Mayor Annise Parker said despite a $3 million campaign to defend it, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was doomed to fail in the voting both over politics and fear that knocked supporters off-stride.
Fear beat out logic and a Texas Supreme Court stacked with "right-wing reactionaries" made it clear that there was nothing HERO supporters could do to save the non-discrimination ordinance, Parker told the Washington Blade.
“There are certainly things that we could have done differently,” Parker said. “There are certainly things we could have done better. Do I think there’s anything we could have done to change the outcome? No.”
Supporters poured $3 million into a campaign to defend HERO, though voters overwhelmingly rejected the ordinance nearly 63% to 37% on Nov. 3. Parker blamed a nasty yet effective ad blitz from opponents and the state Supreme Court, which ordered a public vote a year earlier than Parker expected, the mayor told the Blade.
Parker said the timing of the vote in 2015 led to the downfall of the ordinance. When the Houston City Council passed the LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in May 2014, Parker said the expectation was it would be on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year more favorable to the measure.
But when the Texas Supreme Court decided to sideline the ordinance in July and instructed the city council to repeal the measure or place it on the ballot in 2015, the situation changed.
Parker said in addition to reversing the decision of lower courts, the Supreme Court made the decision abruptly without affording time for oral arguments.
“They played politics with our rights, and that’s what happens when you elect right-wing reactionaries,” Parker said. “They trampled duly elected local officials and judges at the lower level.”
The campaign to save HERO was criticized for failing to respond to the fear-mongering "No men in women's restrooms" campaign of opponents that proved so effective. Parker echoed the criticism of HRC President Chad Griffin in blaming Houston TV stations for airing the misleading ads and the media for not countering the "lies" in their coverage of the ads.
“Once that fear was created, no amount of logic could dislodge it,” Parker said.
After the defeat of the ordinance, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told the Blade LGBT advocates should call on TV stations not to run anti-trans ads like the kind seen in Houston, an idea Parker said she endorses.
“I think there should be a certain level of social responsibility because while they were horrific ads, they were clearly fear-mongering and deliberate lies,” Parker said.
But Parker said the bigger issue was media coverage of the advertisements. According to Parker, the anti-LGBT campaign would run the advertisements on low-rated cable TV, but major media networks would cover the ad on the evening news and say the ordinance would allow men in women’s locker rooms.
“The media doesn’t necessarily amplify that just to sensationalize, and I think they did that in this case,” Parker said.
Parker, explaining that she's "running out of runway," has closed the door on a HERO reboot in the closing months of her administration.
"After consulting with City Council members and considering all the other issues I still want to get finished, I do not see a way that we will be able to revisit the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance before I leave office at the end of the year," Parker said in a statement issued Nov. 16. "I am gratified that council members who voted for HERO initially remain supportive and I trust that the next mayor will work on it as appropriate."