Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Falls Short, Leaving Millions Without Protections

By Adam Polaski • November 3, 2015 • 11:30 pm

Today Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was repealed, stripping millions of citizens of local protections that covered 15 categories, including race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and disability. HERO was passed by the Houston City Council in 2014. This vote comes after LGBT opponents forced HERO onto the ballot just three months ago – in that time, our movement quickly mobilized, building a strong, bipartisan coalition.

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Freedom for All Americans’ goal has always been to secure non-discrimination protections for LGBT people nationwide – and this week’s setback in Houston serves as a crucial reminder that our fight is far from over. We will continue to work at the municipal, state, and national level to ensure that no LGBT person in our country faces discrimination in employment, housing, or in public spaces.

Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, commented on the news today:

“Civil rights work is never easy – and the path to justice is often marked by temporary losses and roadblocks. Our opponents took their scare tactics to new heights in Houston in order to mislead voters and distort the truth throughout this campaign. – Matt McTighe, Freedom for All Americans

Matt McTighe continued: “Despite the challenges, Freedom for All Americans is proud of the coalition we helped build and our ability to mobilize and organize in just a few short weeks. We made significant investments in research and testing, and we know more now than when we started ten weeks ago about what moves people to support nondiscrimination protections. We will continue to use that knowledge and experience to educate Americans about what equal rights ordinances do and why everyone should be protected from discrimination. And we won’t leave Houstonians behind in that ongoing battle.”

From the moment the Texas Supreme Court ordered the Houston City Council to repeal HERO or put it on the ballot, Freedom for All Americans has led efforts alongside our coalition partners (the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP Houston Branch and Texas Freedom Network) to ensure LGBT Houstonians are treated fairly under the law through the Houston Unites campaign. Through public education and research, our work helped change many hearts and minds in Houston, build movement capacity and gain a better understanding of how to share personal stories about discrimination. We’ll keep learning from those lessons and work harder than ever on future fights to advance inclusive non-discrimination. Here’s a look at some of FFAA’s contributions:

  • Strategy/Leadership: Freedom for All Americans was a founding partner of Houston Unites, the broad-based coalition that brought together dozens of businesses, Republicans, and community members in support of protecting HERO. Freedom for All Americans’ strategist Richard Carlbom served as the campaign manager, bringing more than a decade of experience as a political and community organizer, fundraiser, and advisor, to the effort. His work began just weeks after an order by the Texas Supreme Court placed HERO on the ballot, giving our movement just a few short weeks to mobilize. His focus emphasized organizing around the many groups of people impacted by HERO, including people of color, women, veterans, and the LGBT community.
  • Communications Work: Freedom for All Americans provided ongoing communications support to Houston Unites, including convening regular rapid response and earned media strategy calls; developing talking points and press materials; working with spokespeople; and supporting message development and dissemination.
  • Digital Work: Freedom for All Americans in-kinded all digital assets for the Houston Unites campaign. These services include: creating the Houston Unites brand, building the Houston Unites website, directing daily social media strategy for the entire campaign, crafting an email strategy, and shepherding online fundraising efforts (see below). Through the Houston Unites digital work, Freedom for All Americans identified 13,000 new supporters of comprehensive non-discrimination protections – supporters who were engaged, committed, and ready to take action.
  • Field Strategy: Freedom for All Americans provided senior-level strategy to craft and advise on Houston Unites’ robust field program, guiding an aggressive phone-banking and door-to-door effort throughout the summer and fall.

Losing is always tough – but with every single fight, we learn important lessons, and we grow stronger. Just look at what happened in the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples: 32 times in states across the country, opponents scared voters into voting against the freedom to marry. But through those losses, the movement grew stronger, gained knowledge, and eventually learned how to win.

We need to continue to educate the public about why non-discrimination protections are so vital – and what they do and do not mean. We need to continue to push back on their lies and attacks, showcasing the supermajority of Americans who believe it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBT people, and highlighting the stories of people hurt by discrimination. We need to continue working on non-discrimination, and through that work, we will advance.

Our opponents took their scare tactics to new lows during this fight in Houston – and we know they’re going to continue to distort the truth to deprive LGBT people of critical protections and chip away at our movement’s gains.

We can’t let that happen. Let’s stand together, united, against discrimination. Click here to sign the pledge saying you’re committed in this fight to secure non-discrimination protections for ALL LGBT Americans.

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