Photos By: Lauren Marek
By: Mary K. Cantrell
Against a bright pink and blue water color background, photographer Lauren Marek and her team have captured images of a blind college student, an elderly disabled woman, a black pastor, a foster mom and even Houston’s Mayor Pro Tem. These are the real people protected by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO.
On the ballot for November 3rd HERO is designed to protect individuals from discrimination based on fifteen different categories, including sex, race, ethnicity, age, familial status, sexual orientation and gender identity, at the state level. While citizens who fall into these categories are already protected under federal laws, HERO would provide an additional layer of protection by guaranteeing their rights under public and private sects like city employment, city services, public accommodations, housing, etc.
Houston, led by an openly-gay mayor and one of the most diverse cities in the nation, is the only major city in Texas without such an ordinance already in place.
Primer Grey, the Houston-based marketing and design firm spearheading the We Are Hero campaign, has been slowly releasing Marek’s portraits since early October on their Instagram (@thisispg) and on the We Are Hero website. The photos will be released up until voting day.
Opponents of HERO, or Proposition One, have been focusing on the “public accommodations” clause – which would allow people who identify as transgender to chose their bathroom– and claim the bill would allow sexual predators to enter women’s facilities. Chris Valdez, founder of Primer Grey and organizer with We Are Hero, says their movement is about urging people to go read the ordinance themselves. He says the bill is primarily about defending civil rights, not about bathrooms.
“The criminally minded are not persuaded by ordinances like this,” Valdez says. “What I think the opposition’s issue really is –it’s not about a bathroom or a locker room – it’s about trans people and their fear and lack of understanding of what it is to be a trans person.”
The Houston-based photographer behind the impactful portraits, Marek, says she wanted to get involved to educate people about what the bill actually covers versus the rhetoric that is being spread by opponents of the bill. “I think the most important aspect of what this bill is doing is basically just telling people outside of Houston that we are open for business,” Marek says “We are not discriminating against anyone, anyone can come to Houston and know that they will be welcomed.”
“We are not discriminating against anyone, anyone can come to Houston and know that they will be welcomed.”
Marek works primarily as a lifestyle photographer but jumped at the idea to get involved with this grassroots social media campaign. She said working on the We Are Hero project gave her a chance to connect with other Houstonians who feel passionate about the bill. “You catch people at this moment of them wanting this to happen as much as you do, it’s great to use your skills for something greater than yourself,” Marek says.
Carra Sykes, designer at Primer Grey and organizer of We Are Hero, was photographed for the series. As a queer woman, Sykes says she got involved because she wants others to feel as free to be themselves at their jobs as she does. For her, the bill is all about protecting people in their work environments. “I know that there are vulnerable people in Houston,” Sykes says “These are people who maybe even hide these parts of them in their job, they aren’t even allowed to be their full selves.”
Unlike boring ordinance language, Marek’s photographs tell the story of real people who will be affected by Proposition One. The group said they chose photos to spread the message further by using social media.“I think so often it’s easy in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and comments on an article to hide behind their words,” Valdez says, “When you add a face to each of these categories it becomes more tangible and real for people and hopefully the images create an emotional connection that’s more real than reading the ordinance on paper.”
“Hopefully the images create an emotional connection that’s more real than reading the ordinance on paper.”
During an era of short attention spans, We Are Hero has one shot to share provocative photographs that will connect social media users with their mission. “I think people like when politics and art come together,” Marek says. “Anytime you can put a face onto something that people don’t necessarily connect with just putting a face to whatever you’re talking about is really impactful.”
By sharing the voices of people who were initially being left out of the conversation We Are Hero strives to educate people creatively and motivate them to get up and vote yes on Prop. 1. “I want them to be moved by the photos enough to go read through what they are going to vote yes or no on,” Sykes says.
You can read the ordinance Here: http://www.houstontx.gov/equal_rights_ordinance.pdf
& Visit their website Here: http://wearehero.us/