With almost 100 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in the Texas Legislative session so far, it’s refreshing to see a positive bill move forward.
On March 8, HB 1945 was referred to the House Youth, Health and Safety Select Committee. No date was set for a hearing.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) sponsored the bill, which relates to students’ access to certain internet websites in public schools:
A school district or open-enrollment charter school may not restrict access to an Internet website, including by using filtering software, that provides resources for students related to: mental health or suicide prevention, individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning, human trafficking, interpersonal or domestic violence, or sexual assault.
“I hope that conservatives and progressives alike all agree on the importance of mental-health services and making sure that young people in schools have access to these life-saving resources, no matter what they may go through,” Rep. Rosenthal says.
“It’s not just the LGBTQ students that are being targeted,” says 19-year-old Cameron Samuels (they/them), who worked with Rosenthal on the bill. “Schools are blocking access to child-abuse sites and anti-suicide sites.”
Samuels, a freshman at Brandeis University studying politics and journalism, is well-known in the local LGBTQ community as the Seven Lakes High School student who started a movement protesting censorship in the Katy Independent School District.
The district had blocked access to LGBTQ sites on the district’s internet server, including a suicide-prevention site, The Trevor Project, and other resources such as The Montrose Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and OutSmart magazine. Samuels, who was the president of their high school’s Democratic Club, had been fighting the issue for years.
“My freshman year, I attempted to visit advocate.com to conduct research for a school project in my Digital Art & Animation class,” explains Samuels. “Advocate’s website redirected to a block page that told me it was not accessible because the content fit the category of Alternative Sexual Lifestyles (GLBT). I was shocked and disturbed to see this LGBTQ news website blocked on-campus internet simply because it was labeled as ‘alternative.’” Yet homophobic websites, like Infowars, were accessible.
By the time Samuels was a senior, they had built a movement against censorship, and with more than 90,000 Katy ISD students signing a petition, the ban was finally lifted at the high-school level. Samuels was featured nationally on NBC news, was one of Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21” for 2022, and was also the inaugural Banned Books Week honorary youth chair last year.
“But books are still being banned,” Samuels notes. “And statewide filters are being used to censor queer resources.” That’s why they began working with Rep. Rosenthal, after his re-election last November, on this bill. The two met both in person and virtually and with other stakeholders like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Although Samuels is hopeful that the bill will pass, at least in the House, they are realistic. Getting through the Senate will be tough, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already released his top 30 priorities for the 88th Legislative Session, and they do not include lifting book bans and school filters. They do include “protecting children from obscene books in libraries” and banning children’s exposure to drag shows.
“Every year we think it’s the worst,” Samuels says in regard to the Legislature’s LGBTQ attacks. “And every year it just gets worse. But it will never get better if we don’t stand up.”
In fact, LGBTQ advocates have filed almost as many pro-LGBTQ bills as Republicans have filed anti-bills. But so far, the only bills that show any bipartisan support are those that increase HIV testing, such as HB 2235 and 3377.
Meanwhile, Samuels is settling in at Brandeis University, which is known for its diversity and stance on civil rights for all.
“It’s like living in another country than Texas,” they say. But don’t expect the ambitious freshman to stop fighting for LGBTQ rights in the Lone Star State. “Texas can’t get rid of me that easily!”