After Houston victory, opponents target Dallas
Last week, opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance successfully repealed the nondiscrimination ordinance on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, in a lopsided 61percent-to-39 percent vote.
The ordinance would have prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of a variety of protected classes, including race, gender, pregnancy, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and military status. Religious institutions would have been exempt, but violators could have been fined up to $5,000.
Opponents, organized under the banner of Campaign for Houston, focused on one message: that the ordinance would allow men to use women’s bathrooms. The message was meant to stoke up an anti-trans panic that women and children could be raped or assaulted in public restrooms.
After declaring victory in Houston, anti-LGBT activists have turned their sites on Dallas, where the city council this week voted unanimously to revise the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include gender identity and expression.
That vote, taken at the council’s regular weekly meeting, came after a year of deliberation and meetings by the city’s LGBT Task Force.
In testimony before the council, LGBT Task Force members argued that the amendment clarified the language of the nondiscrimination ordinance, approved by the Dallas City Council on 13-2 vote in 2002, which protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Before Tuesday’s amendment, gender identity and expression were lumped in as part of the definition of “sexual orientation.” Now the language states plainly that gender identity and gender expression are protected classes.
It also affirmed the right of individuals to determine their gender based on their perception of their gender.
The council also removed a dated provision allowing landlords to decline renting rooms to a same-sex couple if the property shares common spaces.
But opponents of LGBT equality — like Texas Values’ Jonathan Saenz and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — are trying to seize on the momentum from the Houston referendum to bring the fight to Dallas. They inaccurately described it as a “bathroom ordinance,” utilizing the same terminology as HERO opponents used in their winning campaign.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, state Sen. Don Huffines, a Dallas Republican who lives in Highland Park, chimed in on Twitter.
“Houston voters soundly said NO to men in women’s bathrooms. Dallas’ new sneak-attack LGBT ordinance must be repealed & carefully reviewed,” reads one of many tweets from Huffines’ official Twitter account.
In a statement to the Dallas Voice, Huffines denounced the LGBT Task Force and called the amended language HERO with another name.
“[The] LGBT ordinance is the product of an obscure city task force and a closed-door meeting, which are insufficient public vetting for a social policy change of this magnitude. Houston voters had many months to review their similar proposal, and they were afforded the opportunity to vote directly on the proposal, which they rejected,” Huffines said in the statement. “Civic participation and public scrutiny have been lacking in this process, which is why the
LGBT ordinance adopted [Tuesday] must be debated and discussed by the residents and voters of Dallas.”
When asked for clarification about repealing the ordinance, Brent Connett, a spokesperson for Huffines, said the council should repeal it.
“The Nov. 10 ordinance could be repealed by a vote of the council, in the same manner in which it was adopted,” Connett wrote via e-mail.
Calls to Lt. Gov. Patrick’s office seeking were not returned as of press time.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Councilman Philip Kingston both publicly chastised Huffines and Patrick.
Kingston’s not one to mince words. He outright called Huffines and Patrick liars.
“The lieutenant governor is infamous for fomenting mob mentality against the interests of minorities. In Dallas we believe in equal protection under law,” Kingston said.
Fran Watson is a long-time Houston resident who served as a faith community organizer with Houston Unites, which backed HERO. After the Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality nationwide in June, HERO opponents changed tactics, forcing supporters to change tactics, too.
“We had to switch gears after [the Supreme Court ruling]” Watson said. “Every time they said ‘bathroom ordinance,’ we’d have to [work harder]. There was a lot of confusion. The opponents vilified transgender people and used fear tactics.”
Watson said she had anticipated a close election, but instead fear won.
“We talked to so many people and got out the vote. But we didn’t realize it would be such a loss,” Watson said.
Chuck Smith, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas, said the fear-mongering around Dallas’ decade-old ordinance is just political pandering.
HERO opponents are simply trying to import their strategy to Dallas, Smith said.
“What I see is an attempt to reiterate the lies that seemed to work in Houston. It’s incumbent upon us to fight back with facts,” Smith said, adding that Dallas officials are doing the right thing.
“Dallas is combating the lies that are spreading. It’s important to continue to make the point that gender identity and protection have [always] been protected. It doesn’t impact enforcement, change who it protects or provide new protections,” Smith said. “Any assertion to the contrary is factually inaccurate.”
In Houston, Watson said the strategy going forward also involves educating the public.
“The grassroots are already coming together to talk about what’s next,” Watson said.
A mayoral run-off in December pits HERO supporter and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, against Bill King, who is skeptical of HERO and is cultivating the conservative Republican vote.
Watson noted the LGBT community is excited about the re-election of out gay councilmember Robert Gallegos. Another out gay incumbent Mike Laster is headed to the December run-off.
But efforts to protect LGBT Houstonians do not end with the city council.
Watson said like many other HERO supporters, she’s falling back into her former role.
She won’t be paid, but she will still be organizing.
“I’m going back into my old role now. I’ll use the relationships we cultivated to continue to educate the public about [LGBT issues],” Watson said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 13, 2015.