HERO supporters tell Council to save ordinance

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Days after the Texas Supreme Court ordered the City Council to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance or place it on the November ballot, supporters rallied at a Council meeting and a judge dealt another blow to LGBT equality efforts in the city.

State District Court Judge Brent Gamble ordered City Secretary Anna Russell to count signatures on a petition aimed at enshrining a transgender bathroom ban in the City Charter. 

The city had rejected the petition submitted earlier this month by anti-LGBT activist Dave Wilson, saying that because it essentially seeks to repeal HERO, it needed to be filed within 30 days of the ordinance's effective date last year. Gamble disagreed, ordering Russell to count the signatures by Aug. 8 and present her findings to the council. But Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker, said the city planned to appeal Gamble's decision. 

“Mayor Parker is trying to force her alternative lifestyle on the citizens of Houston,” Wilson told the Houston Chronicle, “therefore denying them the right to vote.”

Wilson's petition would repeal transgender protections in both HERO and Parker's 2012 executive order covering city employees. 

“Except as required by State or Federal law, the City of Houston shall only define 'Gender Identity' as an Individual's Innate Identification, as either male or female, which Is assigned at birth,” the petition states. “Perceived gender identification Is not allowed In defining 'Gender Identity.' Furthermore, the City of Houston shall require entities doing business with the city to adopt the same definition of 'Gender Identity.'” 

Wilson initially submitted the petition in April. However, the city rejected it because it contained only 19,700 signatures, short of the 20,000 needed for a charter amendment. Wilson said he'd misunderstood the rules and gathered the additional signatures before re-submitting the petition on July 9. 

City officials responded by saying Wilson's petition was invalid not only because it's too late to repeal HERO, but also because courts have determined that ordinances can't be repealed with charter amendments. Wilson then filed suit, representing himself. 

Notwithstanding the city's appeal, Gamble's ruling raises the possibility that voters could decide two anti-LGBT initiatives Nov. 3, in addition to the mayor's race and 16 council seats.

'There are people who need this ordinance'

 

Also Tuesday, supporters and opponents of HERO (top photo) addressed the City Council for several hours. They spoke in response to the Texas Supreme Court's decision last week in a case involving a separate petition targeting HERO. The court ruled that the City Council must repeal HERO by Aug. 25 or place it on the November ballot.

KPRC-TV reports

“There are people who need this ordinance. You talk about homelessness, we have people living in their cars because they were fired from their jobs because they are transgender,” Fran Watson (second photo center) said.

Many of Tuesday's speakers made an impassioned plea to council members, urging them to let voters have the final say by placing the ordinance on the November ballot.

“Are we going to be the most diverse city in the United States that supports discrimination, or are we going to be the most diverse city in the United States that is welcoming to all?” Melissa Vivanco asked.

Not surprisingly, those who spoke against the ordinance included Wilson, a longtime anti-LGBT activist who led the fight to repeal domestic partner benefits in 2001:

“It was not rooted in eternal law and natural law. They circumvented the will of the people, refused to let people vote, violated the First Amendment, threatened our religious freedom, refused to follow man's law and they violated God's law,” Dave Wilson said.

Regardless of what happens with Wilson's petition, the HERO fight promises to be front and center in Houston municipal elections. Over the weekend, Bill King became the second mayoral candidate to come out against HERO. Via My Fox Houston:  

Saturday the Houston Chronicle Columnist and former Kemah Mayor said he “saw no need for a discrimination ordinance”.

It is a position against HERO confirmed by his campaign which also says King believes Mayor Annise Parker was wrong to deny citizens a vote.

University of Houston political analyst  Brandon Rottinghaus says King will likely face allegations of pandering to the right.

“It makes him look like a political opportunist in a world that sometimes rejects that. It could be that it creates a backlash from current individuals who are supporting  him as well as a general perception that he is the one in the race who is not tolerant,” said Rottinghaus. 

Mayoral candidate Ben Hall opposes HERO and issued a statement Friday applauding the state Supreme Court for its ruling.

At least five Houston mayoral candidates have come out in support of HERO — state Rep. Sylvester Turner, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, City Councilman Steve Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and Marty McVey. 

Elsewhere, Charles Kuffner at Off The Kuff said offers some interesting analysis of Wilson's petition: 

We’ll see what if anything comes of the city’s emergency appeal, but consider this: if we take to heart the core of the Obergfell and Windsor decisions – and Lawrence v. Texas before them – a law that is based on animus against a group of people cannot be constitutional. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems clear to me that Wilson’s hateful proposal could not survive judicial scrutiny if it were approved. But putting all that aside, this is just wrong. It’s wrong to use the weight of a majority to push around a minority, and it’s wrong to put people’s humanity to a vote. Funny how a heathen like me understands that better than a “Christian” like Dave Wilson.

You can watch Tuesday's full council hearing on the city's website

Photos by Rob Martinez

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