5 Reasons Texas Should Decriminalize Marijuana, and One Reason It Shouldn’t

Last year, eleven separate marijuana-related bills were introduced in the Texas legislature, and next year we can probably expect eleven more. Candidates for local offices in Austin and Houston are running on marijuana decriminalization platforms, and the Dallas city council is poised to implement a “cite and release” pilot program for low-level possession offenders. It’s beginning to feel like a movement, and forgive us for saying so, but it’s high time.

There are plenty of good reasons to decriminalize marijuana, and only one reason not to:

1. Cops have better things to do.

In 2010, about 75,000 Texans were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2012, that number was about 70,000. That same year, about 90% of the burglaries, home invasions, and car thefts reported in Texas remained unsolved. In Houston alone, 12,000 possession arrests were made in 2013, while 15,000 burglaries, 3,000 hit-and-runs, and 3,000 assaults went uninvestigated.

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There are only so many cops, and only so many hours in the day, and we need to decide where their priorities should lie. Would we rather have them busting college kids and cancer patients and veterans suffering from PTSD, or keeping thieves out of our homes and getting our stuff back?

2. Criminalization is insanely expensive.

In 2010, the State of Texas spent a quarter of a billion dollars enforcing marijuana laws, and a staggeringly high percentage of those put through the system were arrested for mere possession. That money would be far better spent elsewhere on schools, infrastructure, tax relief, or literally anything else less ludicrous than putting pot smokers in prison.

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3. Marijuana is (relatively) harmless.

Tobacco kills about half a million Americans every year. Alcohol accounts for another 30,000, and prescription drug abuse claims another 20,000. Marijuana fatalities remain, year after year, at a statistical zero.

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4. Some offenders are more equal than others.

Blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rates, but blacks are between 4 and 34 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession. And thus for a single marijuana charge, more young black men and women will be denied jobs, school loans, housing assistance, and promising futures.

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5. Nearly everybody’s already on board.

Marijuana decriminalization has been a contentious ideological issue for nearly a century, but today about half of all Americans, and 75% of all Texans, support it. And it’s easy to understand why; it’s not every day that issues of personal freedom, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and good science align behind a single issue. This is how you get the likes of the New York Times editorial board on the same page as conservative firebrands like RAMP’s Ann Lee, who has gone on the record to say that “the prohibition of marijuana is diametrically opposed to Republican principles.” Indeed, only two of the current presidential candidates support a blanket criminalization of marijuana.

And one reason not to…

If there’s one thing wrong with the decriminalization movement, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough. Decriminalization would be a welcome first step, but legalization should follow. Were we to adopt Colorado’s robust regulatory structure, Texas would see not only a windfall, but an annual profit in the tens of millions of dollars from taxes on marijuana sales. Legalization would likewise disincentivize consumers from pouring money into the cross-border pipeline of illegal weed coming up from the south. And finally, Texans suffering from Alzheimer’s, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, MS, and PTSD—twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide in this country—would have access to an effective medication without fear of imprisonment.

4 Arguments Against GSAs…And Why They’re Wrong

Gay‐Straight Alliances, or GSAs, are student‐led and student‐organized school clubs that aim to create a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While school administrators sometimes balk at allowing students to start GSAs, federal law guarantees that students at public high schools have the right to do so. Here are the list of the most common objections to GSAs, and how to combat them:

1. “We can’t let our students have a club that’s about sex.”

GSAs are NOT about sex. GSAs are about valuing all people regardless of whether they’re gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Like any other club, GSAs offer students with a common interest a chance to connect and give students a respite from the day-to-day grind of school. They’re about creating a supportive space where students can be themselves without fear and making schools safer for all students by promoting respect for everyone. A GSA meeting is no more about sex than the homecoming dance or any other school-sponsored activity. And several federal courts have ruled in favor of GSAs when schools have used this as an excuse to try to stop them from forming.

2. “We can’t let outsiders come in and start this kind of club in our school.”

