Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Houston's Heroes Lose Their Battle But The War for Equality Continues

Prejudice. It’s a cancer fed by a limitless torrent of angry, fearful, unresolved energy. It infiltrates your logic, erodes your capacity to be rational. A mean-spirited, mindless, megalomaniac beast, it thrives on crushing others, denying their right to be loved, protected, nurtured and celebrated.

Beware of feeding the beast! It will turn on you. You can anesthetize yourself to that pain but anesthetics get less effective with time, so you’ll face great discomfort at some point. But you can live most of your life in blissful ignorance. Your victims, however, don’t have that cozy option.

In May 2014, the Houston City Council approved the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), “…prohibiting discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics in city employment, city services, city contracting practices, housing, public accommodations, and private employment; containing findings and other provisions relating to the foregoing subject; declaring certain conduct unlawful; providing for a penalty; providing for severability; and declaring an emergency.”

The ordinance had support from President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Sally Field, and even Apple CEO Tim Cook. In reality it protected 15 classes of people, from African-Americans and women to veterans and disabled people. 

But it was spearheaded by Mayor Annise Parker, who is a lesbian, much loved by liberals for good reason; much hated by conservatives for no good reason. The ordinance also included LGBT protections. So it was cast as a gay rights measure. 

It was challenged in court and the Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that Houston City Council must repeal the ordinance or place it on the November ballot. And all of Houston’s finest conservatives came out in droves. One of the rights was for transgenders to be allowed to use women’s public restrooms. Conservatives focused on that, flighting TV ads to generate fear, the main message being that women and children would have no protection from perverts masquerading as transgenders. The fear-mongering campaign was very effective. A referendum held on Tuesday yielded a 61.9% vote to repeal.

This despite that some 200 cities in the US (Houston is the fourth largest) have passed similar Ordinances, including all the major cities in Texas.

I learned about the Ordinance from the NewYork Times. I was in a hurry, and skimmed through the article. In retrospect I see that I only registered one aspect—the paragraph about the opposition’s focus on women and children now being under threat in public spas—and took that to be the whole. I was actually thinking about public saunas and locker rooms. 

I understand if people are afraid that heterosexual men will now have access to women and girls in locker rooms and spas. I'd be afraid too, or at the least, uncomfortable. 

It's not about intolerance, it's about my need to not be naked around heterosexual men I don't know. If there was a way of knowing that someone was a Transgender I'd be fine. But there's no way, without subjecting the person to scrutiny. And how does that work for a Transgender? It totally doesn't. So as far as this small aspect of the Ordinance is concerned, I think it's a lose-lose.

I don’t want a society where any group is punished for who they are. And nor do I want a society that in any way enables perverted heterosexuals. If one little girl or woman or Transgender gets molested or raped because of this aspect of the Ordinance is that acceptable collateral damage? Not if you’re the woman or Transgender or little girl or she's your daughter/sister/friend. It would be different if molestation or rape were a rare occurrence. But it's not. This is a complex issue needing a complex solution.

Is it grounds for the entire Ordinance to be opposed and thrown out? Of course not. It's grounds for that one aspect to be looked at and for some kind of win-win solution to be found; one that may require compromise on both sides.

But the Opposition has blown up this element drastically and made out that it's the entire Ordinance. It's cheap fear-mongering; a thin veil for hatred and prejudice.

It was a shock to realize how easy it would be to manipulate me. I’m a liberal but I have fears from early experiences that shadow me sometimes so when I didn’t take the trouble to read the NYT article properly I quickly drew the wrong conclusion. I realized my mistake later, but it gave me insight into how easy it is to manipulate people through their fear. Especially people who aren't looking for the whole truth. And it was a wake-up call for me.

As for liberal Houston’s fight for quality life for everyone, I believe that ultimately they’ll win. Because they won't ever give up. But it’s tragic and heartbreaking that so many have to be sacrificed for that to happen. 

Click here to read and/or download the full text of the Ordinance.