The Texas GOP is sending a clear message to LGBTQ people: You’re not welcome in our state.
Conservative legislators in the Lone Star State have introduced 24 bills in 2017 alone, which target the rights and protections of queer and transgender people.
Last week the Texas Senate approved Senate Bill 2095, which could potentially ban trans athletes from participating in high school sports. The legislation, which is sponsored by Republican Senators Bob Hall, Paul Bettencourt, and Lois Kolkhorst, would prohibit students on doctor-prescribed steroids from competing at the high school level. That bill would hurt trans youth taking testosterone and estrogen.
“The league may declare a student ineligible for competition on the basis of steroid use... if the league determines that the safety of competing students or the fairness of a particular competition has been or will be substantially affected,” the bill reads.
The text SB 2095 is clearly intended to single out Mack Beggs, a trans student who won a girls’ wrestling competition after he was deemed ineligible to compete with the other male wrestlers. Under guidelines from Texas’ University Interscholastic League, which governs policy on student athletics, participating in sporting associations is determined by the gender listed on one’s birth certificate. Although critics claimed that hormone therapy gave Beggs an “unfair” advantage, an argument used that has no clear scientific backing, this solution addresses one problem by creating another.
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But this legislation is merely the latest attack on trans people’s lives in recent weeks by a political party that appears determined to discriminate against LGBTQ people in any way they can—especially transgender people's bodies.
Many of the Texas bills to be considered this year aim to relegate the state’s trans residents to second-class citizens by making it extremely difficult for them to exist in public space.
Senate Bill 6, patterned after North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, would prohibit trans people from using the public bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The legislation is opposed by House Speaker Joe Straus, who argued its passage would lead to major economic backlash for the state. One estimate claimed that boycotts could cost Texas $5.6 billion over the next 9 years.
Another bill, House Bill 2899, seeks to discriminate against the trans community in a different way: The legislation would strip local municipalities of their nondiscrimination laws, making it legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in public accomodations.
Taking those ordinances away would mean that a gay man in Austin could be fired for having a photo of his partner on his desk or a lesbian couple could be denied housing, both of which remain legal in 32 states. Instead of making it illegal for transgender people to use affirming facilities in public, it would be impossible for cities and counties to pass laws giving their trans populations those rights. And it could open up transgender people to have the police called on them just for doing their business.
Both of those bills have stalled. Without Straus’ support, SB 6 faces an uphill battle in the House. Meanwhile, repeated stalling tactics from Democratic legislators delayed debate on HB 2899, forcing it to miss key deadlines crucial to its advancement.
But the General Assembly will continue to push new legislation where these attempts have failed. HB 2899 was introduced as SB 6 appeared to lose steam. As HB 2899 falls by the wayside, yet another bill is likely to replace it—if not this year then two years from now, when the biennial legislature reconvenes in 2019. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have placed the passage of anti-LGBTQ bills at the top of their priority list in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges, hoping to roll back the legal gains queer and trans people have made in recent years.
Reports from the Associated Press indicate that Abbott has been so desperate to pass an anti-transgender law in his state that he’s been calling up evangelical leaders in Texas and urging them to pressure the General Assembly into getting on board with his agenda.
It didn’t work in the cases of the state’s twin bathroom bills, but the Abbott elbow may push through a law targeting same-sex couples who want to adopt children. House Bill 3859, which passed the Texas House by a 94-51 vote last Tuesday, would prevent the state from taking action against adoption and foster care agencies which act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs. That would allow them to refuse to place children in same-sex households. It would also permit Christian facilities to turn down interfaith, Muslim, or Jewish couples.
For the 22,000 foster children that the American Civil Liberties Union estimates are awaiting placement in Texas, this legislation would keep them from being placed in loving homes.
Advocates have pointed out that the sweeping bill, which includes agencies that receive state funding, could have a number of dangerous implications. HB 3859 could allow faith-based providers to send LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy, the torturous, discredited practice of seeking to cure young people of same-sex desires.
While these threats to the liberty and safety of LGBTQ people in Texas have yet to come to fruition, queer and trans folks are already feeling the effects of hate in their state.
The Houston Chronicle reports that a white supremacist group in the city, the largest in Texas, posted a sign outside a bus station urging LGBTQ people to kill themselves. The poster depicted a man hanging with a noose around his neck next to statistics about the high suicide rate in the queer and trans community. “Follow your fellow faggots,” the flier read.
The Texas Observer noted that hate crimes are spiking in the Lone Star State after the 2016 election, as a legislature emboldened by Trump continues to go after marginalized communities. A Texas State University student was assaulted in November while walking home from a gay bar in high heels. Vandals tagged a gay couple in San Antonio’s car the same month with a message proclaiming, “It’s over, faggots.”
Any additional action by the Texas legislature to discriminate will only lead to further attacks against a population that’s already extremely vulnerable. Queer and transgender people are more likely than any members of other group to be the victim of a bias attack, and 2017 has already been an ugly, painful year. LGBTQ centers across the country have been hit with a wave of vandalism and violence over the past few months, while nine trans people have been murdered. These populations are in need of support and solidarity from people in power, not more condemnation.
Abbott may get the anti-LGBTQ bill he’s thirsting for, but it’s going to put a target on the backs of a state where queer and trans people in the crosshairs far too often.