By Ryan M. Leach
As soon as the news broke on Election Day that the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) lost, I got a text from a friend of mine. This was his first campaign to actively participate in outside of simply casting his vote. The texts went something like this:
“So we lost?”
“Now what do we do?”
I paused at that question. What do we do now? Personally, I was vacillating between pulling the covers over my head, drinking a bottle of wine while listening to Adele, or going on a rampage knocking over trash cans and hitting mailboxes with a bat. I hadn’t even had time to process what the next steps would be or should be. But the truth is, there is always a tomorrow and there is always hope.
“Hope. My God. I live on it.” -Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
So now what? How do we get from hope to change? The answer is simple. We need to vote. HERO is dead, but the election is not over. We have a mayoral and city council runoff election on December 12. Of the two mayoral candidates, Sylvester Turner supported HERO, Bill King did not.
I talked to a ton of people about HERO. All kinds of people. Every day was like a United Colors of Benetton ad for me. If I had to put a number on it, I would say that about 60 percent of the folks I talked to prior to the election said that they did not vote. As a rule. They just didn’t vote in general.
Not that they didn’t support HERO; they did.
Not that they didn’t know how to vote or where to vote; they knew.
Not even that they weren’t registered to vote; they were.
They just didn’t vote . . . because . . . well, because they just didn’t. HERO lost for a lot of reasons, but mainly because supporters of the ordinance just didn’t vote.
There appears to be a widely held misconception that the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality is over, that it ended when the Supreme Court narrowly determined that gays were allowed marriage. Let me clear this up for you: this is not true. If you think a simple decree from the Supreme Court alone changes people’s hearts and minds about what they believe about LGBT people, then you need to think again. Talk to a member of the African-American community and ask them how things have been since gaining equal rights as a result of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Spoiler alert: Not. Easy.
We aren’t just fighting for new nondiscrimination laws. We are fighting with our lives to hold onto the few rights we have gained. If the opponents of LGBT progress see an opening to further strip away or oppress the rights of our community, they will take it.
We live in a post-truth society. The truth is what you can get people to believe, not what really is. We have the evidence to support this and need look no further than the fact that HERO lost because the opposition succeeded in re-naming it “The Bathroom Ordinance.” The opposition to HERO didn’t win because they persuaded voters with a thoughtful discussion about restroom safety. They won because they lied to people using the oldest trick in the political handbook—fear-mongering—and it worked.
HERO isn’t on the ballot again on December 12. The pro-HERO coalition of Houston Unites, which was made up of the ACLU, HRC, Equality Texas, etc., has largely disbanded. The coalition was sort of like The Avengers but without all the victory—which means where we go from here is up to our community.
For Houston, HERO has a history. This past Election Day wasn’t the city’s first attempt at such an ordinance. Houston voters rejected HERO in 1985, and it failed by 2 percent in 2001. HERO is like a depressing, antigay comet that sails over us every 15 years, and in 2015 it has left us again in its sparkling comet tail of disappointment.
However, if you were hoping for another 15 years before you would have to see hateful ads on television, then you are out of luck. The anti-HERO group is stronger than ever. They have resurrected their greatest hit—the bathroom ad with the little girl and the truck driver—and have now set their sights on defeating any political candidates who showed any support for HERO. Their message now is that in order to stay safe, we must elect candidates that will not bring back this ordinance.
And there are quite a few candidates on the ballot with an agenda that includes suppressing the LGBT community. But here is a secret that you may not know: the opposition only fights us because they are scared of us, and not in the crazy bathroom-lie way. They are scared of us because as a community, we have power, but only if we assemble, only if we fight, and only if we vote.
For information on pro-HERO candidates you can vote for, visit thecaucuspac.com and download their endorsement card. Then bring it with you with you to the polls on December 12. Early voting is from December 2 through December 8.
Ryan M. Leach is a community activist who currently serves on the board of Equality Texas. He has served on the boards for the Victory Fund and the League of Women Voters of Houston. He is dedicated to the social and political advancement of the LGBT community and he really wants you to vote.