Houston Voters Reject Anti-Discrimination Ordinance
Dr. Maria Gonzales, Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston and screening chair for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, says the vote in Houston against GLBT equality is new version of old anti-“scary” people trope.
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
According to the Texas Tribune, delivering a hit to the Texas gay rights movement, Houston voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected an ordinance that would have established protections from discrimination from gay and transgender residents and other classes. Joining us now to discuss this is Dr. Maria Gonzales, associate professor of English at the University of Houston, where she specializes in Chicano writers and queer studies. She is also the screening chair for the Houston GLBT political caucus. Welcome, Maria Gonzales, to the Real News.
MARIA GONZALES: Thank you.
BALL: So if you would, please tell us what exactly is going on down there in Houston, and what has so far been the response?
GONZALES: Well, more than a year ago the city realized it did not have a non-discrimination ordinance, a local remedy, to protect everyone. So it went about creating one, identifying 15 classes, from race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, to veteran status, familial status, genetic information, in order to protect all its citizens. Most cities have this, most major cities have some sort of local remedy for discrimination. Many states have this, as well. Houston had zero. Zero local remedy for discrimination based on housing or employment, or public accommodations. Access to stores and sellers and employment.
So the city went about creating one. And it included protection for the transgender community. Well, when that happened–well, let’s just say the other side had a conniption fit. And suddenly we were facing a lot of individuals who were saying really ugly things about protection for the gay community, the transgender community, the lesbian community. But somehow through persuasion and endless hours in debate, city council in the city of Houston endorsed an ordinance. And so the city had an ordinance. Of course the other side immediately went to court, and at the same time immediately began the process of petitioning that it go on the ballot. And it did. Initially it was not accepted, because their petitions were a mess. But the state supreme court said put it on the ballot. And we did.
And initially the other side didn’t want to include gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgender people in the protections. They wanted to continue to be able to discriminate against us, but they realized that did not work, that kind of language didn’t work. So they looked for language that would work. And so what they ended up with was claiming this was some sort of bathroom ordinance that would allow sexual predators in the bathroom, which it does not. There’s no bathroom language in there. It’s against the law to go into any bathroom and try to harm anyone, period. That’s an old law. And so based on a lot of lies and a lot of scary commercials, and basically a lot of individuals coming in from the suburbs to terrify Houston citizens, and to vote against their own interest, we lost.
BALL: So this was as much about–it sounds, at least, what you’re describing, as though this was as much about the continuing attempt to attach negative–to negatively stigmatize gay, lesbian, and transgender people with these negative associations, with predators and violence and hostility, that obviously is not necessarily associated with any particular gender or sexual preference. But that sounds like at least in part what has happened here. Am I hearing you correctly?
GONZALES: Yes, you are correct. And it’s a process that has been going on–I mean, it’s a fight that we’ve had for over 30 years. 1985, the gay community was demonized, and a city–the executive order by a mayor to protect city employees from discrimination that included the gay community was voted down. In 2001, we were trying to protect city employees, including the gay community, and that was voted down. And once again, we were trying to protect all our citizens with a fairly–with a local remedy, for protection against discrimination. And that was voted down 60 to 40 percent.
The gameplan has never changed. The progressive vote in the city is a coalition vote. It is white progressives and African-American progressives and Hispanic progressives and Asian progressives. They make up the progressive vote. What then happens is the other side knows that if you can just wedge the progressive vote you can peel parts of that vote away.
BALL: But even with the mayor, Annise Parker, being openly gay, there was still not enough political will to support whatever movement was behind, at least in part, getting her elected to that office and then supporting this provision?
GONZALES: That is part of–that is accurate. There’s two reasons this–I argue there are two reasons this failed. One was our voter base did not go out and vote. The progressive voter base did not get out and vote. The average–probably the average age of the voter who came out yesterday, November 3, was closer to 65 than 25. so our voter base didn’t come out to vote. And that’s one of the big challenges we’ve always had in these odd-year elections.
The other challenge is the old practice of splitting the progressive vote in the city. It’s a coalition vote made up of progressives of color, gays and lesbians, white progressives. And if you bring in a scary identity, and it used to be the gay community. But that doesn’t fly anymore. Now it’s the transgender community. And you bring that in, add that as a wedge issue. You end up wedging the progressive vote in the city.
And so the–in many ways people who would be protected under this nondiscrimination language get played by outsiders, many of them don’t even live in the city, come in, wedge the issue. Basically argue that men in women’s clothes are going to go into the bathroom, and God knows what they’re going to do. And they target, more than anything else, the minority communities in the city. The African-American community, the Hispanic community, the Asian community. And they also target the white conservative community and scare the heck out of everybody.
We sort of had a real uphill battle challenging actual lies in commercials that were claiming it was a bathroom ordinance, and it wasn’t. And they were playing on people’s fears of basically transgender individuals. But it was also a way for these outsiders, in many ways, to get individuals who would be voting–to vote against their own civil rights protection in this city.
BALL: Dr. Maria Gonzales, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network.
GONZALES: Thank you very much. It was a real pleasure talking to you.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.
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