Houston Votes Against LGBT Protections and For Transmisogynistic Lies

Houston’s Nondiscrimination Ordinance Failed By A Wide Ass Margin

As I said yesterday in the Daily Fix, Houston was set to vote on a nondiscrimination ordinance that would’ve protected not only sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, but also 13 other distinctions including race, ethnicity, age, military service and pregnancy. I also said it was going to be a close race since polls showed early voters turned out in droves, more so than usual. I was also very optimistic yesterday that young Houstonians could turn out to vote and finally pass Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. I was totally utterly wrong because HERO was defeated and lost by a wide fucking margin — 61%-39%, making Houston the only major American city without a nondiscrimination law. As you can see in this map, only the city’s center, probably the city’s most progressive areas, had the most votes in favor of the ordinance. On the other hand, as you go farther out of the city’s center the votes in favor of the ordinance plummet. Houston failed to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance by a really wide margin.

HEROsupporters by Daniel Kramer

HERO supporters by Daniel Kramer

Religious and conservative leaders succeeded in provoking unfounded fears in people by calling this ordinance a “bathroom ordinance” and using the slogan “No Men in Women’s Restrooms” to specifically target trans women. Trans Editor Mey Rude says she’s sad and angered by the outcome of this election and points out that the tactics the opposition used by referring to trans women as men and sexual predators is an extremely successful political strategy. It’s frightening to think how successful Republicans and religious right-wing conservatives were at creating a fearmongering, smear campaign against trans women and how it ultimately won over voters and the election. What’s even more frightening is how this strategy could be replicated and used in other campaigns across the country. Houston LGBT advocates agree that the tactic of spreading lies is what won in this election. After election results were posted, Mayor Annise Parker said at a Houston Unites watch party:

“It is insulting it is demeaning and it is just wrong. This was a campaign of fearmongering and deliberate lies. This isn’t misinformation, this is a calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little understood minority and to use that to take down an ordinance that 200 other cities across America and 17 states have successfully passed and operated under. They just kept spewing an ugly wad of lies from our TV screens and from pulpits. This was a calculated campaign by a very small but determined group of right-wing ideologues and the religionist right and they know only how to destroy. Not how to build up.”


by Houston Press

Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick adamantly opposed the ordinance, citing the bathroom arguments. “The voters clearly understand that this proposition was never about equality – that is already the law,” Patrick said. “It was about allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms — defying common sense and common decency.”

How can you not want to throw a really heavy winter boot at this guy’s head? Equality is not already part of the law, sir — maybe it is for you as an old white man politician. And you’re really asking for common sense and common decency right now? What about protecting all sorts of citizens in Houston from discrimination? Where’s YOUR COMMON SENSE AND DECENCY?

This loss is especially damning after a year and a half battle trying to implement the nondiscrimination ordinance since it was originally passed by the city council in May 2014. Conservative leaders and pastors immediately started collecting signatures to repeal the ordinance. City officials ruled that they didn’t collect enough signatures, resulting in a lawsuit from the opposition. The ordinance was implemented for three months before it was put on hold as the lawsuit made its way through the courts. In April, a state district judge ruled the opponents of the ordinance had not gathered enough valid signatures. The case went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and in July they ruled that the city council had to consider the signatures a valid referendum petition and repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot for public vote.

Parker also noted in her speech after the loss that the results had “stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming, global city” and would result in “direct economic backlash.” Some people took to Twitter to denounce the city’s decision by using the hashtag #BoycottHouston.

Advocates and progressives in the city and in Texas aren’t going down without a fight. Houston Unites, the organization in support of the ordinance, said they learned a lot from this campaign. “We have to continue sharing our stories so that more Houstonians know what HERO is really about and aren’t susceptible to the ugliest of smear campaigns run by the opposition,” the coalition said in a statement. ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke echoes the same sentiment and called on the new mayor and city council to adopt another equal rights ordinance “as quickly as possible.” “We intend to harness the energy and enthusiasm of everyone who came together for this campaign to continue the fight for equality in Houston and across Texas,” Burke said in a statement.

