At a time when the Internet can bring the totality of human knowledge to your fingertips – not all of it fact-checked – websites like Snopes and Politifact have risen to a place of prominence for helping to separate rumor from reality. With all the hearsay and innuendo around Houston’s new nondiscrimination ordinance, it almost feels like City Hall could use its own Snopes.
On its face, there is nothing controversial in the NDO. One could even claim that it is rather conservative, in the sense that this policy has been tested elsewhere time and again. The ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of categories already covered by federal law. It also extends protections to gay and transgender residents, following nondiscrimination laws that other cities and states have had on the books for years. Religious organizations and small businesses are exempted, and the maximum fine is $5,000.
But the rather staid nature of the nondiscrimination ordinance has not stopped opponents (mostly a few limited political and religious groups) from labeling it the “Sexual Predator Protection Act” and pursuing a ballot referendum to eliminate the new law.
The crux of this ad hominem invective is that opening the doors of civil society to transgender people – including restroom doors – will somehow also benefit criminals. This is an accusation based more in fear than fact.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. More than 160 cities and counties have passed their own individual laws, including Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans. Dallas has had similar protections for a decade. Minnesota first prohibited discrimination against transgender folks in public accommodations more than 20 years ago. Even the Houston Independent School District added a transgender category to its nondiscrimination policy in 2011.
Houstonians have patiently studied these others’ experiences, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. A city of sex criminals run amok only exists in the perverse fantasies of those prone to moral panics, desperately yearning for evidence that their fears were rightly founded. That evidence simply does not exist beyond the anecdotal urban legend.