What do you do in your new role at Equality Texas, and what inspires your work?
As the field director for Equality Texas, [which is the largest statewide organization solely dedicated to securing full equality for LGBTQ+ Texans], I look at my role as helping to identify LGBTQ+ Texans and our allies across the state so that we can empower them to make their voices heard at every level of our government.
Seeing people tap into the power that they have for the first time is one of the most inspiring things about this type of work. Once we help someone take that first step into advocacy, [we start] a journey with them as part of our shared commitment to securing equality for all LGBTQ+ Texans. That’s pretty exciting.
The Equality Texas team has been at the Capitol in Austin fighting against anti-trans bills since this year’s legislative session began. What impact might these “bad bills” have on the LGBTQ community?
We have around 30 bills moving through the Legislature that target LGBTQ+ Texans, and another 30 or more that could be amended to negatively impact us. In every session, we see attempts to pass legislation that uses “religious freedom” as a weapon against the LGBTQ+ community, and this session is no different. On top of those bills are attempts to attack local control, especially in places where cities have passed local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ residents. We track all of these bills and any dangerous amendments [that are added], and we work to ensure they never become law. But we can’t do that work without the help of advocates from all over Texas.
According to a recent report by Axios, more anti-trans bills have been filed throughout the country in 2021 than ever before. Tell us about those bills in other states, and their potential impacts.
Unfortunately, what we’re seeing right now is a nationally coordinated attack on transgender kids. Anti-LGBTQ+ organizations are literally “shopping” model legislation to state legislatures across the country, and Texas is just the latest proving ground for it. Right now, Texas accounts for more than 30 percent of all the anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been filed in the United States. The bulk of those bills attacks access to affirming health care for trans youth, and bans transgender kids from participating in sports.
Right now, we have many bills that attack access to health care for transgender kids—HB 68, HB 1399, HB 2693/SB 1311, and HB 4014/SB 1646. Different bills do different things. Some threaten the licenses of medical professionals, some go after their liability insurance, and some label transition-related care as “child abuse.” But the goal is all the same: cruelty toward transgender kids.
We know from reputable medical professionals and organizations that affirming health care for transgender youth can be lifesaving. That’s why organizations like the American Medical Association have a history of supporting evidence-based, trans-affirming health care.
What is Equality Texas doing to stop these harmful bills?
Stopping these bills takes a coordinated effort within and outside of our community. At Equality Texas, our first line of defense will always be to empower Texans to contact their elected officials, to tell their stories, and to put a human face on these discriminatory pieces of legislation. It is much harder to hurt someone you know. We also work with coalition partners and other organizations to mobilize constituents in a variety of ways.
How can people get involved with these efforts?
The pandemic has made going to the Capitol much more complicated than in previous sessions. We encourage anyone who has been vaccinated to consider testifying in person. With vaccines becoming available to the wider public, we are hearing more and more from people who are ready to make their voices heard in person. But you can also submit written testimony to Equality Texas, and we will deliver it to lawmakers. This year, we’ve also been working to collect virtual testimonies. We are sharing those with lawmakers and posting them on social media to help shape the narrative around these discriminatory bills in the public sphere. Sometimes being involved can be as simple as sending an email, making a phone call, or talking to your friends and family about what is happening and how they can help.
What does Equality Texas have planned after the legislative session ends?
The session ends on May 31, and then we roll right into Pride Month. We’re still trying to get a picture of how Pride celebrations will look as we make our way through COVID, but Equality Texas will have a presence in many Pride celebrations around the state. And we will continue to engage LGBTQ+ Texans with educational opportunities and begin to get folks ready for upcoming elections where issues of LGBTQ+ equality should be on their minds when they go to the polls.
For more information on Equality Texas, visit equalitytexas.org.
This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart Magazine.