2015 Houston, Texas Proposition 1

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Proposition 1
LocationHouston, Texas, United States of America
DateNovember 3, 2015 (2015-11-03)
Votes %
Yes 100,582 39.03%
No 157,110 60.97%
Valid votes 257,692 95.84%
Invalid or blank votes 11,180 4.16%
Total votes 268,872 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 979,401 27.45%
Source: "Cumulative Report — Official Harris County, Texas — General and Special Elections — November 03, 2015", Harris County Elections Office, November 11, 2015

Proposition 1 was a referendum held on November 3, 2015, on the anti-discrimination ordinance known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The ordinance was intended to improve anti-discrimination coverage based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Houston, specifically in areas such as housing and occupation where no anti-discrimination policy existed. Proposition 1 asked voters whether they approved HERO. Due to concerns about the bill being misused to allow men in women's restrooms, thus spawning the nickname of "The Bathroom Bill," Houston voters rejected Proposal 1 by a vote of 61% to 39%.[1]

Background and results[edit]

Map of Texas counties and cities that have sexual orientation and/or gender identity anti–employment discrimination ordinances
  Sexual orientation and gender identity with anti–employment discrimination ordinance
  Sexual orientation with anti–employment discrimination ordinance
  Sexual orientation and gender identity solely in public employment
  Sexual orientation in public employment
  Does not protect sexual orientation and gender identity in employment

In 2014, neither U.S. federal law nor Texas statewide law specifically covered sexual orientation or gender identity in employment and housing discrimination and services. On May 28, 2014, the Houston City Council voted 11–6 to enact the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) which was authored by Houston's then-Mayor, Annise Parker.[2] The measure banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, family, marital, and military status. The ordinance applied to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. Religious institutions would be exempt. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.[3]

Opposition to HERO arose because the ordinance protected "transgender residents' ability to use the restroom consistent with their gender expression, regardless of their biological sex."[4] HERO became known to some as the "Bathroom Law."[5] Shortly after the ordinance passed, opponents of HERO drafted a petition and began gathering signatures to add a ballot measure to the November 2014 ballot to repeal the ordinance. City law required 17,296 valid signatures from registered Houston voters for a successful veto referendum petition, which would require the city council to either rescind the targeted ordinance themselves or put it before voters. This requirement was calculated by taking 10 percent of the greatest number of votes cast for mayor in any of the three preceding years. Moreover, signatures had to be submitted before the ordinance was scheduled to take effect or within 30 days of the publication of the approved ordinance, whichever came first. Opponents of HERO presented about 50,000 signatures to the Houston city secretary's office on July 3, 2014.[4]

Although the city secretary found enough valid signatures to make the petition sufficient, the city attorney advised her of certain problems with enough of the petition sheets to invalidate the petition. These problems included signature gatherers who were not registered to vote and petition sheets that were not signed by the signature gatherer responsible for them, as well as other, more technical problems. The city announced that the opponents were 2,022 signatures short of the 17,269 needed to put the matter to a vote.[6][7] HERO opponents filed a lawsuit[8] against Mayor Annise Parker and the city on August 5, 2014.[2] In response, city attorneys defending the law filed subpoenas for sermons from local Christian pastors. Attorneys for the pastors called the subpoenas retaliation against Christians for opposing the ordinance. Parker maintained that the attorneys who dealt with the lawsuit for the city were outside lawyers (i.e., not city employees) and that she and City Attorney David Feldman had been unaware of the subpoenas. After what some news organizations called a "firestorm"[9][10] of criticism over the subpoenas (Parker said that she had been "vilified coast to coast"[10]), Parker directed the city's attorneys on October 29, 2014 to withdraw the subpoenas.[11]

