State legislation threatens to inhibit the rights of LGBT citizens within the state, activists must not hinder in their fight for equality
It’s hard to deny that the past year has been a whirlwind one for LGBT rights. Marriage equality has swept the nation, with same-sex marriages occurring in 37 states and the Supreme Court expected to expand that right to the remaining thirteen.
Transgender individuals are starting to gain representation in the media, and the justice department has been instrumental in extending nondiscrimination protections (such as in hiring and schooling) to the trans community.
Queer issues have never been as front and center in our national dialogue as they are in this moment. However, such progress has enraged the religious right, and now a new wave of anti-LGBT legislation once again threatens the livelihoods of queer Texans.
While the ground slowly sinks out from underneath their political opposition to same sex marriage, conservatives have found new avenues of attack in order to limit the LGBT community’s freshly gained civil rights.
Three primary modes of engagement have emerged in the last few months: framing LGBT rights as a removal of local control, claiming that expanding nondiscrimination ordinances trample on religious liberty and that protecting the rights of trans people will result in cisgender women being raped in bathrooms by men posing as women.
The result is several bills pending in the current session that target LGBT rights.
Most onerous are HB 1747 and 1748 by Debbie Riddle, which would not only make it a misdemeanor for transgender people to use facilities corresponding to their gender identity, but make it a felony for any entity that allows them to do so.
What the preceding list illustrates is not just typical homophobia or transphobia, but a concerted effort to punish LGBT people for fighting and gaining equality in this country. This is laid bare by the contradictions in the bills being proposed such as using local control arguments to propose state level restrictions on marriage, while disallowing individuals and municipalities that same power to expand nondiscrimination laws and services.
The religious freedom bills are often proposed with examples such as that of keeping small-town bakers from having to bake wedding cakes for same -sex couples. It is important to note, however, that within the bounds of this legislation, they have provisions that can extend to literally any service or form of employment. The legal argument for a wedding cake exemption is flimsy enough as it is, but allowing someone to be fired from, for instance, an engineering job citing sexuality or gender identity as a cause serves no purpose. Much like the “state’s rights” arguments used to prop up other forms of legal discrimination, the idea of “local control” as a reason to not protect LGBT people goes away as soon as it is politically convenient.
Almost all the bills listed above are good examples of this kind of hypocrisy, but HB 1747 and 1748 stick out the most, as they not only wrest control away from individuals and businesses but impose shockingly harsh penalties for doing so.
This, at a time when, according to advocacy group Equality Texas, 85 percent of transgender Texans have experienced harassment because of their gender identity or expression, 46 percent have experienced physical assault and 47 percent of transgender Texans have been verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation because of their gender identity or expression.
In addition, though the legislation claims to be, according to the two bills’ author Rep. Debbie Riddle, protecting “women and children from going into a ladies restroom and finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day,” Equality Texas notes that 17 states and more than 200 cities across the United States have passed and successfully implemented public accommodation laws and none have experienced an increase in public safety incidents.
In addition, Equality Texas also notes that Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso and Arlington all have ordinances that allow everyone to use the restroom appropriate to their gender, all with no increase in public safety incidents.
In other words, these bills have no factual basis and serve to criminalize and jail trans people for the apparent crime of using the restroom, something that is already hard enough for trans people without a bounty placed over their heads.
In short, the increase in visibility of queer issues and resolution of some national level discrimination does not mean that the LGBT movement is over and we can afford to become complacent. Action must still be taken to protect LGBT individuals throughout the state.
Call and write letters to the above legislators, as well as your own, to express opposition to these types of bills and support for expanding protections. Do the same for your city council members.
It is imperative that our lawmakers know the effects these bills will have on LGBT people; that according to a 2013 equality federation poll, the majority of Texans do not want these laws; and that proposing them will hurt the image of the state and keep us from retaining and attracting talent and businesses. The work of LGBT activists and allies has gotten us so far in so little time, and we need to prevent those efforts from ending up in vain.