In Texas, transgender young people and their families have become accustomed to sustained attacks on their basic humanity. Throughout the last legislative session, which concluded in May with most of the anti-trans bills failing to pass, trans Texans and their loved ones traveled to the capitol in Austin from across the state to plea for decency, justice, and the basic opportunity to participate in public life.
When SB6, the sweeping anti-trans bill modeled after North Carolina’s infamous HB2, was heard before a Senate committee in March, hundreds of bill opponents flocked to the capitol to speak out against the measure, which did nothing more than demonize transgender Texans. The hearing lasted through the night and despite the heartfelt testimony from trans people and their families, the measure passed out of the committee 8-1 and went on to clear the Senate floor. The bill then died in the House despite the relentless efforts of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to get an anti-trans bill heard on the House floor.
Now Texas lawmakers returned to Austin on Tuesday to begin a 30-day special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott to, among other things, attempt to pass the anti-transgender legislation that failed to pass during the regular session.
Proponents of these anti-trans measures, like SB6 champion Sen. Lois Kolkhorst claim that they are designed to “find the balance of privacy, decency, respect, and dignity, to protect women, children, and all people.”
But they do nothing to serve privacy and safety. They do not protect anyone’s dignity. Rather they compromise the dignity of transgender people, gender non-conforming people, and the people who care for and love us.
As hundreds of domestic violence and sexual assault organizations explained in a public statement opposing these anti-trans measures last year, “discriminating against transgender people does nothing to decrease the risk of sexual assault.”
The statement went on to “oppose any law that would jeopardize the safety of transgender people by forcing them into restrooms that do not align with the gender they live every day.” The organizations also made it clear that as advocates committed to violence prevention, they could not “stand by while the needs of survivors, both those who are transgender and those who are not, are obscured in order to push a political agenda that does nothing to serve and protect victims and potential victims.”
And while lawmakers continue to push this political agenda, transgender youth continue to be targeted, transgender women of color continue to be killed, and our communities continue to be decimated by the consequences of legitimizing a debate over our humanity.
In a viral video from Texas, Ken Ballard spoke about his support for his son, who is transgender. “Was I going to be his bully?” he asks. “Was I going to try to put him back in a box that fit the rules of my world at the time?” After his son attempted suicide, Ballard understood that he had a choice between loving and supporting a joyful and happy son or grieving a dead daughter. He chose to love his son. He chose to celebrate his beautiful son. After all, he reflected, “I didn’t have this kid to fulfill my dreams. I had this kid to help him realize his.”
And the lives and dreams of our children are at stake.
Transgender young people experience epidemically high rates of suicidality, and over 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in our lives. This is life or death.
In a recent New Yorker article, Texas’s Republican House Speaker Joe Straus said of these sustained attacks on transgender people: “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
It is as simple and as dire as that. There can be no compromise when it comes to people’s humanity. There can be no appropriate amount of discrimination. Straus knows that. And he, and all of us who care about justice, must ensure that none of these deadly bills advance.
Our children are listening. They are wondering what kind of world is out there for them and whether they can live their dreams — or even live at all.
No matter what happens in Texas in the coming weeks, we will never stop fighting. And that means showing up at the legislature, in the courts, and in the streets.