Outsiders don’t form GSAs. GSAs are started and led by students. While there are a couple of organizations that have tried to create contact lists or loose coalitions of the over 4,000 GSA clubs, across the country, GSAs aren’t chapters of some larger organization. There is no big, evil national GSA conspiracy out there trying to get its hands on the youth of America. And according to the federal Equal Access Act, students can start any kind of non-curricular club at their schools that they want.

3. “It’s just too controversial.”

Sure, a GSA may be controversial, but it’s illegal for schools to use that as excuse to silence them. If other students, parents, or community members are in an uproar over a GSA, the school’s responsibility is to address those people’s concerns – not shut down a group that is peacefully doing its thing just because some people don’t like it. Besides, when a GSA becomes a point of contention in a community, it really only proves the need for the GSA to exist in the first place. And again, several federal courts have ruled in favor of GSAs when schools have used this as an excuse to stop them from forming.

4. “If we let students start a GSA, then we’d have to let students form any other kind of club they want. What if they wanted to start a KKK club?”

If a club’s purpose is to harass or intimidate other students, then the club is disruptive to the educational process and the school can stop it from forming – so this kind of argument just doesn’t fly. Letting students start a GSA doesn’t mean all those other crazy sorts of clubs some school say they’re so scared of are going to materialize out of thin air. Have a lot of students been approaching your school about starting a KKK club? We doubt it!

Click here to learn more about GSAs, and how to start one in your own school.

Tell the President to Stop Targeting Families

Our government is going after mothers and children trying to escape bloody violence.

You read that right. The Obama administration is coming down hard on Central American families who have sought asylum in this country. They have fled some of the world’s deadliest countries – escaping brutal drug, gang, and domestic violence. They came here to live safe and free lives. And now, after failing to give them a fair shake in presenting their asylum claims, we’re forcing them from their homes in terrifying pre-dawn raids and sending them back without due process.

Stand strong with these families. Tell President Obama to stop targeting Central American mothers and children.

My heart breaks for them – for the sleeping children torn from their beds in the middle of the night, for the parents who watched helplessly as agents with guns were bearing down on them.

My heart breaks for millions of other families who weren’t raided and yet still suffer enormously. These raids are sending shockwaves of fear around the country. Parents are afraid to send their children to school, and children fear that their parents will disappear. People are canceling their appointments at health clinics. They’re terrified that they will be arrested by immigration agents.

Mothers and children targeted in these raids are people risking everything to live safe and free lives. They are not our enemies. Demand that President Obama stop targeting Central American families.

Thanks for taking action,

Anthony Romero of the ACLU Action Team

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses… No More?

Our Government Continues to Blatantly Ignore Horrors of Families’ Plight

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security rang in the New Year by casting a nationwide dragnet targeting Central American asylum seekers for deportation to their home countries. In addition to the raids, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson likewise announced an “expanded messaging campaign” that would “educate those considering the journey north… about the dangerous realities of that journey.”

He makes it sound as though they have a choice.

The truth is that asylum seekers hailing from the Northern Triangle of Central America are fleeing circumstances far more atrocious–and more hopeless–than a perilous north-bound journey to the U.S.

As the poet Warsan Shire said of another group of refugees, “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

According to the State Department’s own assessments, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have a crime rating of “critical,” which their hapless, corrupt, under-resourced, and underfunded police forces are helpless to remedy. Transnational criminal gang violence is epidemic. Indeed, Honduras and El Salvador are in a macabre competition to see which is the most murderous nation in the world.

But the data don’t portray the true horror of these families’ plight.

Many of the women fleeing Central America aren’t trying to save their children. They are trying to save their remaining children.

Women like July Perez, for example, whose 14 year-old son Anthony was beaten, burned, tortured, and suffocated to death for refusing to join a Honduran gang. (Perez had already lost a brother, whose dismembered body had been left to rot in a ditch.)

