Texas lawmakers pursued dozens of bills affecting LGBTQ people this year. Here’s what passed and what failed.
The Legislature banned puberty blockers and hormone therapy for trans kids, restricted the college sports teams trans athletes can join and expanded the definition of sexual conduct to include some drag shows. But a “Don’t Say Gay” provision for schools missed key deadlines.
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.
Senate Bill 14, authored by New Braunfels Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, could effectively ban transition-related care for queer youth. It would revoke the licenses of doctors who provide anyone under 18 years old with puberty blockers, hormone therapy or other medical treatments specifically for the purpose of transitioning. And it would withhold public dollars from hospitals that provide such care. Kids already accessing treatments would have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner, and medical experts have warned that this process could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to these trans youth. The bill also seeks to halt transition-related surgeries for minors, though medical experts say such procedures are rarely performed on children.
Throughout the session, backers of the bill have disputed the science and research behind transition-related care. They also say it’s an effort to save Texas parents from health care providers who are taking advantage of a “social contagion” and pushing life-altering treatments on children who may later regret taking them.
When SB 14 first came to the House floor on May 2, LGBTQ Texans defending transgender kids’ access to the treatments — which experts consider lifesaving — clashed with a state Republican party that opposes all efforts to validate trans identities as state police forcefully booted people protesting the legislation from the Capitol. The House tried to debate the bill again on May 5, but Democrats again successfully delayed an expected vote.
SB 14’s arrival on the House floor marked a significant development for the bill in the Legislature. The House has previously acted as a moderating force on some of the Senate’s most conservative bills. But a majority of House members have signed on in support of the bill. The Senate passed a version of SB 14 in April.
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 often starts with and is limited to counseling and social transition — using different pronouns or wearing different clothes. Then, trans kids often have to go through multiple doctor appointments and medical evaluations with the consent of their parents in order to get puberty blockers or hormone therapies.
According to an April survey from the University of Texas at Austin, 58% of Texas voters support barring health care providers from offering transition-related care to minors. Meanwhile, a February survey from the university also found that 59% of voters don’t personally know an openly trans person.
Proposed ban on transgender youth updating their gender on birth certificates failed
GOP lawmakers pitched several proposals to restrict how Texans can update their gender on birth certificates, which would limit how transgender and nonbinary people can make changes to other government documents. Critics of the legislation said these restrictions could impact trans and nonbinary Texans’ ability to enroll in schools, travel internationally and seek employment.
The Texas Senate approved a bill that would block transgender and nonbinary Texas youth from updating their birth certificate with their gender identity. Senate Bill 162, filed by Republican state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, proposed requiring an individual’s sex assigned at birth to be included on their birth certificate and limiting the circumstances in which this information could be changed for minors. The proposal listed very few exceptions. The bill died after it failed to get a hearing in the House Public Health Committee.
New financial liabilities for providing or covering transition-related care failed
Senate Bill 1029 could have hindered all transgender Texans’ access to gender-affirming medical care. The bill would make physicians and health insurers financially liable for patients’ lifetime medical costs resulting from complications of transition-related care — even if the providers aren’t at fault.
While the bill didn’t ban such care outright, health groups and LGBTQ advocates said the financial risks it would have created would likely dissuade insurance companies from covering such treatments and doctors from providing puberty blockers, hormone therapies and gender-affirming surgeries to trans people of all ages in the state.
In explaining the legislation’s reasoning, Republican Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, the bill’s author, pointed to several people who had detransitioned and testified during committee hearings about their difficulties accessing care to help them detransition or getting that care covered.
Marvin Bellows, a Texas counselor whose clients include trans and queer youth, has said the most common reason people detransition is that transition-related treatments don’t provide the social relief a patient sought. Anti-trans discrimination, lack of support from loved ones and a number of other factors can cause that, Bellows said.
LGBTQ and health groups said SB 1029 was a stealthy tactic for decimating trans Texans’ access to treatments that have been supported by leading medical associations — without ever directly banning transition-related care for all ages.
Restrictions on school discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity fell short
Senate Republicans also added a similar provision to House Bill 890 on May 18, and the Senate Public Education committee advanced it the same day. The upper chamber formally approved the amended bill just minutes before midnight on May 23 and returned it to the House so state representatives could either accept the drastic changes or send it to a conference committee to hash out the differences. But the lower chamber didn’t bring the amended legislation up for consideration, killing the Senate’s third attempt at pushing what critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” provision.
Critics say these provisions about LGBTQ lessons — patterned on controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law from Florida — contain vague language that could stifle even informal discussion about LGBTQ people, such as teachers discussing their same-sex spouses.
Proposed restrictions on mentioning sexual orientation and gender identity were also part of Senate Bill 8, a sweeping education bill that originally sought to create education savings accounts for every Texas student. But most House members oppose using public money to subsidize private school tuition. The House Public Education Committee overhauled the bill in May, limiting the vouchers the bill would allow and removing the provision restricting school discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The lower chamber also considered House Bill 1804, which would have allowed the State Board of Education to reject textbooks for students below ninth grade if they include content on sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual activity. Textbooks could also be rejected if they fail to present U.S. history in a positive light or “encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society.” That bill died in the House Public Education Committee.
Republican supporters of SB 1072, HB 890 and the SB 8’s Senate version said the legislation was needed to expand the rights of parents, whom they say are the best people to teach their children about these issues. But opponents said the bill would violate constitutional free speech protections, ban lessons on some aspects of American history and force the Texas school system to ignore the existence of LGBTQ people.
