Politics

Legal Challenges Currently Affecting the LGBTQ+ Community in Texas

Where LGBTQ+ legislation stands in Texas, and where Houston falls among the most LGBTQ-friendly cities.

By Shelby Stewart Research by Brianna Benitez July 1, 2022

Where does the LGBTQ+ legislation stand in Texas?

As Pride Month has come to a close, it’s noteworthy that LGBTQ+ rights here in Texas have been at the forefront of legislative issues recently, with several state measures impacting the LGBTQ+ community. 

Texas is home to 29 million people, and of that population, 1,053,000 people identify as LGBTQ, per the Williams Institute. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities have witnessed numerous laws pass this year that challenged and questioned the liberties of LGBTQ+ people in Texas. With much uncertainty surrounding LGBTQ+ rights, what does that mean for the community in Texas? 

Among the recent state measures targeting LGBTQ+ Texans is HB 25, which went into effect on January 18. The law requires trans student-athletes to play on the team that corresponds with the gender they were assigned at birth. The passing of the legislation marked Texas as the 10th state to pass such a law. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Texas activist Adri Perez shared his disappointment with the passing of HB 25 in a statement on Twitter. “The harm that this debate and rhetoric have caused is already immeasurable. The pain of feeling like you can’t be yourself and knowing 10,000+ kids in Texas see that reflected in their government tonight is unconscionable.”

A month after HB 25 became law, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion about gender-affirming care for trans children, characterizing sex change treatments and procedures as “child abuse.” Though the attorney general’s opinion does not have the force of law, it can serve as a basis for enforcing the law; subsequently, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services, instructing the DFPS to investigate possible child abuse of trans children. 

While HB 25 and Paxton’s opinion are most prominent today, restrictive laws for the LGBTQ+ community aren’t new to Texas. In September 1991, the Texas Health and Safety Code 85.007 stated that in education programs for persons younger than 18 years old, homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code. Additionally, the Texas Human Resources Code 45.004 allows child welfare service providers to refuse to facilitate or refer a person for child welfare services that conflict with the provider’s religious beliefs, allowing providers to prohibit LGBTQ+ parents from adopting or fostering children. 

In a broader scope, other restrictions make it difficult for LGBTQ+ community members to live in their truth—specifically with regard to gender-specific name changes. According to the Transgender Law Center, “[Texas] law does not explicitly provide for gender marker correction. It may be possible with a doctor’s letter and/or a court-ordered gender change, but historically has been difficult to acquire.”

All of the legislation currently in place in Texas places exclusive restrictions on the LGBTQ+ community; to date, there are no specific bills that positively protect the LGBTQ+ community. Legislation enacted in other states includes affirming measures such as protecting LGBTQ+ students from discrimination or bullying, promoting an inclusive school curriculum, and explicitly banning discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in areas like housing, health insurance, and lending. 

Curiously enough, even though Texas doesn’t have any nondiscrimination laws in place, our state capital remains one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the nation. Austin was given a 100 out of 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, a civil rights organization promoting LGBTQ+ equality. Likewise, Dallas, Arlington, and San Antonio received 100 scores, in no small part because all of these cities protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. By contrast, Houston received a 76 out of 100, scoring lower in categories like nondiscrimination laws, municipal services, and law enforcement. 

While Pride Month was a welcome celebration, there's a lot for the local LGBTQ+ community to be vigilant about. Perhaps most alarmingly, Justice Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion in Dobbs, the decision that struck down Roe v. Wade, strongly points to a potential battle over LGBTQ+ marriage rights. It’s hard to predict what the road ahead will look like on a national level and in Texas with congressional midterms swiftly approaching in November, but LGBTQ+ rights will likely play a large part in the next state legislative session, which will reconvene in January 2023. 

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