One of the two candidates for mayor of Houston says discrimination against transgender people — or anyone else — isn’t common in the city and that the now-repealed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was “entirely about the bathrooms.”
Bill King made the comments last Saturday in his final debate with opponent Sylvester Turner, Houston LGBT publication OutSmart reports. King and Turner face each other in a runoff election this coming Saturday because no candidate received a majority of the vote November 3.
“My problem with the ordinance always was that in the nine months it was in place, we had a total of 11 complaints under it,” King said, according to OutSmart. “We’ll have that many robberies and burglaries in this city tonight, during this debate, and if we’re lucky, we’ll solve one of those. … This is a question about priorities, like I said, getting back to basics. We need to focus on what’s really important in this city.”
“I don’t think there was a single complaint, as I recall about a transgender problem, so what problem are we trying to solve here?” King added.
“Well, we’re trying to afford [transgender people] the same protections everybody else gets,” responded moderator Omar Afra, publisher of Free Press Houston.
“No, I think the ordinance was entirely about the bathrooms,” King replied, “and I think it was entirely about the issue of what does a transgender person do, which restroom do you go into, if you’re dealing with that issue, and I think that’s what the ordinance was completely about, actually, and I think there are ways to address that without having an ordinance.” King, who said a friend of his is the parent of a transgender child, suggested that private businesses could voluntarily designate unisex restrooms.
The campaign to repeal HERO focused on restroom use, with opponents of the ordinance specifically alleging that it would enable men to pose as women so as to harass women and girls in restrooms and locker rooms. Actually, this has never happened as a result of such an ordinance, and if it did happen, it would still be a crime. King, a businessman, has the endorsement of Campaign for Houston, which backed the repeal. The ordinance prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other characteristics.
Turner, a former state representative, was a backer of HERO, and in the debate he said reports that he wouldn’t try to resurrect the ordinance were taken out of context. “When it comes to discrimination, I will continue to fight against discrimination as I have done for the last 26 years I’ve been in public service,” he said. “Anybody in this city, regardless of who they are, regardless of their orientation, ought to be allowed to take advantage of the full opportunities that exist in this city. … No one should be discriminated against based on their group affiliation.”
While the mayoral election is officially nonpartisan, King is a Republican and Turner a Democrat, and Houstonians have generally divided along party lines in the race, the Houston Chronicle notes. Mayor Annise Parker, an out lesbian who has served three terms, is leaving office due to term limits.
You can watch the full debate below; the questions about HERO come shortly after the 35-minute mark.