On March 27, 2023, Equality Texas, a statewide political organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, posted a “call to action” on their social media websites. They called for an emergency rally titled “Fight for our lives.” The rally took place at 2 p.m. at the rotunda located on the ground floor of the Texas State Capitol. Their reasoning – to protest the imminent passing of House Bill 1686 (HB 1686).
HB 1686 aims to prevent healthcare coverage for gender-affirming care amongst youth in the state and allows the prosecution of a medical professional who provides such care regardless of parental consent. As of March 28, 2023, the bill is likely to pass the house and activists revisited the capitol to protest the bill and the detrimental effects it would have on transgender youth.
On the capitol grounds, activists were lined up down to the street on the south side. Due to the legislative session, the capitol has been crowded, but the energy was different, with activists feeling more panicked than usual at the prospect of the passing of this bill – one of several anti-LGBTQ+ bills that the state legislature is working to pass.
Testimonies were cut short at midnight and activists fell to the ground and chanted “Klick lies, kids die” referring to Representative Stephanie Klick, Chair of the Public Health Committee, who is overseeing discussions regarding the bill. Those who were unable to speak out may submit a public comment of their testimony through Friday, limited to 3000 characters.
Another bill, HB 2055, aims to repeal an antiquated law preventing same-sex relationships. The law remains on Texas books. Activists are calling for support of this bill and urging the public to stop by capitol grounds to drop a card and/or give a testimony.
The 88th legislative session started on January 10 and concludes on May 29, 2023. This term sparked a sense of fear amongst LGBTQ Texans as there are more anti-LGBTQ bills than in previous sessions.
by Foster Milburn
On March 20, 2023, Texans from across the state gathered near the south side of the capitol. The goal: to use the mere presence of the community to push back on bills that directly impact the lives of LGBTQ Texans.
National and regional equality groups organized the day in a routine schedule to train and create positive energy amongst attendees. Equality Texas, GLAAD, Texas Freedom Network, Transgender Education Network of Texas, and ACLU were the backbone of the event.
Allies are a crucial part of the LGBTQIA community. “This is a joint effort of the all-in for equality coalition – it’s great to come together with allies,” Communications Director at Equality Texas Jonathan Gooch said. In support of that, Equality Texas provided advocates transportation directly to the training site at the First United Methodist Church of Austin.
Around noon, advocates marched to the capitol building and stopped to gather on the south side. Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, gave an energetic opening speech. Following his speech, he introduced Cynthia Lee Fontaine, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” television show contestant from season eight and a Texan themselves. Cynthia performed directly in front of the capitol building as a direct visual protest of SB 12, the bill that defunds public libraries holding drag story hours and outlaws any public display of drag.
The bill uses vague language directed at any cisgender person portraying the opposite gender publicly. This leaves out all of the cisgender women and non-binary people who perform drag as well. The language of the bill suggests that the law could be used to target transgender people.
When asked about some of the primary goals for the day, Gooch said, “I look forward to spending some time with community members, celebrating, sharing some queer joy, and showing Texas lawmakers that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re going to be around for a while.”
After several speeches from transgender college students, equality groups, and other advocates from the community, the crowd lined up to enter the capitol building. Five groups were assigned three different Texas representatives to discuss what bills were wrong and which ones they should support instead.
Josh Tutt, the President of the Pride Community Center in College Station, said, “I was not surprised that we only got to speak with staffers during our office visits and not directly with the elected officials. I was also not surprised that they were, for the most part, unwilling to commit to supporting the bills we were lobbying for.” Each staff member said the representatives were already on the house floor despite once the advocates entered the capitol building.
Another important event was the inspiring speech given by Jonathan Van Ness, a native Texan from the “Queer Eye” series, to Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas. As the legislative session unfolds, LGBTQIA Texans have shown that a whole group of marginalized people exists in Texas and are not going away.
On paper, it looks like the entirety of the legislative body is against the LGBTQ+ community; however, the high number of good bills is equal to the number of bad ones, which is crucial to acknowledge.
“We know Texans are generally becoming more supportive of LGBTQ equality,” Gooch said. Why these bills increase each legislative session continues to be questioned following marriage equality not even a decade ago. “As far as I can tell, this is a result of primaries – politicians playing to their primary voters – this tiny group of voters having an outside impact on what bills pass,” Gooch said.