The “unaccompanied minors” are fleeing a similar fate. Remaining in their home countries means facing circumstances in which they are quite literally required to kill or be killed. Those who refuse to join a gang risk sharing the fate of eleven year-old David, a promising student who was stabbed to death, dismembered, and buried in a shallow grave in an abandoned field.

And while gang violence is Central America’s worst problem, it is far from its only problem. The women of the Northern Triangle suffer from an epidemic of extreme domestic violence that goes unpunished, if not unnoticed, by local authorities. Araceli Bonilla, for example, still bears the burn scars of a cast-iron grill on her arm and the knife scars on the finger her husband attempted to sever.

To think that people living in such circumstances might be swayed to remain by an “expanded messaging campaign” is naïve and unrealistic–in fact, it’s absurd.

These are abused mothers and frightened children who are knocking at our door and need our help. Forcing them to return to their countries is in many cases tantamount to a death sentence.

It was clear to the judge in the ACLU’s case RILR v. Johnson that these families have “escaped violence and persecution in these countries to seek asylum in the United States.” That’s why they deserve competent appointed counsel to help defend their asylum claims.

Instead: Coercion and scare tactics as a propagandist weapon against people who are simply trying to survive.

The federal government should cease its use of raids as tactics to deter mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America from coming to the United States–and stop depriving families who are already here from fair immigration hearings.

As the likes of both President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney laud the hit Broadway show Hamilton–which celebrates the life of an orphan born in the West Indies who came to the United States as a teenager and grew up to be one of our founding fathers and chief architects of our Constitution–we should take a moment to remember where we came from and reflect on who we are:

A nation born of immigrants who took risky journeys to start new lives.

A nation that values liberty, equality, and democracy.

Or so we thought.

5 Ways Texas can Prevent Another Sandra Bland Tragedy

While there are many things we still don’t know about Trooper Brian Encinia’s dismissal and indictment for perjury in the Sandra Bland case, the move towards officer accountability is a welcome development. However, Trooper Encinia wasn’t the only one who failed Sandra Bland that fateful day. In fact, the tragedy of this young woman’s last days highlights everything that’s broken with the criminal justice system in Texas.

Here are five reforms the State of Texas needs to implement immediately to ensure that this sort of senseless tragedy never happens again:

1. Officer De-escalation Training
Sandra Bland was arrested for failing the “attitude test.” In other words, had she been sheepish and deferential towards Encinia rather than honestly expressing her frustration at being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, she might have got off with a warning.

But there’s nothing illegal about being honest with a cop. Encinia made a catastrophic decision to escalate the encounter instead of keeping his cool, but had he been properly trained, Sandra Bland might still be alive today.

According to the Police Executive Research Forum, on average law enforcement officers receive 58 hours of firearms training, 47 hours of defensive tactics training, but only eight hours of de-escalation and conflict resolution training, respectively. Our cops need to spend at least as much time learning to talk to people as they do learning how to shoot them.

2. Bail Bond Reform
The bail bond system in Texas transparently and inexcusably discriminates against the poor. The lives and livelihoods of those who can’t afford to bail themselves out of jail are disrupted, and many accept guilty pleas simply to avoid having to sit behind bars in pretrial detention. Sandra Bland couldn’t afford her $5,000 bond, nor the non-refundable $500 she would have had to pay to the bondsman, and thus remained in a Waller County jail for three unnecessary days.

There should not be separate justice systems for those who have money and those who don’t. Detention should be restricted to those accused of serious criminal offenses who pose a flight risk. Other states have already begun reforming their bail bond system, and Texas should follow suit.

3. Cite-and-Release
“Cite-and-release” is a reform usually mentioned in the context of marijuana possession, but it could (and should) also apply to other lesser offenses.

According to the Texas Smart on Crime Coalition, the judicious use of cite-and-release for minor offenses could improve community relations with law enforcement, make patrol officers more efficient, and save the state tens of millions of dollars a year.

