On November 3, the city of Houston will vote on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which creates city-wide nondiscrimination protections, including for the LGBT community. Opponents of HERO, organized as the so-called “Campaign For Houston,” have been escalating their rhetoric demonizing the LGBT community, and a new ad demonstrates just how far they’re willing to go to suggest that transgender women are violent sexual predators.
A new ad spot posted on YouTube Monday shows a little girl entering a restroom. “Any man at any time could enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day,” the ad falsely claims. “Even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom.” As a man sneaks out of a separate stall and enters the girl’s stall, the ad ironically claims that HERO “goes too far.” Watch it:
The extreme fearmongering in the ad is in line with the other kinds of statements the Campaign for Houston has been issuing of late. Whereas in September, the campaign’s ads claimed that transgender women are “filthy, disgusting, and unsafe” and implied that HERO puts women and children “at risk” and “in harm’s way,” the group’s statements have tried to raise the stakes even more since then.
The Campaign for Houston’s new website claims that “other cities and states with these laws have seen sexual predators use them to violate and hurt women and children,” even though that’s factually untrue. A video displayed prominently on the site features a sermon from Homer Edwin Young (a.k.a. “Dr. Young”), senior pastor at Second Baptist Church Houston, in which he decries HERO as “absolutely godless,” “totally deceptive,” and “deadly.” He also claims that his wife saw a “man” walk out of a women’s restroom. Watch it:
A group of Houston’s pastors used similar high-stakes rhetoric at a rally against HERO last week, hosted by Second Baptist. One pastor, unnamed by ABC 13’s news report, condemned HERO as “deadly, decisive, and damning.” Dr. Floyd Williams Sr., of Antioch Church, said he believes “HERO is the most dangerous thing that’s ever been orchestrated in the city of Houston.”
Houston Unites, the Yes on Prop 1 campaign, is trying to counter this demonizing rhetoric by showing that people all over Houston support the LGBT protections. Richard Carlbom, who is managing the Houston Unites campaign, told ThinkProgress that the opposition’s rhetoric will have an impact, sparking fear and anxiety for voters. “Parents will see this ad — children will see this ad — and will become afraid.”
One ad they’re running to counter these claims features moms from across the city explaining how they’ll benefit from HERO’s pregnancy nondiscrimination protections, noting that the law “protects women from discrimination, victimization, and harassment.” They correct the myths put out by opponents, explaining, “Indecent exposure, harassment, and assault in bathrooms is already illegal. Proposition 1 won’t change that. It won’t allow men to enter women’s restrooms and it won’t allow someone to escape prosecution for criminal behavior.”
Houston Unites has been working with the Houston Area Women’s Center in mythbusting what HERO’s opponents have been saying about sexual violence. “When the opposition puts commercials on air like this,” Carlbom explained, “it really does distract and confuse people in terms of where sexual predators actually operate.” Unlike the scary portrayal in the latest ad, sexual predators are generally not stalking the bathrooms; most perpetrators actually know their victims. “What this does is shift the focus away to something that is just not true, and they’re doing it for political purposes.”
Houston Unites’ latest ad features Ed Gonzalez, a retired police officer and father of four girls. “In cities in Texas with similar laws,” he explains, “there’s been no uptick in public safety incidents.” Another ad features some of Houston’s religious leaders who do support HERO, countering opponents’ narrative that the law would allow “reverse discrimination for people who believe in God.”
One of the most poignant ads supporting the passage of HERO so far introduces Dylan, a contractor who identifies as a transgender man. His coworker Steven explains that when Dylan came out as transgender, he was uncomfortable at first, “but over time, we got past it.” Watch it:
Opponents of HERO, who insist that people use the restroom that matches the gender they were assigned at birth, would ironically require Dylan, a man, to use the women’s restroom. In other words, the Campaign for Houston’s rhetoric not only demonizes transgender women as sexual predators and murderers; it’s also backwards. HERO’s LGBT protections would ensure that transgender men like Dylan can safely use the men’s room.