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Anti-HERO Activists Set Sights on Dallas Protections

Anti-HERO Activists Set Sights on Dallas Protections

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

The group of transphobic activists who defeated the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance have turned their attention to recently affirmed LGBT protections in Dallas. 

Fresh off their victory repealing nondiscrimination protections for Houston residents, anti-LGBT activists are hoping to use the same transphobic tactics to roll back LGBT-inclusive protections in Dallas.

Although Dallas has had some measure of LGBT-inclusive protections in place for more than a decade, Tuesday the City Council unanimously voted to add "gender identity" to the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.

Afterward, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings celebrated the vote, stressing that "we want to make sure everyone is protected" in the city. When Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blasted the Dallas protections (more on that below), Mayor Rawlings struck back.

"Yesterday's unanimous City Council vote did not change the scope of our 13-year-old anti-discrimination ordinance," Rawlings said in a Wednesday statement. "We took action that is consistent with what our voters approved last year and the protections already afforded to our employees. It is not forthright or honest to minimize this issue to a question about where people relieve themselves."

Lt. Gov. Patrick is just one of the most prominent Texas heavyweights ready to ride into Dallas over equal accommodations laws. In Houston, Patrick not only repeated transphobic myths in the campaign to defeat the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance but delivered a gleeful speech on election night surrounded by banners reading "NO MEN in Women's Bathrooms."

But the lieutenant governor's Wednesday statement blasting the Dallas protections was riddled with inaccuracies, notes The Dallas Morning News.

"I was very proud to help lead the recent effort where an overwhelming majority of voters in Houston successfully voted down the misnamed and misguided HERO ordinance," read Patrick's statement, underneath a subject line reading "Patrick Statement on Dallas Bathroom Ordinance." "That's why yesterday's decision by the Dallas City Council, in closed session, to fast-track the enactment of a similar ordinance to allow men in women's restrooms is both mind-boggling and appalling."

But Tuesday's vote was not conducted behind closed doors, as the Dallas City Council is not allowed to take secret votes, reports the Morning News's City Hall Blog. The 15-0 vote was taken during a session open to the public, on language drafted over the course of a year by the City Council's LGBT Task Force, and following the overwhelming support of Dallas voters last year in amending the city's charter to protect city employees from discrimination based on gender identity.

Even last November's voter-approved trans-inclusive amendments were not the first time Dallas law explicitly protected LGBT residents and workers. Since 2002, Chapter 46 of the Dallas City Code has prohibited bias in housing, employment, and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, which was interpreted to include gender identity, according to the Morning News.

Another prominent organizer of the anti-HERO campaign, Jared Woodfill, told the Houston Chronicle that he was prepared to employ the same debunked but effective transphobic scare tactics to overturn Dallas's long-standing LGBT protections.

In addition to blatantly transphobic radio ads, Woodfill's group, the Campaign for Houston, also blasted local airwaves with a video ad showing a sinister man following a young girl into the restroom, falsely claiming that HERO would legalize such harassment.

"We said from day one wherever these ordinances appear we're going to be on the ground and ready for the battle," Woodfill told the Chronicle. "The Dallas City Council clearly didn't learn of or hear the message voters sent in Houston, Texas."

But LGBT advocates in Dallas were skeptical that a misleading, fear-driven campaign like that waged in Houston would have the same success in Dallas.

Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, told the Chronicle that the long-standing nature of Dallas's protections -- coupled with the fact that there have been zero reports of any bathroom-related harassment as a result of that ordinance (or any of the others currently in force in more than 200 other jurisdictions nationwide) -- means the anti-HERO activists would struggle to find traction in Dallas.

But that doesn't mean Smith is willing to let his guard down, he told the Chronicle.

"If I learned anything from Houston, it would be to be more aggressive in calling out the lies," he said. "That's what's necessary. Because if they're not aggressively called out, the lies just keep being told and people listen."

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