As our society slowly moves toward treating LGBT people with the dignity and equality all human beings deserve, the reaction of religious-right groups has been almost unhinged. Their leaders have adopted increasingly vitriolic and hateful rhetoric in their desperate attempts to defend discrimination. That fact has been on clear display as the Houston City Council’s Committee on Quality of Life prepared to hold a public hearing today (Wednesday, April 30) on a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance.
The Equal Rights Ordinance, proposed by Mayor Annise Parker, would bar discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, race, religion, military status and other characteristics. The measure includes exemptions for religious organizations (like churches), private clubs and organizations, and small businesses.
The proposed ordinance is so mainstream that the Greater Houston Partnership — a major regional business group that promotes economic development in the region — has endorsed it. From the Partnership’s website:
“The Partnership believes that Houston is already a great city that is welcoming and embraces diversity. Adopting the ordinance now is essentially a reaffirmation of who we are and what we believe: that all Houstonians should be able to live, work and enjoy our great city.”
But religious-right opponents of the ordinance appear determined to make Houston look like an intolerant bastion of hate and fear. One of their most vicious attacks is the attempt to frighten parents into believing the measure will give free rein to men who want to dress in women’s clothing so they can molest little girls in women’s restrooms. Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT), run by Houston’s notorious anti-gay extremist Steven Hotze, is even calling the ordinance the “Sexual Predator Protection Act.”
One repugnant purpose of that language is to suggest that transgendered people are inherently a danger to children (much as gay and lesbian people are often portrayed as likely child molesters). But ordinance opponents also hope their audience lacks common sense. Children — or anyone else, for that matter — would be no more vulnerable to assault in a public restroom under the proposed ordinance than they are right now. Does Hotze seriously believe sexual predators are waiting for this ordinance to pass so they can show up at the local shopping mall dressed in drag and assault women and children in the public restrooms? Of course not. This is simply a red herring designed to scare people.
But religious-right groups clearly think this is the best way to attack the proposed ordinance. And for good measure they’re also trying to frighten people of faith into thinking they’re at threat as well. An email blast today from Texas Values — the lobby arm of Plano-based Liberty Institute — insists that the measure is “a threat to public safety, Christians, and the private sector of Houston.” The group calls a similar measure passed last year in San Antonio an “anti-Christian ordinance.” In fact, many Christians spoke out in support of the San Antonio ordinance. Clergy planning to testify at today’s public hearing will also demonstrate that Christians and other people of faith support Houston’s proposed ordinance as well.
An email from the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) — headed by hate-monger Dave Welch, who calls Mayor Parker a “sodomite” — also uses CRT’s “Sexual Predator Protection Act” language. That sneering screed is especially vicious in discussing transgendered people:
“Why should the 99% of the population who are NOT gender confused be forced to accommodate the less than 1% who are? Why is the physical and emotional safety of women and children who accept their birth gender less important than the tiny few who suffer from what has always been considered a psychological disorder? The Holy Scriptures state clearly that, ‘…male and female He created them,’ (Gen. 1:27) and we choose to stand with Him and basic biology that sex is determined at conception, identified at birth.”
The very same email astonishingly suggests that discrimination against LGBT in Houston isn’t a problem (and that, if it happens, it would be “legitimate” anyway).
So there you have it. Religious-right activists are desperately defending discrimination and fighting a mainstream measure protecting LGBT people and others from being denied work, housing and services simply because of who they are. But the hateful rhetoric from those same activists is demonstrating why the Houston City Council should pass the Equal Rights Ordinance before it.