The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was Houston’s nondiscrimination law. It protected 15 different categories of Houstonian from discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment and housing. It prohibited discrimination 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, and pregnancy.
On November 3, 2015, following a campaign of fear and misinformation, HERO was voted down. But the fight for truth and fairness for all Houstonians does not end here.

We are HERO

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects all people in Houston. Here are some of their stories.

— updates regularly —

( About the Project )


The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people regardless of their military status from discrimination. Meet Sara:
Sara Samora is a Marine veteran, woman and Houstonian. Sara believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"HERO is about protection, but it’s also about providing opportunities. Whether you’re gay or straight, male or female, veteran or transgender, we all bleed the same. We all hurt the same, and to put prejudices or racism onto people is not equality.

My wish is that people see that this could mean protection for your brother or sister. In the battlefield, we’re not thinking about, “Is this person gay, or is this person a woman?” We’re thinking about, “Can this person save me? Can you get me home?” It’s about completing the mission. That’s what this ordinance helps everyone to remember. But that’s what people don’t seem to understand. That’s what I’ve learned from the Marine Corps: it does not matter who you are. It matters whether you can complete the job.

My veteran brothers and sisters, that’s where it hits me. We’ve served together and we gotta somehow make it through. Whether it’s helping each other through PTSD or depression, or just being someone to talk to about the old days. However, it’s also about not letting these invisible scars get in the way of living the life we fought so hard for. Moreover, I still hear some of my veteran friends say, “I still haven’t found a job yet.” With Harris County being the 2nd largest population in the nation, you’d think we’d be more cognizant of making sure there are no barriers to job opportunities; giving people a better chance to take care of themselves; to take care of their families. Once a year a local veteran organization holds an event for our homeless vets, which helps them cleanup, get counseling and find jobs. And that’s incredible, but programs like this shouldn’t need to exist. We give four or more years of our lives, we fight for freedom, and then to return and find that you don’t have access to the opportunities that you fought so hard for, it’s like, “What’s up, America?”

The history of America has been progressive, but some people are stuck; they want to stay in their old ways. But if you look at the past, America had to change; it had to change pay for workers, it had to let women vote, it had to let black and white people marry.

This is about bringing equality to Houston. We are a diverse city. To not pass HERO would be hypocrisy in a lot of ways. How can we call ourselves the most diverse city when we don’t have an ordinance that protects everyone? "

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects women from discrimination. Meet Sicily:
Sicily Dickenson is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Houston-based NRG Energy, and believes in the power of people–ALL people.

"I'm a woman working in the energy industry and that makes me stand out. But I'm very lucky that I have a lot of female leaders around me and have had some amazing female mentors throughout my career. I am also a mother to two young girls. And one of the things that I hope for them is that they grow up in a world where nobody says they can't do something; where nobody says whatever path they go down is not OK; that they have the freedoms to explore whatever it is that they want to explore, and be whoever it is that they are. It's really important to me that they grow up in a place where that's really part of the fabric of the city."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of any ethnicity from discrimination. Meet Muna:
Muna Javaid is Pakistani, muslim, a social worker, and a radical woman of color. Muna believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"As a woman of color, this ordinance protects me, but here for more than just me. Today our transgender community is statistically at a greater risk for unemployment and poverty. To know that there is something in place that helps them access better opportunities and avoid that struggle, the better. We’re one of the only major cities that does not have an equal rights ordinance. HERO is just necessary for a city of our size, and diversity."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) protects people of every national origin from discrimination. Meet Omar:
Omar is a Lebanese immigrant, Texan, and Houstonian. Omar believes that Houston is a place where everybody should be treated fairly and equally.

"Like a lot of Houston, I identify myself in a lot of different ways. But so much of who I am is centered on the immigrant experience and coming to this country as a refugee. I see myself as Lebanese, as Arab, as Muslim, but still at the same time I see myself as Texan and a Houstonian, and live in the Montrose community, but I can't tie myself to one singularly. All of these disparate identities come into conflict with each other, and I think that's a great thing. And I want everybody to have all the opportunities I've had here. While at the same time not have to endure any of the prejudices I've had to endure. That's why this is personal.

