During his first few weeks in office, President Joe Biden has reversed the ban on transgender people in the military and directed U.S. government agencies operating abroad to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people worldwide.
But LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers in Texas face a much tougher battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature affirming LGBTQ people’s rights and protecting them from discrimination.
This legislative session, some legislators are trying to pass bills that would prohibit conversion therapy and discriminiation against LGBTQ Texans. They’re also trying to prevent laws that would ban transgender girls and women from joining single-sex sports teams in public schools and universities or that could keep doctors from providing care affirming childrens’ gender identity.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights law prevents employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Biden has said he will prioritize the The Equality Act, which would go a step further and prohibit similar discrimination in housing, public education and other places.
State Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, still worries that previous landmark Supreme Court decisions could be overturned. And that the fate of congressional attempts at expanding federal protections is uncertain. She said the state Legislature needs to put laws on the books that protect LGBT Texans from discrimination.
She plans to introduce a bill that would provide protections for LGBTQ Texans from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing. The bill will boost the economy by attracting more businesses to Texas if the state affords its LGBTQ employees equal protections, she said.
“We’re facing a global pandemic, and aside from passing nondiscrimination legislation because it’s the right thing to do, there is good policy there,” said González, the vice chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus. “There’s solid research behind it that shows … our state will reap economic benefits for being inclusive and embracing diversity.”
A statewide nondiscrimination law would lead to billions in both annual state and local government revenues by 2025 and hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2045, according to a 2020 study from The Perryman Group, an economic research firm in Waco.
Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, a statewide coalition of businesses promoting equality, said the nondiscrimination bill will also impact tourism. She said that a lack of discrimination protections could also disuade people from visiting the state whose lawmakers four years ago spent a regular and special legislative session debating the failed “bathroom bill.” That legislation sought to limit which public restrooms transgender Texans can use.
“When we come out of the pandemic, … every state and every city is going to be fiercely competing to win tourism back, which has taken one of the biggest hits in terms of industries in this pandemic,” Shortall said. “It’s every city, every state for itself fighting for this business … and knowing that we’re going to end this practice of targeting LGBTQ people and trans people in particular would make Texas cities and Texas as a state more competitive for tourism.”
Outlook in the Texas House
Some Democratic lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates acknowledge that the bills they’re pushing may not become law in the Republican-dominated state Legislature after Democrats underperformed their own expectations in November and made no gains in the House.
Democrats also hoped the bipartisanship of having at least two Republicans sign on to the bill would increase its odds, but they lost one of their GOP allies in former state Rep. Sarah Davis of West University Place, who was ousted in the 2020 election.
“Despite the outcome of the elections in November, and Democrats hoping to gain some seats, to hopefully make it a little bit easier for us, our priority legislation hasn’t changed as far as the people who are supporting this bill,” González said.
If Democrats can’t change the law, they hope to at least have hearings for bills that would amplify the voices of LGBTQ Texans to gather support and educate others in the state.
State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, filed House Bill 560, which would penalize state-licensed counselors and therapists who engage in conversion therapy with children. She has filed a similar version of the bill every session since her first in 2015, and the bill was debated in a public hearing for the first time during the last session.
“The Legislature is built not to be a very productive body. But if you can have a robust hearing, and have heartfelt testimony, that really resonates. That in it of itself is a victory,” said Israel, a founding member of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus. “It can be a reminder to the opposition that when you promote this kind of stuff, you’re promoting hatred and division, and that’s not the Texas that we all want.”
While previous legislative sessions included heated disputes over bills that targeted LGBTQ people, members of the caucus are hopeful about future progress made in the Texas House under the leadership of the new House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.
During the 2019 session, the Texas Senate advanced legislation that would have restricted how local governments regulate private businesses. The upper chamber drew ire from LGBTQ advocates after taking out a measure that would have explicitly kept local nondiscrimination ordinances in place.
Phelan, the former chair of the House Committee on State Affairs, notably advanced a House bill with the protections for LGBTQ workers added back, but the bill died after the two chambers couldn’t reconcile the differences.
Phelan said during an interview in 2019 with Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune, that he wanted to send a message to the House that nondiscrimination language is important.
“I’m kind of done talking about bashing on the gay community,” Phelan said during the interview. “It’s completely unacceptable.”
