Do we need a HERO?

Today, the inhabitants of Houston are voting on Proposition 1, Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Locals in Houston, groups made up mostly of social conservatives and pastors in the city, raised support via petition to force the city’s government to allow Houston natives to vote on HERO. At first the city’s legislators had passed the measure in an attempt to bring sexual orientation and gender identity within the protections of the city’s anti-discrimination laws.

Numerous businesses have come out to publicly support the measure, many of which have claimed that to vote down HERO would tarnish the city’s reputation as a forward-thinking, progressive city. These public statements remind us of what happened when Indiana passed its religious freedom legislation earlier in the year–with big business essentially threatening sanctions due to outrage over their disagreement with the Indiana government’s ideas.

The tactics that people often use in debating these scenarios can be quite disturbing. Rather than converse reasonably over these issues, i.e. the legitimacy and potential dangers of HERO, many call people’s integrity and intelligence into question. This played out rather publicly, for example, between Lance Berkman and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Social conservatives have a hard time understanding the rationale behind a law that allows gender confused men or women to use a bathroom or locker room that does not match the individual’s biological sex. Many of these people are rational people who do not wish to discriminate against anyone. They simply fail to see the logic behind the decision-making that guides laws such as HERO.

Yet, the reason why LGBT(Q) activists often fail to produce anything besides emotional appeals in favor of their anti-discriminatory laws likely centers on the concept that sexual/gender identity itself is not readily definable. The moment one draws a line of definition, someone will become excluded, and such exclusion would be the last thing these activists desire.

Those who oppose HERO do so because what they hear is that gender specific rooms (restrooms, locker rooms, etc.) will start to have an open door policy based on the whimsy of any given individual. In what little reading I’ve done, advocates would seemingly state that such a declaration is an out-and-out lie. Sites apparently designed to explain this opposition as a misconception merely cite that no one of the opposite sex may enter the bathroom “to cause a disturbance.”

The first question that comes to mind is: what exactly constitutes a disturbance? An article posted on The Guardian states that the city “bans entering a restroom of the opposite sex with malicious intent.” Presumably, these laws could be interpreted either way depending on the viewpoint of the lawyer/judge. Some would, again presumably, not see a man who self-identifies as a woman going into a women’s restroom to urinate to qualify as a disturbance.

At a glance, there does not seem to be enough clarity to satisfy those who fear that HERO would open the door for gender confused men to enter women’s bathrooms. Until we have a better grasp of what we mean by all of the qualifications surrounding sexual/gender identity, I’m just not so sure that Houston needs this HERO just yet.

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