The specifics of HERO are very important, but I think also the spirit of the ordinance is very important, I think it makes a statement on a national level. Here we are, Houston, in the center of Texas, where the perception is that we're a really conservative state, and to some degree it's true, however, you've got these very progressive metropolitan centers, and we're trying to adapt but still be friendly with our surroundings. It's great that we have these metropolitan centers with different ordinances where people might say 'Well that's not right, I don't agree with it, but that's OK.' That's exactly why people like me come from war torn countries and say, like, 'Alright. Where are we going to go? Are we going to Azerbaijan or we going to Lithuania? Oh no! Let's go to the US, because those guys are cool over there and they're accepting of everybody.' Now we have to deliver on that notion. When this is over, I like the idea of people saying: 'Oh yeah, we thought that this was such a big deal and we moved past it. Cool, what else can we move past?' That's progress."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every every marital status from discrimination. Meet Jenn:
Jenn Rushing is a bride-to-be, designer and native Houstonian. Jenn believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is about equal rights. It is not about a bathroom. HERO makes it possible for Houstonians to take care of discrimination issues on our turf; to fight our battles here; and to avoid having to take these issues to state and federal courts. As I look at getting married next month, and looking forward to one day possibly having a family, I want to know that this city supports me in my right to make those decisions without the risk of being discriminated against in my job. That’s the Houston I know."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every national origin from discrimination. Meet Francois:
Francois Chain is a foreign-born web programmer and father. Francois believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"I’ve never personally had to face discrimination, but maybe being visibly Caucasian plays a part. If I was a different color or from a different country, I suspect it might be a bit tougher. I think it’s disappointing that in 2015 we still have to have discussions about equal rights. It shouldn’t be an issue. But hopefully the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance stands to eliminate that."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people regardless of their race. Meet Henry:
Henry Ngo is a 1st-generation Vietnamese-American. Henry believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"Houston is a progressive city, and it needs an ordinance like this to reflect that openness and tolerance. There’s been so much prejudice and racism in the news at the national level and I think it’s an important time for Houston to send the message that we’re better than that. It’s backwards that we’re in a nation that was founded by people that were escaping persecution, but today we see serious offenses against people who express gender and sexuality in different ways, or even people of different races. We’re supposed to be one of the greatest countries in the world. We can’t really be that when there are still segments of the population that face oppression. I have friends that are gay and lesbian, and I don’t want them to face discrimination. If I choose to have children, I don’t want my children to be subject to discrimination. Discrimination is not a thing that should be happening in Houston in 2015."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people regardless of their sex from discrimination. Meet Hannah:
Hannah is a straight, white woman, womanist & illustrator. Hannah believes that all Houston residents should be treated fairly and equally.

"When I hear Anti-HERO arguments I get incredulous. I hear full-grown, educated people attempting to gain political power at the expense of already marginalized people. I look at what’s at stake here a few ways: Yes, I’m a woman and I can be discriminated against for that, but I also know that I am a straight, white woman. And that there is still a problematic and institutionalized racial and social hierarchy that I'm on the higher end of. While white women statistically earn roughly 78% of what their male counterparts do, it’s closer to 50% or 60% for Latina women or black women and the wage gap is even larger for LGBTQ people of color. Discrepancies like this are outrageous."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of all religions. Meet Zainab:

Zainab is a proud Houstonian, born & raised in Texas and daughter to Jordanian & Moroccan immigrants.

"As a proud Muslim feminist scarfie, I believe it my responsibility to work toward integrating my community, but more importantly, to teach people what it means to be a Muslim and American simultaneously. And to improve my country, I must lovingly call out its injustices. I'm tired of hearing of racist incidents at the minds and hands of fellow Houstonians. When it's broke, fix it. Enter HERO. I am most visibly an American Muslim, but uplifting my people means uplifting all my people together, because all of Houston is my people. And HERO protects our people. It thus follows that we must protect our HERO. And Houstonians should protect one another.

The American Muslim community's stories are more often nightmares than stories--so many dreams deferred. And when these communities don't have access to the law, Islamophobes and racists can suffocate our lives wherever we turn. In turn, we succumb to fear, we sit back and sit down, instead of sit tight and sit in. If we all lived in the same house, the Muslims would be quarantined in a room whose lights would be forever flickering, while the African American and Latino rooms next door would be stripped of equal access to so much– especially education--the one resource necessary to sustain life, liberty, & the pursuit of happy-ness. But to be happy today, it is not necessary that someone else will in turn be unhappy: our fellow Native Americans or LGBT communities; or too-dark, too-strong, young men “unfit” for society. Hours pass and Houston inches toward becoming the third most powerful city in the world's most powerful country; one that I call home. But how do you breathe when home's scents and comforts can't reach you? Bricks & bones have broke my people's bones, and words have sure as hell hurt us. Let’s pray these words don't."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of all gender identities from discrimination. Meet Colt:

Colt Keo-Meier is transgender, a clinical psychologist, a published researcher and professor. Colt believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"The side that doesn’t want the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance passed has been targeting transgender women, trans feminine people, people assigned male at birth who express gender in beautiful ways that are unexpected to many people. And what I know from my work is that these women are more afraid of using the restroom than other women are of them. I have plenty of teenage girls that I work with, who happen to be trans, who have a very challenging time deciding to use the restroom at all. And all of this negative campaigning against trans women right now, calling them “men”, as well as calling them predators, or saying they’re filthy and disgusting, has a direct, negative impact on these people’s mental health. They already have so many health disparities and things to deal with in their own lives."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every ethnicity from discrimination. Meet Rachel:

