The 2023 Regular Texas Legislative Session was devastating for so many communities we work with, but far-right legislators were particularly callous in their attacks on transgender children and their loving families, the LGBTQIA+ community at large, public education, the freedom to read, freedom of expression, DEI advances, and educators at public colleges and universities across Texas.
Instead of elected officials using their power to address gun violence, fix our failing electrical grid (which has been on the brink of collapse numerous times this summer), economic inequality, or fully funding our public schools — they spent this session attacking our communities and stealing our freedoms.
Even so, our strength and will to fight back will never be diminished. No law can ever take away the care we have for each other, the growing power of our movement, and our shared vision for a Texas where people are accepted, embraced, and safe.
While the regular session ended on May 29, two special sessions have taken place, and a third is looming so that anti-public-education politicians can continue pushing their unpopular school voucher plan that already failed during the regular session.
Today, September 1, 2023, Texans will have new laws they must follow. Read on to learn how the new Texas laws will affect you, your friends, and your family.
New Texas Laws Explained
This list is not exhaustive but covers the key bills our advocacy team organized around.
*As of August 31, 2023, Judge Alan D. Albright of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas has issued an injunction barring the implementation of HB 900 on September 1. The law could still go into effect at a later date, and the litigation is ongoing. The ruling came in response to a suit filed by two Texas bookstores, Austin’s BookPeople, and West Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop.
This censorship legislation mandates a new book rating system requiring all book vendors serving Texas public schools to give any book with references to gender identity, sexual orientation, or intimate relationships a rating of “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit.” Vendors cannot sell a book that “describes or portrays sexual conduct … in a patently offensive way,” to school districts.
HB 900’s vague language does not specify what is considered “patently offensive,” nor does it require book ratings to be standardized. In addition to putting us at obvious risk for discrimination against books covering LGBTQIA+ issues and other underrepresented communities, the bureaucracy and red tape created by the bill would also add enormous costs to already struggling local and state government budgets.
*As of August 31, a Temporary Restraining Order or TRO has been granted, blocking SB 12 from being implemented on September 1. The law could still go into effect at a later date, and the litigation is ongoing.
SB 12, also known as the “drag ban,” bans sexually explicit or suggestive performances while minors are present. While the word “drag” does not appear in the final bill’s language, it does note that “prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics” are prohibited from performances in the presence of minors or “in a manner that could reasonably be expected to be viewed by a child.” The bill also criminalizes any live performance that appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.”
Business owners face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit performances in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.” Performers accused of violating SB 12 could be convicted with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. SB 12’s language is so broad that law enforcement and prosecutors could easily use it to shutter LGBTQIA+ businesses, punish drag performers, and control LGBTQIA+ people’s constitutionally protected expression.
SB 14 bans lifesaving, medically necessary, and evidence-based healthcare for transgender youth in Texas, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy. It even cruelly mandates that young patients cease any treatment they’ve already begun under the guidance and care of their trusted medical providers.
Transgender and nonbinary young people are at much higher risk of mental health crises, substance use, and self-induced harm than other kids. When they have access to gender-affirming care, they report less psychological distress, fewer thoughts of suicide, and other positive short- and long-term effects. Even before SB 14’s passage, transgender Texans and their families began seeking refuge in other states — but others have no choice but to stay.
Texas families and doctors sued the state in July, arguing SB 14 violates the Texas Constitution because it strips parents of the right to make decisions about their child’s healthcare and discriminates against transgender youth. Shortly after a judge granted a temporary injunction last week, the attorney general’s office filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court. A motion for emergency relief while the Court decides the case was denied, and the law still takes effect September 1.
The fight is not over — the Texas Supreme Court will have a hearing at a later date. In the meantime, visit the TENT website for mental health support and other resources. If you or your family are directly affected by the ban and have questions, reach out to [email protected].
SB 15 bans transgender collegiate athletes from competing on sports teams that correspond with their identifying gender. It’s so extreme that it even prohibits participation in practices or scrimmages.
This bill is yet another example of elected officials ignoring the actual issues affecting Texans and instead targeting a vulnerable minority by creating a problem that doesn’t exist. Only around three dozen transgender people are known to have competed at the collegiate level — none in Texas. There’s also a lack of evidence to show that transgender people have an unfair advantage in sports. Just like anyone else, transgender athletes vary in ability and body type. Factors such as physical training, conditioning, dedication, and experience determine athletic performance more than anything.
For many people, sports build important skills and community. Transgender people deserve the same opportunity as anyone else to participate without fear of discrimination. SB 15 blatantly invalidates trans experiences by forcing transgender college athletes to compete on teams that do not align with their gender identity — or not compete at all.
SB 17 effectively bans diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at public colleges and universities. It prevents them from having DEI offices or policies and prohibits hiring practices that take into account race, gender identity, or ethnicity in accordance with applicable state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
Texas public universities have a long history of discrimination. DEI offices, practices, and policies ensure that institutions can learn from the past and grow to be more welcoming to students of all identities and backgrounds. In gutting DEI initiatives and programs, Texas is taking a major step backward and reopening a dark chapter in our discriminatory history.
Unlike the other bills covered here, SB 17 doesn’t become law until Jan. 1, 2024, but we’re seeing colleges are already taking steps to comply with the new law. Over the past few weeks, Texas universities, including the University of North Texas, University of Houston, and UT-Austin have announced they’re dissolving their DEI offices, among other actions.
SB 18 attacks higher education in Texas by changing tenure policies for public universities.
Tenure is a centuries-long practice meant to help preserve academic freedom and encourage free speech. When a university faculty member has gained tenure, they can only be terminated for a justifiable cause or under extreme circumstances. SB 18, however, changes how tenure is granted to faculty members, how tenured faculty are reviewed, and when tenured faculty can be dismissed. In other words, the far-right legislature now has more power to punish professors and other faculty members at public universities for doing or saying something they don’t like.
Attacks on tenure across the country are nothing new, with attempts dating back to at least 2017. While SB 18 is not quite the total tenure ban previously threatened by the Lieutenant Governor, it still severely limits tenure and puts researchers and intellectuals at risk of discrimination and retaliation.
SB 763 violates students’ religious freedom in Texas public and charter schools by allowing school districts to hire or accept chaplains as volunteers to work with children. Chaplains employed or appointed to volunteer roles are not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification or be endorsed by any major entity, like the Department of Defense. The law requires paid chaplains to be compensated using funds earmarked for school safety.
Religious and civil rights groups have blasted SB 763 as unconstitutional. While the bill would technically allow chaplains of any faith tradition, the bill author, Republican Sen. Mayes Middleton, made the Christian nationalist purpose of SB 763 clear when he said: “Our Founding Fathers never intended separation of God from government. And what this bill does is make sure our schools are not God-free zones.” The bill does not prohibit proselytizing to students.
SB 763 takes effect September 1, but under the law, public and charter schools have until March 1, 2024, to vote on whether or not to adopt a policy authorizing a school to employ or accept chaplains as volunteers. On Aug. 22, more than 100 chaplains from diverse faith groups signed an open letter urging Texas schools not to hire chaplains, stating: “Because of our training and experience, we know that chaplains are not a replacement for school counselors or safety measures in our public schools.”