Los Angeles Following the loss of a ballot referendum that would have upheld the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance ( HERO ), a coalition of California civil rights and LGBT organizations is cautioning supporters to prepare for a similar fight against a potential anti-LGBT ballot initiative in California.
HERO protected Houstonians from discrimination in housing, employment and public spaces across 15 classes, including race, gender, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy. Houston is the largest city in America that does not have these protections already in place. Much of the campaign to overturn HERO centered on targeting transgender people and denying them the right to use public restrooms.
"As visibility and understanding of transgender people and issues increase, a small group of extremists are using lies and scare tactics to try to turn back the tide of acceptance. They won by mounting an ugly and deceptive campaign in Houston, and no doubt they will try it again in California and other parts of the country," said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. "Despite these efforts and today's vote, more and more people are recognizing transgender people for who we truly are — neighbors, co-workers, family members, and friends."
Right-wing activists in California and elsewhere have increasingly targeted the transgender community, proposing a spate of bills that would prohibit them from using public bathrooms and public facilities. The same group that previously unsuccessfully attempted to overturn AB 1266, allowing transgender students to participate in school programs and use facilities corresponding to their gender, is collecting signatures to place another measure on California's November, 2016 ballot. The group is backed by the right-wing, Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute and other supporters of Proposition 8.
"We fully expect our opponents to use the same misinformation and scare tactics in California that they used in Houston," said Rick Zbur, executive director of coalition member Equality California. "Since they can no longer stop same-sex couples from getting married, this is the next page in their attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community. That's why this is an attack on both transgender people and the LGBT community as a whole."
California's transgender discrimination initiative goes even farther than efforts in other states, prohibiting transgender people from using facilities in government buildings and requiring the government to monitor bathroom use. It would also allow anyone offended by the presence of an individual in a restroom to sue that person for a $4,000 in damages, as well as attorney's fees. Government analysts say the measure could cost California millions of dollars every year in legal expenses and lost federal funding.
The coalition consists of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund ( MALDEF ), and Transgender Law Center, as well as a steering committee of organizations representing diverse communities throughout California.
Backers of the initiative have until December 21 to collect the 365,880 signatures needed to place the proposal on the 2016 ballot.