White House Offers Support for Houston Equal Rights Measure

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Bathroom predator’ spin on Houston equal rights bill puts Texans in hot seat.

Several heavyweights in the national Democratic Party expressed support and optimism Thursday about Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance on the ballot next week. “No one should face discrimination for who they are or who they love — I support efforts for equality in Houston & beyond,” the former U.S. secretary of state and U.S. senator wrote of the ordinance, known as HERO, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in addition to gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability and more.Houston Astros legend Lance Berkman is afraid that his four daughters could use the same restroom as transgender women, and he wants you to know about it.We made a conscious decision when we started this blog that it wouldn’t be political because our family isn’t a political issue that is up for debate.

Houston Unites has raised nearly $3 million in support of Proposition 1 from late August through last Saturday, according to the campaign’s finance report submitted to the city today.Standing in front of an image of a ballpark and staring into the camera, the former Houston Astros baseball star Lance Berkman had an important message to impart. In an ad for Campaign for Houston—a PAC opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an LGBT nondiscrimination measure supported by Mayor Annise Parker that will be decided by a ballot proposition on Nov. 3—Berkman introduces himself with his baseball credentials before segueing into some of the worst transphobic fear-mongering the debate over LGBT legal protections has seen so far. “My wife and I have four daughters,” the recently retired athlete says in the ad. “Proposition 1 would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms.” Berkman adds in a behind-the-scenes video for the spot that the idea of transgender people is “a little strange to [him],” before sounding the alarm over the possibility that a child predator could abuse the ordinance to attack his daughters. “As a husband and a father, you feel like you’re in a position of protector over your family,” Berkman says. “I would like to protect my girls from as many threats that are out there as I possibly can.” In the October buildup to the vote, Campaign for Houston has been getting as much mileage out of the onetime MLB player as it can.

Almost 75 percent of all donors were from Houston. “Compared to the handful of wealthy opponents funding the rollback of needed protections for African-Americans, Latinos, women and veterans, we have put together a massive, diverse grassroots coalition backing Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance,” said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager of Houston Unites. “We anticipate this to be the closest of races, so these final days are critical for HERO supporters to keep investing in the campaign.” Here’s their report. Not regarding the Astros’ improbable march to the playoffs, but about men in women’s bathrooms. “I played professional baseball for 15 years but my family’s more important.

The question of whether the ordinance will be upheld has dominated Houston politics for much of the year, and recent attacks about public restroom access have drowned out discussion of discrimination. Berkman, who played for the Astros from 1999 to 2004, has been featured in radio spots, and one Houston resident told The Daily Beast that he has been receiving robocalls featuring a recorded message from Berkman for the past few weeks. As Proposition 1 picks up endorsements in the final days before the election, Berkman’s star status has been invoked as proof that the anti-HERO campaign is still going strong. I assume this is because he had merely pledged to give $10K before having his mind changed, so with no money actually changing hands there’s nothing to report.

As The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson noted earlier this year, “To be clear, there is not a single case—not one—of a trans woman assaulting other women in a public restroom.” The Advocate also confirmed in March that “there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender [non-transgender] person.” In April, Mic surveyed the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Center for Transgender Equality, none of which could find statistical evidence of the sort of violence that critics like Berkman fear will result from nondiscrimination ordinances. It is designed to protect the populace from discrimination in housing, employment and just about everything else, on just about any basis: race, age, pregnancy, religion, ethnicity, military status, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Annise Parker, a Democrat who was elected as the country’s first openly gay big-city mayor in 2009, was naturally appalled that Houston lacked such a rule.

There’s also the No On Prop 1 PAC, but they had not reported as of yesterday, so the antis do have more than this, we just don’t have all the details yet. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (PDF) found that 22 percent of transgender employees had been denied access to an appropriate restroom in their own workplace. The Business Coalition has four donors – cash donations from Bret Scholtes ($500) and Haynes & Boone LLP ($5,000), and pledges from the Greater Houston Partnership ($71,760) and United Airlines ($10,000). They spent all their money on print ads – $77,500 in the Chronicle, $9,760 in the Houston Business Journal – which may sound weird until you remember that the average age of a Houston voter in this election is expected to be about 69. Yet somehow, the ordinance, dubbed Hero, has triggered an 18-month battle waged in the courts and the media that has spanned allegations of suppressed religious freedom, petition-rigging and helping sexual predators, and turned a local issue into a national fight between Christian conservatives and LGBT rights activists.

In this instance, I’ve read comments from people (yes, I know I need to stop reading them) that have said, “I would never send my daughter into the restroom with a man.” The thought that kept going through my mind was “who is sending their daughter alone into a restroom anyway?” While our daughter just turned four years old and our son will soon turn two years old, I take them in the men’s restroom with me and go in a stall when they need to use the restroom in public. It was time, she said, “that the laws on our books reflect what Houston is.” There was disagreement — from conservative church groups, in particular. Despite the ordinance’s wide scope, opponents have zeroed in on bathrooms, producing a creepy TV commercial that shows a girl about to be attacked in a restroom. “Any man at any time could enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day. When they are older, I will accompany them to the restroom and wait for them outside the door until they come out—well within earshot should anything go wrong.

