HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The number of proposed bills targeting LGBTQ+ people in Texas continues to grow during the 88th legislative session, and advocates are bracing for a busy year at the Texas State Capitol.
According to Equality Texas, there are at least 66 bills so far, a higher rate than what they saw during the last legislative session.
Most of the bills target transgender children and their families. They seek to limit or ban gender-affirming healthcare, limit classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity (similar to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill), and restrict drag shows and performers.
"When it comes to healthcare for young trans people, there's a lot of misconception about what that looks like. Primary medical intervention comes at puberty. At puberty, there are a lot of physical changes that can be really distressing for someone experiencing gender dysphoria. Puberty blockers are one way for them to hit pause, in collaboration with their doctors, to build a plan about what going forward looks like," Johnathan Gooch, communications director for Equality Texas, said.
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In 2021, only one out of 76 anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed. So advocates hope most of the proposed legislation this year won't make it very far. However, they're worried about the harmful messaging it could still send to trans youth and the negative impact on their mental health.
According to the Trevor Project, the organization served more than 14,500 calls, chats, and texts from young LGBTQ+ Texans in crisis in 2021.
Their national survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health from that same year found that 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide. Additionally, one in five attempted suicide.
"Removing books or censoring classroom conversations signals to LGBTQ+ young people that these topics are unsavory or inappropriate. That creates an unmerited sense of shame," Gooch said. "More than half of trans and non-binary youth are internalizing these messages, that their private lives deserve to be scrutinized."
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None of the Republican lawmakers who sponsored these bills returned ABC13s requests for an interview or comment. But some of the common arguments from conservative groups have included supporting parental rights in education, equating gender-affirming care to genital mutilation, and accusing drag performers of grooming children.
On Jan. 30, Rep. Jared Patterson of Frisco tweeted, "Kids should be protected against sexually-explicit content, whether that's in the school library or so-called 'family friendly' drag show. It's ridiculous that we even have to debate this topic. Still, the state has an interest to protect our kids."
On Oct. 9, Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands tweeted in part, "Loving a child with gender dysphoria means you heal the heart and mind without cutting the body."
So what do Texans think? It depends on how you look at the data. According to the American Values Atlas, 72% of Texans support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination laws.
"Our community is overwhelmingly supportive. It's our lawmakers that are sometimes out of step with what Texans really want. It's our job to just educate them about how what they're doing is going to impact people in our community," Gooch said.
When you look at "2023 Texas Legislative Issues: Culture Wars," a new study by the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs, 57% of the Texans surveyed support legislation that would classify gender-affirming care for transgender youth as "child abuse." Additionally, 69% support bills requiring parental approval for any instruction on sexuality in public schools.
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But Mark Jones, a senior research fellow for UH Hobby School of Public Affairs, said respondents are also mostly supportive of progressive issues in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
"So overall, the Texas public is not as polarized as the legislators are. We see majority support for Republican supportive positions in legislation such as book content ratings and requiring parental approval on sexuality instruction that children receive in class. We also see that for Democratic positions such as ethnic studies and gay marriage," Jones said, who is also a political science professor at Rice University.
Gooch said Equality Texas and other advocacy organizations plan to spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill this year, speaking to lawmakers and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community.
They've counted at least 50 pro-LGBTQ+ bills that have been proposed this session. The progressive bills aim to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, address obstacles that youth may face in educational institutions, and ensure access to vital care for LGBTQ+ people across the state.
Jones pointed out that having a conservative majority at the Texas State Legislature means that only Republican-led bills have a chance of passing.
"I suspect that we'll see three different types of legislation passing. One will be enhancing parental approval over sexual education in public schools. A second will be content ratings for books, particularly grade school and middle school. Third will be prohibiting changing a minor's sex on their birth certificate," Jones said.
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