4. Inmate Processing
Incarceration for any period of time is a traumatic process, and anyone who enters a jail with prior mental health issues—a history of suicide attempts, for example—will see those issues worsen. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards recently updated its guidelines to reduce the potential for detainees to harm themselves, but much remains to be done to improve both mental health screening and inmate surveillance. Too many Texans die while in government custody.

5. Jail Oversight
Jails in the state of Texas are in a deplorable state, and we will continue to suffer tragedies like Sandra Bland’s unless something is done, and done soon. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is responsible for the qualities of the state’s jail facilities, and it needs not only to review its current standards, but to increase the frequency of spot checks and inspections and enforce its standards harshly. For example, Sandra Bland’s jailers were supposed to check on her visually at least once an hour, and had they done so, she might have ended up in an emergency room instead of a morgue.

The most saddening aspect of Sandra Bland’s fate was how utterly avoidable it was. And unless we want to continue to see Texans die in Texas jails, implementing these reforms is an urgent imperative for state government.

Prepárese para las Redadas!

Originally posted on notonemoredeportation.com.

Hay pasos a tomar para prepararse en caso de una redada.

1. Memorice el numero de 2 personas de confianza que sepan que son sus contactos y que le puedan contestar el teléfono en cualquier momento.

2. Tenga un plan de emergencia para el cuidado de los niños o de personas que requieran atención especial.

3. Haz contacto con un grupo comunitario ahora. Mejor organizar antes que llega la migra que después.

4. Si ICE va a su casa, no abra la puerta, aunque le enseñen una foto de la persona a la que busca, los conozca o no.

5. ICE no puede entrar a su casa sin una orden (orden de cateo) firmada por un juez. No tiene que abrir su puerta ni dejarlos entrar.

 – Si llevan orden, pídales que se la pasen por debajo de la puerta

– Si ICE lleva una orden firmada por un juez, revise que tenga su dirección o el nombre especifico de la persona a la que buscan.

6. Permanezca callada/o. Cualquier cosa que diga puede ser usada en su contra por ICE.

7. No de información ni firme ningún papel sin primero consultar con su abogada/o.

8. Documente la redada Tome fotos, pregunte nombres, el numero de su identificación, cuente los agentes que estén presentes y escriba o documente lo que paso.

9. Puede pelear su caso Obtenga consejos o representación de un abogado de confianza y busque recursos con organizaciones comunitarias locales. Solo por qué tiene una deportación final no significa que no tenga opciones. Aunque es difícil, a veces hay oportunidad de poner presión a inmigración para que use su discreción, especialmente con el apoyo de organizaciones comunitarias con experiencia.

Para obtener una evaluación inicial sobre su caso visite: http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/intake/

10. Reporte la redada Para reportar la redada,llenar el reporte aquí: http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/intake/  u Llame a la línea de ayude del consulado de El Salvador : 202.553.1545

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Texas Can’t Ban Syrian Refugees

Texas officials want to violate the Constitution by closing our doors on refugees fleeing our enemies.

In the courts, in Congress, and in the legislature, Texas officials are in a full-court press to ban Syrian refugees from the state. They’ve even targeted non-profit humanitarian organizations in order to try and force them to stop resettling these desperate victims of war and terror. Our leaders need to hear your voice as well.

Write your local paper: Tell Texas officials that Syrian refugees are welcome in Texas.

It’s unconstitutional for Texas to bar an entire group of refugees from coming into the state because of their nationality. And it’s un-American to condemn groups solely based on their skin color, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.

These refugees are not terrorists; they are fleeing terrorists. They are families, widows, and children escaping unspeakable violence wrought by our own enemies. Many of their homes have been destroyed, and their country lies in ruins. Those lucky enough to have escaped the war zone live in refugee camps in abysmal conditions that only worsen in winter.

Join us in telling our leaders that closing the door on refugees is unconstitutional and un-American.

Texans are a warm and welcoming people. We have a long history of helping those in need, and our generosity is needed now more than ever.

Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance is Down, But Not Out

In order to bring equality to Houston, we need more education, more pressure, and a fresh push by the new city council.

On Tuesday, November 3, Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) succumbed to its opponents’ distortions and fear-mongering tactics, which managed to sway just enough voters to defeat the ballot measure. This leaves Houston as the only major city in Texas—indeed, in these United States—that does not extend equal rights protections to all its citizens.

In the most diverse city in America, that this happened is inexcusable. But we must understand how it happened if we hope to turn the tables.

The Campaign for Houston that opposed HERO was bankrolled by Steve Hotze, an unapologetic, sword-brandishing anti-LGBT crusader who is on record stating that he wants to “drive [gays] out of our city [and] send them back to San Francisco.” The opposition wisely kept Dr. Hotze away from the microphones during the campaign, but their tactics were no less reprehensible. The Campaign for Houston brandished a lie, playing on peoples’ misunderstanding of what it means to live life as a transgender person who simply wants to use the restroom to do his or her business. It was the only card they had to play, and they played it incessantly.

Unfortunately, it was enough.

We need to change the conversation about our transgender neighbors if we hope to turn the tide in Houston and elsewhere. Theirs is not an easy life. Transgender Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed or living on less than $10,000 a year. Nearly half have been fired or denied promotions, and a full 90% have been harassed or mistreated in the workplace. They are routinely evicted or denied housing and health care. Transgender folks—young people especially—are at a staggeringly high risk for bullying and suicide. And tragically, they’re also considerably more likely to be assaulted or murdered. And some of their murderers have even attempted to turn their own feelings of deceit into a legal defense. It’s called the “trans panic defense,” and it’s based on the theory that discovering someone is transgender can render you temporarily insane, if you can believe such nonsense.

And when it comes to America’s restrooms, 70% of transgender men and women report having been verbally or physically attacked while using one. Where our public bathrooms are concerned, transgender Americans aren’t the predators—they are the prey.

We also need to revisit our understanding of sexual assault. Contrary to the Campaign for Houston’s nightmare scenario—which has literally never happened—sexual predators aren’t hiding in the bushes or lurking in bathroom stalls. In fact, 90% of sexual assault victims know their attacker, and about half of all sexual assaults happen within a mile of the home. To suggest that predators are waiting for a city ordinance to pass so they can freely victimize strangers in public restrooms grossly distorts the nature of sexual assault itself and therefore endangers women.

Voters also need to be made aware of what an equal rights ordinance actually accomplishes. It’s not just an LGBT issue. In fact, HERO protects 15 distinct categories of people, and over half of the discrimination claims filed in Houston involve race. And yes, racial discrimination is federally prohibited, but making that case requires thousands of dollars and years in federal court. HERO achieves the same goal in months, for free.

Here at home, we will continue the fight. It’s too early to tell if Houston can expect the same backlash that swept Indiana when it tried to legalize discrimination last year, and we won’t wait to find out. Our next mayor and our newly elected city council members must make equality a priority the moment they are sworn into office. Our partners and volunteers who have worked to bring equality to Houston won’t back down until everyone can live fairly and equally under the law.

In the most diverse city in America, nothing could be more important.

If you’d like to help, click here to send a letter to the editor of your local paper demanding equality in Houston.

Terri Burke is the executive director of the ACLU of Texas.

‘HERO is a Local Tool’…What Does That Mean, Exactly?

Without an Equal Rights Ordinance, discrimination claims cost thousands and last for years. Vote YES on Proposition 1.

Opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance have a difficult case to make. Pitching discrimination to the most diverse city in the country isn’t easy, which is why they routinely resort to lies, distortions, hyperbole, and fear-mongering.

Opponents of the ordinance argue that most of the groups covered by HERO are already protected by federal laws. Therefore, the logic goes, HERO is unnecessary.

They’re wrong.

