Metro Weekly

Houston LGBT ordinance heads to ballot for voter approval

November vote will mark third time in 30 years that Houstonians will determine fate of nondiscrimination protections

Houston Mayor Annise Parker (Credit: Zblume, via Wikimedia Commons).

Houston Mayor Annise Parker (Credit: Zblume, via Wikimedia Commons).

As expected, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was affirmed by the Houston City Council on Wednesday and will appear on the ballot alongside the races for mayor and city council this November. 

The ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations for a variety of protected classes, including race, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity, was passed by the Council in May 2014. Violators can be fined up to $5,000. But the ordinance also exempts religious institutions from having to abide by it. 

According to The Houston Chronicle, opponents tried to petition the ordinance to a vote, but their petition was rejected by city officials, including out lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, who said the petition was rejected because it was filled with errors and did not contain enough valid signatures. Last month, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling upholding the invalidation of the petition and ordered Houston to either repeal the ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

On Wednesday, with Parker’s blessing, the city council voted 12-5 to affirm the ordinance and place it on the ballot. The council also voted to approve the language of the initiative, which will read: “Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which 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?”

Supporters of HERO will be encouraging those who oppose any type of discrimination to cast a “no” vote.

According to the Chronicle, November’s vote will mark the third time in the past 30 years that Houston residents have voted on LGBT protections. Residents previously rejected such protections in 1985 by a 4-to-1 margin, and again in 2001 by 3 percentage points, or about 7,500 votes. Similar ordinances have passed in other Texas cities, including Plano, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, and Dallas. 

In the meantime, supporters of HERO have taken to social media to advocate for the cause. Carlos Maza, the LGBT program director for Media Matters for America, penned a column for The Huffington Post calling on Houston native Beyoncé Knowles to come out support of the ordinance

“Opponents of LGBT equality have fought to put HERO on the ballot for a repeal vote this November…That means Houston is in for a nasty, dishonest and divisive campaign to repeal HERO and legalize discrimination against LGBT Houstonians,” Maza writes. “These kinds of campaigns don’t usually end well for LGBT people: they’re dehumanizing, traumatic and usually result in LGBT people losing their basic civil rights. 

“But that could change if the world’s proudest and most famous Houstonian decides to stand up for her LGBT fans and speak out in favor of keeping HERO,” Maza continues. “With a single post to her over forty million Instagram followers, Beyoncé could change the debate over Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance and mobilize support for protecting LGBT Houstonians from discrimination.”

Maza’s article went viral, and thousands of Beyoncé fans began tweeting the star with the hashtag #BeyBeAHERO asking her to take a stand on the issue.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com