Challenges to LGBTQ protections
Even if pro-LGBTQ bills get a hearing and pass the Texas House, they will likely face challenges in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate. Patrick, whose spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, previously championed the battle in 2017 to pass the “bathroom bill.”
While also trying to get bills over the finish line, LGBTQ advocates and caucus members are also turning their efforts to trying to prevent lawmakers from passing legislation that they say is discriminatory. One of the bills includes House Bill 1458 by State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, which would ban transgender women from playing on single-sex sports teams designated for girls and women at public K-12 schools and universities.
One study shows that hormones do not have a significant performance advantage for transgender women in distance running, and there has been no significant recorded dominance of transgender athletes in women’s sports.
Dan Quinn, spokesperson for the nonpartisan Texas Freedom Network, said he hopes the Legislature provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but he also is preparing to fight bills that would promote discrimination against transgender Texans.
“After the year we’ve all gone through with COVID and all the other challenges we face, it seems unconscionable that we would be going into a session which we have to be concerned that lawmakers are going to be passing bills that promote discrimination against anybody, whether they’re LGBTQ or not,” Quinn said.
Disclosure: Texas Freedom Network has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
“Democratic lawmakers hope to enact statewide nondiscrimination law and ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ Texans” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
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Number of Pro-Choice Americans Shows ‘Marked’ Increase After SCOTUS Leak: Gallup
The number of Americans who identify as pro-choice has almost hit the highest point on record, after a leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that shows five justices are expected to rescind a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. And the number of Americans who say they are “pro-life” – opposed to abortion and do not support a woman’s right to choose – has dropped to its lowest point since 1996.
A new Gallup poll taken “mostly after” the leak shows a “marked” increase in people who now say they are pro-choice – supportive of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. A majority of Americans, now 55%, say they are pro-choice, just one point below the all-time high of 56% in 1995.
“After a decade in which Americans’ identification as ‘pro-choice’ varied narrowly between 45% and 50%, the percentage has jumped six points to 55% in the latest poll, compared with the prior measure a year ago,” Gallup reports.
The polling organization also says that for the first time “a majority of Americans (52%) consider abortion morally acceptable, while a record-low 38% call it morally wrong.”
The Supreme Court is widely expected this month to hand down a ruling overturning the 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which found women have a right to abortion. That decision is also expected by some legal experts to pave the way for the 6-3 majority conservative court to overturn other decisions, including the 2015 Obergefell ruling which found same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, and the 2003 decision in Lawrence v Texas which found a right to sex between consenting adults, including same-sex sex.
ACLU of Texas Sues Houston-Area School District Over Gender-Based Dress Code’s Long-Hair Policy
“ACLU of Texas sues Houston-area school district over gender-based dress code’s long-hair policy” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is suing a Houston-area school district over a dress code policy it says has led to multiple students being disciplined for having long hair.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include six boys and a nonbinary student ages 7-17 from Magnolia Independent School District. According to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court Thursday morning, the Magnolia ISD gender-based policy “imposed immense and irreparable harm” on the students, some of whom claim they have worn long hair for years while attending school in the district without any repercussions.
The lawsuit says the students have been threatened with or sent to in-school suspension for weeks at a time; some were placed in a “disciplinary alternative education program,” leading three of them to unenroll from the school district. The suit also states that while the plaintiffs have been disciplined for the length of their hair, other students with long hair, such as those on high school football teams, have not faced discipline.
“To be kicked out, pushed out, of school entirely simply because of their gender and their hair is really unconscionable,” ACLU of Texas staff attorney Brian Klosterboer said.
Klosterboer said the ACLU warned Magnolia ISD numerous times about how its dress code policy’s gender-specific requirements violate equal protection under the 14th Amendment and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education institutions on the basis of sex.
In a statement, Magnolia ISD disagreed with the ACLU’s claims and said it was reviewing “the lawsuit with its legal counsel and looks forward to the opportunity to respond to the Court.”
“This system of differentiated dress and grooming standards have been affirmed by courts and does not inhibit equal access to educational opportunities under Title IX,” the district said. “The rules are included in the student handbook each year and are similar to the codes of approximately half of the public school districts in Texas.”
In a letter sent to the district in August, the ACLU of Texas said it filed a grievance in 2019 on behalf of a Magnolia ISD parent who said her son was told to cut his hair or he’d be sent to in-school suspension. The letter also cited reports the ACLU of Texas received about students repeatedly being threatened with disciplinary action or being suspended for having long hair.
