HOUSTON — An ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in Houston failed to win approval from voters on Tuesday.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, known as HERO, was rejected after a nearly 18-month battle that spawned rallies, legal fights and accusations of both religious intolerance and demonization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Supporters of the ordinance had said it would have offered increased protections for gay and transgender people, as well as protections against discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories.
Opponents of the ordinance, including a coalition of conservative pastors, said it infringed on their religious beliefs regarding homosexuality. But in the months leading up to Tuesday’s vote, opponents focused their campaign on highlighting one part of the ordinance related to the use of public bathrooms by transgender men and women that opponents alleged would open the door for sexual predators to go into women’s restrooms.
Democratic Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, and other supporters of the ordinance had called this “bathroom ordinance” strategy highly misleading and a scare tactic.
“This was a campaign of fear-mongering and deliberate lies,” Parker said, according to CBS affiliate KHOU. “No one’s rights should be subject to a popular vote.”
The ordinance was initially approved by the Houston City Council in May 2014, but a lawsuit to have residents vote on the measure eventually made it to the Texas Supreme Court, which in July ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot.
“This will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming global city,” Parker said. “I absolutely fear there will be a direct economic backlash.”
Tuesday’s referendum drew attention from around the nation, with the measure getting high-profile endorsements last week from the White House, high-tech giant Apple and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. The ordinance also had received support from other members of Houston’s religious community.
Campaign for Houston, which fought the ordinance, said opponents included a diverse group of individuals, such as pastors from all denominations and local and state elected officials. Among the most outspoken opponents was former Astros player Lance Berkman who appeared in an anti-HERO ad, KHOU reported.
On Monday, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had tweeted his support for opponents, saying, “HOUSTON: Vote Texas values, not HillaryClinton values. Vote NO on City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.”