HERO’s defeat proves again that legal rulings don’t change hearts and minds
The LGBT community in this country has been riding a wave of euphoria for months now, celebrating the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court — the highest court in the land — has ruled that, yes, our right to legally marry the person we love, regardless of genders, is indeed constitutionally protected.
Despite the irritation of people like that Kentucky county clerk whats-her-name who defied SCOTUS and refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples, many of us have kept our lavender-colored glasses firmly in place as we dreamed of, planned and celebrated our nuptials.
But now the blinders are coming off. Now we have been slapped right across the face with the reality that legal rulings may change laws but they don’t change hearts and minds, that legal rulings don’t really keep us safe.
Not only that, we are finding out once again that great leaps forward, like we experienced with the marriage equality ruling, are most often followed by vicious backlash. Our successes galvanize those that hate and fear us.
Here in Texas this week, we got a very painful reminder of that, as 61 percent of voters in Houston voted to repeal that city’s equal rights ordinance in its infancy.
They didn’t even care that it would have protected people other than LGBTs. They were so hateful and fearful they were willing to deny protections to military veterans, the disabled, people of different religions, pregnant women — 15 groups in all.
Our trans brothers and sisters — and let’s face it, it was mainly our trans sisters since people outside our community often choose to overlook the fact that trans men even exist — were the ones in the trenches who bore the brunt of the vitriol. Opponents dubbed HERO “the bathroom bill” and bellowed out dire warnings of male sexual predators slavering after helpless women and children in public restrooms if residents of the Bayou City were foolish enough to enact protections for trans folk.
Polls consistently show that a majority of Texans support equal rights and protection from discrimination for LGBT people. And yet, once again we lost at the ballot box.
Why? Put aside for the moment the simple, basic truth that NO person’s civil rights, no person’s safety should ever be ever be subject to a majority vote, and think about why this happened.
It happened, I think, in part because we poked the sleeping bear in June.
Those frothing-at-the-mouth homophobes who still preach that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death because the Old Testament says so didn’t ever lose sight of the progress we were making toward equality. But some of those not-quite-so-far-right-wingers did. The marriage equality ruling in June reminded them, and in Houston at least, they headed to the polls on Tuesday looking for some payback.
Maybe the majority of Texans — Houstonians — lied to the pollsters just because they didn’t want somebody to figure out that they are bigots that really don’t support equality. Or maybe they are just a bunch of bullies who figure the homos are sissies and easy targets.
Regardless of the “why,” though, the fact remains that the HERO was defeated. It should not have been, but it was. And if that isn’t enough of a wake-up call, I don’t know what it is.
Listen to that message coming out of Houston people: We are not safe. We are not equal. And we will not be either safe or equal if we don’t stand up and keep on fighting.
We need protections against discrimination in employment. We need them at the local, state and federal levels. We need protections against discrimination in housing and public accommodations, including the legal right to use public restrooms without fear of being harassed, arrested or attacked.
We have to keep fighting, no matter how tired and burned out we think we are, to get laws passed ensuring those protections.
But most importantly, we have to find a way to change the hearts and the minds of the people who still think it is ok to deny us those protections. We have to educate people. We have to be stronger than the haters, out-argue them when we must, outlast them when we must.
We must make sure that people know who we are. That means we have to keep on coming out and speaking up — even those of us who thought we had put the need for all that behind us long, long ago.
We may get disappointed. We may get disillusioned. We may get so tired we don’t think we can keep going. But we have to. We can’t give up.
We deserve a better world. But we won’t get it if we don’t keep fighting.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 6, 2015.