Texas Republicans filed dozens of bills affecting LGBTQ people: Here's what they'd do

ByWilliam Melhado, The Texas Tribune
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Number of anti-LGBTQ+ proposals reach 66 in Texas legislative session
The number of bills targeting LGBTQ+ in Texas continues to grow during the 88th legislative session, and advocates are bracing for a busy year at the Capitol.

Texas lawmakers this year are expected to debate several bills that could bring major changes to the lives of gay and transgender Texans. Republicans have filed bills that would restrict when sexuality and gender identity are taught in schools, where people can perform in drag, and what kind of health care is available to transgender children.

The video above is from a previous report.

Children and young adults in particular are a focus of the legislation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it a Senate priority to pass measures that pertain to classroom instruction about LGBTQ people, the college sports teams transgender students can join and medical treatments that can be provided to transgender youth. Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to ban schools' "woke agendas."

LGBTQ activists and many Democratic lawmakers are bracing for a monthslong fight. Many say the proposed measures amount to attempts to minimize queer expression and restrict people's rights. One such group, Equality Texas, has identified more than 90 "bad bills" filed so far this session, already more than total identified by the group in 2021 during a full session and three special sessions.

Even if only a few of them pass, the damage will be substantial, they say. According to a January report from the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth suicide-prevention organization, 71% of LGBTQ youth said debates over bills affecting how they live negatively impact their mental health - and 86% of transgender youth reported negative mental health repercussions from such legislation.

"Texas has become one of the most dangerous and hostile places for transgender youth and transgender people and their families in America," Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told reporters in February.

The clash between comes at a time when 72% of Texans support anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, according to a 2021 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.

For mental health support for LGBTQ youth, call the Trevor Project's 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. For trans peer support, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.

Blocking trans kids' access to certain kinds of transition-related health care

People gather for a rally in support of trans kids in front of the Governor's Mansion in Austin last year. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

As soon as lawmakers were allowed to file legislation, some Texas Republicans authored bills aimed at hindering or outright prohibiting transgender kids from accessing certain health care treatments.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the issue a priority for the Senate this year and designated Senate Bill 14 as the legislative vehicle to achieve that goal. But SB 14 has not yet been filed, and Patrick hasn't given details on what specifically it would ban. Still, other lawmakers have filed bills with similar goals.

Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, wants to allow medical providers to decline treatment to any patient for religious views, moral philosophy or "ethical position," except for during emergency or life-threatening instances. House Bill 319 does not explicitly mention LGBTQ people, but advocates fear the bill would allow doctors to turn people away simply because of their gender or sexual identity. It has been assigned to the House Public Health Committee.

House Bill 41 and Senate Bill 250 would bar physicians from providing minors with puberty blockers or hormone therapies and would ban insurance companies from covering such treatment. Those bills, as originally filed, also seek to ban transition-related surgeries for minors. Medical experts say such procedures are rarely, if ever, performed on children. SB 250 would also revoke the licenses of healthcare professionals who provide such treatment. It has been referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee. HB 41 has been assigned to the House Public Health Committee.

House Bill 436 from Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, aims to classify health care treatment like puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse if they are administered for the purposes of transitioning. After similar legislation failed in 2021, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that equated certain medical treatments and procedures for transgender teens with child abuse. Citing that opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services directing the agency to investigate parents who provided transition-related care to their transgender children. LGBTQ advocacy groups are fighting that directive, which a Travis County judge largely blocked last year. HB 436 has been assigned to the House Public Health Committee.

Much of the debate will likely center on the age at which such care should be provided. Leading medical groups - including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's top medical association for youth - recommend treatment for children with gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their physical presentation does not align with their gender identity. For teens and youth, this kind of care is often limited to counseling and social transition - using different pronouns or wearing different clothes. But it can at times include the use of medication that temporarily delays the onset of puberty.

SEE ALSO: ABC13 town hall examines rising barriers for LGBTQ+ youth

Classifying drag shows as sexually oriented

Drag queen Casady Milan performs at Long Play Lounge in East Austin in 2021. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

House Bills 643, 708 and 1266 and Senate Bill 476 seek to reclassify bars or businesses that host drag shows as "sexually oriented businesses," a category that includes adult movie theaters and sex shops. Such designations would force bars to operate under a different set of regulations that come with higher taxes and fees. That could force some businesses to choose between shutting down or ending drag performances.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who championed some of last session's most conservative bills, authored SB 476. It has been assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee, which he chairs. HB 643, 708 and 1266 have been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.

