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Texas Democratic Lawmakers Hope to Enact Statewide LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Law and Ban Conversion Therapy

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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.

Image by Austin Community College via Flickr and a CC license

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CIVIL RIGHTS

Grand Jury Indicts George Floyd Murderer Derek Chauvin and 3 Cops for Violating His Constitutional Rights

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“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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CIVIL RIGHTS

‘Lucky You’re Not Dead’ Cop Says During Arrest as Police Repeatedly Punch Black Man Pulled Over for Littering

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As part of what Grand Rapids, Michigan police are calling “Operation: Safe Neighborhoods,” three police cars pulled over a car with two Black men and one Latino man, claiming they were littering. Police forced the men out of the car, including dragging one of them out the door.

As March 26 body cam video reveals, cops repeatedly beat one of the Black men, identified as Diabate Hood, punching him in the face. They can be heard telling him to “stop resisting,” despite having him on the ground as he was being handcuffed, and may have pepper sprayed him. One officer said he was about to but another officer told him not to. Moments later the victim shouted, “I can’t breathe,” repeatedly, and complained, “My eye, my eye, I can’t open my eyes.”

At one point one of the police officers tells one of the men, “You’re lucky you’re not dead.”

The event is being supported by the Grand Rapids Police Chief.

“This is the police work that I expect from my personnel,” Chief Eric Payne said in a Wednesday statement, WOOD-TV reports. “I have made the enforcement of violent crime and the recovery of illegal firearms one of the department’s top priorities.”

Police say they recovered four guns from the car.

At least one of the victims has retained an attorney who says there will be a lawsuit, as WOOD-TV reports:

 

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CIVIL RIGHTS

Critics Blast Rochester Police for Handcuffing and Pepper Spraying 9 Year Old – and Claiming They Were ‘Required’ To

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The Rochester Police Dept. is getting criticism nationwide after releasing body cam footage showing several officers, unmasked, taking a 9-year old girl to the ground, handcuffing her, placing her inside a police vehicle, and pepper spraying her when she refused to place her feet inside the car.

Responding to a call of “family trouble” and a possible stolen vehicle, nine officers arrived at a family home and were told the child had said she wanted to kill herself and her mother, CNN reports. In the video she can be heard crying for her father.

The Rochester Police Dept. issued a statement that further inflamed outrage, claiming multiple times officers’ actions were “required.”

Police officers “tried to put the girl in the back of a patrol car, at which point she pulled away and kicked at them,” the Democrat & Chronicle reports. The paper also included the body cam videos, which are disturbing. “In a statement Saturday, they said this action ‘required’ an officer to take the girl down to the ground. Then, they said, ‘for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene,’ the child was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car.”

After the 9-year old “disobeyed multiple commands to put her feet in the car,” the paper, citing the RPD statement, adds, a “Rochester police officer was then ‘required’ to spray an ‘irritant’ in the handcuffed girl’s face, the department said Saturday.”

CNN reports that “in the video, a female officer is seen talking to the girl, eventually saying, ‘This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.’ About a minute later, another officer can be heard saying, ‘Just spray her at this point.’ The female officer is seen shaking a can that appears to be pepper spray and the child continues to scream.”

The young child was clearly in distress, as the body cam footage shows.

Some responses via social media:

 

 

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