The categories included in HERO that do not enjoy full federal discrimination protections are as follows: ethnicity, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, familial status, marital status, military status, and pregnancy. In Houston, you can still be fired for being gay. You can be disqualified from a job for being a veteran. You can be turned away from a business for being pregnant.

But for the sake of argument, let’s examine what happens when someone who is federally protected has her rights violated. Since most federal claims involve race and sex, let’s take the example of Rachel, a very real Guam-born designer who in our scenario has been fictionally fired by her fictional employer for being a woman of color.

Making a Federal Case

Here’s what has to happen under current law:

First, Rachel has to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Six months later, the EEOC issues Rachel a “right to sue” letter.

Now it’s time for Rachel to shop for a lawyer. (For our purposes, we’ll assume Rachel hasn’t been unemployed for the six months since she’s been fired. If she had, she likely couldn’t afford a lawyer. End of story. Do not pass go. Bigotry prevails.)

But wait. Attorneys are persnickety about taking employment discrimination cases, since, as we’ll see, they could be living with the case for years. And given the he-said-she-said nature of discrimination claims, the outcome is far from certain. This is why, for example, that of the 88,778 charges made in 2014, only 167 made it to court.

But let’s assume Rachel manages to hire a plucky attorney to represent her. Since Rachel lives in Houston, the attorney files suit in federal court in the Southern District of Texas, where on average civil suits take 21.3 months to wend their way through the system before they go to trial.

So in this best case scenario, from the day Rachel was illegally fired she has had to wait two and a half years for a judge to hear her case.

And let’s say, after all this time, she actually wins! Her employer would likely appeal—and now Rachel has two or three more years of litigation (and thousands more in attorney’s fees) to look forward to.

Making a Municipal Case

Here’s what would happen with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in place:

Within six months of her firing, Rachel has to file a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the city of Houston.

This costs Rachel nothing.

The OIG has one year to investigate Rachel’s claim. It can take statements, review records, conduct interviews, etc. If the employer doesn’t cooperate with the OIG, it can ask the city council to issue subpoenas.

This also costs Rachel nothing.

Assuming the Inspector General concludes that Rachel was illegally fired, HERO then requires the OIG to “affirmatively engage in conciliation of the complaint.” In other words, the OIG will sit Rachel and her employer down to see if the problem can be resolved to their mutual satisfaction. If this process fails to produce results, the city can issue a $500 fine. And while this is not an especially big fine, the employer’s discriminatory practices are now a part of the public record—and reputation matters in business.

This process takes at most a year and a half, and again, costs Rachel precisely nothing.

So yes, some of the groups covered by HERO enjoy federal protections, but availing oneself of those protections requires years of legal headaches and piles of money. The fact of the matter is that HERO is necessary, and even the businesses affected by the ordinance agree. According to Bob Harvey of the Greater Houston Partnership, the business community worked with the city to craft the ordinance so that discrimination claims would be resolved quickly, and that the fines levied would be reasonable.

But in the end, HERO isn’t about numbers. It’s about the kind of Houston we all want to live in.

In the most diverse city in America, everyone should be treated equally under the law.

What a “No” Vote on HERO Would Mean for Houston

On November 3rd, voters will go to the polls to determine the fate of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. If it passes, pregnant women, veterans, the elderly, and a dozen other groups of people will find they can’t be fired, evicted, or turned away from a business because of who they are.

Here’s what we can expect if HERO doesn’t pass:

1. Another Embarrassing Moment for Texas on the National Stage

The State of Indiana recently faced a similar firestorm over equal rights protections, and if Indiana’s past is Houston’s prologue, we’re headed for catastrophe. We have enough trouble as it is convincing the rest of the world that Houston is the most diverse city in the United States, a vibrant and eclectic mosaic of art and culture and sports and food. If we decide to legalize discrimination, none of that will matter; the only story anyone will hear is that we were offered the chance to secure equal rights for all our citizens, and we turned it down.

