3 Big Threats to Equality: A #txlege Political Update

The 86th Session of the Texas Legislature is half done, but its work is anything but — the big lifts and the big fights are all ahead in the next couple of months.

For us, one of those battlegrounds is over treating LGBTQ Texans with fairness and dignity. That’s why this past Monday we joined with Equality Texas, the Transgender Education Network of Texas, the ACLU of Texas and the Human Rights Campaign for All In For Equality Advocacy Day, a day in which we gathered with advocates and legislators to demand full LGBTQ equality.

With more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ bills pending at the Legislature, the threats to LGBTQ Texans are very real. Here are three we’ve identified.


1. Misusing Religion to Discriminate

Most of the anti-LGBTQ bills would rely on the use of religion as a legal justification for discrimination. We call these religious exemptions. You’ve seen these justifications infamously with Kim Davis refusing to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple in Kentucky or the Colorado shop that refused to bake a wedding cake for same-sex couples. And there are plenty of other examples. With religious exemption bills, legislators are looking to codify such practices into our laws.

The Legislature already got one such bill passed in 2017 when it approved a law that allows child welfare services providers that contract with the state to discriminate for religious reasons. That law not only targets LGBTQ people but also opens the door to the kind of discrimination we saw recently in South Carolina, when a Protestant foster care agency refused to work with a Catholic mother because she wasn’t “the right kind of Christian.”

The bills filed this year at the Legislature would grant religious exemptions to businesses, individuals, public officials, counselors, health care providers, social workers, and other licensed professionals. Basically, just about everyone. If you don’t think LGBTQ Texans deserve the same rights as you, chances are there’s a bill at the Legislature that would hand you a license to discriminate.


2. Senate Bill 15: Attack on Paid Sick and LGBTQ People

When the session began, SB 15 was about eliminating local ordinances that allowed workers the opportunity to earn paid sick time, and TFN opposed it on those grounds alone. But then far-right activists — and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — got hold of the bill and struck a provision that protected local nondiscrimination ordinances. That means cities like Austin and San Antonio could lose paid sick rights and protections for LGBTQ people, with just one bill.

Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano and El Paso also have nondiscrimination ordinances, and those protections are now also at risk.


3. The Lieutenant Governor

Dan Patrick.

Dan Patrick has always been and will probably always be a threat to LGBTQ rights as long as he’s in office. It has been reported that SB 15 morphed into an anti-LGBTQ bill when Patrick joined hands once again with religious-righters. So you can be sure that every anti-LGBTQ bill that moves anywhere on the Senate side of the Capitol not only has Patrick’s fingerprints all over it, but also his blessing. This is, after all, the same lieutenant governor who spent all of 2017 trying to dictate where Texans pee.


On the Bright Side

For all the discriminatory legislation, there are almost just as many bills that would improve the lives of LGBTQ Texans. There are, for example, three bills — SB 1251, HB 517 and HB 1190 — that would ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy. And bills like SB 151, HB 244 and HB 254 update the state’s nondiscrimination laws to include protections for LGBTQ Texans.

And we’ll leave you with something else that will bring a smile to your face. For the first time ever, the Legislature has an LGBTQ Caucus. Here are three members of the caucus standing with us at the All In For Equality Rally.