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A rally in support of trans students' rights takes place in Washington, D.C. in February. (Photo: Ted Eytan/flickr/cc)

Moving by Stealth or Blatantly, Texas Advances Discriminatory Bills

'The Texas lawmakers of the 85th legislative session are on the wrong side of history'

Andrea Germanos

"The Texas lawmakers of the 85th legislative session are on the wrong side of history."

So declared Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, on Sunday after state lawmakers voted to advance discriminatory legislation, moving forward two anti-LGBTQ bills that critics say are part of a "slate of hate" the legislature is prioritizing as its session draws to a close.

One of those is HB 3859. It was advanced by the Texas Senate Sunday night, passed by the body Monday morning, and now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott. It's been described by the ACLU of Texas as "taxpayer-funded discrimination." 

As the Washington Post sums up, it "would allow publicly funded foster care providers and adoption agencies to refuse to place children with non-Christian, unmarried, or gay parents because of religious objections." In addition, writes Human Rights Campaign (HRC), it

would allow the agencies tasked by the state with caring for these children to put discrimination over the best interests of the child—they are allowed to refuse to provide services that children in care may desperately need, or subject children to care that is contrary to a child's best interest. For example, this bill would allow an agency responsible for caring for LGBTQ youth to refer that child to a provider of the abusive, discredited practice of so-called "conversion therapy," if that was consistent with the agency's religious beliefs, without the state being able to intervene, cancel the contract, or withdraw support in other ways.

"It is unconscionable that a bill would prioritize discrimination over the best interest of kids in the child welfare system, but Texas lawmakers have done just that," said Marty Rouse, national field director for HRC and a foster and adoptive parent.

Adoption experts also spoke out against the measure, telling lawmakers (pdf) that

HB 3859 stands in opposition to the robust base of professional knowledge that highlights the critical need for the largest possible pool of qualified parents to adopt children languishing in the child welfare system, and the harm to children that results from excluding any single class of potentially qualified parents (such as LGBTQ people) from that pool.

The other measure that moved forward Sunday is part of what the Huffington Post's Michelangelo Signorile describes as "a stealth strategy" by "adding discriminatory amendments to must-pass legislation pertaining to agencies regulating nurses, lawyers, and pharmacists and other areas rather than pushing broad-based 'religious liberty' bills that garner a lot of attention."

In this latest case, the Texas Tribune reports that the Texas House on Sunday

voted 91-50 to amend Senate Bill 2078—which focuses on school districts' "multihazard emergency operations plans"—to add bathroom restrictions that some Republicans had pushed for since the beginning of the legislative session.

The restrictions would require "public [grade and high] schools and open-enrollment charter schools to limit bathroom use to each student's 'biological sex,' barring transgender students from using the bathroom of their gender identity," the Austin American- Statesman writes.

"The House is scheduled to take a final vote on SB 2078 on Monday, after which it will be returned to the Senate to consider the change," the Statesman continues.

State Rep . Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), who is black, compared the bill to Jim Crow-era laws.

"I want to talk to you a little bit about history because I've lived through the separate but equal period," she said on the floor speaking out against the amendment. "I can tell you separate restrooms for transgender kids are also based on fear, not fact."

Added Equality Texas's Smith: "No amount of discrimination is acceptable. There is no middle ground. All discrimination is bad, full stop."

Apart from the bathroom amendment, Signorile writes that other "insidious attempts to write discrimination into must-pass bills" include

  • An amendment added at the last minute to a nursing care bill, HB 2950, for example, would bar the Texas Board of Nursing from punishing discriminatory actions if they are committed in the service of a nurse's "religious beliefs."
  • An amendment added to HB 2561, a pharmacy services regulatory bill, [means] pharmacists could opt-out of the practices that are standard among pharmacists across the country, based on personal religious convictions.
  • Two bills that would regulate legal services, SB 302 and SB 303, now have amendments which allow for religious refusal by state-licensed attorneys.

HRC said Sunday that the Texas legislature "is undertaking a systematic effort to roll back the rights of LGBTQ Texans, piece by piece."

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