Denver, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and others have had policies like this for years. Not only that, but Plano, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio have ordinances just like this as well.
Four. Despite the fact that HERO was passed by City Council in May of 2014, it has not been in effect. Still, some cases of discrimination have been reported to the City of Houston’s Office of the Inspector General in the hopes of doing something about it.
Below is a breakdown of the types of discrimination that have been reported since May 2014:
Familial Status- 13%
Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity- 5%
The rest have been based on veteran status, national origin and disability.
While some federal and state protections against discrimination are extended to some groups of people, the City of Houston has no local protections for any of the classes mentioned above. It’s still legal in the U.S. to fire someone from their job just because they are gay. A woman can lose her job because she’s pregnant, or a person can be denied service at a local establishment because of their skin color or religion. Discrimination is real, and even though most people believe we should all be able to go about our lives without being judged for who we are, discrimination does happen.
Without a local ordinance to make it easier to find a solution, people would have to file costly and complicated lawsuits at the state or federal level. With the equal rights ordinance, the Office of the Inspector General can investigate a complaint and handle it far easier.
Five. The Equal Rights Ordinance is being voted on RIGHT NOW. For anyone who is able to vote in this election, it’s crucial that your vote is counted. If you support this ordinance, you vote ‘Yes’ on Houston Proposition 1, opting to keep the ordinance in place. If you do not support it, you vote ‘No.’
Early voting ends on October 30th, and the last day to vote is on election day, November 3rd. Check out our voting guide for more information about polling locations and times.