After the subpoenas were withdrawn, local city pastors filed a civil rights lawsuit against Parker.[12] The lawsuit went to trial on January 19, 2015. Feldman announced on December 19, 2014, his plans to resign from his position as Houston City Attorney shortly before the trial began. He said that the primary reason for his resignation was a desire to return to private practice. He also noted, however, that his decision to resign was related to the lawsuit as well, saying, "Being on the outside, I'm going to be a lot freer to tell the story and to explain it to people and to debunk the myth." As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Feldman noted, too, that if he testified in the trial as the city attorney, it would prohibit other attorneys from the city's legal department from serving as counsel for the city.[13][14] On February 13, 2015, a jury issued a verdict saying that while the petitions did not contain instances of fraud, they did contain forgeries and instances of failure to follow proper procedure. District Judge Robert Schaffer then initiated a recounting process to determine whether or not opponents of HERO had gathered enough valid signatures to satisfy the threshold of 17,296. Following the verdict in February, both sides claimed victory. A definitive answer, however, did not emerge until Judge Schaffer's ruling on April 17, 2015, when he determined that the opponents of the ordinance had not gathered enough valid signatures.[15][16]

In May 2015, opponents of the ordinance asked the Texas Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus against the city of Houston. On July 24, 2015, the court granted this petition and ruled that the Houston City Council should have honored the city secretary's initial signature count and must either repeal the ordinance or include it on the November 2015 ballot, writing in a per curiam opinion, "We agree ... that the city secretary certified their petition and thereby invoked the city council's ministerial duty to reconsider and repeal the ordinance or submit it to popular vote. The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored."[17]

The original ballot language crafted by the City of Houston was also challenged in court. After the Texas Supreme Court threw out the original wording, the city revised the ballot language.[18]

The following question was placed on the 2015 general election ballot in Houston as Proposition 1:

Are you in favor of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual's sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?[18]

On November 3, 2015, Houston voters voted by a 61%–39% margin to reject Proposition 1.[19] This vote overturned the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).

The appeal of Judge Schaffer's ruling is currently[timeframe?] on hold in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, with further litigation still possible.[20] On November 24, 2015, Jared Woodfill, the lead plaintiff who sued the city, asked the case to be dismissed as moot.[21] On December 15, 2015, the Court of Appeals announced it would consider the motion to dismiss alongside the merits of the case.[22] On January 12, 2016, the Court ordered Jared Woodfill to file a brief on the merits by February 8, or the appeal would be dismissed, allowing Schaffer's ruling to stand.[23]

Support and opposition[edit]

A "YES" vote was a vote to retain the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance; a "NO" vote was a vote to repeal it.

Yes on Proposition 1[edit]

Proposition 1 gained the support of various citizens and organizations.[24] The "YES" side raised $1,918,552 (as of December 4, 2015).[25]

Yes on Proposition 1
Individual endorsements

No on Proposition 1[edit]

Proposition 1 was opposed by various citizens and organizations.[38] These included the Campaign for Houston, which was described as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[39][40][41] The "NO" side raised $398,472 (as of December 4, 2015).[25]

No on Proposition 1
Individuals opposed

Voter turnout[edit]

Proposition 1 votes[51] Registered voters in Houston, Texas Pct
268,872 979,401 27.45%



On November 10, President Barack Obama officially announced his support for the Equality Act of 2015.[52]

Houston Mayor Annise Parker stated: "I fear that this 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."[53]

Sylvester Turner, who ran against Bill King in the 2015 Houston mayoral runoff election, said he is "100 percent" committed to reenacting Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) and attacked Bill King for saying he won't revisit the issue of HERO, along with his support from the Campaign for Houston.[54] On December 12, 2015, Sylvester Turner beat Bill King and won the 2015 Houston mayoral runoff election.[55]


On November 22, 2015, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said it would reconsider procedures in how it selects host cities for tournaments and championship events to include protections for the LGBT community.[56]

