Secretary of State Jane Nelson
Lawmakers’ refusal to acknowledge LGBTQ chambers signals dangerous anti-business trend
Tina Grider-Cannon | president & CEO, Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Tammi Wallace | co-founder, president & CEO, Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Tony Vedda | president & CEO, North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Jeff Ivey | board president, San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce
“No matter where you’re from, we are all Texans, and we’ve come together for the next 140 days to work on behalf of our state,” Secretary of State Jane
Nelson said when opening the 88th Texas Legislature. “But remember this: As Texans, we all agree on much more than any differences we might have.”
But judging by the actions of the House and Senate on Valentine’s Day, Secretary Nelson may need to refine her statement to exclude LGBTQ+ Texans.
Texas LGBTQ Chambers of Commerce, a coalition of the Austin, Greater Houston, North Texas and San Antonio LGBT chambers of commerce, gathered in Austin on that day to meet with our elected officials. Many business groups, advocacy groups and others organize Day at the Capitol-type events each session to engage with legislators and participate in the legislative process. These visits are often recognized with a House and/or Senate resolution.
Since Jan. 10, more than 230 resolutions have passed. These include House Resolution 157, recognizing Texas Court Reporting and Captioning Week, HR151 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Bolivar Point Lighthouse, and Senate Resolution 165 recognizing the current Miss Texas.
These resolutions recognize, commemorate, congratulate or memorialize individuals, organizations and local governments across our great state who work to make Texas a better place. These resolutions are not submitted to the governor for signing or filed with the secretary of state. They rightfully acknowledge citizens and organizations working to keep the Lone Star State prosperous, innovative, growing and welcoming.
However, the Texas LGBTQ Chambers of Commerce, its member businesses and communities were denied these same resolutions due to the threat of objection by one House representative, whose hate also infected the Senate.
As our members waited in the gallery, we witnessed several other chambers receiving formal resolutions. These chambers, which do remarkable work in their communities, absolutely deserved this recognition — as did the Texas LGBTQ Chambers of Commerce.
Our group is comprised of hardworking LGBTQ+ and allied business owners and employees. We forfeited time at work and time with our families on Valentine’s Day. We traveled to Austin, as tax-paying, red-blooded Texans, ready to have meaningful conversations with our legislators.
Not only were we denied formal recognition, but we were also stripped of our dignity as we sat in the gallery applauding Miss Texas, Texas Rangers and the other welcomed groups.
In short, we were treated as second-class citizens by the very people we pay with our tax dollars, even though, like many other Texans, we are business leaders and job creators. We give our time and money to make our communities and this state a better place to live and work.
The opposition to these resolutions is unacceptable, hateful and harmful not only to LGBTQ+ Texans but also to our economy. The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce reports that LGBTQ-owned and certified businesses (known as LGBTBEs) have added $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy. In addition, we have created more than 33,000 new jobs. Diverse-owned businesses are a vital component of our state’s economy.
The legislators who opposed these ceremonial resolutions put themselves, their ideology and politics above the business owners sitting in the gallery, our more than 1,000 member companies across the state and, quite frankly, the entire LGBTQ+ community.
We deserve better. We deserve the same dignity and respect afforded to other Capitol visitors, constituents and humans.
LGBTQ+ Texans will no longer be political punching bags for hateful elected officials. We are ready to stand up against the more than 75 anti-LGBTQ bills already filed this session. These bills, no matter the topic or title, are a hateful attempt at dehumanizing the LGBTQ+ community in our state. And they are more than rhetoric. Proposed legislation like this has real-life consequences for LGBTQ+ people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report on adolescents’ mental health in the U.S. that found that more than half of LGBTQ+ students are experiencing poor mental health, 45 percent have seriously considered attempting suicide, and more than 20 percent have attempted suicide in the past year ( Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report; 2011-2021 CDC.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/index.htm).
When students see the hateful actions targeting the LGBTQ+ community, such as on Valentine’s Day in Austin, through direct legislation or even in the classroom, the devastation is overwhelming.
Since the introduction of the “bathroom bill” in 2017, there has been a steady growth in the number of anti-LGBTQ and, more specifically, anti-transgender bills filled in the biennial legislature. Maybe it is coincidental, but students experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased from 28 percent in 2011 to 42 percent in 2021.
Employers, employees and students currently living here or considering the move are highly concerned about these trends. The actions of our governor, lieutenant governor and other elected officials are and will continue to be a factor in people choosing to contribute to our state.
The actions of our state’s leaders start to tell the story that “Texas is NOT open for business and not open to all.”
There are two possible endings to this tale. In one, nothing changes, the state’s growth slows, and businesses, unable to attract the necessary talent, leave for greener pastures. In the other, Texas becomes the model of a welcoming state, and the Texas economic miracle continues.
Let’s not candy-coat what happened on Valentine’s Day. It hurt like hell.
But the work of the Texas LGBTQ Chambers will continue. Our members are a critical part of our state and economy. We applaud our chamber members — from the smallest startups to the biggest brands — for being active in our state’s economy, government and culture. Their steadfast support fuels our commitment to our community and to the next generation of LGBTQ+ individuals and entrepreneurs.
How can legislators acknowledge LGBTQ Chambers of Commerce when they’re trying to legislate us out of existence? They want us to be good and silent and stop bothering them while they turn Texas into their fundamentalist paradise.