Anti-LGBT forces in Houston got their prominent spokesman after former Astro outfielder and first baseman Lance Berkman cut a commercial urging voters to reject the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.
The commercial is part of a larger media campaign, including radio ads, aimed at stoking conservative turnout during what is expected to be a low-turnout municipal election this fall, in the hopes that voters will overturn the ordinance, which was passed by the Houston City Council in 2014. City officials ruled that opponents initially failed to gather enough signatures, but the courts intervened, with the Texas Supreme Court ordering the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot for voter approval via a referendum. In response, the Council voted to place it on the ballot as Proposition 1.
In the anti-HERO video, Berkman trots out the well-worn trope issued by conservative anti-LGBT opponents in almost every state that has considered passing LGBT nondiscrimination protections: that women and girls are somehow threatened by transgender people, or that sexual predators will pretend to have gender dysphoria in order to attack people in restrooms.
“My wife and I have four daughters,” Berkman says. “Proposition 1 would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter to enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms. It’s better to prevent this danger by closing women’s restrooms to men, rather than waiting for a crime to happen.”
In an interview with a local news station FOX 26, Berkman defended the reasoning behind the ad, saying: “Is there a guy in there who could potentially be a child predator? I don’t want to have to worry about that.”
The major players in the fight over HERO are Houston Unites, which supports keeping the ordinance in place, and the Campaign for Houston, which is against any laws that prohibit LGBT discrimination. Richard Carlbom, of Houston Unites, has condemned Berkman’s ad as fear-mongering, saying that opponents of the ordinance are making untrue claims about what the law would do.
“The other side is using very heated rhetoric and frankly false accusations that are unfounded,” Carlbom said.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, chalks up Berkman’s support as a win for the Campaign for Houston, saying it gives opponents of HERO a substantial boost and a public figure willing to speak out for a particular stance on the issue, calling it a “good sell” for the anti-HERO forces.
On the other side, few prominent celebrities have spoken out in favor of keeping the ordinance intact. That’s why Carlos Maza, the LGBT program director for Media Matters for America, has urged Houston native Beyoncé Knowles to come out support of the ordinance. Maza is credited with starting the Twitter campaign #BeyBeAHERO asking the singer, who enjoys a substantial LGBT fan base and has previously expressed support for marriage equality, to take a stand on the issue affecting LGBT people in her hometown.