Discrimination Supporters Will Continue Legal Fight Against Houston Equal Rights Ordinance

by Dan Quinn

Religious-right opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) announced today that they will continue their legal fight for the right to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A state court on April 17 ruled that HERO opponents had failed to gather enough valid signatures on a petition to put repeal of ordinance up for a public vote. At a press conference and in a press release this afternoon, the far-right Houston Area Pastor Council and its supporters announced plans to appeal that court ruling. The hateful press release repeats the usual fear-mongering about transgender people using public restrooms and claims that Mayor Annise Parker is guilty of “tyranny and lawlessness.”

Well, they should know something about lawlessness. The court found that many of the signatures on their anti-HERO petition were forgeries or illegible, among other serious irregularities. The ruling that HERO opponents failed to follow the law came after lengthy and very detailed analysis of the petition signatures by a jury and the presiding judge.

The City Council voted to pass HERO in May 2014. City officials finally implemented HERO’s provisions after the April 17 court ruling. HERO bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as well as race, religion, gender, military status and other categories. The anti-discrimination protections cover employment, housing and public accommodations.

Geoffrey Harrison, the lead attorney for the city in the court case, offered a great quote about HERO opponents and their motivations:

“Having lost the election, lost the jury verdict and lost the judge’s ruling, plaintiffs misguided appeal sounds like a continuation of their three-ring circus of discrimination, intolerance and hate.”

The Texas Freedom Network joined with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Equality Texas and the Human Rights Campaign in sending out the following press release this afternoon:

Major civil rights organizations are disappointed by the decision of some pastors and community leaders to continue their legal pursuit of the repeal of Houston’s equal rights ordinance.   The coalition dedicated to the protection of LGBT equality and rights includes the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign and Texas Freedom Network.

Begun last July with illegally prepared and submitted repeal petitions, the group calling itself No Unequal Rights Coalition has put the city through an already unnecessary and costly legal fight. With the announcement of yet another appeal, they are continuing to force taxpayer dollars to be used in a foolhardy quest to allow discrimination against their neighbors.

Marty Rouse, Human Rights Campaign National Field Director of the Human Rights Campaign:
“This decision will put Houston in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and it could fundamentally risk its stature as one of the nation’s leading business and major event centers.”

Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas:
“Cities across the country have these laws without raising any problems. Houston should be a leader in ensuring our Constitution’s promise of religious liberty and equality live side by side. There is no tension between the two; one never usurps the other.”

Kathy Miller, president of  the Texas Freedom Network:
“Houston, the most culturally diverse city in the United States, should be at the forefront of providing anti-discrimination protections to all people. It is disheartening that this small fringe group is continuing to hold the city hostage with their bathroom bogeyman for what is fundamentally an argument born out of fear and hate.”