On May 28th, the Houston City Council, led by openly gay mayor Annise D. Parker, passed the controversial Equal Rights Ordinance (PDF here) with the stated intent to prohibit discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics. Parker said that Houston was one of the last major cities without an equal rights ordinance.
Ever since the bill was proposed several months ago, it has sparked public debate, both from supporters and opponents of the bill. According to Mayor Parker in an interview on SiriusXM Progress, "Before I even put out the first public draft of the equal rights ordinance, there was a group of local right-wing, religious conservatives who said they are going to fight and they're collecting signatures as of today to repeal."
Opponents Concerned About Constitutionality, Mixed Gender Facilities
The conservative and religious communities have been particularly vocal in their opposition of the ordinance, citing particular concerns about its constitutionality and the implications for mixed gender bathroom and shower facilities. Section 17-51(b) of the ordinance contains the main point of tension and ended up being removed from the final language. However, in a letter written by Joe La Rue, Legal Counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom to the U.S. Pastor Council, he argues that "Even without the Bathroom Language, places of public accommodation that do not allow all who claim to be women, regardless of biological sex, to use the women's facilities could face charges of discrimination pursuant to Section 17-51(a)." He goes on to say, "Places of public accommodation will be forced to allow biological males who present as male (i.e., are not dressed as female) to use the women's facilities, since the Ordinance prohibits discrimination because of gender identity (not gender expression)."
In an interview with Bob Price of Breitbart Texas, Michael Kubosh, Houston City Council Member for District 3 who voted against the ordinance, asked members of the LGBT community present at the meeting this question: "This ordinance as you know it - would it have protected you, would it have kept you from being discriminated against?" What's their response? According to Kubosh, "Every one of them said no." Later in the interview, Kubosh said that ministers he has spoken to in the community "want to protect what they believe is the sanctity of the family, of marriage, and of our community."
The heated nature of the conversation drove one-hundred and fifty pastors representing the conservative Houston Area Pastors Council to walk out of the council meeting after two members were publicly "snubbed" by the council body. According to Rev. Dave Welch on behalf of the council, "It was one of the most flagrantly disrespectful actions taken by an elected body toward its own constituency I have witnessed in over thirty years of involvement."
Supporters: Bathroom "Myth" is "Not an Issue"
Those defending the ordinance claim that the bathroom "myth" is "not an issue." Dan Solomon, in an article written for Texas Monthly, claims that "The fear of transgender women - entering bathrooms to spy on or expose themselves to girls and women is one that, according to experts, has no basis in reality." The article cites research produced by Media Matters for America, "a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media" claiming that "Experts in 12 states -- including law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates of sexual assault - have debunked the right-wing myth that sexual predators will exploit transgender non-discrimination laws to sneak into women's restrooms, calling the myth baseless and "beyond specious."
Verdict Still Out