Rethinking violence: HERO and Reproductive Justice

If you’ve ever met a Houstonian, you know we are proud about a lot of things. Houston is the most ethnically and racially diverse city in the nation and unfortunately, we are also the only major city in the nation without a non-discrimination ordinance. After the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) passed in 2014, the Texas Legislature responded with over 20 anti-LGBT bills in the 84th legislature. Anti-LGBT politicians launched an attack to repeal HERO and were successful in putting it up for a vote during an election period with traditionally very low voter turnout.

The civil rights are even up for a vote is terrifying. The people who are restricting access to abortion are the same ones attacking undocumented immigrants and now leading the fight against Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. As of today, Friday, experts are saying that the vote is “too close to call” before Election Day. 

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance would protect people on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, veteran status, age, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation and religion. But right wing politicians and their friends have made it about demonizing the LGBT community.

As a queer woman, born and raised in Houston, I am disgusted at local and state leaders like Dan Patrick who are targeting the LGBT community, and specifically transgender women, and claiming this is about protecting individuals who use public restrooms.

Portraying HERO as the “bathroom ordinance” disregards the fact that over half of the reports filed when HERO was in effect were racial discrimination cases. Almost 20 percent were for pregnancy discrimination. And in zero cases—not in Houston, not in any other city with an anti-discrimination policies, ever—were equal rights ordinances used as a legal defense against assault, despite the prevailing anti-HERO narrative.

The idea that trans women are harassing cisgendered women and children in public restrooms has been a favorite narrative for right wing politicians. This narrative is not only disgusting and false, it is extremely dangerous. We know that hateful rhetoric about certain communities makes people act on these hateful thoughts. When the leaders of our state are perpetuating untrue, hateful narratives about trans women, that is an act of violence. In fact, trans women are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and harassment than any other group, and they’re also the group most likely to be denied victim support services.

One in four college students will be sexually assaulted and many victims aren’t able to report their abuse because of statute of limitations, but there is no outcry from our state leaders about this. Once again, this is not at all about protecting women and all about passing their backwards agenda at the expense of the most marginalized in Texas.

I constantly get asked that as an abortion rights activist, why do I care about and advocate for other issues, like HERO? The reality is that we don’t live single issue lives—these issues intersect. Many pro-choice activists do this work through a reproductive justice lens and reproductive justice can’t and won’t be be achieved until we are able to have full control of our bodies and sexualities. When transgender women don’t even live long enough to plan their own families, that is a reproductive justice issue. When a same sex couple and their children can be denied housing because of their sexual orientation, that is a reproductive justice issue. When an immigrant mother can be denied support services to leave her abuser, that is a reproductive justice issue. These are the issues that are at stake this upcoming election and this is why we need to care.

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