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Messing With Texas

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Supreme Court gives state—and its LGBTQ residents—yet another black eye.

By Andrew Edmonson

On the last day of Pride Month, as Germany pushed forward the tide of equality with a parliamentary vote in favor of same-sex marriage, the Texas Supreme Court seemed determined to roll back progress for LGBTQ people.

On June 30, the state’s highest court held unanimously that same-sex couples are not necessarily entitled to government employment benefits.

Four days earlier, in Pavan v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court had reaffirmed its ruling from the landmark 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges that “the Constitution entitles same-sex couples to civil marriage ‘on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.’”

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Pidgeon v. Turner reeks of politics. In 2015, the Court had refused to hear the case, which stems from mayor Annise Parker’s 2013 decision to extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of City employees. But then social conservatives launched a furious letter-writing campaign, which eventually included signatures from governor Greg Abbott, lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, and attorney general Ken Paxton. In a highly unusual move, the court reversed itself and agreed to hear Pidgeon v. Turner.

With visions of primary challengers dancing in their heads, the justices—all Republicans—delivered the decision demanded by their political masters. Anyone under the illusion that justice is blind in the Lone Star State was quickly disabused of that quaint notion.

Coming almost exactly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality, the ruling felt like a slap in the face to many LGBTQ Texans. As a headline at ThinkProgress.org declared, “The Texas Supreme Court Just Gave a Big Fat Middle Finger to Same-Sex Couples.”

The response on social media was fast and furious.

A lesbian who was a superb educator and spent three decades of her life helping children succeed in Houston schools before decamping to the Golden State for retirement shared an article about the decision. She noted plaintively, “This is a prime example of why, when I retired, I just had to get out of Texas after fighting the good fight for sixty years: I wanted to be proud of the state I live in, as I was when I was a child in Texas. Oh, California!”

A gay African-American civil-rights activist asked on Facebook, “How about a remake of Mississippi Goddamn……call it Texas Goddamn!” referring to jazz legend Nina Simone’s brilliant 1964 excoriation following the assassination of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the Alabama church bombing that killed four children. Her ferocious cri de coeur indicting southern racism became an anthem for the civil-rights movement in the 1960s.

A gay man nearing retirement after a highly successful career in the energy industry reacted bluntly by posting, “Can’t get out of this shitty state fast enough! Not bashing Houston because it’s pretty damn progressive, I met my husband here, and it’s enabled us to retire. For all of that, I am very thankful!”

For many LGBTQ Texans, the Texas Supreme Court decision crystallizes our perennial ambivalence about the state we call home. We love our cities, the families we have raised and created here, and the friends we have made. But how does one abide the increasing hostility of the governing Republican Party that seems to hold the civil rights of its LGBT citizens in contempt?

It’s a question that’s now being asked far beyond Texas, and the answer could have significant economic consequences for the Lone Star State. Late last month, California provided its answer. After Republicans in the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3859, which legalized discrimination against LGBTQ couples wanting to serve as foster parents, the Golden State banned state-funded travel to Texas.

While Abbott and Patrick responded by grandstanding and trash-talking California, Texas tourism officials expressed deep concern. “Any travel ban is not good for business,” Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, told the San Antonio Express News. “San Antonio and Texas remain a warm, inclusive destination that welcomes all, and these decisions position us in a negative light that may have a far greater overall impact than a travel ban from California or any particular state. In our business, perception is reality.”

And questions about bigotry in Texas will only grow more frequent in the wake of the 2017 legislative session. After Republicans passed Senate Bill 4—the racist “show me your papers” law targeting undocumented immigrants—the nation’s largest immigrant and civil-rights groups are considering organizing a nationwide boycott of Texas.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has already pulled its 2018 conference from Texas, in part because SB4 has dissuaded noncitizen members and racial minorities from attending. “Our members are U.S. citizens and Green Card holders, but many of them come from ethnic communities where they felt they would be unfairly targeted,” association president Bill Stock told the Houston Chronicle. “[Members have] expressed their desire not to spend money in the state.”

How long will it take the Texas GOP leadership to realize that hate and bigotry are not only bad for business, but also for the citizens of Texas?

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine. 

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Andrew Edmonson

Andrew Edmonson has written about the arts for the Houston Chronicle, OutSmart, The Houston Voice, and Houston Ballet News. He won the Award of Special Merit from the Texas Chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
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