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HERO Ordinance Passed

Houston City Council passes equal rights ordinance but fight isn't over

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Houston City Council passes HERO anti discrimination law bathroom ordinance crowd at City Hall May 2014
Supporters cheered and chanted in the city council chambers as Mayor Parker signed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance into law on Wednesday. Equality Texas/Twitter
Mayor Annise Parker signs equal rights ordinance HERO May 28, 2014
Following hours of discussion, Mayor Annise Parker signed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance into law at Wednesday's city council meeting. Transadvocate/Twitter
protesting HERO equal rights ordinance May 2014
Many opponents gathered outside city hall to protest the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Photo courtesy of KHOU Houston/Channel 11
Houston City Council passes HERO anti discrimination law bathroom ordinance crowd at City Hall May 2014
Mayor Annise Parker signs equal rights ordinance HERO May 28, 2014
protesting HERO equal rights ordinance May 2014

After a two-week postponement of the vote on the hotly contested Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), Houston City Council voted on Wednesday to extend equal rights protection to gay and transgendered Houstonians. The ordinance, which has caused an uproar from both opponents and supporters, passed by an 11-6 vote.

The debate went on for more than nine hours as people were given the chance to speak their mind before the council's vote. According to the city secretary, 209 people spoke on the issue, the largest turnout the public comments council has ever seen.

In spite of weeks of discussion over the HERO ruling, the final vote matched estimates from months ago when Mayor Annise Parker initially said she planned to bring such an ordinance to vote, the Houston Chronicle reported.

 "The idea that we might possibly have a vote in November on whether or not the City of Houston should discriminate, I think, would be unfortunate," Parker said, "but (opponents) have the right to do that."

 For Parker, the first openly lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city, the successful passage of the ordinance goes far beyond city politics. "This is not the most important thing I have done or will do as mayor, but it is the most personally satisfying, the most personally meaningful thing that I will do as mayor," she said at the council meeting.

Although much of the focus has been on the inclusion of protections for gay and transgendered individuals, the ordinance also protects those from discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Supporters packed the city council chambers on Wednesday, cheering and chanting throughout the discussion. The crowd became especially raucous when Parker signed the ordinance into law, effective immediately upon her signature.

Many of HERO's opponents also gathered at city hall, protesting the vote outside with signs and chants.

One measure of the ordinance in particular, which would have protected transgender residents from discrimination over bathroom choice, caused a significant uproar from both advocates and opponents. Due to the overwhelming negative reaction from religious and conservative leaders, Parker removed the measure in spite of opposition from ordinance supporters. She did, however, assert that although the language was removed, the protections for transgendered individuals remains the same.


The passage of the bill means all private employers with more than 15 employees can be fined up to $5,000 for claims of discrimination. Similarly, the ordinance provides protection in housing for city workers and contractors.

While the ordinance is currently law, opponents have already begun the process to have it repealed. They must gather 17,000 signatures — or 10 percent of the turnout in last fall's mayoral race — within a 30-day period to put the issue to voters in the November general election. A recall petition must list grounds related to "incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office," the Chronicle reported.

"The idea that we might possibly have a vote in November on whether or not the City of Houston should discriminate, I think, would be unfortunate," Parker said, "but (opponents) have the right to do that."

In the past, voters have rejected protections and benefits for gays, once in 1985 and again in 2001.

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