No evidence yet of backlash to Houston HERO vote
Just hours after it became clear that Houstons non-discrimination ordinance, HERO, would be trounced at the polls last week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker predicted a direct, economic backlash for the city, akin to criticism and boycott threats in Arizona and Indiana following similar controversies.
But so far, any visible backlash has yet to materialize, and Houston appears at no risk of losing two upcoming major sporting events.
Tagged by opponents as the bathroom ordinance, HERO would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different protected characteristics including sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents ad campaigns targeted gender identity in particular and featured ominous, hulking men stalking little girls into bathroom stalls. That tactic proved largely successful, and the ordinance was defeated by roughly 61 percent of voters.
In the days after the vote, a petition asking National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell to revoke Houstons status as host for the 2017 Super Bowl garnered roughly 3,500 signatures, and Chad Griffin, president of the national Human Rights Campaign, wrote Goodell seeking an emergency meeting to discuss pulling out.
But the NFL said its plans arent going to change.
We will work closely with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to make sure all fans feel welcomed at our events, a statement released by the NFL said. Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness.
Similarly, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said it will proceed with plans to hold the Final Four portion of next years March Madness basketball tournament in Houston. However, Dan Gavitt, vice president of mens basketball championships, conceded that the HERO vote could impact the NCAA returning to Houston in the future.
HERO opponents dismissed concerns of economic backlash from the beginning. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went one step further, telling The New York Times that even if HEROs defeat did come at a cost, it would be worth it. If organizations like the NFL would even suggest that the Super Bowl not be played here because we dont want men in ladies bathrooms, then we need a new commissioner, he said.
If anything, the ordinances defeat has invigorated Patrick and other opponents of non-discrimination measures that include sexual orientation and gender identity. On Wednesday, Patrick criticized the Dallas City Council for reaffirming a similar ordinance that the city has had in place for more than a decade.
The response to Houstons vote, relatively quiet outside the LGBT advocacy community, stands in contrast to larger controversies sparked by similar bills in recent years.
Before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a version of the states Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year, several major companies including the NFL, Delta Air Lines, and Major League Baseball issued statements of concern, and many groups threatened boycotts. The bill would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers for religious reasons.
Indiana faced a similar backlash earlier this year, when Gov. Mike Pence signed a version of the same bill. The NCAA described itself as especially concerned, executives at Apple, PayPal and Yelp expressed opposition, and at least one convention threatened to relocate.
HERO advocates say they arent sure why the latest developments in Houston arent attracting as much attention. Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes a coalition of businesses that lobbies for pro-LGBT policies they say will keep Texas economically competitive said its hard to know what, if any, backlash there will be.
Its impossible to predict to what extent the business community will react to what has happened in Houston, Shortall said.
Still, she said, cities can take economic hits in many forms some more subtle than boycotts.
On a broader scale, theres a talent issue to think about, Shortall said. Especially when were looking at millennials, the brand of a place is something that people who care about attracting talent to a state or region think about.
Shortall cited Fort Worth as an example earlier this year, city officials told the Fort WorthStar-Telegram that Facebook examined the citys non-discrimination ordinance, similar in language to HERO, before announcing it would build a new $1 billion data center.
The effect of a given policy or lack thereof, in HEROs case isnt always quantifiable, she said.
Its the cumulative effect of many individual decisions, Shortall said.