The defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) represents one of the ugliest moments in the LGBT rights movement since Proposition 8 in California. Except that this time the target was transgender people, and it was far, far nastier.
Opponents went out of their way to misrepresent the actual contents of the bill, which was to provide legal protections in jobs, housing, and in places of public accommodations — including hotels, restaurants, and public restrooms — for people regardless of things like sex, race, veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity. Virtually every major metropolitan city in the U.S. has such laws on the books.
Except for Houston.
Opponents of the bill instead ran false ads claiming that this would allow transgender people to rape and murder people's wives and daughters. This accusation is completely baseless, and represents a naked attempt to demonize a group of people already being murdered in record numbers.
This is the same sort of fear-mongering used against black people during desegregation, and against lesbians and gays during "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Houston voters had a chance to endorse equality; instead, they followed the lead of individuals who have incited fear and hatred towards a tiny minority living at the edges of society.
It also happens that Houston is to be the site of the 2017 Super Bowl.
In the past, the NFL punished the city of Phoenix by moving the 1990 Super Bowl out of the state when Arizona voters did not approve a state wide holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King. I lived in Arizona at the time, and a majority of people actually favored adding the holiday. The MLK holiday did not pass mostly because there were three proposals for a holiday, which split the "yes" votes three ways. Still, the NFL wanted to send a message that they would not tolerate even the appearance of supporting racism.
Similarly, the NFL hinted in 2014 that they would move the Super Bowl if Arizona passed a "License to Discriminate" bill allowing people to refuse to serve LGBT people on religious grounds. While the bill ultimately was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer (a Republican), it is believed by many that the NFL's threat was a factor in her decision to make such a politically unpopular move.
Yet here we stand today. Opponents of HERO ran a campaign that make the "Willie Horton" ads of 1988 look tame, and they won with it. The ads runs by opponents would not have been out of place in a Ugandan "kill-the-gays" campaign. The residents of Houston, in agreeing with these, have sent a clear message to transgender Houstonians that not only are they not wanted here, but that they should be afraid to be in public. They have falsely labeled an entire class of people child molesters, and their civil rights have been directly affected as a result.
The NFL claims to respect the human dignity of all their fans. Even this fan of the Cowboys who has watched since Roger Staubach handed the reins to Danny White.
The only way to remain ethically consistent, and show that respect, is to move the 2017 Super Bowl to a location where people like me are not put in mortal danger every time we need to use the bathroom.
Brynn Tannehill is a former member of the Navy and is transgender. You can follow her on Twitter @BrynnTannehill.