Shame On Houston: A HERO Post-Mortem

The Houston voting and non-voting public should be ashamed of the rejection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The tactics of the anti-HERO groups deserve to be excoriated for their selfish pandering to the irrational fears and emotions of voters. The “bathroom campaign” linking the transgender community with sexual predators is the dirtiest card in the deck of discrimination politics.

Shame on those that know better, and played the fear card for their own gain. Shame on those who discarded the rational debate about liberty and equality around HERO, and threw political discourse back to the era of lynch mobs. And yes, the lynch mob analogy is intentional. It is the first of three reasons why the anti-HERO faction should be embarrassed:

(1) Segregationists used the same methods: A longstanding reason used to deny the rights of and justify violence against African-Americans was the perception that African-American men were sexual predators. Segregationists used this argument to enforce a rigid race and gender hierarchy . Lisa Dorr writes:

The rape myth, based on white women’s role as the symbolic guardians of white purity and virtue, gave white women considerable ability to accuse black men of rape and demand that white men provide protection through revenge.

The Houston bathroom advertisement linked legal protections for the transgender community to the violation of womanhood and purity: the doe-eyed schoolgirl is preyed upon, and with HERO men are now impotent in taking revenge upon the “predator.” Of course sexual assaults are abhorrent, but no evidence suggests equal rights ordinances enable assaultive behavior. The sexual assault play against HERO is a tool of preserving a gender-identity hierarchy in Houston.

(2) Some conservative voters respond to the “victim” message: The mounting demographic evidence is that middle-aged white Americans with a high school education or less are undergoing tremendous emotional strain relative to other groups. Of course these Americans still have a very high standard of living, but they perceive their relative deprivation compared to the advancing rights of historically oppressed minorities.

When political elites and strategists advance a fear-based message of an assault on traditional values, a group as historically advantaged as the white middle class perceives itself as a victim. As a Christian, I find the concomitant message of a “War on Christians” to be empirically false and morally objectionable. The anti-HERO activists spun a gender identity stitch in the suffocating fabric of self-victimhood in which much of Middle America is shrouded today.

(3) Texas politicians know how dirty their tactics are: Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick shamelessly exploited the HERO vote to take on their political enemies and shore up evangelical voter support. As with their rejection of the ACA Medicaid expansion, the civil rights of Texans lost out to cheap political pandering. Abbott and Patrick are savvy and logical enough to see through the fallacious bathroom argument, yet they intentionally exploited it for their benefit.

Should we be surprised, though? Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is little more than a 21st-century version of Pappy O’Daniel, the reactionary radio-personality turned incompetent Texas Governor and Senator. Pappy was all style and no substance, dishing out political red meat about African-Americans and Communists to his radio listeners all the way to Washington. Patrick now dishes the same meat against the LGBT community.

Shame on the architects of the bathroom campaign, and the twisted tradition of hate and fear they represent.

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