Rachel is Guam-born, Houston-raised woman and designer. She believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"If we’re going to try to position ourselves as a progressive city, this ordinance demonstrates not only progress in our thinking, and in how we treat people, but it shows that Houston is about being good to everyone. I have gay and lesbian friends and they obviously deserve the same rights that I have. And as a woman, if I decide to have children, I would like to know that my employer can’t fire me for that reason without repercussions. It’s just the right thing to do"

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every family status from discrimination. Meet Michele:

Mother to a Down Syndrome-affected family and member of Houston's Jewish community. Michele believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"Our family is different from most. I have a 7 year-old nonverbal child with Down Syndrome and Autism on a physically 18-month old level. Because he's different, going out in public can become very difficult, and we feel the threat of discrimination any time we go out. My son is not the only special needs child out there. And families like ours have the right to be out in public too, they should not feel hindered to do everything everybody else is able to do, and they shouldn't have to fear being denied service because of their child's needs, the color of their skin, just because they're different, or because of their religion. When we are able to actually go to an event it's exciting, it means that our family gets to be part of everybody else's family and that is amazing for us. My hope is that discrimination doesn't get in the way of that."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people regardless of their military status. Meet Iris:

24 years of service in the US military and decorated officer in a major metropolitan fire department. Iris believes strongly that equality is not limited to any particular demographic but that all people deserve equal rights and protections under the law.

"Once you leave military service, you are not afforded the same protections as you were given serving in active duty. Houston is home to more veterans than any other city in the United States. Most people's vision of a veteran stems from Vietnam and Korea era. But veterans come in many ages and demographic standings. They are also young soldiers that have also paid the price for serving their country and need services, both physical and psychological, and reintegration into society. Unbelievably, they face discrimination because of their military past and sacrifice for freedom. It is time for Houston and politicians to show they support their military, not just at parade time, but in the veteran's time of greatest need and that is why I support HERO. HERO is critical so that our veterans are able to get the protections that are afforded to other military personnel."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people regardless of their genetic information. Meet Reggie:

Reggie Bibbs lives with Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that affects his nervous system. He works to bring awareness to NF through the Just Ask! Foundation, and believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"I make people aware of Neurofibromatosis and help them feel comfortable, and accepting of people living with NF for who they are. I want to have the same opportunities that everyone else has. That goes for all of us that have NF; we may look differently but we don’t want to be treated differently, we just want to feel welcome and accepted. HERO protects the rights of people of every kind, and that means a lot to me. Living with NF is hard. Living with discrimination is just wrong and the Houston I live in would never stand for it."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every ethnicity from discrimination. Meet Ed:

Ed Gonzalez is Houston's Mayor Pro tem, a Houston native, former HPD, latino, and District H council member. Ed believes in equality for everyone.

"This ordinance is about fundamental fairness for everyone–not only one group or one factor–it’s about nondiscrimination for everyone. Our residents deserve full protections from the local level all the way to the federal level, and I think it’s comforting to know that HERO provides a local access point where people who are discriminated against have an opportunity to voice concerns. Corporate America has actually beaten us to this–they’re ahead of us in this case, and it’s something that’s already been put in place by so many other cities. We need to set the standard; to say, ‘This is the type of city we are. We are the kind of city that is open and equal to everybody.’ That is the kind of Houston I believe in, and that’s the kind of Houston I want us to live in."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every ethnicity from discrimination. Meet Brian Block:

A 3rd generation Jewish Houstonian, Eagle Scout, and Director of Interactive Media at Legacy Community Health. Brian believes that Houston is a place where we should all be treated fairly and equally.

"I’ve never known Houston to be anything but inclusive, but when I learned that there weren’t local safeguards for all Houston residents I saw the importance of this ordinance. A lot of people have a history, either personally, or from their parents, or their parents’ parents, of escaping situations of discrimination; so this is personal because I want to make sure that no one is ever given the power to actively discriminate against anyone for any reason without consequence. However, as a member of this planet, I happen to know a lot of people for whom this ordinance matters greatly: basically everyone. So being Jewish is really just one of the personal connections I have to this ordinance."

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The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every ability from discrimination. Meet Sam:

Legally-blind law student and advocate for the rights of Texas disabled people. Sam believes that all Houston residents should be treated fairly and equally.

