On Tuesday, the voters in Houston overturned the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which protected LGBTQ people, among other groups, including veterans, from discrimination within the city. The result makes Houston the largest city in the country without these protections.
The ordinance, passed by the city council 18 months ago, extended nondiscrimination protections in housing practices, public accommodations, employment, city services and city contracting practices to include LGBTQ people, veterans, people with disabilities, etc. After a lengthy legal battle, HERO was put on the ballot for popular vote, which the populace decidedly defeated after months of transphobic rhetoric that seemed to specifically target transwomen.
Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer leading the opposition, wrote on his website: "The twenty-eight plus page ordinance allows biological males, including registered sex offenders who on any given day identify as a woman, to lawfully enter women's restrooms, showers and locker rooms." Not only is that not true, but it is a dangerous mischaracterization of the nature of transgender identity. This comes in a year where there have been reports of 21 transwomen murdered, and rates of suicide attempts among trans people continue to be alarmingly high at 41 percent. It is disheartening to say the least.
Normally, this would have very little to do with sports, but Houston is slated to host the 2016 Men's Final Four and the 2017 Super Bowl. As the NCAA and NFL announced yesterday, neither of those events will move. Nor should they.
For the NFL to move the Super Bowl would be a contrived show of solidarity, capitalizing on an opportunity for positive PR and optics. The same would be true for the Final Four.
Being from Indiana, I am familiar with this conversation. After Governor Mike Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many described as legalizing discrimination, the country exploded with demands to #BoycottIndiana, including moving the 2015 Men's Final Four and the 2016 Women's Final Four.
Outrage at political occurrences are common, and I was happy to see folks across the Internet care about what was happening in my home state, just as I am happy that there is a spotlight being shined on Houston in the wake of the HERO fiasco. Outrage, however, does not always translate to change and additional support for communities who need it most.
To move a large sporting event is to unfairly impart collateral damage economically to Houston, and not just those who voted for the ordinance. Sixty-one percent of the people who voted Tuesday voted to overturn this ordinance, mostly because of fear, possibly because of hate, and likely because of miseducation. Moving a large-scale event doesn't change that, it only creates a more acrimonious atmosphere for LGBTQ people who could be seen as responsible for the loss of millions of dollars for the city.
The NFL and NCAA are powerful organizations that can have a tremendous impact in the ongoing battle for inclusion of LGBTQ people in society. Sport highlights similar conversations as those trying to take place in Houston. The fear-mongering rhetoric around "troubled men" invading women's spaces mirrored that which characterized the conversation around transgender inclusion within high school athletics in Minnesota last year.
The NCAA actually does a commendable job in creating and disseminating resources around topics of inclusion that are inclusive of LGBTQ people. It has continued to bolster the presence of LGBTQ people at the annual Inclusion Forum, and hosted a think tank to specifically address the intersection of religion and LGBTQ identity.
In the NFL, the Giants recently became the first NFL team to film a You Can Play video highlighting the need for LGBTQ inclusion, and behind the scenes, non-discrimination protections were added to the collective bargaining agreement in 2011. The league has touted conversations with You Can Play, Athlete Ally and GLAAD, but words and conversations do not translate directly to cultural change. Action is needed. There are numerous steps the NFL could take to actively participate in making sport safer and more welcoming for LGBTQ fans, administrators, coaches and players. Steps like:
*Beginning to include gender-inclusive bathrooms in newly built stadiums.
*Hiring an LGBTQ inclusion ambassador, similar to the MLB with Billy Bean.
*Partnering with youth football organizations to create an inclusive pipeline in sport.
*Create intentional programs to recruit and retain LGBTQ talent among other elements of diversity.
The NFL moving the Super Bowl from Houston would directly address zero of its shortcomings in support for LGBTQ athletes, and actually would have provided the optics that would let it off the hook for its currently abysmal standards of support. Instead of lobbying for hollow displays, it's time to ask our major sporting organizations to be more inclusive and not pretend to be immune from social responsibility.
After they do that, maybe conversations about moving such events would carry more weight.
Katie Barnes is a Digital Media Associate at ESPN. Follow her on Twitter at Katie_Barnes3.