State Reps. Jessica Gonzalez, in the black jacket, and Julie Johnson, in the red jacket, are two members of the LGBTQ Caucus
from DFW who will be fighting anti-LGBTQ bills in the 2023 Texas Legislature
A record number of openly LGBTQ lawmakers are headed to Austin for the 2023 legislative session, but at least 33 bills attacking the community have been pre filed, with more expected when the session starts
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
The Texas Legislature opens its new session Tuesday, Jan. 10, with a record number of out LGBTQ members of the House of Representatives and a record number of pre-filed bills attacking the LGBTQ community.
Returning for her sixth term is Rep. Mary Gonzalez. Reps. Julie Johnson, Jessica Gonzalez, both from Dallas, and Erin Zwiener will be sworn in for their third terms, and Rep. Ann Johnson returns for her second.
Rep. Jolanda Jones, who won the special election last May to replace retiring LGBTQ ally Rep. Garnet Coleman, was elected to her first full term in November.
Also joining the incumbents are newly-elected lawmakers Venton Jones from Dallas and Christian Manuel Hayes from Beaumont.
The LGBTQ Legislative Caucus has never been stronger, but, at the same time, the group has never had so many bad bills to fight off from the beginning of the session. Pre-filing bills hit new records. On the first day to pre-file, 920 bills were submitted. The previous high, set last session, was 540.
The effort to marginalize the LGBTQ community this year has blossomed from bathroom bills to attacking families that support their trans children, attempts to criminalize drag and medical care. Expect to see bills preventing women from leaving the state to get an abortion similar to measures that have passed elsewhere.
But the right wing’s number one target this session is trans kids and their families. Multiple bills have been filed to add what doctors call “best-practice, life-saving care” for trans youth to the state’s child abuse statutes. Another bill would remove the licenses of doctors who treat trans youth. That bill would also prevent insurance companies from covering such treatment.
In another attack on trans kids, one bill creates a new statute of limitations for malpractice claims for gender-affirming care. Lawsuits could be filed up to age 25 for care received as a child.
Sure to pass is a Senate resolution condemning medical associations — including the American Medical Association and the Children’s Hospital Association — for their support of gender-affirming care.
But attacking healthcare for trans youth isn’t extremists’ only goal. Florida successfully passed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill for schools, and right-wing lawmakers in Texas intend to do the same.
State Rep. Steve Toth, who filed multiple versions of the bills to criminalize healthcare for trans youth, also thinks he’s an education expert. In several bills he has filed, Toth would ban classroom instruction or discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in Texas classrooms. At least six similar bills have been pre-filed by six other representatives, all of which could criminalize a child with same-sex parents mentioning their family in class.
Another bill would require publishers to label books they provide to Texas schools with a content rating. Yet another would require all activities and teaching materials used in schools to be documented, approved and reported publicly each month.
A proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee parents the “right to direct the upbringing of their child.” Those rights include care, custody, control, education, moral and religious training and medical care.
Ironically, this piece of conservative legislation, meant to protect right-wing parents who think their rights are being violated, could overturn every piece of anti-trans legislation being proposed.
A measure banning trans kids from competing in gender-based sports passed in a special session in 2021 has been so successful that more than one piece of legislation has been introduced that would extend the ban from trans students competing in sports in public schools to trans kids participating in any sports. And others would extend the ban from K-12 to collegiate participation.
Businesses aren’t being ignored in the anti-trans witch hunt. Several bills would define any business that hosts performers dressed differently than their sex assigned at birth as sexually-oriented businesses. That could turn a restaurant like Hard Rock Cafe that has hosted drag brunches or the Dallas Public Library that has hosted Drag Queen Story Hours into sexually-oriented businesses.
Another bill would prohibit the correction of gender markers on birth certificates of minors except in the case of a clerical error or if the child is intersex. But most transgender people would argue that, at the very least, the gender marker on their birth certificate was a clerical error.
Pro-LGBTQ bills have been filed as well. Jessica Gonzalez proposed a sweeping non-discrimination bill. Other bills are narrower in scope.
One proposal updates wording in the hate crimes law to include gender identity. Other bills propose non-discrimination in specific sectors — housing, employment, insurance coverage, public accommodations.
Rep. Julie Johnson filed a bill to prohibit child welfare services providers from refusing to provide service based on the provider’s religious beliefs.
While Republicans have filed bills to make it harder to change a gender marker, Democrats have filed several bills to streamline the process. And to counter right-wing attempts to deny insurance coverage for treatment of trans youth, Irving’s Rep. Terry Meza filed a bill to prohibit insurance companies from covering conversion therapy. Another bill would require coverage of HIV testing.
By Equality Texas’ count, 32 “good” bills have been pre-filed compared to 33 “bad” bills. Those numbers are sure to grow once legislators get to Austin next week.
Just because these bills have been filed, that doesn’t mean they will pass. Each bill must be assigned to a committee; duplicate bills may be combined or jettisoned. Those the House Speaker wants sunk will be assigned to hostile committees where they won’t get a hearing. Some will get hearings in committees that may schedule testimony late into the night.
If a bill is voted out of committee, it’s up to the House Speaker again to schedule the bills for a hearing on the floor of the chamber.
By filing deadline, thousands of bills will be proposed. Fortunately, the session ends in May, so most bills won’t be considered. But calling or visiting your representative about those bills that are moving can be helpful. You can track these and other bills on the Equality Texas website at EqualityTexas.org and look for the legislative tracker button.
The first advocacy days at the capitol are scheduled for Feb. 13-14. The LGBTQ Chambers of Commerce around the state will spend those days talking to legislators to ensure the state remains open for all businesses. Anyone interested in joining the lobbying day effort can sign up at TexasLGBTQChambers.com/voice. Other advocacy days will be announced soon.