Results from Other Elections Relevant to Your Interests

+ Voters in Salt Lake City, Utah elected it’s first openly lesbian mayor, former Utah state rep. Jackie Biskupski. Even though all mail-in ballots haven’t been finalized, Biskupski beat her opponent, incumbent Ralph Becker by five percentage points in a close race.

+ In Ohio, voters rejected to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. It was more complicated than just legalizing marijuana use since “Ohio’s measure was backed by a cartel of investors—ResponsibleOhio—who would retain the exclusive rights to cultivate marijuana.” The issue was highly controversial and divisive between voters, making it unclear if the voters were rejecting marijuana use entirely or just this proposed monopolistic setup. The Atlantic ponders on why the measure failed. 

“The business model was meant to serve a double purpose: It would both draw in strong monetary support for the ballot issue, and it would put a sober, corporate face on cannabis, soothing the nerves of swing-state Ohioans wary of a hippie takeover. But when I spoke to Douglas Berman, a professor of law at the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law Tuesday afternoon, he predicted defeat for the measure, chalking it up to a strategic miscalculation by campaigners.”

+ Keego Harbor, Michigan legalized marijuana use for adults.

+ Colorado voters “approved a statewide ballot measure that gives state lawmakers permission, once again, to spend $66.1 million in taxes collected from the sale of recreational marijuana.”

+ It looks like Seattle‘s city council is going to be younger, more diverse and led by more women than ever before. According to the Seattle Times, “Each of the council’s nine members previously represented the whole city, under a system in use since 1911. But Seattle voters approved a ballot measure in 2013 moving seven of those nine seats to voting by district, starting with the 2015 election.” The new council will bring four new members. This new district voting model will hopefully “push candidates and council members to pay more attention to neighborhood-level concerns.” The new council will wrangle with proposed legislation related to housing concerns and rent hikes and keeping tabs on Seattle’s minimum wage law in order to put all minimum wage workers in the city on a path to $15 an hour.

+ In Virginia, Democrats lost control of the state Senate.

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Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and former Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her queer Latina heart. Yvonne was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter. Read more of her work at yvonnesmarquez.com.

Yvonne has written 205 articles for us.


  1. And in Kentucky, we elected the rabid Tea Partier who scrambled to get his photo-op with gold-bricking County Clerk Kim Davis. So we’re getting ready to say goodbye to Medicaid expansion, our state health insurance exchange, union rights, and state Planned Parenthood funding. A sad night.

    But the triumph of lies over decency in Houston is the worst. So, so dejected.

  2. I am so disappointed in the people of Houston. My heart is heavy knowing that I live in a city that doesn’t protect all its citizens from discrimination. My head hurts from trying to comprehend why so many individuals did not exercise their right and their privilege to vote. My soul is tired from existing in a world full of so many unnecessary obstacles, hate, and ignorance.

  3. I’m sorry, but where the fuck were the progressive or middle-ground voters of Houston? Watching TV? Hoping that things would work out without any involvement?

    Go to vote for for Pete’s sake!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m gonna leave a little something here that can give everybody a little hope, the story is a bit old, it seems that AP found this just now and the writing is a little meh, but here we go:


    • The exit polling suggests that middle ground and even progressive voters were swayed by the imaginary threat suggested by ads saying “No men in women’s bathrooms”.

      • But is also true that mid-term and off-year elections are a great a traditional battle ground for republicans, because they have more turn-out than democrats (Proposition 8 is a good example of that).

  4. I live in Chicago now, but Houston is my hometown and where a lot of my queer friends live, and I am so, so disappointed and angry at Houstonians for voting against an equal rights ordinance. I thought Houston could do better. I was wrong.

      • The difference is, the Illinois case is in the burbs, not a major city. There are tons of suburbs and smaller cities who are more than happy to continue discriminating against trans adults and youth. Hundreds of such battlegrounds. I would totally expect to see Houston-style challenges in cities like Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati… the list goes on. Any urban area where there are sizable red districts within the urban area is going to end up with a “bathroom bill.” Maybe not all in 2016 (because they usually don’t like to try these tactics in a presidential election year)… but soon.

        • Perhaps, but I believe that every single one of the cities you mention already has in place a law prohibiting discrimination against trans people — with some of those laws having existed for many years. In all cases without a single bathroom “incident” of the kind fear-mongers love to fantasize about. For that reason — and because repealing laws by popular referendum isn’t a procedure that’s even possible in a lot of places — it’s a lot harder to repeal a law that’s been in existence than to prevent one that’s never been implemented from taking effect.

