Houston equal rights measure: Outcome is still highly uncertain

Tuesday's referendum has drawn attention from around the nation, with the measure getting high-profile endorsements last week from the White House.

Tuesday's referendum has drawn attention from around the nation, with the measure getting high-profile endorsements last week from the White House.

HOUSTON — An ordinance that would establish nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in Houston is in the hands of voters after a nearly 18-month battle that spawned rallies, legal fights and accusations of both religious intolerance and demonization of the LGBT community.

Houston residents were voting Tuesday on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which supporters say would not only offer increased protections for gay and transgender people, but would provide a wealth of protections against discrimination in various categories.

“The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance will ensure every Houstonian is protected from discrimination, regardless of their faith, race, age, gender and more,” Rabbi Joshua Herman of Congregation Beth Israel in Houston said Monday at a news conference as Houston Unites, the campaign backing the ordinance, made its final push ahead of Election Day.

Opponents of the ordinance planned to reach out to voters Tuesday at polling locations and through social media, phones calls and emails, said Jared Woodfill, a spokesman for Campaign for Houston.

Those against the ordinance, including a coalition of conservative pastors, have said it infringes on their religious beliefs regarding homosexuality. But in the months leading up to Tuesday’s vote, opponents have focused their campaign on highlighting one part of the ordinance related to the use of public bathrooms by transgender men and women that opponents allege would open the door for sexual predators to go into women’s restrooms.

“I don’t know why anyone would think that men going into a women’s bathroom or swimming pool or locker room would be a good idea,” voter Susan Hunter said Tuesday. “It’s not just a good idea. It’s not safe and these people need to find another solution.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, and other supporters of the ordinance have called this “bathroom ordinance” strategy highly misleading and a scare tactic.

“I think it’s about time that all the cities in the U.S. have an anti-discrimination policy because it’s very easy for employers — especially in Texas, which is a right-to-work state — to fire someone for anything,” Kade Smith said Tuesday outside a polling site.

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