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Houston Rejects Equal Rights Ordinance, HERO

Houston Rejects Equal Rights Ordinance, HERO

Credit: Pat Sullivan/AP

Credit: Houston Chronicle

Somewhere in the middle of GOP debates and the huge victories for Black Lives Matter at the University of Missouri, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (“HERO”) was defeated in Texas. HERO would have protected Houston citizens from discrimination based on over 10 categories (including: race, age, military status, sexual orientation gender identity) from employment (public or private), housing, public accommodations (such as public bathroom use), and many other services offered by the city of Houston. This was an opportunity for us to ally, an opportunity to be heroes, and heroes in the lives of so many displaced LGBTQ+ Americans, but we failed.

Americans don’t understand, and are lead falsely to believe (by the media and politics), that the movement for LGBTQ+ rights ended with the Supreme Court’s ‘right to marry’ decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. In actuality, the fight for fair, equitable, and accessible treatment of LGBTQ+ Americans, especially those of color and identify as Trans* never ended.

Across the country LGBTQ+ folks are made homeless from eviction, lose their jobs, and the term Transgender* is often synonymous with “sexual predator.” The current trend of American law and policy keeps us chained to the closet. Same-sex couples may share the right to marry, but that has not translated to freedom for all Americans. Impoverished, elderly, minorities, and Americans with disabilities (invisible or visible) are not free.

The obvious question: how did an ordinance aimed at protecting numerous marginalized identities, not just LGBTQ+, fail? A large contributor to HERO’s failure is the extensive “Bathroom Panic” a socio-cultural phenomena in which many Americans fear that by allowing Trans* individuals to use public restrooms that match their gender identity, then sexual predators will be given that same access by posing as transgender and thus sexual assaults would increase.

Thus, to combat this fear, and subsequently HERO, many Americans want transgender* Americans to use public restrooms that match their gender assigned at birth. Let me make this clear: Transgender* Americans are not trying prey on anyone in public restrooms…we just need to pee!

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson’s answer to this egregious gender discrimination is to have “them” use separate bathrooms. He was quoted saying, “How about we have a transgender bathroom? It is not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable. It’s one of the things that I don’t particularly like about the [LGBT] movement. I think everybody has equal rights, but I’m not sure that anybody should have extra rights—extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else.” Interesting, I wonder how that would read if we replaced “transgender” or “LGBT” with “black”? Looks a lot like separate but equal. But wait, that has been the experience of transgender* American life both in LGB (the T is almost always sacrificed for “progress”) and heteronormative law, policy, and spaces.

Hey Ben, social justice 101: there can’t be “extra rights” for a community who never had rights in the first place. HERO could have protected many Americans, not only LGBTQ+. But fear, ignorance, and inequitable policy led to its failure. America, let’s Stop Policing Trans Bodies.

So, Trans* Americans “make everyone else uncomfortable” in public restrooms? What makes me, an “American”, uncomfortable is that the rate of reported* murders of transgender* Americans have nearly doubled in the last year and instead of doing something about it, politicians are wasting time bickering about what’s in my pants without my consent. That sounds a little predatory to me.

A Note from the Writer

Trans* or Transgender* (with the asterisk): is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. Often times, in more contemporary critical work, non-use of the asterisk could be read as referring only to transgender men and women, the binary. Learn more at:

Reported*: like most hate crimes, many go underreported or not reported at all. In the unique case of trans* individuals, because of transphobia, cultural stigma, homophobia, etc. their murders often are not indicated a trans* specific and/or they are buried as their name and sex assigned at birth. For more accurate rates on this epidemic, the Trans* Murder Monitoring Project (TMM) systematically collects, monitors, and analyzes data internationally of trans* murders.

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