‘This should be a call to action’: Over 100 bills in the Legislature would help LGBTQ Texans

Equality Texas, which has been tracking what it calls “good bills” this legislative session, says lawmakers filed 144 proposals that would have a positive effect on the state’s LGBTQ community.

By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, The Texas NewsroomMay 5, 2023 1:32 pm,

The Texas Legislature has less than three weeks before it adjourns until 2025, and hundreds of bills have yet to be discussed or voted on.

Among them are over 100 bills that supporters say could have a positive impact on people in the state’s LGBTQ community. But in a session that has been characterized for its anti-LGBTQ sentiment, will any actually pass?

Johnathan Gooch, the communications director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Texas, said he hopes at least some of them make their way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

“It’s tiresome to see so many bad bills moving, but I think now is such an important time to be engaged,” Gooch told The Texas Newsroom. “This is our one chance to actually get through some bills that could help our community.”

This session, Gooch and Equality Texas have been actively tracking what they call “good bills.” According to the group, 144 measures filed this session would have a positive impact on the community if they became law.

The proposals include expanding nondiscrimination policies.

“Right now in the state of Texas you could legally fire someone simply because they are trans,” Gooch said. “There’s no state law preventing that.”

Other legislation would ban conversion therapies, and update the state code to recognize LGBTQ families.

However, most of those bills aren’t going anywhere. The Republican majority in the state Legislature has made it clear – through their votes – that they don’t necessarily want to support measures that could benefit LGBTQ people.

Gooch acknowledges it but said the high number of “good bills” filed could at least send a positive signal to those who may otherwise feel like their government is turning its back on them.

“The community really struggled and suffered with all of the bad bills in the previous session,” Gooch said, adding that his group encouraged lawmakers to file some of the bills to provide “a little hope along with the potential to actually do some real good for the community – not just fighting against bad bills all the time.”

Bipartisan support still exists

Not all of the bills on Equality Texas’ list are dead on arrival. One that has bipartisan support is legislation that would repeal a defunct law that criminalizes gay sex. That law was ruled unconstitutional in 2003, but the Texas Legislature has kept it in state code.

Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas, is the bill’s author and told The Texas Newsroom it’s time to pass this measure.

​“The law has been on the books for the last 20 years,” Jones said. “So, hopefully, with more and more time we continue to see the necessity – the urgent necessity – of removing unconstitutional language from our penal code.”

According to the old law, people who engage in “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” could face a Class C misdemeanor. That type of offense doesn’t carry jail time but can lead to a fine of up to $500.

And even though it was ruled unconstitutional two decades ago, Jones said its continued presence has consequences.

“It still leads to people being discriminated against,” Jones said. “It still leads to this code being weaponized against LGBTQ people and their families right now.”

A handful of Republicans agree with Jones.

Two GOP lawmakers are also listed as authors of the bill: Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park and Rep. Bryan Harrison of Midlothian. Cain declined to comment for this story, and Harrison didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Other Republican lawmakers have publicly acknowledged the bill’s importance, though the measure has yet to move forward. It passed in committee last month, but it has yet to be scheduled for a vote by the full House.

Jones and other supporters remain hopeful that at least this measure can pass — and that people in the state’s LGBTQ community can have some hope that a future in Texas is possible.

“If we continue to be serious about fighting for our rights, this should only be the beginning,” Jones said. “This should be a call to action.”

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