Texas Democratic Lawmakers Hope to Enact Statewide LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Regulation and Ban Conversion Remedy

In his first few weeks in office, President Joe Biden lifted the bans on transgender people from the military and instructed US government agencies overseas to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world.

But LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers in Texas face a much tougher battle in the Republican-controlled legislature to reaffirm the rights of LGBTQ people and protect them from discrimination.

During this term, some lawmakers are trying to pass laws that would prohibit conversion therapy and discrimination against LGBTQ Texans. They are also trying to prevent laws banning transgender girls and women from joining same-sex sports teams in public schools and universities, or preventing doctors from confirming children’s gender identities.

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights law prevents discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Biden has announced that he will give priority to the Equal Opportunities Act, which would go a step further and ban similar discrimination in housing, public education and other places.

Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, still fears earlier landmark decisions by the Supreme Court could be overturned. And that the fate of the congress attempts to expand federal protection is uncertain. She said state law should include laws in the books that protect LGBT Texans from discrimination.

She plans to introduce a law to protect LGBTQ Texans from discrimination in employment, public housing and housing. The bill will boost the economy by luring more businesses to Texas if the state offers the same level of protection to its LGBTQ workers, she said.

“We are facing a global pandemic, and aside from passing non-discrimination laws because that is the right thing to do, they have good policies,” said González, vice chair of the Texas House LGBTQ caucus. “There is solid research behind this showing that our state will gain economic benefits from being inclusive and embracing diversity.”

A nationwide non-discrimination law would result in billions and years of annual revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2025, according to a 2020 study by The Perryman Group, an economic research firm in Waco.

Jessica Shortall, executive director of Texas Competes, a statewide coalition of equality companies, said the anti-discrimination law will also affect tourism. She said a lack of protection against discrimination could also deter people from visiting the state whose legislators spent a regular and special legislature four years ago debating the failed “bathroom bill”. This legislation was intended to limit which public toilets transgender Texans can use.

“When we get out of the pandemic … every state and city will be competing fiercely to reclaim tourism, which is one of the biggest hits in terms of industry in this pandemic,” said Shortall. “It’s every city, every state in its own right, fighting for this business … and knowing that we are going to end this practice of addressing LGBTQ and trans people would make the cities of Texas and Texas a state for that Make tourism more competitive. “

View from the Texas House

Some Democratic lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates acknowledge that the bills they put forward may not become law in Republican-dominated state law after the Democrats failed to live up to their own expectations in November and failed to make a profit in the House.

The Democrats also hoped the bipartisanship of having at least two Republicans would increase the odds, but they lost one of their GOP allies in former West University Place MP Sarah Davis, who was ousted in the 2020 election.

“Despite the November election result and the Democrats’ hope for a few seats, hopefully to make things a little easier for us, our priority legislation for the people who support this bill has not changed,” said González.

If Democrats can’t change the law, they hope to at least have hearings on bills that will boost the voices of LGBTQ Texans to raise support and educate others in the state.

Celia Israel State Representative, D-Austin, filed House Bill 560 penalizing state-licensed counselors and therapists who engage in conversion therapy with children. It has tabled a similar version of the bill in every session since its first session in 2015, and the bill was discussed in a public hearing for the first time in the last session.

“The legislation is designed in such a way that it is not a very productive body. But if you have solid hearing and can give your heartfelt testimony, it really is a response. That in itself is a victory, ”said Israel, founding member of the LGBTQ Caucus at Texas House. “It can be a reminder to the opposition that when you promote things like this you encourage hatred and division, and this is not the Texas we all want.”

While previous legislative sessions have included heated disputes over bills targeting LGBTQ people, members of the caucus are confident that future progress will be made at Texas House, under the leadership of new Speaker of Parliament Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.

During the 2019 session, the Texas Senate passed laws that would have restricted the regulation of local businesses by local governments. The upper chamber was angered by LGBTQ advocates after taking a measure that would have explicitly upheld local non-discrimination regulations.

In particular, Phelan, the former chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, tabled a House bill protecting LGBTQ workers, but it was added after the two chambers failed to reconcile the differences.

Phelan said during a 2019 interview with Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune, that he wanted to send a message to the House that non-discrimination language is important.

“I’m done talking about bashing on the gay community,” Phelan said during the interview. “It is totally unacceptable.”

Challenges to LGBTQ protection

Even if pro-LGBTQ bills get a hearing and pass the Texas House, they’ll likely be in the Senate by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick face challenges. Patrick, whose spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, campaigned for the “bathroom bill” back in 2017.

While LGBTQ advocates and caucus members are also trying to get bills across the finish line, they are also making efforts to prevent lawmakers from passing laws they believe are discriminatory. One of the bills includes House Bill 1458 by Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, which prohibits transgender women from playing on same-sex sports teams intended for girls and women in K-12 public schools and universities.

One study shows that hormones for transgender women do not have a significant performance advantage in distance running, and no significant dominance of transgender athletes in women’s sports was found.

Dan Quinn, spokesman for the bipartisan Texas Freedom Network, hopes lawmakers will protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but is also preparing to tackle bills that would encourage discrimination against transgender Texans.

“After the year we have all faced COVID and all the other challenges we face, it doesn’t seem surprising that we are going to a session where we have to worry about lawmakers passing laws that encourage discrimination against anyone, whether they are LGBTQ or not, ”Quinn said.

Disclosure: Texas Freedom Network was a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. A full list can be found here.

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