Editor’s note: Opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (#HERO) want to repeal it. If they succeed they can use it as a playbook for rolling back LGBT rights across the US. Conversely, the campaign to pass and defend #HERO could serve as a template in your hometown.
By Mike Craig, Chair Emeritus – Out & Equal Houston
Edited by Jessica Franklin
Houston Mayor Annise Parker – the first openly gay mayor in US history – and the City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as “HERO” on May 28 this year. It was the culmination of many months of work led by Mayor Parker, Council Members Ellen Cohen and Mike Laster, and a large coalition of business and community leaders and organizations.
Out & Equal Houston was proud to be part of the coalition of organizations that came together to help pass the ordinance.
The coalition participated in weekly teleconference strategy calls, and provided research and talking points highlighting the ordinance’s benefit to businesses throughout the city. Out & Equal Houston sent out action alerts and updates, urging equal rights advocates to attend Council meetings and to contact their Council member to voice their support for this important measure. Out & Equal Houston also provided guidelines for how to effectively speak in front of Council in the one minute allotted per speaker. And everyone was urged to wear red – to provide a powerful visual message of equality and solidarity.
On May 28, all of the preparation paid off as speaker after speaker stood before Council to tell their story. The testimony was powerful – as telling our stories always is. Equality speakers that evening outnumbered the opposition almost 7 to 1. Speaker after speaker stood up, in some cases risking their livelihoods, their homes and in even their safety to speak in favor of the ordinance.
But the work didn’t end there. Unfortunately, as Houstonians celebrated Pride Month, equal rights opponents worked to place a repeal referendum on the ballot this fall. On July 3rd (ironically, just as our nation was preparing to celebrate a hard won freedom from oppression and unjust persecution) the opposition submitted their petitions to the City Secretary, who has until August 4th to complete the verification. If enough signatures are verified, voters will decide the matter in November.
None of this was unexpected, and our coalition is ready. Volunteers are already at work, assisting with verification of petition signatures, and investigating reported collection process fraud. A separate political action committee (PAC) has been established to raise funds for the campaign to protect HERO. Out & Equal Houston will provide engagement packets and education programs to help local businesses understand how HERO affects them. And we have volunteered to provide LGBT 101 training for the City of Houston at no charge. These programs will go forward regardless of the petition outcome.
Additionally, Out & Equal Houston has just announced the launch of the Houston Business Coalition for Equality. Businesses of all sizes across the city are invited to join, to send a message to Houstonians – and the world — that the Houston we know doesn’t discriminate.
If enough signatures are validated and this issue is sent to the voters in November, we’re confident that the citizens of Houston will make a stand for equality – for themselves, for their loved ones, for their co-workers and allies – and uphold this important ordinance. And a victory in Houston will send a loud message to bigots nationwide: homophobia will not be tolerated in the workplace, not locally, not nationally.
Regional affiliates like Out and Equal Houston are so important in making our voices heard on both a local and national platform. Out and Equal is founded on a fundamental belief in fairness: performance matters, not who you are or where you came from… everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We all need to come out, stand up, and be a HERO.
For more information: