Houston May Have A New HERO Before Mayor Annise Parker Leaves Office In January


But She Vows Not To Support Any Transgender Exemptions

Houston could have a new Equal Rights Ordinance before the end of the year. 

Mayor Annise Parker, who's term-limited after six years in office, said Wednesday it's possible the City Council will approve an amended HERO before she steps down in January. 

The original version of HERO, approved by the council 11-6 in May 2014, was resoundingly repealed by voters on Tuesday following an 18-month legal battle. 

"Several council members have talked to me about bringing it back up, perhaps bringing it back up in segments, such as the nondiscrimination in employment and housing and public accommodations separately, so that we could directly deal with those aspects of the ordinance," Parker said at her weekly press conference. "There may be other ideas.

"It's possible for us to do something," Parker added. "You may have noticed that I'm trying to clear as many things off my desk as possible. I don't really want to leave a lot of contentious items for the next administration, and I'm going to try not to leave this one as well." 

HERO would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and 13 other characteristics in employment, housing, public accommodations and city contracting. However, opponents built their entire campaign around one aspect of the ordinance — transgender protections in public accommodations — seizing on the debunked myth that it would lead to sexual predators preying on victims in women's restrooms. 

Other Texas cities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances with exemptions for restroom use by transgender people, but Parker doesn't intend to let that happen on her watch in Houston. 

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"I cannot support anything that would remove any of the 15 protected categories," she said. "They were in there because they need the protections that HERO has to offer. 

"What is more fundamental than trying to provide access to a public restroom that is appropriate to the gender of an individual, when all they want to do is use the facilities and go on about their business?" she added. "All of this about pedophiles going into women's restrooms was an out and out and falsehood, they knew it was a falsehood, and they sold a bill of goods. That's all I can say. Masterfully played." 

Any consideration of a new HERO would include discussion of the negative economic impacts brought by voters' decision to repeal the ordinance, Parker said. Although the NCAA and NFL announced Wednesday they have no plans to move the 2016 Men's Final Four or the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston, respectively, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin has requested an emergency meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the issue. 

Meanwhile, Houston business and tourism officials are already raising concerns about the impact of the vote on the city's reputation and their ability to recruit young talent. 

"It's the business community that has spoken loudly in Indiana and Arizona, and it's the business community that's going to speak here," Parker said. "We will also of course evaluate what the national and international response from the business community is, because that certainly will make a difference." 

Although HERO opponents seized upon the transgender bathroom myth, it's clear this was merely a smokescreen for general opposition to LGBT rights, and they likely would oppose an amended ordinance even if it deals only with employment or housing. 

Jared Woodfill, a spokesman for the anti-HERO Campaign for Houston, told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday night that he doesn't think gays and lesbians should be protected against discrimination.  

"I think they should be treated as everyone else," Woodfill said. "I don't think they should receive special protections. I don't think homosexuality is an immutable characteristic."

Game on. 

You can download Mayor Parker's full November 4 press conference.


Image by The Bishop/Twitter

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