LGBT Advocates Brace For Texas Legislative Session

“We are certainly, currently living in a period where there is significant pushback from people who did not support the freedom to marry.”

By Christopher ConnellyNovember 24, 2016 9:30 am, , ,

From KERA News:

Democrats in the state legislature have put forward a sweeping agenda for LGBT rights. Some would expand non-discrimination protections – in housing and employment, for example. Others are symbolic, like a bill to remove homosexuality from the Texas criminal code. But these are Democratic bills.

Chuck Smith heads Equality Texas. He’s more concerned that anti-LGBT bills have a better chance with the Republican-dominated legislature.

“Realistically, it is an extremely challenging environment and it would not be realistic to expect passage of this legislation in the upcoming session,” Smith says.

He says success in Austin next year would be to simply hold the line.

“We are certainly, currently living in a period where there is significant pushback from people who did not support the freedom to marry,” he says.

For instance, more than a dozen large Texas cities already offer some protections for LGBT residents that the state doesn’t. A proposed bill would block those local laws.

The bill’s sponsor, northeast Texas Sen. Bob Hall, declined an interview request. Hall and his fellow conservatives argue that LGBT protections often violate religious freedom and burden small business owners. Here’s Hall speaking to East Texans for Liberty in September:

“We’re going to be going after trying to protect the florists, the shop owners, the adoption agencies and things like that this next session.”

Perhaps the biggest fight will be over bathrooms. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has promised legislation that would restrict people to the bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate. LGBT advocates say that explicitly targets transgender people, whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth. A similar bill caused a huge controversy in North Carolina earlier this year.

“When you go to the restroom, the M does not stand for ‘make up your mind,’ and the W does not stand for ‘whatever,'” Patrick said at the GOP convention in May.

He told the crowd we shouldn’t even be having the debate in America – but speaking to Dallas business leaders last month, the lieutenant governor softened his rhetoric.

“If laws are passed that allow men to go into a bathroom because of how they feel, then we would not be able to stop sexual predators from taking advantage of that law like they’ve taken advantage of the internet,” he said.

Chuck Smith of Equality Texas says that’s fear-mongering.

“The claim that somehow protecting transgender people is going to cause people to pretend to be transgender people in order to commit offenses, it simply has not occurred,” Smith says.

Smith has a powerful new ally in his corner this year. The business community worries such legislation makes the state less attractive to employers who might move here – the Texas Association of Business estimates that $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs are at risk.

University of Houston political scientists Brandon Rottinghaus says this pits the Republican Party’s social conservatives against those focused on economic issues.

“We’ve seen this happen before in some other instances but this is one of the more dramatic examples of those issues really coming to a point,” Rottinghaus says.

Rottinghaus suggests party in-fighting could hurt Republicans, but he says some leaders see red-meat social issues as crucial to winning re-election in 2018.

Either way, LGBT advocates expect a lot more unfriendly bills to be filed before lawmakers head back to Austin in January.