"While the last 25 years have brought a lot of positive changes for people with disabilities, many people still face discrimination. Not everybody has the knowledge or financial and emotional wherewithal to vindicate their rights in federal court. It's important that every level of government advocates for and defends the rights of people with disabilities. Local government has the most contact with people on a day-to-day basis, and they are best suited to address the indignities that people with disabilities often face. A local ordinance is an essential step toward the equality of all people, everywhere, all the time."

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Jerry

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every color from discrimination. Meet Jerry:

Latino, civil servant, Rice MBA candidate, and proud UH alum. Jerry believes Houston has talked the talk; now it's time to walk the walk.

"It’s interesting being a person of color in this city. Personally, I’m often shielded, in a way, because of my job, and the people I get to spend time with, and the clothing that I wear each day. But that’s not the case for everyone: there are those that need protection. There are issues that need to be addressed; and for me it’s important that the feeling that I have when I walk into a room and I DON’T have to worry about my skin color, or what accent I may or may not have because I wasn’t born in this country, is something that everybody has. I’d like to think that we as Houstonians are kind human beings and that we do that anyways, but for those people out there that don’t believe in equality, and don’t believe in treating people with kindness and justice, I believe it’s very important that we have a local way to address those folks, and to hopefully foster a Houston where all people are treated fairly and equally."

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Carra Sykes

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of every sexual orientation from discrimination. Meet Carra:

Entrepreneur, image-maker, and queer woman who believes that Houston is a city for all people, and that it should be a city that cares for all of those people.

"When I moved here, what I saw was that Houston is a place of opportunity, and I felt like it had its arms open for me. I made it a goal for myself to be as honest as possible with everyone I met. I'm grateful to work in a place that won't fire me for that reason; but I do know that there are people out there that don't have the situation that I have. I think it's important that everyone can be themselves, grow as a person, and pursue opportunities as themselves, and not have to be anything other than that. I never want anyone to have to hide who they are. That's no way to live, or to work, and it makes it impossible to be a full person; and Houston is a full city."

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Morenike

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects families from discrimination. Meet Morénike:

Adoptive and foster mother; advocate for social justice, disability justice, and racial awareness. Morénike fights against HIV-related stigma, and believes that everyone's family should feel safe no matter where they go.

"Houston is almost the 3rd largest city in the US. We need to step up. I want to know that my family is going to be treated fairly when we go into a business, or my kids are at school; and that if that is not the case, that there is a way to deal with it locally. I want to know that we don't have to be second class citizens; that this is not the Jim Crow South. I want to know that no matter who my children want to love, the color of their skin, whether they move differently, or speak differently because of their disability, that we can feel safe. We have experienced discrimination and others have too. It's time for us to change that."

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Monica Danna

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects mothers from discrimination. Meet Monica Danna:

Mom-to-be, marketing director, and native Houstonian. Monica believes that all Houstonians should be treated fairly and equally.

"As a proud Texan and Houstonian, I've grown up in a place that respects and celebrates diversity and the freedom to be who I want to be. A vote YES for HERO will assure that I will continue to be protected for my life choices, including starting a family and becoming a mother."

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Rudy Rasmus

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects people of faith from discrimination. Meet Pastor Rudy:

Leader, author, Houston native, and fighter of Hunger, Homelessness & HIV in Houston. Pastor Rudy believes that we are all God's children and that everyone should be treated fairly and equally.

"This is my city, I love it, however, when I was growing up, Houston had two water fountains; one marked "colored only" and one marked "whites only". When I was a little kid, I decided that if there was one thing I could do, it would be to create a place where there was only one water fountain: which meant there was fairness for everyone; equal access for everyone. Jesus said love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The Bible also says that God did not send his son so that the world might be condemned. At the end of the day, we are all God's creation. Everybody."

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Deborah Fiorito

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects senior citizens from discrimination. Meet Deborah:

Retired former communications executive, consultant, mother, wife, recently disabled. Deborah believes that Houston is tolerant, diverse and open.

"I think it's an embarrassment that Houston does not have an Equal Rights Ordinance. It's just basic; something every city should have. And if I were an employer looking to come to Houston, I would pay attention to that. The reputation that we've nurtured is that we're tolerant, diverse and open; but the reality is that we don't have an Equal Rights ordinance. These two realities do not go together."

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Harrison Guy

HERO protects people of every race. Meet Harrison Guy:

Small business owner, Black LGBT activist, dance company founder, and believes that everyone in Houston should feel safe no matter where they go or who they are.

"I have the added complexity of representing two identities that are protected by this ordinance, so it intensifies for me. I can tell you that–in a city that I love, have worked in, and created art in–when people are recruited here by an employer or a school that has policies that provide the protections that HERO affords, but then they step outside that building or off that campus and they no longer have that safe space...that's no way for Houstonians to live."

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