This Sunday, all eyes will be on Texas, where Houston is hosting the Super Bowl featuring the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. Most of the action will be on the field (there might even be a few unscripted events during Lady Gaga’s halftime show). But this year’s matchup also highlights an important behind-the-scenes equality battle in Texas.
The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots have recently championed LGBTQ equality and inclusion. Last year, when Georgia was on the verge of passing a law that would have given businesses the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons voiced his opposition. The Patriots have also taken strong LGBTQ equality positions as a franchise. They signed onto a Supreme Court marriage equality amicus brief in 2015. Last year, the they became the first NFL team to publicly support statewide transgender protections. Both teams represent the way the sports community can and should move the ball forward on equality for equality.
Ironically, however, these pro-equality champions will meet head-to-head in one of the most anti-equality states in the country. Texas has become increasingly hostile towards LGBTQ people. When the Texas legislature last met in 2015, the lawmakers introduced 23 anti-LGBTQ bills. Texas lawmakers are continuing their campaign to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in its 2017 legislative session. The Texas legislature is already considering six anti-LGBTQ bills. This includes a bill that would give the state the power to take away LGBTQ protections passed at the city level.
Texas lawmakers have even introduced an anti-trans bill similar to North Carolina’s HB2. HB2 cost North Carolina several major sports events, including the NBA All-Star game. The economic cost of this discriminatory law is estimated to have cost North Carolina at least $600 million. Texas stands to lose as much as 185,000 jobs and $8.5 billion in economic losses if it passes its proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation. If Texas lawmakers continue down this path, Sunday’s game could be the football capitol's last Super Bowl for a long time.
Fortunately, LGBTQ discrimination is not the only thing in the Texas’s legislative playbook. Pro-equality lawmakers have proposed several bills that would promote LGBTQ equality in Texas. And many cities are not waiting for the state to act on matters of equality: Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio and many other cities have passed local ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
So Texas is not lost. It just needs to change directions. When a quarterback feels that the planned play should be abandoned for a better course of action, they can call an “audible.” They can change direction, self-correct, and get the team back on track. This is what Texas needs right now-- an equality audible, a change to an inclusive game plan.