Danielle Miller, whose 11-year-old child is nonbinary and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the district, said she received a phone call from her child’s school at the beginning of this school year and was told that her child would have to cut their hair. The Texas Tribune does not disclose children’s names for privacy reasons.
Miller said her child was “just in absolute devastation and tears” when she told them they would have to cut their hair.
“… Based on [my child’s] reaction and how harsh and traumatized they were, I realized that we weren’t going to be cutting [their] hair,” Miller said.
Miller’s child was placed in in-school suspension for nine days, she said. The suspension was postponed during a 60-day window to appeal the decision, which has almost run its course, Miller said.
Miller said her child has had long hair for a couple of years and that their hair length had never been a problem before.
“I have no idea what changed,” Miller said. “[The district is] not saying anything, they’re not responding to anybody in the community about it.”
The district said its administration and board of trustees have heard from a small group of parents about concerns over the dress code policy, and they “are currently in the process of considering parent grievances on this subject matter.”
According to Magnolia ISD’s 2021-22 student handbook, hair must “be no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes for male students.” Hair also cannot “be pinned up in any fashion” or “worn in a ponytail or bun for male students.”
However, the ACLU argues many of the plaintiffs have worn long hair for years while enrolled in Magnolia ISD and have not faced any discipline until this year. Klosterboer said some school districts in Texas tend to rely on “old and outdated case law” as the basis for their dress code policies.
Another plaintiff, a 9-year-old Latino student identified in the lawsuit as A.C., wears long hair that he keeps in a ponytail and out of his face. His family was told on the first day of school this year that he would need to cut his hair or be sent to in-school suspension, the lawsuit says. His mother said many men in A.C.’s family wear long hair, including his dad and uncle. A.C. did not cut his hair and was placed in in-school suspension for five weeks, where he was separated from other students and wasn’t able to attend his regular classes.
In September, he was sent to a “disciplinary alternative education program” outside of school for seven weeks, where he faced potentially harsher punishment. According to the lawsuit, students who don’t comply with the school district’s hair length policy and are sent to the alternative education program may be required to have a parent sit in class with them, go to before- or after-school detention, or lose their desk, among other measures.
This month, A.C.’s family unenrolled him from the district. However, the suit says his placement in an alternative education program has made it difficult for him to enroll in another district and he is now being home-schooled.
“Magnolia ISD has harshly punished my son and driven him out of school entirely because he is a boy with long hair. … The district needs to stop harming our children,” Azucena Laredo, A.C.’s mother, said in a statement.
In 2020, a federal judge granted two Black students from a Houston-area school district temporary relief after they were told they would have to cut their hair, which they wore in dreadlocks, to abide by district dress code policy. The case, which caught national attention, also landed on the radar of Texas lawmakers, who introduced their own version of the CROWN Act, legislation that would prohibit hair discrimination based on hair texture and protective styles that are usually associated with race. The legislation, House Bill 392, advanced out of committee during the regular session but was not taken up on the House floor for a vote.
Outside of Texas, federal courts have ruled in cases from Indiana and North Carolina that gender-specific dress codes could be linked to gender discrimination under federal law, according to the ACLU and the Texas Association of School Boards.
Disclosure: Texas Association of School Boards has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/21/magnolia-isd-texas-long-hair/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
Image: Danielle Miller hugs her child as the family prepares for school at their home in Magnolia.
Photo: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune
Grand Jury Indicts George Floyd Murderer Derek Chauvin and 3 Cops for Violating His Constitutional Rights
“Right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer”
A federal grand jury has indicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, on civil rights charges for violating his constitutional rights. The three other officers involved were also indicted.
The indictment says that Chauvin “willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable force by a police officer,” MSNBC’s Pete Williams reported.
A separate indictment related to Chauvin’s treatment of a then-14-year old boy in 2017, says he “without legal justification, held the teenager by the throat and struck the teenager multiple times in the head with a flashlight,” MSNBC adds, citing to a statement by federal prosecutors. Chauvin “held his knee on the neck and the upper back of the teenager even after the teenager was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting, also resulting in bodily injury.”
Williams says the charges shows a “dedication by this Justice Dept. to be more aggressive in civil rights cases.”
This is a breaking news and developing story. Details may change.
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