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Super Bowl cities go from full LGBT protections in 2016 to zero in 2017

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San Francisco has laws protecting LGBT rights, while Houston is the largest city in the country without them.

Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara is the site of Super Bowl 50.
Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara is the site of Super Bowl 50.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

he host cities for the next two Super Bowls offer a marked contrast when it comes to protection for its LGBT citizens.

This year's game, Carolina vs. Denver on Feb. 7, is being hosted by San Francisco, where LGBT people are protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. In addition, the San Francisco's Super Bowl 50 host committee made a concerted effort to seeks bids from LGBT-owned businesses for goods and services. So far, 77 businesses have registered.

In contrast, Houston — the site of Super Bowl LI in 2017 — is the largest city in America where there are no protections for LGBT people in private employment, housing and public accommodations (there are protections for city employment and contracts). Therefore, it's legal in Houston for a private business to fire an LGBT person; not rent them an apartment or evict them from one; or refuse to serve them in a place of business. It's a black eye for any place that wants to call itself a great city.

Houston had such protections until November, when 61% of those who went to the polls repealed an LGBT ordinance in an ugly, lie-filled campaign that scared and tricked people into thinking men would be able to use women's restrooms. "Anybody with a penis, I don't want them in the ladies' restroom," one person told the Washington Post.

I know full well that Houston has thousands of LGBT people who have never faced discrimination and live happy and open lives. Jeremy Brener, Outsports' excellent 17-year-old openly gay contributor, has written movingly about being accepted in his hometown. And I know that polls show 70% of Texans want LGBT protections and that Fortune 500 companies were public in their support for Houston's ordinance. The 2011 Gay Bowl was held in Houston and those of us who attended had a great and welcoming time.

But the bottom line is that a large majority of Houstonians who went to the polls in November chose fear and hatred over love and acceptance and there's no getting around that. Houston's mayor at the time of the vote, Annise Parker, who is openly lesbian, said simply: "We were trying to take the high road and we got run over."

Despite how safe any LGBT person feels in Houston or any other place in the U.S. without protections, the fact is that without laws on the books, every one of these people can be legally discriminated against and they can't do anything about it. On a statewide basis, California has complete LGBT protections everywhere, while the state of Texas has none. Five cities in Texas do offer LGBT protections in housing, employment and public accommodations — San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Forth Worth and Plano.

Sadly, the NFL took less than a day after the Houston vote to declare that it had no intention of even considering taking the 2017 out of Houston. No study, no committee, nothing. It did say that: "We will work closely with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to make sure all fans feel welcomed at our events. Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard."

That's all well and good but it still leaves any LGBT person traveling to Houston at risk, legally, from being discriminated against and that's simply not acceptable. People like to pooh-pooh and minimize this but it nonetheless is the truth. Laws exist for a reason and discrimination of any type should never be left up to relying on people to show good faith because there are always some who won't.

In contrast, what can one say about San Francisco except it has been at the forefront of LGBT rights not only in the U.S. but in the world. As far back as 1964, Life Magazine named the city the "gay capital of the U.S." It still is, as visitors to the Super Bowl will see next week.