As Houston voters prepare to go to the polls next week, there's a major battle in that Texas city over an LGBT nondiscrimination measure.
Both supporters and opponents are fired up over the proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — dubbed "HERO."
Regrettably, an Associated Press report on Tuesday's ballot measure tilts heavily in favor of one side.
Guess which one:
HOUSTON — After a drawn-out showdown between Houston’s popular lesbian mayor and a coalition of conservative pastors, voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city will soon decide whether to establish nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people.
Nationwide, there’s interest in the Nov. 3 referendum: Confrontations over the same issue are flaring in many places, at the state and local level, now that nondiscrimination has replaced same-sex marriage as the No. 1 priority for the LGBT-rights movement.
“The vote in Houston will carry national significance,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group. She noted that Houston, with 2.2 million residents, is more populous than 15 states.
The contested Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is a broad measure that would consolidate existing bans on discrimination tied to race, sex, religion and other categories in employment, housing and public accommodations, and extend such protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
Rather than treat the nation's news consumers to an impartial account of the Houston debate, AP frames the issue totally from the perspective of the gay-rights movement.
The wire service talks to the ordinance's supporters and about the opponents:
Opponents contend the ordinance would infringe on their religious beliefs against homosexuality. Copying a tactic used elsewhere, they also have labeled it the “bathroom ordinance,” alleging that it would open the door for sexual predators to go into women’s restrooms.
“Even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom,” says an ad produced by Campaign for Houston, which opposes the ordinance.
The measure’s supporters denounce these assertions as scare tactics, arguing that such problems with public bathrooms have been virtually nonexistent in the 17 states that have banned discrimination based on gender identity.
Mayor Annise Parker, whose election in 2009 made Houston the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor, is among those expressing exasperation.
“The fact there is so much misinformation and not just misinformation, just out and out ludicrous lies, is very frustrating,” Parker recently told reporters. “I’m worried about the image of Houston around the world as a tolerant, welcoming place if this goes down.”
A few pesky journalistic questions: Do any of the opponents have a name? Do they agree with AP reporting as a fact that their argument is a "tactic" as opposed to a legitimate concern? Did AP attempt to contact any of the opponents for comment?
AP mentions two opponents by name, but only in passing.
First case here:
Parker has vented some of her frustration on Twitter in tweets criticizing former Houston Astros player Lance Berkman. In ads for Campaign for Houston, Berkman said the ordinance would "allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women's bathrooms, showers and locker rooms."
And second case here:
In a sermon last month, Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, one of the nation's largest churches, called the ordinance "totally deceptive" and urged his congregation to vote against it because "it will carry our city ... further down the road of being totally, in my opinion, secular and godless."
Meanwhile, the story provides fresh quotes from the mayor, the director of the Human Rights Campaign, the campaign manager of the pro-ordinance Houston Unites, the CEO of the LGBT-rights group Freedom for All Americans and the president of Houston's NAACP chapter, which supports the ordinance. (Forgive me if I missed any of the supporters quoted by AP.)
Please don't misunderstand my point: In a story such as this, it's totally appropriate — and necessary — for the AP to quote the mayor and gay-rights advocates.
But — and this is a big "but" — if the AP wants to maintain any semblance of being a fair, neutral journalistic organization, it also needs to give a voice to the other side. Rather than simply reference "a coalition of conservative pastors" in the lede, one of the AP reporters needs to pick up the telephone or drive to a church and actually interview a pastor who opposes the ordinance. And it wouldn't hurt if the reporter actually listened and tried to understand the objections — even if he disagrees with them.
In some circles, that's still called journalism.