What Mumbai can learn from US’ equal rights ordinance

  • Kunal Purohit, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 01, 2015 19:48 IST

The silent discrimination that many in Mumbai suffer in public spheres such as employment or housing recently came to light with the story of an MBA graduate being denied a job because of his religion.

A possible solution to this problem could just be in the unlikeliest of places — the metropolis of Houston. One of the most populous cities in the United States, Houston celebrated one year of bringing in a unique law — one that bans all forms of discrimination in all streams of public life.

Called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the law is one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation with a list of 15 categories of possible discrimination. What makes the HERO so progressive is that while it provides protection against religion and race-based discrimination, it also includes two crucial categories — sexual orientation and gender identity.

Spearheading this legislation was one of the few openly gay politicians — Mayor Annise Parker, who was in Mumbai recently to speak to the city’s investors about Houston. Speaking to HT, Parker said the ordinance was as much about setting right conventional wrongs as it was about sending out the right signals.

“We didn’t have any laws to protect the rights of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community against discrimination. This ordinance was our way of saying Houston as a city is open and welcoming to everyone, no matter what their personal choices are,” said Parker.

Now, any act of discrimination is a punishable offence. The law covers a wide range of categories — including race, national origin, marital status and disability. It also covers access to public and private spaces such as restaurants, banks and hotels, among other establishments.

Getting the law passed was not easy. Conservative sections of society were opposed to the bill. What pushed Parker was her own struggle with her identity. “I began working for gay rights in the ’70s, which was quite a repressive time with people getting arrested and stigmatised because of their sexual identity.”

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