HOUSTON, Texas — Voters rejected an ordinance by a 2-1 margin that would have allowed the free use of public bathrooms by transgender men and women. Supporters argued it would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in Houston failed to win approval from voters on Tuesday.
The vote on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance ended nearly 18-month battle of rallies and legal fights that saw accusations of both religious intolerance and demonization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Businesses that serve the public, which includes essentially all private employers, housing and city contracting, are all subject to the law would’ve faced up to $5,000 in fines for violations.
Opponents of the ordinance, including a coalition of conservative mega church pastors in the most liberal city in the state, said it infringed on their religious beliefs and natural law. Campaigning against the the ordinance focused on the provision related to the use of public bathrooms by transgender men and women, which they argued would open the door for sexual predators to go into women’s restrooms.
Democratic Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay and has tried in the past to impose changes unilaterally, called this “bathroom ordinance” strategy a scare tactic. The ordinance was initially approved by the Houston City Council in May 2014 in spite of the overwhelming public backlash, but a lawsuit to have residents vote on the measure eventually made it to the Texas Supreme Court, which in July ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot.
Tuesday’s referendum drew attention from around the nation and was even endorsed last week from the White House, high-tech giant Apple and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The ordinance also had received support from progressive social justice members of Houston’s religious community, which is a minority.
Campaign for Houston, which fought the ordinance, said opponents included a diverse group of individuals, such as pastors from all denominations and local and state elected officials.
On Monday, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had tweeted his support for opponents, saying, “HOUSTON: Vote Texas values, not @HillaryClinton values. Vote NO on City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.”
The issue fails as the Obama administration ordered the Justice Department to threaten an Illinois school district that refused to allow a teenage boy, which is physically still a boy, from showing and changing out in the open in the girls locker room. The White House is threatening to have the Department of Education withhold funding from the school district, which is overwhelmingly opposed to offering full access. The district has made several accommodations, but the boy and the ACLU are not satisfied.