Guest Author

From a Supporter of Houston’s HERO: It’s About the Bathrooms and That’s Why It Failed

Decrease Font SizeIncrease Font SizeText SizePrint This Page
By Jacob Santillan


This is in part a riposte to Angela Box (“Houston HERO: It’s About the Bathrooms, Stupid“), whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and find her quite enjoyable despite (and probably because) the fact that I don’t agree with her on…well…anything. 

I must agree with Ms. Box that Houston HERO is indeed about the bathrooms, but not in the way she thinks.

As a supporter of HERO, I also have to concede that’s actually it’s biggest problem. Some will undoubtedly stop reading here and denounce me as a bigot without bothering to consider that the biggest problem HERO’s proponents face that the conversation is still dominated by “the bathroom ordinance” narrative. Even when writing favorably, the first order of business is to insist that it’s not a “bathroom ordinance”. That may be true, but this puts my mind to the possibly apocryphal story about Lyndon Johnson spreading rumors that a campaign opponent of his was a pig-fucker. When reportedly confronted about this because it wasn’t true, the story finishes with him telling a campaign aide that he doesn’t care because he wants “to see the son of a bitch deny it”. HERO may very well not be a “bathroom ordinance”, but that its supporters keep having to deny that it is, isn’t a great sign of it’s future.

About HERO being a “bathroom ordinance”, Ms. Box writes:

But here’s where it gets sticky. You see, in every other major city in Texas with HERO, the authors of the bill removed language that everyone and their Great Aunt Sally found objectionable—the language declaring a person can choose their gender at will and pop a squat in any bathroom they choose.

By that I assume she, and other opponents of HERO object to this particular language, in paragraph b:

Screenshot 2024-11-03 16.25.53

Ms. Box’s take being an extraordinarily ham-fisted approach aside, in the ordinance passed, that language was removed yet “the bathroom ordinance” narrative persists.

That HERO’s opponents have very clearly driven how people talk about about the equal rights ordinance is, at least to me, a damning sign of the ineffectiveness of HERO’s chief proponents, and the efficacy of the opposition’s messaging, especially since there, at least to me, seemed to be no particularly stout or effective counter-effort to HERO opponents scaring the shit out of people with ads like this:

I think the ad is ludicrous scare-mongering, and that the issues, particularly when it comes to transgender people, are more complicated than ads like that allow for discussion. The hair-on-fire panic merchants who put these types of ads on are tremendously damaging to discourse, and sadly obscure with shrill whinging what should be discussed openly, plainly, and honestly.

But none of that is relevant or possible so long as the opposition has run the table on messaging almost from day one. The Texas Observer quotes University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinnghaus:

Rottinghaus said the anti-HERO campaign simply beat supporters to the punch.

“They established early on the narrative about this being about public safety as opposed to being about discrimination, and that took hold and was difficult to undo,” he said.

Consider also the fact that HERO is on the ballot in 2024, which is such an off-year for elections, it’s characterized primarily by it’s abysmal turnout rates. With that in mind, the Texas Observer has a pretty good rundown on why Prop 1 proponents have little to be hopeful, which also reports spikes in voter turnout among groups not exactly known for their warmth towards the LGBT community.

Also, an early October KHOU/KUHF poll reports 43 percent of respondents support it, 37% opposed, and 18% undecided. The margin of error is +/- 4.1 percent.

Granted, that poll is a month old and HERO is in the lead outside the margin of error. However, considering the messaging dominance of the anti-HERO side, I don’t get a good feeling from knowing that 18% are undecided.

The Texas Observer headline tells of experts who say HERO’s fate is “too close to call”, but I’m more pessimistic. I’m reasonably, (and very definitely not enthusiastically) certain that Houston’s HERO will fall today.

I hope Houston proves me wrong.

UPDATE: as of 19:11 CST KHOU reports that HERO is failing by a margin of 61% to 39%.

  • Thisoldspouse

    I AM enthusiastic about the defeat!


    • Jacob Santillan

      Because of course you are…