November 13, 2015 at 9:30 am EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Defeat of Houston ordinance a wake-up call
Equality Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) speaks at the press conference introducing the Equality Act on July 23, 2015 in the LBJ Room of the U.S. Senate. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Thousands of miles from the United States, while vacationing on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, the defeat of the Houston human rights measure became personal. Two guys who make their home in Houston, were shocked and furious at the “egregious” result. They felt it was “embarrassing how fearful people were of the LGBT community.”

Rex Marzke who moved to Houston in 1991 from D.C. and his partner Steve Roberts who moved there in 1979, weren’t sure what impact it would have on their lives. They live in a conservative white suburb of Houston. Steve, an interior designer, who sits on the board of their homeowners association, said he would ask people directly how they voted. Rex works for IBM. Steve questions whether the T should be taken out of LGBT, but Rex is of the opinion that we all need to fight discrimination together. They reminded me this measure took away rights the Houston City Council had voted for.

The large group of gay men on the cruise along with most of the straight people I spoke with agreed with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who called the 69-31 defeat “stunning.”

The vote makes no sense. In 2009, Houston elected its second woman and first openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, who won three terms. So we must question the thought process of Houstonians who overwhelmingly defeated this bill. It’s clear from media reports and columns like those in the Washington Post by Jannell Ross, that voters were swayed by nonsense such as what bathroom a transgender person would use.

Ross reported “former professional baseball star and Houston Astro Lance Berkman began appearing in TV commercials opposing the so-called bathroom bill, telling Houstonians they should vote to repeal the measure. The 1997 first-round draft pick referred to transgender people as “troubled men who claim to be women” and said it would be dangerous to let them “enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms.”

“It’s better to prevent this danger by closing women’s restrooms to men, rather than waiting for a crime to happen,” Berkman said.

So Houstonians have shown us one thing: The fight isn’t over and conservatives will stop at nothing to make life difficult for the LGBT community. We, along with our allies, must continue to fight until we win our rights on the national level as we did in the court with marriage equality. Until we get Congress to pass a comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill, we will continue to fight for and defend our rights city-by-city. An Australian couple on the ship reminded me that although they don’t have marriage rights, they have all the other rights we are still fighting for and a debate ensued over which was more important.

We must heed what Hillary Clinton said, “I think this is a reminder that if you stand for equal rights, if you stand against discrimination, you don’t just do it once and you’re done. You got to keep fighting for it, and you got to keep standing up for it and you got to keep moving forward.”

We see that today with what is happening to the African-American community, which won its legal rights but still faces a culture of racism in many places. Their fight, which must also be our fight, goes on. Women have yet to achieve full equality. It often seems we take one step forward then two back. While I recognize the separation of church and state it was disheartening to read in the Salt Lake Tribune that, “Mormons who enter into same-sex unions will be considered apostates under new church policies, and their children will be barred from blessing and baptism rituals without the permission of the faith’s highest leaders.” After all, the citizens of Salt Lake City just elected a lesbian mayor and in the past year it appeared the Mormon Church had eased its civil fight against the LGBT community.

We need to hold the feet of our politicians to the fire and work to elect those that not only say they support us but will make it a priority to pass a comprehensive LGBT civil and human rights act in Congress. We need to educate people and turn both the House and Senate Democratic and demand the leadership make our rights and the rights of all, including women and immigrants a priority. We need to build stronger coalitions with the African-American community, women, and Latinos if we are all to succeed in gaining full civil and human rights and eventually changing the culture.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.

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