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By John Wright
Addressing anti-LGBT discrimination isn’t a priority, because only 11 complaints were filed under the Houston Rights Ordinance during the nine months HERO was in effect, according to mayoral candidate Bill King.
King also believes HERO was “entirely about the bathrooms,” referring to the question of whether transgender people should be allowed to use public facilities in accordance with their gender identity. HERO prohibited discrimination based on 15 characteristics—including race, religion, and sex—in employment, housing, public accommodations, and city contracting.
Although roughly half of complaints filed under the ordinance were based on race, HERO opponents labeled it “the bathroom ordinance” and ran a series of misleading, transphobic ads suggesting it would allow men to enter women’s restrooms and prey on victims.
During their final debate on Saturday, King made it clear that if he defeats Democratic state Rep. Sylvester Turner in the December 12 runoff election, he doesn’t intend to resurrect HERO, which was repealed by voters November 3.
“My problem with the ordinance always was that in the nine months it was in place, we had a total of 11 complaints under it,” said King, who’s been endorsed by the anti-HERO Campaign for Houston. “We’ll have that many robberies and burglaries in this city tonight, during this debate, and if we’re lucky, we’ll solve one of those.… This is a question about priorities, like I said, getting back to basics. We need to focus on what’s really important in this city.”
Moderator Omar Afra, publisher of Free Press Houston, pressed King about how the city can protect transgender people against discrimination without HERO.
Acknowledging that “the transgender’s a problem,” King said he has a friend who has a transgender child. But he maintained that private businesses can solve the problem by voluntarily installing unisex family restrooms, making HERO unnecessary.
“We’re not talking about bathrooms here,” Afra said. “I’m talking about the same city protections for everybody else. Don’t you think that transgender Houstonians deserve those same protections?”
“Is there something other than bathrooms I’m not aware of?” King responded. “In the nine months that we had the ordinance, I don’t think there was a single complaint as I recall about a transgender problem, so what problem are we trying to solve here?”
“Well, we’re trying to afford them the same protections everybody else gets,” Afra said.
“No, I think the ordinance was entirely about the bathrooms,” King responded, “and I think it was entirely about the issue of what does a transgender person do, which restroom do you go into, if you’re dealing with that issue, and I think that’s what the ordinance was completely about, actually, and I think there are ways to address that without having an ordinance.”
Rep. Turner, who endorsed HERO, was asked about recent reports that he wouldn’t revisit the ordinance out of respect for the will of voters. But Turner suggested his remarks were taken out of context, saying he doesn’t believe the repeal of HERO was a vote in favor of discrimination.
“When it comes to discrimination, I will continue to fight against discrimination as I have done for the last 26 years I’ve been in public service,” Turner said. “Anybody in this city, regardless of who they are, regardless of their orientation, ought to be allowed to take advantage of the full opportunities that exist in this city.… No one should be discriminated against based on their group affiliation.”