The senior pastor of the Grace Community Church declared that his congregation “should not be forced to normalize lifestyle choices that God says ‘no’ to.” Echoing claims made in other parts of the United States, opponents also cited public safety. Forty-one came from individual donors, 21 of whom were non-Houston residents (one Houston person gave twice), with two familiar names: Andrew (son of Phyllis) Schlafly, and former HCC Trustee Yolanda Flores (no middle name given, but the ZIP code points to her). This could offend the sensibilities of young girls, opponents claimed, or worse, allow a rapist impersonating a woman to skulk in and commit unspeakable crimes. One donor listed in this group rather than the “corporations or labor unions” line item on the subtotals cover sheet page 3, was TriStar Freight, which gave $2,500. Berkman’s advertisements highlight one of the cruelest ironies of today’s anti-trans panic: While critics suggest repeatedly that transgender people in bathrooms are dangerous, bathrooms are one of the most dangerous places for transgender people to be.

This declaration was interpreted by the opposition as proof of the mayor’s “gay agenda.” The presidential candidate and former Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who lives in Florida, not Texas, urged his Facebook followers to protest on the steps of Houston’s City Hall. This was not enough for a group that submitted a petition in a bid to force a repeal referendum, then sued after the city declared that it fell short of the required threshold because many signatures were invalid.

I wouldn’t want them or anyone else IN the stall with my daughter, but this ordinance doesn’t allow that.” Fear is a very powerful motivator, which is why advertisers use it to sell a variety of products. Then the city made a political misstep when it tried to subpoena sermons from anti-ordinance pastors, outraging the religious right and prompting Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul to allude to the row during the first GOP debate last August. “When the government tries to invade the church to enforce its own opinion on marriage, that’s when it’s time to resist,” he said.

Houston’s HERO legislation—a nondiscrimination ordinance that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations—has been caught in legal and judicial turmoil for over a year. The city rejected the petition three months later, on the grounds that it lacked valid signatures. (Some signatures did look suspiciously similar.) Amid this fraught atmosphere, someone in the city attorney’s office then proposed to subpoena the pastors’ sermons.

The idea was to check whether those pastors were infringing on their churches’ tax-exempt status by preaching against HERO from their pulpits. “If the five pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game,” Ms. As a parent, I hope that our children look back on this time and are proud that they grew up in a place with people who respected diversity and each other. They also argue that scrapping the ordinance would have a negative impact on the city’s image that might harm businesses, especially at a time when sports events will bring Houston national attention. At least Senator Rand Paul has Texas roots. “No minister, anywhere, should ever have to submit a sermon to a government censor,” he in turn tweeted.

With no evidence to support the anti-transgender scare tactics that are often used to argue against nondiscrimination ordinances, opponents like Berkman frame the issue as a matter of preventing crimes rather than responding to an established threat. If you’re unsure what to buy me as a gift, you can just skip a present and give a gift to all of the people of Houston by voting FOR City of Houston Proposition 1. Ellen Cohen, a council member in favour, said that the ordinance is backed by a wide range of business groups and that “it’s not a ‘GLBT equal rights bill’ – it’s a bill that includes the GLBT community … the issue is equal rights for all. Still, given Houston’s size and influence, some activists worry that if the “bathroom predators” spin is persuasive, such fear-mongering could be used as a blueprint in other large cities where there are people who want to frustrate or repeal equal-rights provisions. “Certainly the tactic was used in Fayetteville, Anchorage, and other cities.

If it works here, if Hero is defeated, the bathroom argument will gain steam,” said Daniel Williams of Equality Texas, an LGBT rights group. “We’ve got the numbers on our side. When polling showed that HERO might actually fail in the ballot, the business community — fearful that talented gay, straight or transgender millennials might choose to make their fortunes elsewhere — finally stepped up. Could Houston lose out on hosting the Super Bowl in 2017? “Houston Business and Republican Leaders Say Proposition 1 is Good for Business,” declared the pro-HERO group Houston Unites. That 56 percent of the discrimination cases brought to the city’s attention while the ordinance was in effect were race-related was suddenly not a source of shame, but a plus for the pro-HERO forces. As of mid-October, HERO’s numbers were up: 45 percent in favor, 36 percent opposed, with 20 percent undecided between the specter of scary bathrooms and the promise of Super Bowl riches.

A weary city longs for relief, many agreeing with the burly, bearded transgender male cowboy who posted a sad selfie of himself trapped in a ladies’ restroom.

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