The anti-LGBT forces aiming to overturn Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance just gained a prominent supporter in the form of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Opponents' fearmongering rhetoric is reaching a fever pitch as November 3 nears, when Houston residents will vote on whether to keep in place HERO, the broad-spectrum ordinance that protects Houstonians against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that Houston officials must either repeal HERO or put it to a public vote, the ordinance found a home on November's ballot as Proposition 1.
"Prop. 1 is not about equality. That's already the law," says Lt. Gov. Patrick in a video posted to the "Vote NO on Houston Prop 1" Facebook page. "It's about letting men in women's locker rooms and bathrooms."
Meanwhile, the virulently anti-LGBT "Campaign for Houston" last week released a fearmongering, transphobic ad that out Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart rightly described as "perverted." Watch the ad, which repeats false claims first advanced by the group in an August radio ad, below.
As Capehart notes:
"The last frame is as terrifying as the entire ad is flat-out false. … What goes too far is this bigoted ad and its perversion of the facts. It is an outright lie to say 'any man at any time could enter a woman’s bathroom at any time simply by claiming to be a woman that day.' Such a statement reveals a willful ignorance of what it means to be transgender."
Indeed, these transphobic claims, frequently recycled by opponents of equal access for LGBT people, are patently false. Not only does Houston currently lack nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people — meaning "equality" is not "already the law" in Houston — but HERO's passage would in no way allow legal cover for men to enter women's restrooms. And as Capehart notes, since 1972, Houston has had a law on the books that expressly criminalizes anyone who deliberately enters a sex-segregated bathroom with the intent of harassing someone of the opposite sex.
As Media Matters recently noted in a full debunking of those scare tactics, several major Texas cities have already implemented LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and none of the fatalistic predictions of the anti-HERO crowd have come to pass.
What Houston's proposed ordinance would do is allow transgender men and women to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. It would also create an avenue for legal recourse for LGBT people who feel they have been discriminated against in housing or employment. Finally, HERO would bring Houston policies into line with federal guidelines that prohibit discrimination on the basis of 15 distinct characteristics.
Specifically, the Houston ordinance:
"Prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy."
Nowhere in the proposed ordinance are bathrooms or locker rooms mentioned directly. The ordinance's provision regarding equal access to public accommodations is generally interpreted to include gender-segregated spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms.
But the laser-like focus and dedication to painting HERO as a "bathroom bill" (a phrase defined as derogatory by LGBT advocacy group GLAAD) is a tried-and-true red herring that seeks to derail conversations about equal accommodation into transphobic fearmongering. Despite the allegations in these ads and others like it, there has never been a verified instance of a transgender woman — or, for that matter, a man — using such an ordinance as cover to enter gender-segregated spaces and harass women. Likewise, a June study by progressive watchdog group Media Matters discovered that trans-inclusive restroom policies in the 17 largest school districts in the U.S. have resulted in zero incidents of boys "pretending" to be girls, reports of harassment, or any other "negative consequence" of the inclusive policies.
Of course, were someone to enter a restroom indenting to assault women, such an aggressor could still be prosecuted and punished under local, state, and federal laws prohibiting such harassment. No citywide ordinance could change that — and HERO isn't looking to do so.
In reality, transgender people are much more likely than their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts to be the victims of harassment and violence in restrooms and other gender-segregated spaces. A 2013 study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law found that a staggering 70 percent of transgender respondents in the Washington, D.C., area had experienced some sort of negative reaction to them using the restroom.