Houston's Voters Were Too Lazy, Didn't Read

Wait... what?! Back up. Shani wrote a blog post?!

Oh crap! She's back with her unsolicited opinions... and she's been caffeinated! 

Oh crap! She's back with her unsolicited opinions... and she's been caffeinated! 

Well, yeah. Because I missed you jokers. I really did. 

A lot's happened since my last post in April. We moved to Charleston, the boys started new schools, my old neighborhood in Columbia flooded, I started writing the "Growing Pains" column for Muses & Visionaries magazine...it would take a week to hash it all out, so let's just say that life is still busy, complex, big, loud, and wonderful in a new place. Besides, I've been dying to leap back onto my soapbox and bring you all up there with me to share the many nuanced points of view that make life so colorful and interesting.

You may have heard that Houston voters repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance last week. I wrote some thoughts about it, which you'll find below. Grab a cup of coffee and take a read, and don't forget to share your thoughts on it here!

“This is why it’s so important to get out and vote,” a random Facebook update read last week on Election Day. “Even if you don’t think you know anything about the candidates, it’s your obligation to get out there and cast your ballot.”

The above is a well-intentioned sentiment, but it couldn’t be more wrong. It implies that an uninformed vote is better than no vote at all. The most abhorrent results of such an idea came to light late Tuesday evening, when the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance—also known as HERO—was rejected by voters. This ordinance was written in order to prohibit discrimination practices based on the following:*

Sex

Race

Color

Ethnicity

National origin

Age

Familial status

Marital status

Military status

Religion

Disability

Sexual orientation

Genetic information

Gender identity

Pregnancy

The measure was meant to enforce the supposed national ideal that everyone has the right to work, purchase or rent real estate, purchase retail or wholesale goods, visit amusement parks, play a round of golf, or wash their underwear at the laundromat. It was meant to protect the right to have dinner out with friends, visit a bar with those friends after dinner, and crash in a hotel room after having a bit too much fun with those friends later on. The ordinance was also meant to ensure that a new business owner can open up shop in a brick-and-mortar establishment, along with a host of other day-to-day activities that many Americans take for granted. 

It’s fairly normal for such rights to be taken for granted in this country until you’re the one getting turned away from the bar at a restaurant you ducked into on a rainy night—hungry and ready for a glass of rosé—after a friend’s poetry reading you’d trekked across town from your hotel to attend. It’s normal to take a real estate transaction for granted until the seller backs out of negotiations after finding out the buyers are black, or gay, or trans, or anything considered “different.” I witnessed my parents lose out on such a real estate deal when I was eleven years old, and you may have guessed that I was the person whom a bartender in Chicago refused service a few months ago, even though I was ready and willing to pay for a meal and would have tipped him well because I remember what it’s like to work long hours for gratuities.  

So, you may wonder, what on earth could have possessed the residents of Houston to overturn something so obvious?

image via theguardian.com

image via theguardian.com

Bathrooms. 

Excuse me?

Yes, bathrooms are what defeated HERO. Well, to be more concise, it was a fear that a trans woman who was once a man would go into a women’s bathroom to peep at a woman’s privates, or worse.

If you read the ordinance, you’ll see that there is absolutely nothing in it referring to who may or may not use certain restrooms. Yet somehow HERO’s opponents managed to convince 60.97% of voters that if the ordinance passed, their grandmother’s right to pee without being attacked would be revoked. The only sections of the ordinance that refer to a bathroom are in the third division of the document, which details the housing accessibility practices that would have been enforced if the ordinance had passed:

[3]        Reinforcements in the bathroom walls to allow installation of grab bars; and
[4]         Kitchens and bathrooms laid out in such a manner that an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.

There is a section that could be interpreted as referring to bathroom use, but it specifically refers to city services:

Sec. 17-32. Prohibition against discrimination in city services. 
It is the policy of the city that the city will not discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristic in authorizing or making available the use of city facilities or in the delivery of city programs, services or activities.

 

Could there have been worry about the enforcement of civic matters in private venues? you might ask.

No, that’s spelled out pretty well:

Sec. 17-54. Exemptions.
    • Any hotel, motel, restaurant, bar, lounge, nightclub, cabaret, theater, bowling alley, skating rink, golf course, or similar facility operated by a bona fide private club when the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and services of the entity are restricted to the members of such club and their guests and not for the purpose of evading this article; 
    • Any bona fide social, fraternal, educational, civic, or religious organization, or to any private kindergarten, day care center or nursery school, when the profits of such accommodations, advantages, facilities and services, above reasonable and necessary expenses, are solely for the benefit of such organization... 

So, how is it that a fear of bathrooms defeated an ordinance that seems, for the most part, to be formed from common sense? you may be asking. 

Easy. Common sense was defeated by TLDR, an online acronym for “Too Lazy, Didn’t Read,” an admittance of posting or commenting on an article without having actually read the piece in question. 

It took me all of 7 seconds to pull HERO up via Google search. At polling facilities, it’s common practice to provide the text of any law or ordinance being voted upon. And yet voters were still too lazy to read HERO for themselves—a fact the ordinance’s conservative opponents counted upon as they whipped up the public’s wildest nightmares about the horrible things that can happen when “others” are permitted the same access as themselves to a life unencumbered by discrimination and injustice.

The mayor has never been able to produce a shred of evidence that’s credible of any need for this ordinance, other than everybody else is doing it,” Dave Welch, the executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council said in an obvious attempt to glaze over the fact that the repeal of this measure opens the door for landlords, employers, and more to turn away potential tenants and workers for reasons ranging from skin color to whom the applicant goes to bed with at night. I wonder what Welch would have to say if a landlord—now made aware that there won’t be repercussions for his actions—denied a Vietnam War veteran’s rental application because this landlord erroneously thinks any soldier who fought during that time is a soulless and blood-thirsty human drone? The ordinance would have also protected the veterans who honorably fulfilled their duty to the military, after all. 

This is where the easy portrayal of American culture has gone terribly wrong. Entertainment over information. Ease over critical thinking. These choices are often responsible for the backward steps that have been afflicting different areas of the country lately. This latest example highlights the way these choices lead voters straight into the arms of those keepers of the status quo who want nothing more than to do the public the favor of thinking on its behalf. 

In case you're still wondering if this was all one big misunderstanding, here's another extremely bitter morsel for you: late last night The Daily Beast revealed that the leader of the campaign against HERO was none other than Steve Hotze, the shady anti-government "vitamin" salesman who said of gays last summer, “I don’t want them in our city. Send them back to San Francisco.” This same man also once stated that the way to take care of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was to "shoot all the queers."**

What does it say when voters will let someone like this think on their behalf rather than take a few minutes to read the document being decided upon?

It’s vital for voters to know who and what they’re putting into play before casting a vote. It’s true that there are many who fought and died so we’d have a country that allows open-ish electoral practices. Because of the rights our predecessors fought for us to have, Americans do have an obligation to vote. However, going to the polls without knowing the consequences of the ballots we cast is a greater disservice than not voting at all, because one of those two choices can easily lead to the repeal of the freedoms those predecessors’ lives allowed for us take for granted every day.

*I felt it was important to list each of the protected criteria in order to denote the wide and diverse swath of people the ordinance's rejection will affect.

**Hotze also signed a "manifesto" in 1986 stating that wives should be obedient to their husbands, and not pester them with criticism, Christians shouldn't marry non-Christians, and that “sexual attractiveness or other carnal considerations should dictate a Christian’s choice of a mate.” Are you grossed out yet?