In reaction, the NFL announced it will not alter plans to have the city host Super Bowl LI.[57] Website Outsports claimed that the outcome of the vote could mean that "Houston is no longer a 'safe place' for LGBT people to visit or do business, as they can be turned away from a hotel or by a waiter or cab driver, simply for 'looking or acting' gay or being trans".[58]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cumulative Report - Official - Harris County, Texas - General and Special Elections - November 03, 2015". Stan Stanart: Harris County Clerk. 2015-11-11. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  2. ^ a b Wright, John (2014-08-06). "Opponents of Equal Rights Ordinance sue Mayor Annise Parker, city of Houston". Lone Star Q. Archived from the original on 2014-10-19. a lawsuit filed Tuesday by opponents of the city's Equal Rights Ordinance.
  3. ^ Morris, Mike (May 29, 2014). "Council passes equal rights ordinance". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  4. ^ a b Morris, Mike (2014-07-03). "Equal rights law opponents deliver signatures seeking repeal". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  5. ^ "Houston Voters Reject 'Bathroom Law' That Aimed to Protect Civil Rights". Newsweek.com. November 4, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  6. ^ "Houston declares non-discrimination ordinance's repeal petition invalid". KTRK-TV Houston. 2014-08-04. Retrieved 2017-06-27. For this specific petition, a total of 17,269 signatures were needed. Feldman says the number of valid signatures submitted came to only 15,247.
  7. ^ Eyder Peralta (October 17, 2014). "Houston Narrows The Scope Of Controversial Subpoena Of Pastors' Sermons". National Public Radio. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  8. ^ "Anti-HERO Petition Lawsuit". Scribd. 2014-08-04. Archived from the original on 2014-10-19.
  9. ^ "Editorial: Houston went too far in sermon subpoenas". The Dallas Morning News. October 2014. Retrieved 2017-06-27. Amid a firestorm of criticism
  10. ^ a b Weiss, Debra Cassens (2014-10-16). "Sermon subpoena request was overbroad, Houston mayor acknowledges". ABA Journal. American Bar Association. Retrieved 2017-06-27. After a firestorm erupted over the subpoenas
  11. ^ Gryboski, Michael (2014-10-29). "Houston Mayor Annise Parker Drops Subpoenas Demanding Pastors Turn Over Their Sermons". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2017-06-27. I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors
  12. ^ "Pastors sue Houston Mayor Parker over sermons subpoenaed". ABC 13. August 3, 2015. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  13. ^ Service, Sarah Pulliam Bailey (October 15, 2014). "Houston subpoenas pastors' sermons in gay rights ordinance case". Retrieved January 12, 2018 – via www.WashingtonPost.com.
  14. ^ "City attorney cites equal rights ordinance in decision to resign". HoustonChronicle.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  15. ^ "After mixed verdict, city confident judge in ERO suit will rule in its favor". HoustonChronicle.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  16. ^ "Judge rules in favor of city on Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance". ABC13.com. April 17, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  17. ^ Houston Equal Rights Ordinance suspended
  18. ^ a b "Language to appear on HERO ballot approved". HoustonChronicle.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  19. ^ "Cumulative Report — Official Harris County, Texas — General and Special Elections — November 03, 2015", Harris County Elections Office, November 11, 2015
  20. ^ "Case Detail". www.search.txcourts.gov. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  21. ^ http://www.search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=b3861725-6b09-4545-a5f2-7b29a78c5eae&coa=coa14&DT=Motion&MediaID=66fb2453-503c-46b4-96fe-e4be5b9610ed
  22. ^ DISM DISP&MediaID=d920e714-23f2-4125-b722-38386ffa829f
  23. ^ http://www.search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=96c42b26-a3a7-48e5-86a4-60bce4a2dbd4&coa=coa14&DT=Order&MediaID=7be45915-6eec-4d6e-a4aa-b27a9e635188
  24. ^ a b c d Ford, Zack (October 31, 2015). "If You Think You Understand Houston's 'Bathroom Ordinance,' You Probably Don't". Think Progress. Center for American Progress Action Fund.
  25. ^ a b "City of Houston Anti-Discrimination HERO Veto Referendum, Proposition 1 (November 2015)". ballotpedia.org. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  26. ^ Bell, Chris (July 24, 2015). "Statement on HERO Ruling". Chris Bell for Houston Mayor. Archived from the original (press release) on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h Brown, Sunnivie (October 30, 2015). "HERO's Heroes: White House, Apple, Bernie Sanders Back Houston Protections". The Advocate. Here Media.
