Yesterday’s overwhelming repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was a shocking repudiation of lesbian mayor Annise Parker, the face of the campaign who worked tirelessly and desperately to keep the law on the books. A major refrain from supporters of the law was that repeal would lead to boycotts of the city, and maybe even a loss of the Super Bowl planned for Houston in 2017.
Well, HERO lost by a three-to-two margin and now LGBT people are unprotected against discrimination in the nation’s fourth-largest city. So, will Houston’s LGBT community double down and endorse the kind of boycott it warned of? Will Houston’s mayor actually urge people to punish her own city’s economy?
She very well might.
Last night, as it was becoming clear that HERO was toast, Parker said she feared the defeat “will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming, global city … I absolutely fear that there will be a direct economic backlash as a result of this ordinance going into defeat – and that’s sad for Houston.”
I understand why she might raise the specter of boycotts to motivate people to vote “no.” But why is she still talking about boycotts now that the campaign is over? Don’t mayors have a Hippocratic-style responsibility to “Do No Harm” to their own city’s economy?
Unless she feels she’s not primarily Houston mayor, but the mayor of Lesbian America, whose most important responsibility is to scare other municipalities into falling into line with the gay-rights movement’s demands – be it scuttling religious freedom acts or passing HERO-type laws. Given that she boasted last night of being a lesbian activist “for more than 40 years,” she may very well see herself as the latter.
(Incidentally, I’m against discrimination and would support these kinds of measures if they weren’t being used repeatedly to persecute people like me who think marriage is between a man and a woman.)
A mayor looking out for the businesses and workers of her town would have no choice but to say something like “I know a lot of people have suggested boycotting Houston in the wake of tonight’s news. I want to say as a Houstonian and a lesbian, please don’t do that. Thousands of fair-minded members of my city worked hard to keep HERO on the books, and we’re going to keep fighting. Don’t punish us just because we haven’t succeeded yet.”
After businesses, sports leagues, celebrities, and governments called for boycotts of Arizona in February 2014 and Indiana last March over measures in those cities to protect the religious freedom of gay-marriage dissenters, the states reversed course. That sent a powerful message to the LGBT community that they can call on their establishment allies to make threats when they don’t get their way.
HERO campaign researchers were fully aware of the effectiveness of the boycott argument. Rice University political science professor Robert Stein released a study last month that found voters much more likely to respond to arguments about Houston losing business and sports events than responding head-on to the other side’s argument that the measure allowed men into women’s bathrooms.
Another factor that probably contributed to the measure’s defeat is Mayor Parker’s nasty attempt to use the power of her office to subpoena the sermons of traditionalist pastors, thus creating a chilling effect regarding religious freedom in her city. Voters don’t like punitive measures against political opponents exercising their First Amendments rights to speech and religion. Good for them.
Parker has just finished her third and final term, so she faces an important decision. Is she going to be a healer, bringing her city back together and urging the country to have a dialogue about gay rights in a thoughtful fashion? Or is she going to betray her longstanding role as a city booster and start to campaign against the well-being of the very people who put her in office?
If she takes her cues from the cutthroat and unforgiving LGBT movement she’s been a part of for four decades, the answer is clear.
David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.