Houston Mayor ‘Running Out of Runway’ on HERO Relaunch

Houston Mayor Annise Parker at Dallas' 2015 Black Tie Dinner LGBT fundraiser.
John Wright
Houston Mayor Annise Parker had hoped to bring back an amended HERO, but she now says she’s out of time.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who championed the city’s ill-fated equal rights ordinance, HERO, said she no longer plans to try to revive it before leaving office at the end of the year.

In the aftermath of HERO’s resounding defeat at the polls November 3, Parker had indicated the current City Council could consider an amended non-discrimination ordinance before her term expires.

But during an appearance Saturday at a major LGBT fundraiser in Dallas, Parker said she now believes it’s too late.

“The problem is, I’m running out of runway,” Parker told the Observer before the annual Black Tie Dinner gala. “I have only so many council meetings left, and so it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to do anything with it. The council members who supported it still support it, and I do hope the the next mayor of Houston will pick it back up again.”

Houston’s next mayor will be either state Representative Sylvester Turner, who supports HERO, or former Kemah mayor Bill King, who opposes it. They meet in a runoff December 12.

Parker said if King prevails, LGBT advocates could launch a petition drive to place a new HERO on the ballot. But HERO opponents are already preparing to block any reincarnation of the ordinance.

Last week, the Houston Chronicle reported that HERO opponents have made 300,000 phone calls encouraging voters to ask City Council members not to resurrect HERO, which would have protected Houstonians from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race and 11 other characteristics.  

The anti-HERO Campaign for Houston has endorsed King and four City Council candidates running against those backed by LGBT groups in advance of the December runoff.

“If Sylvester Turner is elected mayor, then you can be sure that he will try to pass the Bathroom Ordinance again,” longtime anti-LGBT activist Steve Hotze wrote in a Campaign for Houston e-mail last week. “The only way to prevent this is by electing a mayor and members of city council who oppose the Bathroom Ordinance.”

Parker told the Observer she’d be announcing her endorsement of Turner “in the very near future.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, said during Saturday’s fundraiser he’s confident Houston will eventually have a new HERO, despite what he called a “massive” and “devastating” defeat.

Griffin told the Observer he fully expects anti-LGBT groups to export their strategy from Houston to other parts of the country.

“It is going to require fighting back much harder at the lies our opponents pushed forward, and I don’t know what all the answers to that are today, but I’m certain that by the time any other community in this country faces those scare tactics and lies, the movement as a whole will be ready for them,” Griffin said.

HERO opponents have already threatened to try to repeal Dallas’ non-discrimination ordinance, which the City Council voted unanimously to strengthen last week.

But Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and council members have been quick to defend the law, which has included protections for transgender people since it was first passed in 2002.

“This has nothing to do with where people relieve themselves,” Rawlings told an audience of around 3,000 Saturday. “It’s about how we treat one another in this world.”  

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Published at 1:12 pm CST
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