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2. We Risk Losing the Final Four and the Super Bowl

In 2015, Phoenix hosted Super Bowl XLIX. That almost didn’t happen. A year earlier, the state of Arizona sent a bill legalizing discrimination to then-governor Jan Brewer for her signature. While the law sat on her desk, the NFL issued a statement indicating its displeasure with discrimination and its intent to “follow the issue.”

Exactly one day later, Brewer vetoed the law, and a year after that, Arizona raked in three-quarter of a billion Super Bowl dollars.

Earlier this year, when Indiana actually passed a law legalizing discrimination, The NCAA responded by condemning the bill, reaffirming its commitment to diversity, and even suggested it might consider moving its headquarters out of the state.

Texans' owner Bob McNair, who withdrew his support from HERO's opposition campaign for making "numerous unauthorized statements" about his opinion on the ordinance.
Texans’ owner Bob McNair, who withdrew his support from HERO’s opposition campaign for making “numerous unauthorized statements” about his opinion on the ordinance.

But in Indiana, it didn’t stop there. The Colts’ owner lambasted the law. The entire professional basketball community attacked it. Major League Baseball criticized the law, evoking the spirit of Jackie Robinson. Even NASCAR expressed its disappointment.

3. You Can Expect to Pay a Cover Charge (Unless You’re White)

If you’re a black man or a Latina woman, you might be stuck with a $20 cover charge at a bar, while the white folks in front of and behind you get in for free. (And should complain about that and choose to leave, a bouncer might tell you to “have a good night in the ‘hood’” or “Tell Tyrone I said ‘hi’”.)

Unfortunately, racial discrimination in Houston is very real. In fact, while HERO was in effect, more than half of the discrimination complaints were filed on the basis of race.

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And yes, there are federal protections outlawing racial discrimination, but the only way to benefit from them is to sue in federal court, which is exactly what three African American attorneys are doing. Most of us don’t have the resources to hire an attorney for the years it takes to win that kind of case, but if HERO doesn’t pass, that’s your only option.

4. We’ll Have a Lot Fewer Visitors

After it passed its religious refusal bill, three states and five major cities banned official travel to Indiana. Musicians and artists canceled concerts and exhibits. Celebrities from around the country condemned the law. Nick Offerman explained why he canceled a show by channeling Leslie Knope of Parks & Recreation: “Leslie would have said that while religious freedom is a basic and fundamental right, it is not more basic or more fundamental than the words all men are created equal.”

Nick Offerman, a.k.a. Ron Swanson
Nick Offerman, a.k.a. Ron Swanson of Parks & Recreation

5. No Really, a Lot Fewer Visitors, and It’s Going to Cost Us

Houston ranks nineteenth in CVent’s top 50 business meeting destinations in the U.S. (It’s also the only city in the top 20 without an equal rights law.) Every year the city of Houston welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors to conventions, events, and shows, which every year rake in about half a billion dollars.

Again, taking Indiana as an example, their attempt to legalize discrimination scared away enough visitors and conventions that it would have cost Indianapolis a million room nights — or $1.5 billion dollars — had legislators not come to their senses and amended the law. That’s what a “no” vote will cost us.

6. Houston’s Economy Will Take a Beating

The business of Houston is business, and if we fail to pass HERO, business doesn’t look good. There’s a reason hundreds of businesses and business leaders have announced their full-throated support for Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. There’s a reason that the Greater Houston Partnership and the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau are fighting to keep HERO on the books. There’s a reason that Houston’s developers and realtors have mobilized.

That reason? Discrimination is bad for business.


We know all this because while the media storm makes it feel like HERO is something new and revolutionary, it really isn’t. Dozens of states and hundreds of cities already have laws identical to HERO, many of which have been in place for decades. In fact, Houston would be the last major city in Texas to pass such a law. So we already know what will happen if HERO passes, and we should shudder to think of what will happen if it doesn’t.

Donate to the Houston Unites campaign today and keep HERO in Houston.