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Texas lawmakers this year are considering several bills that could bring major changes to the lives of gay and transgender Texans. Republicans have filed bills that would restrict when sexuality and gender identity are taught in schools, where people can perform in drag and what kind of health care is available to transgender children.
Children and young adults in particular are a focus of the legislation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it a Senate priority to pass measures that pertain to classroom instruction about LGBTQ people, the college sports teams transgender students can join and medical treatments that can be provided to transgender youth. Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to ban schools’ “woke agendas.”
LGBTQ activists and many Democratic lawmakers are bracing for a monthslong fight. Many say the proposed measures amount to attempts to minimize queer expression and restrict people’s rights. One such group, Equality Texas, has identified more than 90 “bad bills” filed so far this session, already more than total identified by the group in 2021 during a full session and three special sessions.
Even if only a few of them pass, the damage will be substantial, they say. According to a January report from the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth suicide-prevention organization, 71% of LGBTQ youth said debates over bills affecting how they live negatively impact their mental health — and 86% of transgender youth reported negative mental health repercussions from such legislation.
“Texas has become one of the most dangerous and hostile places for transgender youth and transgender people and their families in America,” Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told reporters in February.
The clash comes at a time when 72% of Texans support anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, according to a 2021 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.
Blocking trans kids’ access to certain kinds of transition-related health care
As soon as lawmakers were allowed to file legislation, some Texas Republicans authored bills aimed at hindering or outright prohibiting transgender kids from accessing certain health care treatments.
[What transition-related health care is available to transgender kids in Texas? Here’s what you should know.]
Senate Bill 14, authored by a slate of Republican senators, could effectively ban transition-related care for queer youth who are not already receiving these treatments. It would revoke the licenses of doctors who provide anyone under 18 years old with puberty blockers, hormone therapy or other medical treatments specifically for the purpose of transitioning. And it would withhold public dollars from hospitals that provide such care. The bill also seeks to halt transition-related surgeries for minors, though medical experts say such procedures are rarely, if ever, performed on children. After a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee, Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, amended the bill to allow children who are receiving puberty blockers and hormone therapies by early June to continue such treatments if the bill is signed into law and takes effect.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the issue a priority for the Senate this year. The Senate gave the bill initial approval in a 19-12 vote on March 29.
In the House, 77 Republican state representatives have signed on to an identical bill. House Bill 1686 was debated in the House Public Health Committee on March 27 and already has support of more than half of the 150-member House. The bicameral support to ban puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender youth provides a significant boost for Republican lawmakers who seek to restrict these medical treatments. During the 2021 session, the Senate passed a similar restriction on gender-affirming care for trans children, but it didn’t clear the House.
Medical groups, doctors and transgender Texans say the lawmakers backing the proposed bans are missing the point of how transition-related health care helps trans people, improving the mental health of children who are at higher risks of attempting suicide. Critics say the Republicans pushing for the health care restrictions are deliberately misconstruing information to target an already marginalized group of people.
Leading medical groups — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s top medical association for youth — recommend treatment for children with gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their physical presentation does not align with their gender identity. For teens and youth, this kind of care is often limited to counseling and social transition — using different pronouns or wearing different clothes. But it can at times include the use of medication that temporarily delays the onset of puberty.
Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, the primary author of HB 1686, has another bill that would allow medical providers to decline treatment to any patient for religious views, moral philosophy or “ethical position,” except for during emergency or life-threatening instances. House Bill 319 does not explicitly mention LGBTQ people, but advocates fear the bill would allow doctors to turn people away simply because of their gender or sexual identity. It has been assigned to the House Public Health Committee.
House Bill 436 from Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, aims to classify health care treatment like puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse if they are administered for the purposes of transitioning. After similar legislation failed in 2021, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that equated certain medical treatments and procedures for transgender teens with child abuse. Citing that opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services directing the agency to investigate parents who provided transition-related care to their transgender children. LGBTQ advocacy groups are fighting that directive, which a Travis County judge largely blocked last year. HB 436 has been assigned to the House Public Health Committee.
Banning transgender youth from updating their gender on birth certificates
GOP lawmakers have several proposals to restrict how Texans can update their gender on birth certificates, which would limit how transgender and nonbinary people can make changes to other government documents. Critics of the legislation say these restrictions could impact trans and nonbinary Texans’ ability to enroll in schools, travel internationally and seek employment.
