**NOTE: This post, as well as some of the pages it links to or refers to, mentions sexual assault, rape, and physical abuse in the context of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
A few months ago the Texas Supreme Court ordered the City of Houston to place it’s Equal Rights Ordinance on the ballot. Plain and simple the ordinance known as HERO prohibits and provides a penalty for discriminating in city contracts, employment, housing, and other public accommodations, on the basis of numerous classes, including some that are protected by federal law. Indeed, some of these classes are also protected by state law in terms of housing and employment discrimination.
Now, you may read those last two sentences and wonder if national law and state law offer protections already, why in the world do we need to have a city ordinance that does so as well?
Frankly folks, we need a city ordinance because this is about access to justice, and without access to justice your rights may as well be null and void.
HERO ensures every Houstonian is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, and that when they are not they have an expedient and affordable option to seek a remedy. Sure you can sue in a federal court but that costs $10,000s if not $100,000s and often takes years. While suing in a state court may be slightly more feasible, you cannot do so in all instances if you are LGBT, a veteran, or pregnant.
Truth be told, however, the reasons and arguments to vote for HERO are not weighing on my mind right now. What concerns me instead is the rhetoric being used by those in opposition.
The anti-HERO folks have put out quite a few ads that reduce the entirety of HERO into one aspect — that trans folk, especially trans women, would be allowed to use the bathroom of their gender identity. This is a problem, they say, because men will dress up as women and go into women’s restrooms to assault or rape women. To be clear, there is nothing to stop that from happening without HERO, nor is there any credible reason to believe that HERO would encourage, allow, or otherwise lead to an increase in such crimes taking place. Nonetheless, this has not stopped anti-HERO folks from relaying this message in radio ads: one featuring a woman wondering about her safety and the safety of her one-day-daughters, and another featuring Lance Berkman, a former Astros star, who expresses concern for his four daughters. Meanwhile, recent television ad buys include a spot depicting a man following a girl into a bathroom stall, warning viewers that “any man at any time” can do so by “claiming to be a woman that day.”
Here’s the thing: I too have concerns — both for my safety and the safety of my one-day-daughters. One huge difference: my concerns are grounded in the facts — and given October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — the rhetoric of these ads in light of the facts make me pretty damn angry.
Now, you may read those last two sentences and wonder what in the world do domestic violence and the anti-HERO ads have to do with each other? Well, what the data from organizations such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Center for Disease Control, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the World Health Organization, and UN Women tells us is that as a woman you are more likely to face violence of a physical and sexual nature from a friend, family member, or intimate partner than you are a stranger:
- “1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime. Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner.” – NCADV
- “One in 4 women (22.3%) have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, while 1 in 7 men (14.0%) have experienced the same.” – CDC
- “It is estimated that of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.” – UN Women
Let me be clear: By perpetuating the myth that acts of violence against women are most often perpetrated by a “stranger lurking in the shadows” these ads completely detract from the reality of such crimes. Indeed, these ads contribute to a culture that is less likely to believe survivors when they come forward. Subsequently, it’s not HERO that is “filthy, disgusting, or unsafe” as one ad claims, but the content of the ads themselves, which endanger women by promoting a fictitious narrative. Similarly, the “troubled men” Houston women ought to be concerned with are not strangers lurking in the dark, but the men producing these ads and paying for them to be on the air. Their callous disregard for the truth in favor of cheap political points aids and abets each and every act of violence against women, be it sexual assault, rape, stalking, harassment, physical abuse, murder, or otherwise.
As Sonya Renee says: I am outraged that they want us to believe that they believe that women deserve better.