Good for them. But it clearly wasn't enough. Final score (not yet certified at this time):
Yes 100,427 (39.03%)
No 156,882 (60.97%)
I did some canvassing for Houston Unites myself, but knocking on doors and making those automated phone calls produced a frustratingly small number of conversations. Even if I had kept it up, my efforts would not have convinced 30,000 people to change their votes from No to Yes, much less persuaded 57,000 non-voters to vote.
Supporters of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance may not have had time to learn the lesson yet. There is a mighty load, mostly emotional, to process first. However, I believe that the lesson goes something like this:
- Never take your rights—or the rights of your friends, neighbors, and relatives—for granted. Civil and human rights are not given by beneficent overlords; they are demanded, fought for, and won by everyday people. That is the central lesson that American history should teach us.
- Money can buy advertising to spread lies and deny or revoke those rights. People with more money and time than you have can twist the wording of any proposal, put their perverted interpretations on TV and radio, and have their lies protected by the First Amendment. It happens at all levels of government, but Proposition 1 was a perfect example of how the bigots operate. The lies overcame the efforts of a popular mayor, other local and national politicians, the Houston business community, and even Sally Field.
- If you have the right to vote, get your ass to the polls and vote. In 2012, 60% of registered voters in Houston cast ballots. That's high for Houston, even in a presidential election; Barack Obama, a charismatic candidate, got people excited enough to vote. Last night, the turnout was less than 30%, and that was high for a Houston municipal election. Which has a more immediate effect on your life: what Obama does, or whether you can be fired or denied housing just for who you are?
- There is more to democracy than voting. If you want your city to have a non-discrimination ordinance like HERO, you'll have to let your mayor and council know it. Use whatever means you find comfortable: petitions, phone calls, email, meeting directly with your district councilmember, or making your two-minute speech at City Hall on a Tuesday afternoon. Council can reword the ordinance in ways that no reasonable person could construe as allowing people in restrooms to harass, intimidate, or even discomfort anyone.
- Federal equal rights laws are great, but only when they can be enforced. I have seen too many people, mostly white men, try to argue that HERO is unnecessary because federal law already protects people against discrimination. But federal law does not contain protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (The State of Texas has no such equal rights statutes.) Also, HERO would provide a local solution to local problems, referring complaints to the city's Office of the Inspector General. If the Inspector General's investigation proves discrimination occurred, the city could fine the offender up to $5,000. As of now, if someone discriminates against you in employment, housing, or public accommodations, your only recourse is federal courts. Can you afford to sue a corporation in federal court? Ask your favorite attorney how much it would cost and how long it would take. Don't be too upset when he or she bursts into a lengthy laughing fit.
But there's more to it than that. Three-fifths of the voters who voted said No. The No voters included people in one or more of the 15 protected classes mentioned in the ordinance, but were scared of Perverts in the Ladies Room. Representatives of the No vote should also be invited to the table. If they are truly opposed to equal rights for certain protected classes, it will show in the negotiations. Take out any possible mention of public lavatories, and see if—and to what—the opponents still object. Show the bigots for what they are, and show the people how the big-money bigots have used them. "See? It's not about bathrooms. It was never about bathrooms. It was about spreading fear among the masses so that white, Christian, cisgender folks can maintain their dominance in American society."