The Texas heat is unforgiving. Downright oppressive. My wife and I spend our summers finding creative ways to keep our daughters (and ourselves) from bursting into hypothetical flames—city pools, popsicles, chilly plunges into Barton Springs.
But the temperature isn’t the only oppressor in this state attempting to control our parental decisions. Much like our rapidly warming earth, my freedoms as a parent have been violated to serve the whims of the far-right political agenda for years.
Being a parent in Texas often feels like I’m trying to raise kind, confident, compassionate humans in a pressure cooker.
The buzzy phrase bubbling at the surface of it all: “parental rights.”
Crack open those two words, and you’ll find a decades-long strategy to erase the stories of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color from our history—and forget finding any connection between our country’s discriminatory past and our discriminatory present within public school curriculums. Of course, we can’t forget the dash of climate change and evolution denial or the attacks on the mention of LGBTQIA+ Texans, much less the community’s history.
At Texas Freedom Network, where I serve as the Senior Digital and Technology Director, we’re no strangers to the far-right’s favorite tactic of creating nonexistent problems to exploit voters’ most basic fears.
We heard right-wing lawmakers weaponize parental rights throughout the 2023 legislative session—spewing a litany of ways parents’ rights were threatened by public education, honest and accurate portrayals of history, and the mere existence of LGBTQIA+ Texans in public schools and spaces—then crafting bills to turn their vitriol into law.
The cruelest attack came with the passage of Senate Bill 14, which banned lifesaving gender-affirming care for transgender kids and allowed the state to insert itself in the private healthcare decisions made between loving families and their children.
Is it protecting parental rights to force people out of our state who have chosen to love their kids for who they are and do everything they can to keep them alive?
What about my right to teach my kids about LGBTQIA+ people and families? That was taken away by House Bill 900, which censors and bans important stories about LGBTQIA+ communities by requiring publishers to create an arbitrary rating system for books in public schools. PEN America, a nonprofit that tracks book bans across the country, stated that the books banned by Texas in the past year “mainly address topics of race, sexuality, and gender.” As a father raising two bi-racial girls, I worry about how the purging of books will shape their futures.
Governor Abbott and his allies would’ve stolen more rights from us had they passed Senate Bill 8, a voucher bill that sought to steal public funds from students in our neighborhood schools while sneaking in a “don’t say gay/transgender” requirement that would’ve banned “instruction, guidance, activities, or programming regarding sexual orientation or gender identity” for every grade level.
The fight against vouchers is far from over, with Abbott signaling for a special session once teachers are back in the classroom and unable to advocate for our kids and their well-rounded education.
And while the far-right fixates on taking away my right to send my kids to a fully funded public school where they’ll be embraced, they still refuse to pass laws to ensure my kids will be safe from gun violence.
Instead, lawmakers chose to use money earmarked for school safety to fund their plan for Senate Bill 763, otherwise known as “the chaplain bill.” The soon-to-be law will give school districts the option to allow unlicensed chaplains to work or volunteer at my kids’ school with no appropriate training and no requirement to leave their personal religious agenda at the door. Still, schools across the state are without even one licensed professional counselor.
Any lawmaker who chooses to violate my religious freedom before taking action to stop gun violence in our schools clearly misunderstands the meaning of “parental rights.”
Forgive me if I have a hard time believing the same people who don’t want my daughters to learn about slavery, have access to reproductive healthcare, or the ability to learn about LGBTQIA+ people or safely be part of the LGBTQIA+ community care about my daughters’ rights or ours as parents.
This National Parents’ Day, we cannot be silent.
On September 1, a laundry list of laws violating our parental rights will go into effect. While they steal our freedoms, lawmakers are counting on us to be distracted by the constant (yet wonderful) demands of parenthood —but their rhetoric won’t fool us.
Elections are coming, and we know who chose political greed over Texas families. Get registered. Go vote. Hold them accountable. We’re not just fighting for our rights—we’re fighting for our kids’ futures.