Pro-HERO ad shuts down trans bathroom myth

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Days after opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance began airing a disgusting transphobic spot, the coalition supporting HERO responded Friday with its own radio ad.

The ad from Houston Unites pointedly addresses the transgender bathroom myth that has become a rallying cry for HERO opponents. Earlier this week, the anti-LGBT “Campaign for Houston” released a radio ad alleging HERO would allow men to enter women's restrooms, which it called “filthy, disgusting and unsafe.”

Houston Unites' response features Rev. Will Reed, pastor of Servants of Christ United Methodist Church, who emphasizes that in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, HERO prohibits discrimination based on 13 other characteristics, including race:

“As Christians, my wife and I believe in treating others the way we want to be treated, that’s what we’ve taught our children.

“Recently, we’re hearing about HERO – Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, and concerns some have raised about privacy in public bathrooms,” Reed says in the ad. “What’s being lost is that it’s already illegal to go into a bathroom to harm or harass someone. This law won’t change that.

“We looked into it, and HERO is actually about providing a needed local tool to protect Houstonians from discrimination based on their race, religion, age, gender, military status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” Reed says. “And Houston is the only major city in Texas without these protections against discrimination in jobs, housing and public places. In most cases, without local protections, Houstonians literally have to make a federal case out of it to get legal help with discrimination. That’s why we’re voting ‘yes’ on (Proposition 1), to keep Houston’s equal rights ordinance. We’re all God’s children and we should all be protected from discrimination.”

In a release announcing the ad, Houston Unites notes that more than half of discrimiation complaints filed under HERO were based on race, while another 17 percent were based on gender or pregnancy. The ad will air for at least two weeks on KHMX-FM, KKBQ/KTHT-FM, KODA-FM, KPRC-AM, KTRH-AM, RODA-FM and RTRH-AM.

The Campaign for Houston ad, which made headlines and was widely panned in progressive circles, features a young female narrator who says she hopes to get pregnant and have her child in Houston, but is concerned about the impacts of HERO. Listen:

“We are being told the ordinance will prevent discrimination against pregnant women,” the narrator says. “That makes absolutely no sense. There are already federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against pregnant women, but this ordinance will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe. Join me and other women in Houston as we vote ‘No’on Mayor Parker’s bathroom ordnance. And again, let me make this very clear, on behalf of all moms, sisters and daughters, no men in women’s bathrooms.”

Houston Unites responded to the Campaign for Houston ad in a statement:

“The ad is vulgar and grossly misleading. Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is — and always will be — illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people. And the ad leaves out the fact that the law protects tens of thousands of Houstonians from job discrimination based on their race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.”

Also condemning the ad was Pulitzer Prize-winning Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg, who debunked the transgender bathroom myth in a manner rarely seen in the mainstream media:

For critics such as former Harris County Republican Party chairman Jared Woodfill, the claim is just rough-and-tumble politics. It's a way to defeat an ordinance that partially benefits a group of people whose lifestyle they don't support. The claims might even be comical except for the fact that people believe them. …

Even if you insist on voting against it, pick another reason. Maybe you don't want to condone a transgender lifestyle. Maybe you believe protections for some groups are already extended by federal law, and you don't want a local ordinance that could offer relief more quickly and less expensively for your fellow Houstonians.

But don't vote against the ordinance because of urban myths about sexual predators in bathrooms. Sexual predators exist. But if they wanted to attack you in a public bathroom, they wouldn't need a city ordinance to do it.

Also this week, the City Council approved revised ballot language for the Nov. 3 vote on HERO, after the Texas Supreme Court ruled officials must ask voters whether to uphold the ordinance, rather than whether to repeal it. The final ballot language for Proposition 1 states:

“Are you in favor of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual's sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?”

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