One of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's top priorities is ending children's exposure to drag performances.

Each of the four bills define drag shows as performances "in which a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer's gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment." They make no distinction between shows performed at bars, which can at times involve sexual humor, and events where a person in drag reads a children's book or a play or movie in which a character dresses in drag.

The legislation was filed after conservative politicians and activists have taken aim at drag shows in the past year. They have argued that any kind of dressing in drag is inherently sexual. Anti-drag sentiment has prompted protests at drag shows - many of which are adult-only - that have drawn white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. And many organizers of drag events have canceled their events, even those that weren't sexual or weren't intended for children.

Restricting the college sports teams that transgender student-athletes can join

The Texas Longhorns face the Iowa State Cyclones at an NCAA women's basketball game last year at Municipal Auditorium in Missouri. Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports via REUTERS

Conservatives also want to ban transgender women from participating in university women's sports. This would expand the Legislature's 2021 law that bans transgender girls in K-12 public schools from playing on girls' sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys' sports teams.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made such a ban for transgender university athletes one of his 30 priorities for the session. He has set aside Senate Bill 16 to include this measure, but that bill has not been filed yet. Gov. Greg Abbott said he supports the measure.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has policies that monitor transgender student athletes' testosterone levels throughout a sport's season, including at the beginning and four weeks before the championship selections, and testosterone levels must be below certain thresholds. In 2021, the NCAA board said the association wouldn't host championship events in states with laws discriminating against transgender athletes. If passed, these bills would prohibit Texas from holding these major sporting events.

Republican lawmakers have filed two bills - Senate Bill 649 and House Bill 23 - that would limit the collegiate sports teams transgender student athletes could join. Those bills would also extend the K-12 sports participation limitation to private schools whose sports teams compete against public school teams. SB 649 has been assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committees.

A majority of House members signed on as co-authors of HB 23, which indicates sufficient support to pass out of that chamber if it does not hit legislative obstacles along the way. It has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.

SEE ALSO: National 988 suicide hotline offers new services 24/7 for LGBTQ community

Limiting classroom lessons about LGBTQ people

Kids hold flags and wear heart stickers and beads at the Austin school district's Pride event last year. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

GOP lawmakers also want to prohibit classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity before ninth grade in public and charter schools.

Reps. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, have filed House Bill 1541 and House Bill 1155, respectively, which closely mirror controversial Florida legislation critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law.

HB 1541 would enable parents to sue districts if teachers don't comply. Both have been assigned to the House Public Education Committee.

The bills would require schools to notify parents of any services provided or monitoring of their "students' mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being," which LGBTQ advocates worry would require district employees to disclose some students' sexual orientation or gender identity to their parents when the students may not be ready - or feel safe - sharing that personal information.

The bills would require schools to notify parents of any services provided or monitoring of their "students' mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being," which LGBTQ advocates worry would require district employees to disclose some students' sexual orientation or gender identity to their parents when the students may not be ready - or feel safe - sharing that personal information.

During his State of the State speech in February, Gov. Greg Abbott accused schools of indoctrinating children with a "woke agenda," though he didn't provide specifics on what he meant.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have made support for what they call parental rights a rallying cry both on their 2022 campaign trails and heading into this year's legislative session. But the definition of what that means remains nebulous. So far, it has largely centered around expanding voucher-like programs that would enable families to use taxpayer dollars to pay for schools outside of the state's public education system.

These new bills come two years after the Legislature limited how America's history of racism can be taught in public schools, which teachers said will hinder how students learn about race and current events. And the new legislation also comes on the heels of conservatives pushing for school and public libraries to remove books that center LGBTQ characters and themes. Texas banned more books from school libraries than any other state from July 2021 through June 2022.

READ MORE: 2 Texas bills would restrict lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools

Expanding anti-discrimination protections

A parade float passes the Capitol building during the 2022 Austin Pride parade. Credit: Azul Sordo / The Texas Tribune

Democratic lawmakers are pushing a swath of bills that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for a range of areas, including employment, housing and state contracts. But with Republicans controlling both legislative chambers - and no direct support from top leadership - these efforts are unlikely to make it to the governor's desk.

House Bill 832 would prohibit foster care providers from discriminating against LGBTQ youth based on religious beliefs. House Bill 725 would update language in the hate crime law to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. HB 832 has been assigned to the House Human Services Committee, and HB 725 has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.

Senate Bill 110 would add protections for LGBTQ people and Texan veterans to prevent discrimination regarding housing, employment, public accommodation, and state contracts. It has been assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.