On March 28, the Texas Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would block transgender and nonbinary Texas youth from updating their birth certificate with their gender identity. Senate Bill 162, filed by Republican state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, proposes requiring an individual’s sex assigned at birth to be included on their birth certificate and limiting the circumstances in which this information could be changed for minors. The proposal lists very few exceptions.
Another related bill, authored by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, would require all children born with a Y chromosome to be classified as male on their birth certificate, and all children without a Y chromosome to be classified as a female. House Bill 1952 is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on March 29.
While children assigned male at birth typically have one X and one Y chromosome, there are exceptions. One of those exceptions includes people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, who have both an X and Y chromosome but can have female genitalia.
Prohibiting classroom lessons and school activities about sexual orientation or gender identity
GOP lawmakers also want to limit classroom instruction, school activities and teacher guidance about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
Senate Bill 8, a sweeping education bill that would create education savings accounts for every Texas student, also seeks to ban teaching gender identity and sexual orientation for any grade level. An earlier version of the bill would have allowed such lessons and activities if they were “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” but now the restriction is up to 12th grade, with very limited exceptions. The bill also would require schools to notify parents of any changes to their child’s mental, emotional or physical health. On March 28, the bill cleared the Senate Education Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who coauthored this legislation.
Critics say the bill — patterned on controversial Florida legislation opponents called the “Don’t Say Gay” law — contains vague language that could stifle even informal discussion about LGBTQ people, such as teachers discussing their same-sex spouses. The legislation has the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but will likely face opposition from rural lawmakers over the education savings accounts because those legislators have historically opposed similar legislation, arguing it could siphon money from public schools.
During his State of the State speech in February, Gov. Greg Abbott accused schools of indoctrinating children with a “woke agenda,” though he didn’t provide specifics on what he meant.
Republican supporters of SB 8 say the legislation is needed to expand the rights of parents, whom they say are the best people to teach their children about these issues. But opponents say the bill would violate constitutional free speech protections, ban lessons on some aspects of American history and force the Texas school system to ignore the existence of LGBTQ people.
Abbott and Patrick have made support for what they call parental rights a rallying cry both on their 2022 campaign trails and heading into this year’s legislative session. But the definition of what that means remains nebulous. So far, it has largely centered on expanding voucher-like programs that would enable families to use taxpayer dollars to pay for schools outside of the state’s public education system.
Another school-related proposal from Republican Rep. Ken King of Canadian would fine schools up to $10,000 or revoke teachers’ licenses for celebrating “sexual preference.” LGBTQ advocacy groups have denounced the legislation as an attempt to ban Pride celebrations — aimed at promoting inclusivity of LGBTQ students — from Texas schools.
During a hearing for House Bill 1507, King said he was not specifically targeting Pride celebrations, but he would not be opposed to those events being banned. King said that the bill’s intent was to keep what he called sexually oriented celebrations out of classrooms, which his colleagues pointed out could include school dances and Valentine’s Day festivities.
Attorney General Ken Paxton amplified the effort to stop schools from celebrating Pride when he sent a letter to the Austin school district last March, accusing the district of violating the Texas Education Code by hosting Pride Week.
“Here at Austin ISD, we celebrate Pride during every school year so our LGBTQIA+ students know how much they are valued and loved,” Stephanie Elizalde, then superintendent of the Austin school district, responded.
These new bills come two years after the Legislature limited how America’s history of racism can be taught in public schools, which teachers said will hinder how students learn about race and current events. And the new legislation also comes on the heels of conservatives pushing for school and public libraries to remove books that center LGBTQ characters and themes. Texas banned more books from school libraries than any other state from July 2021 through June 2022.
Limiting when children can see drag performances
Sen. Bryan Hughes, who championed some of last session’s most conservative bills, wants to block kids from seeing sexually oriented drag shows. The Mineola Republican’s Senate Bill 12, is a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. It would impose a $10,000 fine on business owners who host drag shows in front of children — if those performances are sexually oriented. The bill defines a sexually oriented performance as one in which someone is naked or in drag and “appeals to the prurient interest in sex.” The U.S. Supreme Court defines prurient interests as “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion,” though the language's interpretation varies by community.