  5. Living in Houston sure is a riot. Sure love feeling ashamed of myself and unsafe like 99% of the time. If you don’t live around the Montrose area you’re pretty much fucked when it comes to those in the LGBT community. And even then. I’m so tired of this city. (This is really bitter, sorry.)

  6. I know that if people had gotten out and voted, this wouldn’t have happened. Houston is by far not my favorite place on earth, but I really feel like this vote does not reflect most of the city’s values. Ugh. Sending y’all my love from Beaumont.

  7. In some good news: in the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court race (yes I know… An election for Supreme Court it’s ridic) all 3 Dems were elected which is great news for things like redistricting, abortion rights, and gun control.

  8. Now the thing to do is to press conventions and sports events to switch venues from Houston. There needs to be some economic pain inflicted on the city that has proclaimed itself fourth-rate. People in Houston need to understand that the business community was not fooling when it said that defeat would be bad for business.

    • It needs to be bad for business. Sorry people of Houston, but that’s the only thing those in power seem to understand.

  9. So Texas is gonna take care of their rape kit backlog since they’re so concerned about protecting women from sexual assault, right?

  10. Hate to play devil’s advocate here but the people of Houston voted and US politics is based on democratic representation. Houston is socially conservative and the backlash if this passed would have been more detrimental to the LGBT community.

    • No, actually, it is the result of fearmongering.

      Conservative activists saw it as a test case for their national campaign efforts next year… and considering their success I suspect we shall see more the same baseless lies on the national stage.

    • I think that’s absurd. Do you oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage because of the backlash that resulted?

      In fact, I think that what would have happened is that people would have seen that nothing “bad” happened as a result, and that the fear-mongering was baseless, just like in the many other municipalities around the USA that have instituted laws like this over the last few decades.

  11. My eyes somehow read ‘Houston votes against transmysogynistic lies’ and then I actually read the article and my heart broke. :(

  12. Ugh. My state is being a festering wound on the planet again and I am deeply ashamed. I’m lucky to be up in Dallas, which does have a protection ordinance (though a very minimal one), but I am so scared at how effective this hatemongering campaign was.

    The president of the LGBTQIA activism group at my university started a petition to move the NCAA Final Four tournament out of Houston because it’s so unsafe. It’s here, please sign: https://www.change.org/p/ncaa-houston-shouldn-t-be-rewarded-with-the-final-four-tournament . As of now they’re still refusing to move it, but maybe if we get enough momentum and signatures or make a racket in the press they’d have to do something. Big business, distasteful as it is sometimes, is a powerful ally of our community and a way to get Republicans on our side. Companies are finally starting to realize that we’re a good investment, so it isn’t good business sense to be bigots. At least, I’m hoping they’ll realize that and get the hell out of Houston.

  13. I’m a trans woman and I currently live in Austin, but I’m originally from Houston. This has all be so depressing and draining. I think what really shocked me more than it failing was how wide the margin was. As mentioned the HERO act was about so much more than just trans people. However all the ignorance, fear, and hate of trans women specifically is what cause the bill to fail.

    It’s one thing to know that we face discrimination, or to even encounter it in a small scale in your daily life. However seeing the large numbers of people line up to show how much they hate us for simply existing is so disheartening. It kind of sends a clear message to me that I am not welcome in my hometown and shouldn’t go back there.

    I know the fight will continue, but it’s a major setback and it makes me afraid the right will see this as encouragement to pass an actual trans discriminatory bill in the state as a whole. With these tactics, and this sort of sample of numbers it seems likely they will actually win. I’m getting very scared to live here.

  14. I’m originally from Chicago, but have lived in Houston for 14 years and despite being here so long I have never considered myself a Houstonian because I have to hear about crap like this happening all the time. It was truly upsetting to see Prop 1 not pass. I felt useless as well because according to the City of Houston I am not eligible to vote on City issues. I live a 2 minute drive away from being eligible to vote. My license says Houston so wtf?

    • My home address says Houston too but my family and I could never vote on city issues either! What’s up with that?

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