A years-long struggle for civil rights was dealt a major blow Tuesday when Houston, Texas voters rejected an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, country of origin, and numerous other characteristics.
By banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the proposal would have secured rights not protected under federal laws. HERO would have applied to workplaces, city contracting, housing, and public accommodation—but not religious institutions.
Religious conservatives launched an aggressive and hate-speech-filled campaign against the measure by stoking fears and prejudice against transgender people. In particular, they spread the widely-debunked myth that nondiscrimination protections would threaten the safety of women in restrooms. Such falsehoods have been repeatedly employed to block anti-discrimination protections nationwide, including the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
"It’s a tragedy that Houston remains the only major city in Texas—indeed, the last big city in the United States—that does not extend equal rights protections to all of its residents and visitors," said Terri Burke, executive director of ACLU Texas, in a statement following the vote. The proposal was also supported by Equality Texas and the city's mayor.
The bill also had the strong backing of prominent African-American organizations, including the Houston chapters of the NAACP and Urban League, who noted that discrimination against black people—from businesses to housing—remains a deep problem in the city.
"Those of us who have worked to bring equality to Houston will continue the fight to ensure that everyone can live fairly and equally under the law," Burke continued. "The next mayor and newly elected members of Houston’s city council must prioritize the passage of a new equal rights ordinance as quickly as possible."