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By Josh Inocéncio
With the notorious bathroom bill languishing in the Texas House, LGBTQ activists showed up at City Hall on Tuesday to thank Houston officials for their public opposition to the bill and call for another equal rights ordinance.
“Please take up another anti-discrimination ordinance,” pleaded transgender activist Monica Roberts, noting that hate crimes against transwomen have increased amid the rhetoric around bathroom bills across the country.
In a letter to a state Senate committee last month, Mayor Sylvester Turner reiterated his opposition to the bill, arguing that it seeks to rectify a non-existent problem.
“The city of Houston does not need the State of Texas telling us to regulate our restrooms,” Turner wrote. “We have not experienced the issues this bill purports to address. If we did, we have sufficient ability under both state law and city ordinances to address them.”
During his 2015 mayoral race, then-candidate Turner voiced support for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which was ultimately repealed by voters.
Tuesday’s speakers, organized by Transform Houston, came out in response to last week’s showdown between Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen and Dave Welch, president of the anti-LGBTQ Houston Area Pastor Council.
“We’re woefully short of police officers,” Cohen said Aug. 1 after Welch chastised the mayor and city council for opposing the bathroom bill. “Houston police officers have better things to do than checking birth certificates in bathroom lines.”
Watch Cohen’s remarks to Welch:
Citing conservatives’ logic that this bill would protect the privacy of women and children, Cohen added, “As anyone who works with sexual assault survivors knows, it’s not the stranger in the bathroom that is the real fear.” When women and children are attacked, she said, 95 percent of the time it is by someone they already know. Cohen then challenged Welch to partner with advocacy groups that seek to prevent sexual assault, such as college campus or human trafficking organizations, if he wants to help protect women.
Given Cohen’s deft response to Welch, local activists proudly shared their gratitude with city leaders.
“Thanks for pushing back against Welch,” activist Brad Pritchett said Tuesday. “You can be assured that any comments from Dave Welch won’t be true.” Pritchett then invited the few anti-LGBTQ councilmembers to attend the next meeting of Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board.
Advisory Board co-chair Melanie Pang thanked both Turner and Cohen. Gretchen Lindquist, a resident of the Heights, told city leaders that she’s more concerned about “genuine issues” facing the city, such as cyclists not obeying traffic laws.
“We have a rich tapestry of residents,” Lindquist said. “And I’m not concerned about the birth certificate of the person in the stall next to me.”
Attorney Danielle Healey not only thanked city officials, but also revealed that Houston’s atmosphere of acceptance saved her life when she came out as trans. So many transgender people, she noted, have committed suicide because of the discrimination they face.
“I was able to choose life because of the city,” Healey said.
And Jessica Harvey, a black transwoman who transitioned during her senior year of high school, shared her experience getting arrested for using the women’s restroom when she was a teenager.
“Each time we speak up, we put a target on our backs,” Harvey said. “We speak up not because the public deserves it, but because we deserve the same as everybody else.”