AUSTIN — Texas LGBTQ+ organizations say they are gearing up for a fight in the state Legislature come next session.
More than a dozen bills aiming to diminish or eliminate LGBTQ+ rights have been filed in the first week of pre-filing for the Texas Legislature. Those bills follow a series of high-profile incidents in Texas this past year that have placed a spotlight on the LGBTQ+ community.
“Right now, it just feels kind of an insurmountable task to just show up, and that is unfortunate,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas. “(But) Texas is worth fighting for. Our motto is friendship, our traditions are friendship. Love thy neighbor is the golden rule, and we have to live up to those.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott in February directed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services to begin investigating parents and guardians of trans youth. The purpose was to investigate parents who helped their child with gender-affirming care, something the state officials said amounted to child abuse.
Those orders have faced a series of legal challenges questioning their constitutionality. Aiming to solidify the state’s ability to launch such investigations, state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, filed House Bill 24, which looks to expand the definition of child abuse to include providing gender-affirming health care.
Gender-affirming health care brings together medical experts, counselors and family members to ensure a young person has what they need to affirm their identity. The practice is focused more on a social transition such as a possible change in clothing, hair style, name and pronouns, rather than medical treatment. Even so, some state leaders are looking to make the practice — which is recommended by all major medical associations — illegal.
Conservative leaders over the summer also criticized a video that circulated on Twitter of children attending a drag show brunch in Plano.
State Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, responded with House Bill 643, which looks to include businesses that host drag shows under the label of sexually oriented business.
Martinez said the barrage of state bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community is not new, and many of those filed were expected.
During the 2021 legislative session, more than 30 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed, most of which were defeated. Some of the bills filed for 2023 are identical to those from a previous session.
Recent events have also taken a toll, Martinez said.
Last week, the two Texas U.S. senators — John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans — voted against a bill that would guarantee legal protections for millions of same-sex marriages in the United States.
The bill, which has garnered enough bipartisan support, will formally go before the U.S. Senate after Thanksgiving before moving to the U.S. House and before President Joe Biden.
More recently, a gunman killed five people and injured at least 19 others in a mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub last weekend in Colorado Springs, just outside of Denver.
Martinez said he believes recent attacks on the LGBTQ+ community were spurred by continuous negative rhetoric.
“We have to recognize that every hateful word contains the seeds of violence,” Martinez said. “In the wake of this tragedy, people really need to be thoughtful about pushing back on this disinformation, this hateful rhetoric about transphobia, homophobia (and) racism, because equality starts with small actions.”
Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said she tries to focus on the positive, including state bills that champion LGBTQ+ rights.
For example, House Bill 428, from state Rep. Ray Lopez, D-San Antonio, looks to create a task force to evaluate the housing needs of senior citizens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.
House Bill 256, from state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, looks to make it illegal to prohibit certain public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also would enact an administrative penalty.
“(The LGBTQ+ community) comes from a place of joy, which I know is really complicated and difficult to imagine in the work that we do, but all we have is each other, and so that's what we lean on,” Segovia said.
She added that she encourages community members and allies to reach out to their local state leaders and inform them that they are not in favor of anti-LGBTQ bills.
“Our organization is trying to really emphasize that we need to be making inroads with people. It's important for people to talk to one another and get to know each other,” she said. “People have more similarities than differences.”