October 28, 2015 at 1:14 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
All eyes on Houston as ordinance vote nears

Michael Sam, Julian Castro, Houston, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Sam (left) and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (right) have endorsed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. (Photo of Michael Sam by Marcus Qwertyus courtesy Wikimedia Commons; photo of the Houston skyline by Hequals2henry courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Washington Blade photo of Julian Castro by Michael Key)

Following a high-profile campaign that has grabbed national headlines, all eyes will be on Houston next week for a vote on a pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinance — and the outcome may set the stage for enacting similar protections across the country.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which will go before voters on Tuesday as Proposition 1, would prohibit discrimination in several categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in the areas of employment, services, contracting practices, housing and public accommodations.

Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, is among the supporters of the campaign to pass the ordinance and said his organization’s priority “is ensuring the strongest possible turnout of voters in Houston.”

“We’ve been on the ground providing communications and digital strategy, field organizing, and financial support in collaboration with our partners at Houston Unites,” McTighe said. “A victory for nondiscrimination protections in Houston would reaffirm that people of all backgrounds are valued and welcome in America’s biggest, most business-friendly cities.”

The weeks leading up the vote have been contentious as opponents of the ordinance have aired anti-trans ads stoking fears about transgender people using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Proponents of HERO have repudiated that assertion by insisting untoward behavior in public restrooms would still be punishable under the law.

As reported by ThinkProgress, Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans football team had initially pledged $10,000 to defeat the ordinance, but is now rescinding that commitment after seeing the actions of the anti-LGBT campaign known as Campaign for Houston.

Polls have shown the ordinance has strong support. High-profile endorsements in recent days have come from Housing & Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro as well as the first openly gay National Football League draft pick Michael Sam. An endorsement was sought from gay icon Beyonce, but she has yet to weigh in on the measure.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the pro-LGBT Houston Unites has raised almost $3 million to pass HERO since August and 75 percent of donors are Houston residents. The anti-LGBT Campaign for Houston, on the other hand, reportedly listed 45 contributions and raised more than $62,000.

The ordinance in Houston isn’t the only contest of interest to LGBT voters on Election Day — even though it’s an off-year election.

• In Virginia, Democrats are one seat shy of taking control of the state Senate. On Tuesday, the party stands a shot of winning the majority, which would mean the party would control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Under the leadership of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, LGBT advocates are hopeful for that outcome to push forward long sought pro-LGBT legislation in the state, including statewide non-discrimination protections.

• In Mississippi, Joce Pritchett, who was one of the plaintiffs in the marriage equality lawsuit in the state, is running to become state auditor. Her victory would make her the first openly LGBT person elected to statewide office in the South.

• In Salt Lake City, lesbian candidate Jackie Biskupski is challenging incumbent pro-LGBT Mayor Ralph Becker. If Biskupski is successful, she’ll be the chief executive of the city at the heart of the Mormon Church, which has an anti-gay reputation for its role in opposing marriage equality.

• Other openly gay candidates seeking the office of mayor this election are Ginny Deerin in Charleston, S.C.; Ginny Foat in Palm Springs, Calif.; and Ken Siver in Southfield, Mich.

• In Columbus, Ohio, Shannon Hardin, who’s gay, is seeking an at-large seat on the city council after being appointed to the position last year. In Houston, openly gay Lane Lewis, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, is seeking an at-large seat on the city council.

• Also in Salt Lake City, Derek Kitchen, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit that brought marriage equality to Utah, is seeking a seat on the city council. In Indianapolis, openly gay small business owner Zach Adamson is also running for re-election to the city council. In Palm Springs, Calif., Geoff Kors, the former executive director of Equality California, is also running for city council.

• In another race in Utah, Sophia Hawes-Tingey, a transgender software engineer and Navy veteran, is challenging an incumbent for a seat on the Midvale City Council. Her victory would make her the first openly transgender elected official in Utah.

• Although the governor’s race in Kentucky doesn’t have a unique LGBT relevance in and of itself, the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage has endorsed Republicans Matt Bevin for governor and Whitney Westerfield for attorney general. The candidates are seeking to defeat Democratic incumbents Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney Jack Conway. Beshear has been a target of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in her efforts to enforce a “no licenses” policy in her office following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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