Column: Houston Has a Problem

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Photo: Henry Han

Now more than ever we must stand with our trans sisters and brothers

In our march for equal rights LGBT people usually take two steps forward and one step back. So it is in 2015. Four months after the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges the voters of Houston, Texas repealed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Coupled with the rise of “religious freedom laws,” the Houston vote reminds us that Obergefell was not the end of the LGBT rights struggle. In fact, we have our work cut out for us.

Houston is often portrayed as a progressive city - a blue oasis in a red state - one that elected the openly lesbian Annise Parker as its mayor. This only makes the pro-repeal margin of victory (62-38 percent) that much more incredible. We have to go back to the last century for similarly lopsided victories against LGBT rights.

During the 1970s and 1980s, “gay rights” ordinances went before the voters in cities and counties across America only to face almost-certain defeat. With the start of the new millennium, pro-LGBT legislation continued to be voted down, though by smaller margins. Even better, our side began to win elections. We began to think that the large negative majorities of the 20th century were a thing of the past.

Then Houston happened.

Opponents of HERO used fear tactics to scare the voters into repealing the ordinance. In this they resemble the anti-LGBT activists of the last century, but with a difference. The early rights opponents used the fear of gay male sexuality to achieve their goal: Openly gay school teachers and Boy Scout leaders will use their new-found rights to molest young boys or to “recruit” them into a life of homosexuality. The emergence of AIDS in the eighties gave the other side more ammunition to oppose our rights: Gay and bisexual men were now viewed as disease carriers as well as sexual predators.

Fifteen years into the 21st century, most Americans know a lesbian, gay or bisexual friend or loved one, so the specter of AIDS-stricken scout leaders does not work well anymore. Instead, the anti-HERO activists used trans people, especially trans women, to scare the Houston voters. In spite of Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, most Americans know little and understand less about trans women and men. They don’t realize that trans women are often victims of violent rape and murder. Instead, anti-HERO activists convinced a majority of Houston voters that trans women were the predators: That they were really straight men in wigs and dresses who would use their access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms to rape or murder cisgender women and girls.

It worked. Almost two-thirds of the voters went to the polls and defeated a law that, in their view, would expose their wives and daughters and sisters and mothers to the tender mercies of violent men in drag.

This in spite of the fact that there is no evidence of cross-dressing men “invading” women’s bathrooms or locker rooms to attack the women or girls within. Supporters of HERO should have done more to expose the opposition’s lies; and to bring forward the trans women and men who, like LesBiGay people, are part of many families and friendship circles, even in Houston. However, instead of sharing our stories, pro-HERO activists spoke of equal rights and human dignity, worthy goals, which could not compete against the opposition’s scare tactics.

Some cisgender lesbian, gay or bisexual people use the Houston debacle as an excuse to suggest that we throw our trans siblings under the bus; that we abandon trans people and limit our efforts to LGB rights.

This is wrong, for so many reasons.

First of all, supporting trans rights is the right thing to do. Second, trans women and men were part of the LGBT movement from the beginning: The trans women who took part in the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco in 1966 paved the way for the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which was also led by trans women along with trans men, lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.

And our enemies are not going to let us separate from the Ts in the LGBT community. To many of our enemies, lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not worthy of our rights or even our lives because we are not “real women” or “real men” - just like trans people. LGBT people and our allies must stick together, if we are to prevent the Houston disaster from happening elsewhere.

 


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