Voters in Houston will decide this week whether to pass legislation protecting the rights of gay and transgender residents in the United States' fourth-largest city. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would prevent discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity, has attracted national attention in the runup to the ballot, with public figures like Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and actress Eva Longoria announcing their support. But it was also facing serious backlash from critics who argued it would let men simply dressed as women threaten them in restrooms, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“Houston voters do not want men in their women’s bathrooms,” the Rev. Dave Welch, who heads the Houston Area Pastors’ Council, told the Washington Post. “It’s an invasion of privacy, an invasion of a safe space for women and girls.” Earlier this year, advocacy groups reported no incidents of transgender people harrassing or assaulting other bathroom users, reported Mic.
The ordinance, nicknamed HERO, would prohibit employers, contractors, housing groups and public accommodations from discriminating based on a person's sexual orientation and gender as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, military status, family or marital status, according to prior reporting in International Business Times. The history of the measure is complicated: The City Council passed it in May 2014 and afterward received a petition requesting Houston reverse the rule or let people vote on it. The petition was accepted, then invalidated for having forged signatures, and the group of critics sued. The Texas Supreme Court ruled this past July that the city must hold a vote on the ordinance.
Houston's openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, has been outspoken in the battle. “In a city this diverse, with 90 languages spoken and all the varied cultural and racial and religious influences, you have to have a city where people respect each other and find mechanisms to communicate and get along with each other,” Parker told the Post. “Voting down HERO sends exactly the counter-message."
— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) November 1, 2015
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tech company Apple and actor Matt Bomer were among the measure's proponents. The White House said that President Barack Obama and his administration felt "confident that the citizens of Houston will vote in favor of fairness and equality," the Los Angeles Times reported.
About 43 percent of Houston's residents told KHOU last month they backed the ordinance, with 37 percent saying they opposed it. Nearly 20 percent were still undecided.