There are Representatives in the legislative body that support bills that favor the LGBTQ population. They refer to bills that promote non-discrimination, mental health services for public education, and healthcare, such as prohibiting the coverage of conversion therapy on all healthcare plans.
The LGBTQ community is equally active in opposing anti-LGBT legislation as legislators who support it. Unfortunately, there is a wall that these bills have built up each legislative session, and the LGBTQ community in Texas is pushing back. This session represents the most visible display of a marginalized community claiming power against the harmful and incorrect stigma around not only queer expression, but the community’s very existence in this state.
The Texas Legislative session for 2023 began on Jan. 10 and runs through May 29, 2023. Republicans control both chambers. Some bills on the agenda threaten LGBTQ Texans and women’s reproductive rights.
by Foster Milburn
Every two years, Texas representatives meet for a consecutive 140-day period. The sessions include the discussion and passing of bills that affect all Texans. We, as Texans, vote for these representatives to represent us from all 150 Texas House districts across the state, but most people need to understand how these bills pass. Understanding this element is crucial as voting is more than just who is elected governor.
After a bill is passed in both the House and Senate, it is sent to the governor for signing. The last legislative session took place in 2021 and brought much attention to itself.
During this time, two bills passed directly affecting women and critical race theory, such as House Bill 1280 after the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the “critical race theory bill” that severely restricted the teaching of current and past events.
History won’t be erased, but we must learn and move forward from mistakes made and committed in the past. You can track these and more bills on the Equality Texas website, the official state LGBTQ advocacy organization.
This upcoming session will directly attack LGBTQ Texans with laws similar to the ones passed in 2021 that restrict transgender individuals and their access to essential healthcare such as hormone therapy.
In November 2022, Texas Representative Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) hired 22-year-old Jake Neidort as his office’s legislative director. Jake was a UNT student who advocated against transgender equality alongside his twin sister, who was seen in a TikTok video designing fliers, stating, “Criminalize Child Transitions.”
In 2021, videos emerged on social media showcasing the harassment of local drag queens in Dallas, Texas. One was of a man who was driven by a queen who had just left a family-friendly drag brunch held at Mr. Mister, located in Oaklawn. Protests and harassment followed suit. Protesters suggested that drag exposure to children is “abusive, pedophilic, and confuses children.” Dallas police showed up and helped those with children out of the area. A day to celebrate LGBTQ pride disrupted diversity with violence.
Now, in 2023, a bill on the agenda opens the discussion regarding children being in the presence of drag queens and LGBTQ culture in general. House Bill 643 states that any establishment, serving alcohol or not, would have to acquire a license that would require a registration fee and annual renewal. If a venue is found to violate this would be fined $4,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. In short, no more drag brunches for the inclusion of youth to be exposed to LGBTQ culture, even if family-friendly. This bill also brings up the fear of Pride festivals/parades becoming 21 years or older.
Pride parades are a time for all ages of the queer community and allies to celebrate diversity. It is a space where people come to feel safe to celebrate the queer community. This exposure is vital, especially for Texas youth, as being a minor can feel very isolating for younger queer people. I know this because that was me, as a native Texan.
Rain, a gay bar on 4th St., holds drag shows throughout the week. At Rain, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are 18 and up, according to Scott Percifull, a partner and general manager of Rain. “So there’s no opportunity for anyone under that age to get in,” he said, “it would be very challenging to enforce.”
The bill states that any business classified as a sexually oriented business would have to be a certain distance from any school or church in the area. When asked his thoughts, Percifull said, “It is restrictive. It is two steps shy of getting into private businesses and saying you can’t do that because we disagree with the culture.” Restrictions similar to HB 643, alongside other enforcements, foreshadow the hypocrisy as Texas is a state that dislikes rules concerning small businesses.
Parents assert that children should be able to make their own choices, yet when parents who do support the LGBTQ community want to expose their children to all things Pride, it’s wrong? Unfortunately, a brick wall divides the state of Texas into two sides. The side that wants to celebrate diversity and move to a more inclusive world, and the ones who want to bully the LGBTQ community out of the state.