[How Texas activists turned drag events into fodder for outrage]
SB 12 doesn’t appear to pertain to drag performances at bars and nightclubs since those establishments largely only admit adults. The Senate State Affairs Committee — which Hughes chairs — advanced the bill March 27 in a 6-2 vote along party lines.
The bill is dramatically scaled back from Senate Bill 476, a previous bill from Hughes, that sought to reclassify bars or businesses that host drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses,” a category that includes adult movie theaters and sex shops. That bill doesn’t distinguish between sexually explicit drag shows and a man wearing a dress to perform in a theater, bar, nightclub or other commercial business. Such “sexually oriented business” designations would force bars to operate under a different set of regulations that come with higher taxes and fees. That could force some businesses to choose between shutting down or ending any kind of drag performance. Conservative Republicans in the Texas House filed similar legislation, including House Bill 1266, which has not yet been considered in a committee hearing.
This year’s legislation focused on drag shows was filed after conservative politicians and activists have taken aim at drag shows in the past year. They have argued that any kind of dressing in drag is inherently sexual. Anti-drag sentiment has prompted protests at drag shows — many of which are adult-only — that have drawn white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. And many organizers of drag events have canceled their events, even those that weren’t sexual or weren’t intended for children.
Hughes filed SB 12 after Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, the author of HB 1266, was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that he once wore a dress for a school project as a teenager. Schatzline said it wasn’t sexually oriented when he did it and Hughes told The Texas Tribune that some new language would be introduced into legislation focused on drag performances. SB 12 appears to be that face-lift Hughes said was incoming.
[Texas Senate committee advances bills restricting certain drag shows]
Hughes also filed Senate Bill 1601 which would withhold state funds from municipal libraries that host events in which drag performers read to children. Local libraries don’t receive their operational funding directly from the state, though they can get money through competitive grant programs run by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. That bill is also headed to the full Senate.
Alex Nguyen contributed to this item.
Restricting the college sports teams that transgender student athletes can join
Conservatives also want to ban transgender women from participating in university women’s sports. This would expand the Legislature’s 2021 law that bans transgender girls in K-12 public schools from playing on girls’ sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys’ sports teams.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made such a ban for transgender university athletes one of his 30 priorities for the session. Senate Bill 15, authored by every Republican senator except Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would prohibit trans athletes from joining collegiate teams that align with their gender. The Senate approved the bill in a 19-10 vote on March 29 and it will now go to the House. Gov. Greg Abbott said he supports the measure.
“We are watching the denial right now of one of the most basic truths out there, which is a refusal to acknowledge the biological difference between men and women,” Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, said on the Senate floor March 28. “We hope every woman in this great state has a fair opportunity at athletic excellence through achievement and this bill protects that opportunity.”
LGBTQ advocates say that argument is flawed and ignores that transgender students have varying athletic abilities that do not automatically guarantee an advantage. They argue the legislation discriminates against transgender students and further stigmatizes them.
A majority of House members signed on as co-authors of House Bill 23, a similar bill, which indicates sufficient support to pass out of that chamber if it does not hit legislative obstacles along the way. HB 23 has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has policies that monitor transgender student athletes’ testosterone levels throughout a sport’s season, including at the beginning and four weeks before the championship selections, and testosterone levels must be below certain thresholds. In 2021, the NCAA board said the association wouldn’t host championship events in states with laws discriminating against transgender athletes. If passed, these bills would prohibit Texas from holding these major sporting events.
Kate McGee contributed to this item.
Expanding anti-discrimination protections
Democratic lawmakers are pushing a swath of bills that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for a range of areas, including employment, housing and state contracts. But with Republicans controlling both legislative chambers — and no direct support from top leadership — these efforts are unlikely to make it to the governor’s desk.
House Bill 832 would prohibit foster care providers from discriminating against LGBTQ youth based on religious beliefs. House Bill 725 would update language in the hate crime law to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. HB 832 has been assigned to the House Human Services Committee, and HB 725 has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.
Senate Bill 110 would add protections for LGBTQ people and Texan veterans to prevent discrimination regarding housing, employment, public accommodation and state contracts. It has been assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Disclosure: Equality Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.