Understanding Houston’s Proposition 1 Through Stunning Portraits
A handful of Houstonians have launched a campaign to put faces to local policy in the hopes of fighting discrimination.
The campaign, titled WE Are HERO, is a collaboration between branding and creative design agency Primer Grey and Lauren Marek Photography. WE Are HERO is designed to capture all 15 categories of Houstonians who are protected by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) through portraits.
Chris Valdez and Carra Sykes at Primer Grey described the vision behind this project as an opportunity to use their powers for good.
“We wanted our company to state our stance on the ordinance, and from there the idea came to us. We’re creatives; we have the ability to communicate with people in a creative and visual way, so it seemed like a natural fit to go to our toolbox and use those tools to support the ordinance.”
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was passed in May of 2023, was recently suspended after a year long legal battle with opposition to the ordinance. The Texas Supreme Court ordered the City to either put the ordinance on the ballot or repeal it, and City Council decided to place it on the November 3rd ballot as Proposition 1. Now its fate is in the hands of Houstonians, who will need to vote on whether or not to keep the ordinance.
As it is written, HERO prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy in employment, public accommodations and housing.
Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, is the only major city in Texas and the U.S. without an equal rights ordinance. Cities like Dallas have had such an ordinance for over a decade.
Without the ordinance there is no local resource for any of the 2.2 million Houstonians to file a discrimination complaint. If you experienced discrimination, you’d have to deal with it at the state or federal level — unless you were discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity, because those are two classes without protection. In 2023, it is legal to fire someone from their job because they are gay or transgender.
And while that does happen, the most common type of discrimination that occurs in Houston is racial discrimination.
ABC 13 Eyewitness News published city data breaking down the more than 130 complaints of discrimination that have been received since May 2023:
a whopping 56% of the discrimination complaints are based on race;
17% are based on gender;
13% are based on familial status;
6% are based on age;
5% are based on sexual orientation/gender identity;
and the rest have been based on veteran status, national origin and disability.
The opposition to the ordinance has taken issue with its inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity, claiming it will give special rights to the LGBT community. But as these statistics show, discrimination is an issue that all Houstonians deal with. Having a local, efficient and cost effective way to address it is necessary, and the WE Are HERO photo campaign is making that evident.
As photographer Lauren Marek pointed out, “People think HERO is about one issue and one group of people, so when we take these photos of tons of people and show who is actually affected, we’re able to show what HERO is really about.”
The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings particularly true here. Often times it is difficult to imagine how policy can help people, but through the WE Are HERO campaign, Houstonians can meet the real people who will be impacted.
“Maybe someone could see themselves in a photo and relate in way that maybe they didn’t realize,” Sykes explained. “It’s harder to say no to this ordinance when you can put a face to what it stands for.”
The people behind WE Are HERO, when asked what the one thing they wanted Houstonians to take away from the campaign, said, “We hope it motivates people to take an active role in understanding what happens in city government and how it affects their lives. This is just one group of stories we are telling today, but tomorrow it could be a totally different story. It could be your story.”
To view more portraits and stories, visit the WE Are HERO website.