Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman opposes HERO, calling Houston's equal rights ordinance "confusing and divisive" while lending his name to anti-LGBT opposition efforts that dub it the "bathroom ordinance" for "sexual predators."
Hickman's opposition to HERO surfaced on Tuesday when Jared Woodfill, who is leading opposition through Campaign for Houston, included Hickman in a lengthy list of GOP officials opposing the ordinance.
We are asking all Republican elected officials to take a public stand against Houston Proposition 1-Bathroom Ordinance. We have requested that they publicly join Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman, State Senators Lois Kolkhorst and Paul Bettencourt, State Representatives Dan Huberty, Gary Elkins, Dwayne Bohac, Dennis Paul and other Republican leaders in supporting Campaign for Houston's efforts to defeat Houston's Proposition 1, the Bathroom Ordinance.
On Wednesday, Hickman confirmed to Project Q Houston that he wants HERO to be scrapped.
"I do not oppose anti-discrimination, however I do oppose the voluminous draft of an ordinance that has become so confusing and divisive that it threatens the unity of the people of Houston," Hickman said in an email statement.
Hickman didn't elaborate on his opposition to the non-discrimination ordinance, which voters will decide the fate of on Tuesday. But Hickman joins a long list of GOP heavyweight that oppose it, including Lt. Dan Patrick. He unleashed an attack on Mayor Annise Parker and HERO during a press conference in Houston last week.
Hickman's opposition to HERO is the latest move from the county's top lawman that is concerning to LGBT activists. Shortly after being appointed to office earlier this year, Hickman demoted Major Debra Schmidt, a 30-plus year law enforcement veteran who helped put in place groundbreaking LGBT policies for staff and inmates. Hickman, miffed over a rainbow flag on the agency's website mentioning an LGBT liaison, deleted it and axed the liaison program. He also cut training for jailers on LGBT issues and canned the transgender activist, Lou Weaver, who helped teach it.
Hickman didn't cut the policy—just some of it. He cut the jailer training, and also the LGBTI liaison program that designated point people for LGBT issues in the jail who could also answer complaints and requests from the community. There used to be a little rainbow flag next to that email address, listed on the Harris County Sheriff's Office website. When Hickman learned about that little flag in a June public meeting, he said, “You mean we have a rainbow flag on the website?” and reportedly shook his head. That flag—along with the email address— is no longer there. And, to say the least, his comments and actions thereafter did not sit well with the LGBTI community.
Sally Huffer, community projects specialist at the Montrose Center, an LGBT organization, said that even something as little as that online flag was a significant, positive step forward in the LGBT community. “Once you take the gay flag off, you go back to being invisible,” Huffer said. “And that's the part especially for the LGBT community versus other minorities, is that our minority status is hidden. [The flag] was a signal to someone that this is a safe place.”
In September, Hickman did meet with the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans and questioned the criticism of his earlier actions on LGBT issues. He also told the meeting that he wants to expand the agency's LGBT policies and focus on inmate classification, addressing LGBT people during traffic stops and improving responses to LGBT crime victims. But, as the Houston Press pointed out, Hickman contradicted himself in a later interview and didn't offer any specifics or a timeline.
Yet later on, when Hickman explained why he decided to cut the LGBTI liaison program, special treatment was certainly not something he supported. Hickman said he cut the program because it was rarely ever used—and because no other minority groups had a program like that, so why this one? One woman at the meeting objected, saying she had many LGBT friends who would find it important that certain officers be identified as LGBT-friendly. The idea appeared to almost offend Hickman, who shot back that the badge itself should be enough to indicate that an officer is safe to talk to. In an interview afterward, he elaborated, saying, “How many generations have we been telling kids, 'this is the person you can talk to'? So now, having a unique, special label seems contradictory.”
Hickman, though, swats down any notion that LGBT inmates should be concerned about their treatment in the county jail or his not-so-gay-friendly actions since taking office.
"All inmates in the care of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office are treated with fairness, dignity and respect," Hickman told Project Q. "I have reinstituted the Sheriff’s Office Training Academy for all personnel, and am providing specific training to remain compliant with the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Employee conduct is not guided by individual beliefs, but by the laws and policies that govern our sworn duties."