After Houston voters repealed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the activists who organized the repeal campaign are now recycling the debunked but effective bathroom-based scare-tactics to urge the election of local conservative candidates.
Although HERO would have protected 15 different classes of residents from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, anti-HERO activists built their campaign around the provably false claim that allowing trans people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity would allow "men in women's restrooms." In reality, while more than 200 cities nationwide have trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, there has never been a single verified instance of someone using such an ordinance to "pretend" to be trans in order to harass or otherwise harm women and children in sex-segregated spaces.
But a new TV ad from the anti-HERO campaign won't let that transphobic myth die — in fact, it plays upon the same unfounded fear that defeated HERO to urge Houston voters to cast their ballot for conservative candidates in the upcoming runoff election.
The ad, posted on YouTube Tuesday, is sponsored by the Campaign for Houston, the leading anti-HERO group, run by prominent right-wing Texas Republican Jared Woodfill. It utilizes the same sinister, misleading narrative that mischaracterized HERO as a "bathroom ordinance."
The Campaign for Houston's newest ad is filmed in black and white, and depicts a young girl walking into a bathroom stall as sinister music plays in the background. The camera then pans to the torso of a man, who walks into the stall with the little girl.
"We sent a message, and defeated the bathroom ordinance," says the ad's female narrator, using a phrase deemed defamatory by LGBT media watchdog GLAAD. "But some politicians don't respect our vote, and want to bring [HERO] up again. That's why we need to support candidates in the December 12 runoff who will stand up for women's privacy and safety."
While urging voters to visit the Campaign for Houston's website for a "sample ballot ... to see which candidates we can trust to say no to men in women's bathrooms," the ad's background noise sounds like someone urinating. The music then reaches an ominous crescendo, before the spot ends with a close-up of the child's eye peering through a crack in the stall door.
The ad's reference to "some politicians [who] don't respect our vote" appears to be an allusion to, among others, outgoing Houston Mayor Annise Parker, an out lesbian, who has long championed the ordinance, and in the wake of its defeat pledged to revive the protections voters rescinded from a broad swath of Houstonians. But on Monday, Parker acknowledged that time to reinstate the ordinance before she leaves office had run out, according to the Texas Observer. Had it passed, HERO sought to protect from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation people of all ages, races, religions and martial or disability statuses, sexual orientations, gender identities, and pregnancy statuses, among other protected classes.
Texas is one of more than 20 states without a law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Texas Monthly. Several other major cities and counties in the state have passed similar nondiscrimination ordinances, and HERO was initially approved by the Houston City Council. But anti-HERO activists ultimately sued Parker over the ordinance, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that HERO appear on the November ballot or be rescinded immediately.
As LGBT activists and organizers sought to regroup in the wake of HERO's defeat, the absurdity of the anti-HERO campaign caught the attention of Saturday Night Live, which skewered the arguments the Campaign for Houston relied upon in Saturday's "Weekend Update" segment.
"The theory is that men, in their relentless quest to watch women go to the bathroom, are going through years of hormones, surgery, changing their name, their wardrobe, coming out to their family, all for that big payoff of peeing in a room without urninals," summarized SNL's Pete Davidson. "What is this fantasy?"
Watch Campaign for Houston's latest transphobic ad below.