Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has donated $10,000 to Campaign for Houston, an organization that opposes the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a nondiscrimination law that’s up for vote on November 3rd.
While the ordinance provides wide-ranging nondiscrimination protections for Houston residents and visitors, including in cases of race, sexuality, gender, disability, nationality, and religion, the Campaign for Houston has centered in on LGBT protections, particularly the fact that this law allows trans women to use women’s restrooms and trans men to use men’s restrooms.
“We are Citizens of Houston of all races, creeds and political beliefs who feel there should be NO MEN IN WOMEN’S BATHROOMS,” the organization’s website reads.
Last month, former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman repeated this rhetoric when he was featured in an ad produced by Campaign for Houston. “Proposition 1, the bathroom ordinance, would allow troubled men to enter women’s public bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. This would violate their privacy and put them in harm’s way,” Berkman said.
McNair, who has a net worth of approximately $3.3 billion, frequently supports conservative causes. According to the Washington Examiner, between 2009–2013, McNair donated nearly $3.4 million to conservative politicians and policies, with “most of it going to pro-Mitt Romney super PACs in the final weeks of the 2012 election cycle.” Texas Monthly calculated that since the beginning of 2015, he’s given more than $6 million to GOP candidates across the country, including Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Lindsey Graham.
Considering the NFL owner’s history of political contributions, Richard Carlbom, the campaign manager for Houston Unites — a coalition supporting HERO — wasn’t surprised or alarmed by McNair’s donation. “McNair is a conservative donor, and the folks that are running the Campaign for Houston are his close friends,” Carlbom told ThinkProgress. “The important perspective here is that they sent a letter to hundreds of business leaders in the community asking for donations, and he is the one high-profile person they can point to that made a donation.”
The NFL’s interest in Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance goes beyond McNair, however: The city is set to host the Super Bowl in 2017. In 2014, Arizona was in the news due to the state’s Religious Freedoms Restoration Act, which allowed businesses the right to discriminate against customers and patrons based on their religious beliefs. The bill was considered a “license to discriminate” against LGBT customers.
At the time, the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury all spoke out against the law. The NFL even released a statement that said, “Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard.”
Many believed that the league would move the Super Bowl from Arizona if the bill was passed, but Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed it before that became an issue. The same concern has been raised in Houston.
“The HERO supporters have tried to scare people into believing that we would lose the Super Bowl,” Campaign for Houston spokesman Jared Woodfill told the Houston Chronicle. “Obviously, if there were any truth behind that, Bob McNair wouldn’t be donating to the folks that are opposed to the ordinance.”
But Carlbom said that because Houston is one of the only major cities in the United States without a nondiscrimination ordinance in place, if the law is not passed next month, it could send a signal to organizations like the NFL that Houston isn’t a safe place to hold big events.
McNair addressed his donation in a statement released by Texans communications director Kevin Cooper:
“Houston is a city known for the diversity and exceptionalism of its hard working people. We are also a city that works to ensure that everyone is treated respectfully and fairly.
“I strongly believe that everyone who lives or works in or visits Houston should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Because of the way the HERO ordinance is written, it has begun to separate rather than unite our community. This problem can be solved by defeating the current bill in November, thoughtfully rewriting it and then resubmitting it to the voters.”