Abbott and Patrick made support for what they call parental rights a rallying cry both on their 2022 campaign trails and heading into this year’s regular legislative session. The Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities and claims that homosexuality is “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” also considers banning the “teaching, exposure, and/or discussion of sexual matters (mechanics, feelings, orientation, or ‘gender identity’ issues)” to be a legislative priority.
Some drag performances could fall under new definition of sexual conduct
Lawmakers began the session with a bevy of bills aimed at blocking kids from seeing drag shows after a small but influential cadre of activists and extremist groups fueled anti-drag panic by routinely characterizing all drag as inherently and nefariously sexual regardless of the content or audience. Those claims were then used to justify harassment and legislation targeting drag performers, often under the guise of protecting kids.
But Senate Bill 12, one of the most prominent bills focused on drag shows, was dramatically altered throughout the session. The version the Legislature approved in the final days of the regular session no longer explicitly includes drag by definition, but it has language that LGBTQ advocates say could still ensnare these performers. The legislation criminalizes performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children as well as any businesses that host them.
According to The Dallas Morning News, attorneys who have reviewed the bill say it could end up criminalizing behavior common at everything from Pride parades to bachelorette parties.
The final version amended the penal code to classify the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied with sexual gesticulations, as sexual conduct. LGBTQ advocates said this addition is aimed at drag queens’ props and costumes, which is evidence that lawmakers are still targeting the queer community. It also removed language stating that sexually explicit performances would be specifically restricted in “commercial enterprises.” Critics of the bill said the removal potentially expands the restriction to any place.
At the May 10 House hearing on the bill, critics said its vague language could be used to target drag performers and LGBTQ Texans. They also said the new proposal is redundant due to existing public obscenity law. Some also warn that the bill could harm the entertainment economy in Texas.
Supporters of SB 12 maintained that the bill is about protecting kids from seeing sexually explicit shows, which prompted Democratic lawmakers to raise questions about whether this could affect other settings, such as football cheerleading performances or restaurants like Twin Peaks. At least one proponent said that SB 12 should and would apply to these other scenarios, while others’ testimonies remain largely focused on restricting drag shows.
The original version of the bill was authored by Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who championed some of last session’s most conservative bills. The Senate bill was a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. It would have imposed a $10,000 fine on business owners who host drag shows in front of children — if those performances are sexually oriented. That version defined a sexually oriented performance as one in which someone is naked or in drag and “appeals to the prurient interest in sex.” The U.S. Supreme Court defines prurient interests as “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion,” though the language’s interpretation varies by community.
SB 12 was dramatically scaled back from Senate Bill 476, a previous bill from Hughes, that sought to reclassify bars or businesses that host drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses,” a category that includes adult movie theaters and sex shops. That bill didn’t distinguish between sexually explicit drag shows and a man wearing a dress to perform in a theater, bar, nightclub or other commercial business. Such “sexually oriented business” 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 any kind of drag performance. Conservative Republicans in the Texas House filed similar legislation, including House Bill 1266, which missed a key deadline to advance.
Hughes filed SB 12 after Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, the author of HB 1266, was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that he once wore a dress for a school project as a teenager. Schatzline said it wasn’t sexually oriented when he did it.
Hughes also filed Senate Bill 1601 which originally would have withheld state funds from municipal libraries that host events in which drag performers read to children. Local libraries don’t receive their operational funding directly from the state, though they can get money through competitive grant programs run by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. But Republican Sen. Drew Springer of Muenster successfully broadened SB 1601 to bar libraries from receiving any public money the year following any events in which drag performers read to kids. This means facilities violating the proposed restriction could lose revenue streams from their local governments — a crucial part of their budgets. The Senate gave final approval to the version of SB 1601 that could defund libraries on April 5. It died in the House State Affairs Committee.
Trans college athletes prohibited from joining sports teams that match their gender identity
Lawmakers banned transgender women from participating in university womens’ sports and trans men from joining mens’ teams. This expands 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.
“We are watching the denial right now of one of the most basic truths out there, which is a refusal to acknowledge the biological difference between men and women,” Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, said on the Senate floor March 28. “We hope every woman in this great state has a fair opportunity at athletic excellence through achievement and this bill protects that opportunity.”
LGBTQ advocates said that argument is flawed and ignores that transgender students have varying athletic abilities that do not automatically guarantee an advantage. They argued the legislation discriminates against transgender students and further stigmatizes them.
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.
Kate McGee contributed to this item.
Bills advancing LGBTQ rights and protection against discrimination got little traction
Democratic lawmakers pushed 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 saw little success.
House Bill 832 would have prohibited foster care providers from discriminating against LGBTQ youth based on religious beliefs. House Bill 725 would have updated language in the hate crime law to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Neither bill received a committee hearing.
Senate Bill 110 would have added protections for LGBTQ people and Texan veterans to prevent discrimination regarding housing, employment, public accommodation and state contracts. It also never received a committee hearing.
One bill signaling a shift in opinion toward the LGBTQ community was House Bill 2055, which would have repealed the state law criminalizing gay sex. The law, on the books for 50 years, cannot be enforced after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that it, and 12 similar laws across the country, were unconstitutional in 2003. The legislation garnered bipartisan support and was poised to be debated by the House, but the lower chamber ran out of time to consider it before a key deadline.
The legislation that advanced furthest were two bills that would make HIV tests a standard part of sexually transmitted infection screenings and routine health check-ups. House Bill 3377 and House Bill 2235 received bipartisan support in the House and advanced out of the lower chamber in early May but died in the Senate’s Health & Human Services Committee. Both bills were authored by state Rep. Venton Jones, a Dallas Democrat who is the first Black, gay and openly HIV-positive lawmaker to serve at the Capitol.
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