On Election Day, 60% of just one quarter of eligible Houston voters disappointingly rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) when they voted No on Prop #1. HERO created a broad swath of nondiscrimination protections for the city of Houston, including protections based on race, religion, sex, military status, pregnancy, genetic information, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The campaign to repeal HERO was grounded in fear and deception, relying on the lie that the anti-discrimination ordinance would permit men to use women’s bathrooms.
There is a sad irony here. Opponents of the ordinance cannot cite a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom. Why? Because it doesn’t happen. Not in Houston nor in the 17 states and 200 cities that already have explicit protections for trans people. To the contrary, it is transgender people themselves who are most vulnerable, with 70 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming respondents in Washington, D.C. reporting that they have been, “denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.” And it is precisely this violence that highlights the need for comprehensive hate crime laws in all 50 states.
But while the loss in Houston still stings, the news for LGBT people around the country is not all bad. Just last week, in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case out of Virginia, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a transgender student barred by his school from using the restroom that corresponds with his gender identity. And in Illinois, the Department of Education found Monday that an Illinois school district violated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a transgender girl who participates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room without restrictions.
In other good news, a district court in Alabama recently issued a decision in Isaacs v. Felder Services LLC that agreed with the EEOC that discrimination based on sexual orientation is always a form of sex discrimination.
But make no mistake, the ugliness and hate we saw in the campaign leading up to the vote in Houston was real and has a real impact on the lives of transgender people - not just in Houston, but across the country. Rather than retreat, this is an opportunity for LGBT communities and allies to rally. We must prioritize transgender rights, hold elected officials accountable for their words and actions, and find ways to educate communities, and particularly to reach young people.