The people of Houston voted 'no' on an ordinance that would've banned discrimination based on gender and sexuality as well as several other characteristics on Tuesday (Nov. 3), ending the long journey of a much-debated bill in Texas' largest city.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), or Proposition 1, was left up to a vote after it was first passed in May 2014 by Houston mayor Annise Parker -- opponents quickly launched a veto referendum petition that would leave the bill's fate up in the air.
The ordinance was not passed with a vote of 59.55 percent to 40.45 percent, according to the numbers released by the Harris County Clerk's office Tuesday night.
Lieutenant Governor of Texas Dan Patrick released a statement announcing the defeat shortly after the numbers were reported, saying that this vote proved that "the voters of Houston will not stand for this kind of liberal nonsense."
What happened? Despite HERO's aim to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexuality, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, marital status, military status, religion, disability and more, reductive, the misleading challenges leveled against the ordinance appear to have worked: Opponents oversimplified HERO as a "bathroom bill," and a smear campaign alleged that by letting trans individuals use the restroom matching their gender identity, HERO somehow protected men who wanted to go into women's bathrooms (and, supposedly, assault women or children).
While the idea that trans people who desire bathroom access are predators is completely unfounded, the damaging effects this myth has on trans individuals is very real.
A 2013 study by the Williams Institute found that that the majority of trans people they talked to in the D.C. area had encountered harassment or violence for just trying to use the bathroom -- and that it's indicative of a larger trend:
Eighteen percent of respondents have been denied access to a gender-segregated public restroom, while 68 percent have experienced some sort of verbal harassment and 9 percent have experienced some form of physical assault when accessing or using gender-segregated public restrooms.
Nevertheless, transphobic rhetoric tends to rear its ugly head when legislation that might benefit trans individuals makes progress -- sometimes because the mainstream media doesn't always verify the claims made by anti-LGBT groups.
"In each case, an anti-LGBT group went to the media with an outlandish story about trans people who became wild after equality laws were passed and in each case, the media was eager to promote these stories without conducting proper fact checking," Cristan Williams, a trans historian, journalist and advocate at Houston's TG Center, told Equality Matters. The misinformation and panic too often wins out over the real numbers.
Not only does the "trans panic" rhetoric sabotage bills that could prevent workplace, housing and other forms of discrimination, they also distract from the real bathroom issue that needs our attention: It's significantly more dangerous for a trans individual to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity than it is for cisgender (non-trans) people.
"As a trans person, I've never felt as unsafe, unwelcome and reviled as I have in the lead-up to [Tuesday's] vote," Cristan Williams told MTV News before Tuesday's vote. "I've never experienced this level of public hate."