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Bathroom Fears Block Anti-Discrimination Ordinance in Houston

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was supposed to prevent wide-spread discrimination based on race, age, military status, sexual orientation and gender identity, but the majority of Houstonians voted against this ordinance to “protect women.” 

This ordinance did not include religious institutions, but that did not prevent from Houston pastors from condemning this ordinance

“It opens up our city and in short order all of the metropolitan area of Houston to something that I think is absolutely godless,” Ed Young, a pastor in Houston, said about the ordinance. “It is totally deceptive, and it is deadly."

Although the word “bathroom” is not mentioned a single time in the ordinance even in the public accommodations section, people were concerned that this bill would allow men to use the women’s restroom, which could result in assault or danger for women. This fear was placed into the Houstonians' head from the smear campaign that was plastered all over Houston. The campaign effectively transformed this ordinance of protection against discrimination for many different classes of people through transphobic propaganda. 

"If I understand, part is about picking the restroom you want," Sharome Robinson, a police officer in Houston, told Buzzfeed. "I am a police officer, so males entering the restrooms, that does not sit well with me. It’s not legal now, but it still happens. People follow kids into bathrooms and assault them today. But if this passes, who would have the authority to stop them? If there is no longer any rule against it, who can question that person?”

The dialogue about this bill focused on the absurd claim that this ordinance will somehow result in pedophiles being in women’s restrooms. Opponents of the ordinances used fear mongering to support their agenda, while ironically asserting that the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker who is the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, is trying to pass this ordinance to support “the gay agenda.” But maybe gay agenda is some people’s version of equal rights?

The ordinance was named the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO for short, but opponents of this ordinance named it “The Bathroom Ordinance.” Signs were plastered all over Houston that read “NO Men in Women’s Bathrooms!”

There was even an advertisement that was sponsored by the Campaign for Houston in which a young girl was cornered by a creepy man in a bathroom stall while a narrator says “protect women’s privacy, prevent danger.” This ad ran on Houston TV stations.

The ad opens up by saying that "any man, any time" could enter into the women's restroom just because the person claims to be a woman on that particular day. In reality, nowhere in this bill was it said that men were allowed to enter the women’s restroom.

The video then goes on to say that registered sex offenders could follow women and young girls into the restroom, and "if a business tries to stop them, they'd be fined." Again, wrong. Going into a bathroom with the intent to harass or assault women would still be illegal. 

As a result,  61 percent of Houstonian voters opposed the bill, which makes Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., one of the largest cities to not have an ordinance that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The tactic that the anti-HERO campaign was based off of is the bathroom myth. This myth perpetuates the idea that letting transgender people use the bathroom that they identify with is somehow dangerous. Carlos Maza from Media Matters has disprooven that trans-inclusive bathrooms result in sexual predators' access to the women's bathroom

Because the anti-LGBTQ+ group has no other grounds to oppose the ordinance other than their own ignorance, the bathroom myth will unfortunately likely remain as a last hope to block anti-discrimination ordinances like this one from passing.


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