Mayor Annise Parker blasted a petition effort from opponents of Houston's new Equal Rights Ordinance, calling it a "strange obsession" to undo the city's first comprehensive non-discrimination law.
"The Houston I know, the Houston that I have represented for many, many years does not discriminate and does not tolerate discrimination," Parker said during a press conference on Thursday.
The 20-minute public appearance came less than an hour after opponents of HERO submitted petitions calling for a public vote to overturn the ordinance, which the City Council passed in late May. Parker said Thursday that City Secretary Anna Russell has 30 days to verify and tally the signatures on the petitions to see if they meet the 17,269 needed to put HERO before voters in November. A coalition of religious leaders and other opponents of the ordinance submitted more than 50,000 signatures, according to News 92FM.
Parker said she's confident that if the ordinance faces a public vote, it will survive.
"I have every expectation that this petition drive will be defeated," Parker said.
"We will have the same outcome in November as we had around the council table and that is ..." Parker said before a cheering crowd interrupted her. "Houston does not discriminate, Houston will not discriminate and Houstonians will not be fooled by misinformation, hyperbole and I would use the word lies but I am holding back from that."
"It's a great ordinance and I am proud to have been a part of passing this ordinance," Parker added.
The ordinance protects a broad range of categories – including sex, race, ethnicity, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy – from discrimination in city employment and services, housing, public accommodations, and public and private employment. But Parker said opponents are fixated on transgender people using restrooms.
"It is illegal today, it will be illegal tomorrow, it will be illegal under this ordinance or not under this ordinance for a man to go into a woman's restroom," Parker said. "This strange obsession with where transgender men and women choose to do some human basic function, which is toileting, is mystifying to me and strange."
Parker said a board coalition of current and former public officials, and business and civic leaders support the ordinance.
"I'm surrounded here by many from the community who are directly impacted by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. In fact, the entire community of Houston is touched in some way by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance," she said.
She urged a boisterous crowd at the press conference, which greeted her with raucous applause, to contain their enthusiasm for the possible ballot measure.
"Save a little of that energy. We may need it," Parker said. "I have no doubt that we will have a positive outcome going forward."