Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination at the 2017 Texas Legislature

State leaders, led by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, waged a relentless campaign of discrimination during Texas' 2017 legislative session, which concluded on May 30. While they succeeded in passing a new discriminatory "religious refusal" law targeting LGBT foster and adoptive parents, the Legislature did not pass an anti-transgender "bathroom bill."

However, Governor Abbott has called a special session beginning July 18 to, among other priorities, pass a "bathroom bill." While additional attacks on the rights of LGBT Texans are not on the Governor's call during the special session, they could arise as amendments to other bills.

Below you will find some basic information – and key talking points – about anti-transgender legislation, as well as information about other potential threats to equality during the special session.

Bathroom Access for Transgender Texans

Transgender Texans, like all Texans, need to use public restrooms without fear for their safety or security. Criminalizing basic bodily functions – as the proposed Senate Bill 6 does – puts Texans at risk.

Too often, the public debate over measures related to bathroom access centers on specious arguments about supposed threats to women's safety. The fact is that San Antonio (2013), Dallas (2002), Austin (2004), Fort Worth (2009), El Paso (2011) and Arlington (2012) all have ordinances that allow everyone to use the restroom appropriate to their gender. None of these cities—nor the more than 200 other American cities and 17 states that insure equal access to bathrooms—has experienced any increase in public safety incidents. That's why public safety experts agree that transgender people using restrooms simply isn't a threat.

So what is really behind proposals to restrict bathroom access for transgender Texans? Any law that makes it a crime to use the restroom that corresponds to your gender identity would erect a legal barrier to prevent transgender Texans from participating in public life. It's difficult to do business at a government office, hold down a full-time job, participate in school activities, or shop at the mall if you can't access a public restroom. Transgender Texans would face the impossible choice of breaking the law or putting themselves at risk by using a restroom where they stand out as the wrong gender.

"Religious Refusal" Laws

Religious liberty is a fundamental American principle and the birthright of every Texan. That is why our Constitution and state laws protect our right to worship freely. But religious liberty does not mean that people of faith are free to opt out of laws they don't like or to impose their personal religious beliefs on others.

The numerous "religious refusal" laws proposed in Texas are aimed at depriving lesbian, gay and transgender people full equality under the law. Some proposals create broad rights to opt out of laws for religious reasons, while others insulate a person who discriminates from any legal consequences. The cumulative effect is to authorize discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender Texans in virtually all aspects of their lives. Whether it's a gay student seeking counseling services, a lesbian couple obtaining a marriage license from a government employee, or a transgender person needing basic medical care, these bills would authorize unequal treatment.

Preemption of Local Non-Discrimination Protections

Neither federal nor state civil rights laws expressly bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

However, nine of the ten largest cities in Texas – plus other smaller municipalities – currently have some level of protections for LGBTQ citizens in the form of a non-discrimination ordinance (NDOs). For lesbian, gay and transgender Texans, these local ordinances may be their only protection if they're fired from a job, evicted from an apartment, or refused service at the corner store.

Numerous proposals by Texas lawmakers would sweep away all existing ordinances, meaning almost 9 million residents of cities with existing ordinances (32.6 percent of Texans) would be stripped of those protections instantly. Proposes laws would also prevent other cities in the state from adopting any such measures.

In addition to nondiscrimination ordinances, any other local ordinance that deals with a subject covered by state law could be affected, including plastic bag use, fracking bans and land use restrictions. In all these cases, local elected officials are in the best position to know the best solutions to local problems.

For up-to-date information on legislation pertaining to LGBTQ equality, please visit the legislative action center for Texas Freedom Network or Equality Texas.


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