Colson: Let the HERO stand unmolested, Houston
Have you ever been to Houston?
No, I’m not paraphrasing that old Three Dog Night tune (“Never Been to Spain,” in case you were wondering), though I’ve always found it an engaging song, and in consideration of the recent death of the band’s co-founder, Cory Wells, I guess it’s an appropriate mention.
Anyway, I’ve never been to Houston (or to Spain, for that matter), but I feel as if I should congratulate myself on that point.
Because right now, Houston ain’t looking all that good in terms of places where I’d feel welcome, thanks to the uproar over last year’s passage of an equal-rights law that include gays, lesbians and transgender individuals among those specifically protected against discrimination.
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As I write this, I have no idea whether Houston’s voters decided on Tuesday to dump the law or keep it. I should point out that the law, as it sits on the books, bans discrimination against 15 “protected classes,” including sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy.
Oh, well, it is Texas after all, where military status seems to be on equal footing with those other categories and attributes the rest of us consider human.
Let us move on.
If you like your politics boiled down to sound bites and sloganeering, this one is right up your alley, since the ordinance in question is known as HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), and the critics who want to repeal the law have dubbed it the “bathroom ordinance.”
The HERO appellation is fairly obvious and straightforward, if a bit over the top in terms of symbolism.
But “bathroom ordinance?”
That one comes from the fear-mongering underway by those trying to get HERO repealed. It was passed in 2014, partly thanks to work by Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian who has been twice re-elected to her post. The opposition has hinged its success on the claim that it protects “‘men’ who wish to prey on women and children in public restrooms.”
The single-quotation marks around ‘men,’ by the way, comes from an article about the brouhaha on the thinkprogress.org website.
Just to be clear, Houston voters on Election Day were scheduled to weigh in on Proposition 1, which asks the electorate to either save or kill the HERO (sorry, I’m still stuck in sloganeering mode), by voting “yes” to affirm the ordinance or “no” to repeal it and act as though it never existed.
As so often happens in our culture of instant and round-the-clock news, this dust-up has attracted the interest of a smattering of celebrities and politicians who want their names attached to a cause that is so tightly bound to a progressive definition of justice.
Sally Field, whose career has included many fine characters, from ’60s sitcom scatterbrain The Flying Nun to labor-union darling Norma Rae and many more, appeared at a pro-HERO rally recently and called the anti-HERO claims “a lie.”
In fact, what Field said was, “It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” perhaps in the hope that her words might penetrate some of the thicker, pointy-headed skulls behind the vilification campaign against retaining the HERO.
The HERO is opposed by a polyglot mix of pastors, rednecks and homophobes, who insist that the law’s inclusion of transgender individuals as a protected class would shelter men supposedly eager to dress up as women and sneak into ladies’ bathrooms and molest any female they find inside.
Never mind that other, similar ordinances have been signed into law in other Texas towns and all over the U.S., and no such case has ever, ever been reported, as far as I can tell.
Of course, now that the HERO’s opponents have made such a stink about it, sickos all over the country may well have realized they’ve been missing a golden opportunity and could possibly get busy turning fantasy into fact.
Still, the possibility that a few deeply twisted individuals may take advantage of a law protecting civil liberties has never been seen by anyone with an ounce of common sense as a reason to not pass the law in the first place.
Of course, civil rights laws have a special place in our national jurisprudence, as they often fly in the face of previously accepted cultural attitudes that were odious in the extreme (I’m thinking about the Jim Crow culture of the Deep South, in particular.)
So, if you think of transgender folks as being today’s equivalent to black men and women of the South back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the actions of a small knot of deeply bigoted fools in Houston may not come as much of a surprise.
I’m only sorry that my deadline is positioned so that I will have to wait until a future date to address the results in Houston on this issue — unless, of course, President Obama was correct in predicting that Houston’s voters will do the right thing and let the HERO stand unmolested.
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