  28. ^ Hagerty, Michael (September 1, 2015). "Houston Mayoral Candidate Bill King Answers Your Questions". Houston Matters. Houston Public Media.
  29. ^ "Wendy Davis REALLY hates to lose". Campaign-Archive2.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  30. ^ a b Parham, Jaecey (September 16, 2015). "Mayoral candidates present platforms". The Rice Thresher. Rice University.[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Houston's HERO Equal Rights Ordinance Will Likely Fail – And Big". TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  32. ^ Morris, Mike (May 29, 2014). "Council passes equal rights ordinance". Houston Chronicle.
  33. ^ Turner, Sylvester (July 24, 2015). "I Support HERO". Sylvester Turner for Mayor.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g Johnson, Chris (September 16, 2015). "Houston is next battle in LGBT non-discrimination fight". Washington Blade.
  35. ^ "Houston Newsmakers Sept. 27: Greater Houston Partnership Supports HERO". KPRC. September 27, 2015.
  36. ^ Democrats, Harris (October 31, 2015). "Happy to have @Houston_Unites vols at the @harrisdemocrats hq making calls all weekend! #YesOnProp1 #houvotepic.twitter.com/s4pWtltZ6c". Twitter.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  37. ^ "The Caucus Issues a Statement on HERO". TheCaucus.org. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  38. ^ Morris, Mike (July 3, 2014). "Equal rights law opponents deliver signatures seeking repeal". Houston Chronicle.
  39. ^ "Anti-gay hate group launches new website". LGBTQ Nation.
  40. ^ "Campaign for Houston". campaignforhouston.com. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  41. ^ "Anti-LGBT Groups Ramp Up Transphobia Before Houston Vote". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  42. ^ "Anti-Gay Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Comes Out Against HERO, Gets Slammed On Twitter - Towleroad". Towleroad.com. November 2, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Sample Ballot" (PDF). CampaignForHouston.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sample Ballot – Campaign for Houston". www.CampaignForHouston.com. Archived from the original on January 13, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  45. ^ "Franklin Graham Applauds Defeat of Houston LGBT Nondiscrimination Ordinance". www.ChristianPost.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  46. ^ "Ben Hall for Mayor of Houston - Hero". www.BenHallForHouston.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  47. ^ "Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Applauds Discrimination, Death of #HERO in Disgusting Speech: WATCH - Towleroad". Towleroad.com. November 4, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  48. ^ "Contact Us". CampaignForHouston.com. Archived from the original on August 25, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  49. ^ Campaign for Houston (September 28, 2015). "Campaign for Houston - Lance Berkman". Retrieved January 12, 2018 – via YouTube.
  50. ^ Gibbs, Lindsay (October 16, 2015). "Texans Owner Donates $10,000 To Fight LGBT Protections In Houston". Think Progress. Center for American Progress Action Fund.
  51. ^ "Cumulative Report — Official Harris County, Texas — General and Special Elections — November 03, 2015 -work= Harris County Elections Office". HarrisVotes.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  52. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (November 10, 2015). "Obama supports altering Civil Rights Act to ban LGBT discrimination". Retrieved January 12, 2018 – via www.WashingtonPost.com.
  53. ^ Boren, Cindy (November 5, 2015). "Human Rights Campaign presses NFL, Roger Goodell over LGBT issue in Houston".
  54. ^ "100 Percent Committed to a City Without Discrimination - Sylvester Turner". SylvesterTurner.com. November 29, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  55. ^ "Sylvester Turner wins Houston mayoral runoff election". www.Click2Houston.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  56. ^ "NCAA to consider anti-LGBT laws when picking hosts". OutSports.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  57. ^ Robinson, Charles (November 4, 2015). "NFL won't alter Houston Super Bowl plans after city's repeal of non-discrimination law". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  58. ^ Zeigler, Cyd (November 4, 2015). "NFL says it will not withdraw Super Bowl from Houston". Out Sports. Vox Media, Inc.