Where Is Texas Headed? At Least 20 Vicious Bills Attacking LGBT Texans and Their Families

by Stephen Peters

AUSTIN – At least twenty vicious anti-equality bills attacking lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Texans and their families have been introduced in the Texas legislature – more than in any other state this year. Today, Equality Texas, the state organization advocating for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, joined forces to call on members of the state legislature to stop the attacks on LGBT people and their families and embrace a future of fairness and equality for all Texans.

Opponents of equality in Texas find themselves increasingly isolated as more and more Texans embrace the mainstream values of fairness and inclusion. This increased isolation is making our opponents more desperate, resulting in a flood of mean-spirited and misguided legislation targeting LGBT Texans.

“Business leaders in Texas have pushed back against proposed anti-LGBT legislation citing its negative consequences for the economic health and well-being of the state,” said Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith. “The clearest way for the Lone Star State to demonstrate that it is truly an open and welcoming environment for everyone in the labor force is to pass pending legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity & expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.”

The following legislation would help protect LGBT Texans:

SB 856 authored by Senator José Rodríguez, together with Senators Rodney Ellis, Sylvia Garcia, Kirk Watson, and John Whitmire would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity & expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

HB 627 by Representative Eric Johnson would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity & expression in employment. HB 2860 by Rep. Diego Bernal would  prohibit discrimination in housing based upon sexual orientation and gender identity & expression. HB 1522 by Rep. Jessica Farrar would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity & expression in public accommodations.

The harmful anti-LGBT bills introduced in Texas include: I. four bills giving special anti-LGBT discrimination rights based on religious preference; II. four bills destroying local non-discrimination protections for LGBT people; III. four bills attacking transgender people; IV. and eight bills attacking marriage equality.

“All Texans deserve to be treated fairly and equally, with dignity and respect,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “These bills are nothing more than despicable attacks on LGBT people and their families. It’s time for all fair-minded Texans to stand up and say enough is enough; these are our family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. It’s time to move forward and embrace fairness and equality for all Texans.”

The bills in Texas are a part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being introduced around the country targeting LGBT people. HRC members are joining Equality Texas’ Freedom Lobby Day in Austin on April 13th to oppose these 20 anti-equality bills targeting LGBT Texans:

I. Bills Giving Special Discrimination Rights Based on Religious Preference

Although these bills are framed as religious protection bills, SJR 10HJR 55HJR 125HB 1355 could actually undermine state and local civil rights laws by allowing individuals to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people and other minorities. These extreme bills go far beyond the religious protections already in Texas’ laws and the U.S. Constitution and undermine basic fairness for LGBT people.

Similar legislation introduced around the country has been opposed in other states by major companies including Apple, Wal-Mart and others out of concern that they undermine existing civil rights law and deeply harm the business climate of states in which they are passed. Many of these bills could critically undermine the enforcement of state non-discrimination protections, and passing them may expose the state to a wave of lawsuits, put jobs at risk, and make major corporations think twice about investing in states that previously had pro-business reputations. An anti-LGBT religious discrimination bill signed in to law in Indiana has sparked outrage from corporations in the state and those considering investments there.

If these vague bills become law in Texas, businesses from pharmacists to funeral homes and everything in between could potentially refuse to abide by state and local laws that protect people of faith, LGBT people, divorcees, women and interracial couples, among others. No one should be refused service simply because of who they are.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that businesses should not be able to deny services to someone because they’re gay or lesbian. According to a 2013 poll by Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign, 69 percent of Americans don’t think a business owner should be allowed to refuse to provide products or services to an individual because that person is gay or lesbian, compared to an incredibly small 15% that do. And when asked about small business owners in particular, a full 68% of Americans don’t think they should be able to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs. This supermajority included 55% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, 67% of people without college degrees, and 68% of Christians.

II. Bills Destroying Local Non-Discrimination Protections

These anti-equality bills would strip away the rights of local cities and towns to pass non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT Texans. HB 1556SB 1155HB 1911, and SB 343 seek to undermine the power of city and town councils across the state, nullifying all standing nondiscrimination ordinances and resolutions, and making any future nondiscrimination efforts by local governments illegal.

Many communities across Texas have decided to stop waiting for state legislators to do what is right, but rather have taken it upon themselves to protect their LGBT residents and visitors by adopting non-discrimination ordinances and resolutions. These anti-LGBT state bills would not only prohibit the rights of communities to govern themselves, but also interfere with democracy in its purest form: city and town councils. When a non-discrimination ordinance or resolution is considered or passed, each community has the opportunity to speak out about it, vote the city or town leadership out of office, or repeal the ordinance. There’s no need for interference by the state legislature.

III. Bills Attacking Transgender People

HB 1747HB 1748HB 2801, and HB 2802, dubbed “bathroom surveillance bills” seek to criminalize transgender Texans by making it illegal for them to use appropriate sex-segregated facilities such as bathrooms in accordance with their lived gender. If passed, these bill would create liability for transgender people and businesses, or even criminalize transgender people just for using appropriate bathrooms. In the case of schools and workplaces, this would directly conflict with federal non-discrimination provisions that have been interpreted to provide protections for gender identity and gender expression under Title IX and Title VII. This conflict between federal and state laws would place schools and businesses in an untenable position, creating unnecessary liability and confusion.

Bill supporters are using the same lies about transgender people and scare tactics we have seen defeated time and again. Concerns raised about public safety in public facilities have absolutely no basis. In fact, to date 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed and successfully implemented human rights laws that provide protections to the transgender community with absolutely no increase in public safety incidents. Instead, these “bathroom surveillance bills” hurt businesses and individuals by leaving them open to unnecessary litigation. Rather than creating greater safety or privacy, these cruel bills only harass and stigmatize a population that is already subject to heightened rates of violence and discrimination.

IV. Bills Attacking Marriage Equality

HB 623HB 1745SB 673, and HB 4105 each take direct aim at stopping marriage equality in Texas by limiting the ability to use state funds or the ability of local officials to engage in activities that support the marriages of same-sex couples. HB 2555, on the other hand, attempts to deny the ability of federal courts to rule in favor of marriage equality by providing that the prohibitions against marriage equality in the Texas Constitution and statutes would still be enforceable. Of course, this is completely incorrect as a matter of constitutional law - states do not have the ability to override the U.S. Constitution or decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

HB 3567 and HB 3602 both seek to allow religious organizations and individuals to not recognize valid same-sex marriages, and protects them from any penalties they might otherwise suffer for this discrimination.

Finally, HB 3890 prevents same-sex spouses in legally-recognized marriages from receiving equal marriage benefits. Specifically, the bill would make same-sex marriages ineligible to qualify for public retirement benefits.

Equality Texas envisions a state where all Texans are treated equally, with dignity and respect. Equality Texas advocates and lobbies for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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