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OP-ED: Houston Is Not North Carolina

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By Ryan M. Leach

Houston’s good name has been bandied about lately by people on both sides of the controversial law passed by the North Carolina legislature and signed into law last week (in record time). The law overturned every local ordinance in North Carolina that gave nondiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and also mandated that people use the restroom of the gender they were assigned at birth. In an effort to defend the reprehensible and discriminatory law, the governor and other North Carolina leaders have referenced Houston for overturning a similar ordinance via referendum last November. Houston is now infamously the poster-child for LGBT discrimination in the country. In the PR world, we would call this sort of notoriety “toxic.”

It is what it is. And what it is sucks. But Houston is not North Carolina. And North Carolina would best be advised to keep the name Houston out of its mouth if that’s the picture they want to paint of us. There are a few key differences between us and them.

  • Houston leadership actually did the right thing by passing the inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, now known as HERO. The mayor and 11 city council members recognized that discrimination is bad for business.

North Carolinian leadership did the wrong thing. They passed a bill that tossed out the wisdom of local leadership and goes a step further to clearly marginalize an already disenfranchised group of people—transgender men and women.

  • Houston fully vetted its ordinance with the community. There were public hearings that brought out folks on both sides of the issue. There was a campaign and a vote. The campaign was built on a falsehood that transgender women are rapists. The ordinance was repealed by a large margin.

North Carolina passed their law in less than 10 hours. The language was not shared with the public. There was zero debate or input from the cities it would affect. The people had no say about what this law would do or how it would impact their city and state’s economy.

  • Houston still has the Final Four and the Super Bowl. Really, we only do because there wasn’t enough time for these major events to be pulled. The Final Four was only a few months away, and the Super Bowl takes years of planning. It isn’t simply changing venue. Cities who host these major events spend years and millions of dollars preparing. Fun Fact! Houston has been basically told that these events will likely not be brought back to our city anytime soon.

North Carolina, ain’t nobody wanna have these events in your state, anyway.

  • Houston had the advantage of having a long-standing history of inclusiveness of the LGBT community. This includes electing openly gay and lesbian people to city council and to the office of controller and mayor many, many times. If Houstonians hated gay people that much, then none of these folks would have been given the opportunity to lead.

North Carolina, you’ve elected exactly five…in your entire state. Period.

  • Houston had the disadvantage of being the laboratory for the “bathroom lie” that North Carolina is using to justify this terrible law. As a result, our campaign was ill-prepared to effectively message and counter to the electorate what HERO was actually about.

North Carolina, you bought the lie and didn’t even give your citizens the opportunity to read the law before you passed it, let alone take a statewide vote on it.

So, North Carolina, stick to what you know. You know how to vote against marriage equality, like you did in 2013. You know how to elect legislators who passed a law that discriminates against its own citizens so fast that it was done before anyone realized. And you know how to further marginalize the most marginalized group of people in your state.

North Carolina, you are nothing like Houston. We aren’t always perfect, but at least we can hold our heads up. Your leadership, on the other hand, should be ashamed.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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