Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Texas Legislature considers numerous bills targeting transgender Texans

By JAMES RUSSELL | Contributing Writer

A pack of school yard bullies is back in session, and this time, making life hell for transgender people is still atop their agenda.

The LGBTQ community is once again playing defense as the 87th session of the Texas Legislature continues. Equality Texas, the statewide pro-LGBTQ advocacy group, is following more than 40 bills that either target or support the LGBTQ community.

The negative bills include religious exemptions for licensed professionals who think their religious beliefs should exempt them from performing services for LGBTQ people, state pre-emption of municipal nondiscrimination ordinances, HIV criminalization and multiple attacks on transgender people — trans youth in particular.

The bills targeting transgender youth are the most popular among conservative lawmakers, especially those bills that would bar trans youth from obtaining medical care and from playing in sports according to their gender identity.

Freshman Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royce City, has tried several times to add amendments during debate to bills barring transition-related care. On Wednesday, April 14, he almost succeeded in tacking an amendment onto a bipartisan bill by Insurance Committee Chair Dr. Tom Oliverson, R-Houston, related to prescription drugs. Oliverson, who regularly receives F on Equality Texas’s Scorecard, opposed the amendment itself while still voicing support for its intent. The amendment failed 79-57, with 20 Republicans voting no.

That same day, the House Public Health Committee heard HB 1424, also by Oliverson, which would allow healthcare providers to deny medical services based on religious beliefs. These bills usually target abortion access and LGBTQ people. Also that day, the committee heard House Bill 1399 by General Investigating Committee Chairman Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, which would bar insurance coverage for medical care related to transitioning.

SB 29, another bill by Perry and a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s, would ban transgender youth from playing sports based on their gender identity.

It passed Wednesday in committee, 18-13.

Earlier in the week, on Monday, April 12, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard Senate Bill 1646 by Senate Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee Chairman Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, designating transition care as child abuse. It would hold medical professionals and parents liable. SB 1311 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would punish doctors for providing transition-related care.

On Monday, April 12, HIV and AIDS advocates testified against House Bill 369 by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, the longest serving member of the House. It’s a so-called “HIV criminalization” bill that would make exposing someone to HIV a criminal offense.

Similar bills have been filed in previous sessions but always died in committee.

LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocates criticized lawmakers for wasting time attacking certain Texans when the Legislature has real and serious issues to attend.

“During a time when Texans have been challenged by both the COVID-19 pandemic and catastrophic winter weather-related power outages, the state legislature’s priority should be delivering aid and relief to the people of Texas, not legislating against LGBTQ people and specifically transgender kids,” said Human Rights Campaign Texas State Director Rebecca Marques. “The vast majority of Americans, including 60 percent of Republicans, support the equal treatment of transgender people, and legislating on transgender issues is among the lowest priorities.”

Andrea Segovia, the field and policy coordinator for the Transgender Education Network of Texas is keeping watch. “While we at the Transgender Education Network of Texas see the attacks on trans youth spreading like wildfire throughout the country, we know it is slowly burning in our own backyard,” she warned. “Dan Patrick has continued to target trans people and especially trans youth in his time as lieutenant governor,” she said.

Texas state Rep. Dr. Tom Oliverson

Still, lawmakers around the country are persistent in passing such legislation. Mississippi recently signed the first bill barring trans athletes in school sports into law. While South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican who is eyeing running for president in 2024, killed a similar bill last month, she then signed two executive orders to accomplish the same goal. And on Wednesday, April 7, Arkansas became the first state to ban transgender medical care for youth when the Republican-led legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, also a Republican. Hutchinson had called the bill an over-reach.

Not everything is bad for LGBTQ people in Texas; a few pro-equality measures have even gotten hearings. In fact, last month, three bills were heard in committee.

House Bill 73 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, which would bar what’s called the “gay and trans panic attack” argument from being used in court, was heard in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. It awaits a full vote in committee. House Bill 191 by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, which would bar housing discrimination was also heard last month in Urban Affairs Committee and awaits a vote, while House Bill 1402 by Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, to amend the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act to include LGBTQ people, also got a hearing.

Two others supported by LGBTQ advocates were heard on April 6. House Bill 198 by Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, would amend the “Romeo and Juliet” law protecting consensual relationships between youth who are 14 years older and with someone within three years of their age. Only heterosexual couples are currently exempt; HB 198 would expand it to include same-sex couples. House Bill 1178 by Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, which would legalize needle exchanges, was also heard. A similar bill, House Bill 126 by Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, awaits a hearing in the Public Health Committee.

There’s plenty of time for both good and bad bills to get hearings but it’s tight. The session ends on May 31.