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Equal rights will have to wait: No HEROs emerge as city council delays vote amid church-led bathroom furor

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Equality Rights Ordinance backers at City Hall May 14, 2014
Equality Rights Ordinance backers today at City Hall. Doug Miller/KHOU/Twitter
Mayor Annise Parker on postponing vote on bathroom ordinance May 14, 201
Mayor Annise Parker during a news conference today after the council voted to delay the HERO vote the for two weeks. Doug Miller/KHOU/Twitter
nearly every parking spot is taken by a police car or horse at Houston City Hall May 13, 2014
Nearly every parking spot is taken by a police car or horse at City Hall for today's possible vote on the "bathroom" provision. Mary Benton/KPRC/Twitter
Mayor Annise Parker and Houston-area elected officials, business leaders and faith leaders in a community rally in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) May 13, 2014
Mayor Annise Parker and Houston officials, business leaders and faith leaders in a community rally for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) May 13. Mary Benton/KPRC/Twitter
protestors of Equal Rights Ordinance with signs outside City Hall May 13, 2014
People against the Equal Rights Ordinance outside City Hall on Tuesday. Mary Benton/KPRC/Twitter
Equality Rights Ordinance backers at City Hall May 14, 2014
Mayor Annise Parker on postponing vote on bathroom ordinance May 14, 201
nearly every parking spot is taken by a police car or horse at Houston City Hall May 13, 2014
Mayor Annise Parker and Houston-area elected officials, business leaders and faith leaders in a community rally in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) May 13, 2014
protestors of Equal Rights Ordinance with signs outside City Hall May 13, 2014

As a result of a rather contentious City Council meeting the vote on the hotly debated Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) has been postponed until May 28. 

The ordinance would "prohibit discrimination in city employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment at businesses." According to the City's website, "religious organizations are exempt from the definition of an employer" to avoid First Amendment issues.

Mayor Annise Parker announced a compromise to her proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) after one of the provisions caused quite an uproar from the community

 "The base ordinance is still the same," the mayor said. "It says you can't discriminate."

Republican political leaders and clergy members have particular issues with a paragraph of the ordinance that states: “It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to intentionally deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity.”

Some opponents have used the provision to dub the measure "Parker's Sexual Predator Protection Act," claiming that it would give people the ability to lie about their gender to enter bathrooms where they could then attack women and children.

Members of Houston's LGBT community were equally upset by another portion of the paragraph which allows businesses to deny a transgender person restroom access “if the defendant had a good faith belief that the gender or gender identity of the person discriminated against was not consistent with the gender designation of the facility.”

In response to the upheaval, Parker proposed an amendment which would effectively remove the paragraph in question. While the so-called 'bathroom clause' is likely to be amended, transgendered individuals who are denied access to a restroom will still be able to file a discrimination complaint with the city under the process outlined for all those protected by the ordinance, according to Parker.

"The base ordinance is still the same," the mayor said. "It says you can't discriminate."

Parker tweeted a message to try and ease concerns and transgender outrage about the new amendment:


While the amendment to the ordinance was aimed at appeasing Republican and church leaders, more than 300 protesters gathered outside City Hall to express their displeasure.

At Wednesday's City Council meeting, members voted to postpone the vote on the ordinance. The council did, however, pass several HERO amendments, including one to apply the ordinance to companies with 15 or more workers, instead of 50, and another to ensure senior and veteran discounts would not be interfered with. 

The exact language of the 'bathroom clause' was not altered at Wednesday's meeting. While the vote may have been postponed until May 28, the hundreds of protestors outside of City Hall show the issue still invokes strong feelings.

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