Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday signed into law Senate Bill 12, which was initially designed as a ban on drag performances in the presence of minors
but later amended to remove references to drag and focus on sexually oriented shows. The bill, which takes effect Sept. 1, is one of the many anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed in Texas this past session.
The Lone Star State is a leader when it comes to such legislation, and a recent report from the Human Rights Campaign practically proves it. Texas lawmakers were behind one in five of all anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced nationwide
in 2023, according to HRC.
Cathryn Oakley, the advocacy group’s senior director of legal policy, said the Texas Legislature has been on an “unrelenting anti-transgender path” since 2017.
“Folks are exhausted, and they are afraid, but they will not be bullied, and I take so much hope from the LGBTQ community in Texas who has absolutely refused to give up,” she said. “And at the same time, I know there are so many folks in Texas who are choosing to leave or who will never come to Texas as a result of these laws.”
Texas is a standout in other unsavory areas, too. In addition to featuring 20% of the nation’s anti-LGBTQ+ bills, it’s previously been named the No. 1 state for white supremacist propaganda.
Conservative leaders are pushing back against the premise of Pride Month
even while certain cities move to honor it. Dallas, for instance, raised its official Pride flag at the start of June
Anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization is also spiking nationwide
, with protesters rallying outside drag and Pride events. The far-right militia Proud Boys and Patriot Front, a Texas-based white supremacist hate group, had both reportedly planned to ramp up attacks on LGBTQ+ events and businesses in June.
Johnathan Gooch, communications director for Equality Texas, estimates that the latest legislative session saw around 140 anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Among them were proposals to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth in Texas.
“I wouldn't bet against LGBTQ Texans.” – Cathryn Oakley, Human Rights Campaign
Such legislation has worked to create an unsafe climate
for many Texans, sometimes leading to deadly consequences. Gooch noted that earlier this month, a man fatally shot a woman in an Austin suburb after calling her a homophobic slur
“So when lawmakers repeat this harmful rhetoric, they are normalizing bullying,” he said. “They are setting an example for the rest of Texas, and they give permission to these radical people to do some really violent things. And I think we need to hold lawmakers accountable to the words they use when speaking about the LGBTQ community.”
Gooch also called North Texas “a hotspot for anti-LGBTQ violence.”
HRC’s Oakley said the 2023 legislative session was a “different story” than some of its recent predecessors. “Texas will end up passing more bad legislation into law this year than it has since 2017 combined,” she said.
As someone who spends time in state legislatures for a living, Oakley noticed that Texas stands out in another way. She said she’d never before witnessed such an “unbelievable” police presence like the one in the state Capitol on days when LGBTQ+ issues were being considered.
Abbott may be attempting to carve out a national name for himself by championing extreme laws, but it comes at the expense of LGBTQ+ Texans’ safety, she said.
“It is becoming an increasingly untenable place for LGBTQ folks to live,” Oakley said.
The anti-LGBTQ+ moral panic is reaching a fever pitch. Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign, which was founded in 1980, declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans — for the first time in the organization’s history.
Texas parent Rachel Gonzales, who has a transgender daughter, told the group that her family has fought for years to remain
in the Lone Star State.
“Despite the exponentially heightened threats we face today from hate-filled legislators, we are still surrounded by Texans who know, love and support us,” said Gonzales, a member of HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council. “It is horrifying that so many families are being used as pawns in this manufactured debate from political extremists. We want every trans kid and adult here to know that they are not alone, we are staying put and we’ll be fighting right here alongside you.”
Oakley sees “so much hope for the state of Texas,” but she isn’t so sure about the state’s GOP-majority Legislature. Still, she said that LGBTQ+ Texans and their allies will continue to persevere.
“Our fight is to make sure that everyone gets to live in Texas and be who they really are, and Texas — of all states — will not go down without a fight,” she said. “So, I wouldn't bet against LGBTQ Texans.”