Equality Texas: Session was ‘enormous success’

Posted on 24 May 2013 at 10:30am

Lawmakers filed record number of pro-LGBT bills, with some clearing committee for 1st time since 2001, and killed 4 anti-LGBT measures

Gonzalez.Mary1

Rep. Mary Gonzalez

ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

AUSTIN — LGBT advocates are calling the 83rd Texas Legislature a success after several anti-gay measures were defeated and a handful of pro-LGBT bills made it out of committee.

Lawmakers filed a record 30 pieces of pro-equality legislation, from bills to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination to those that would repeal the state’s marriage amendment and pave the way for civil unions and marriage equality.

And despite no specifically pro-LGBT bills passing, some cleared committee for the first time in 12 years. Two non-specific bills endorsed by Equality Texas passed that will help LGBT youth and employees, and three anti-LGBT bills died.

Daniel Williams, Equality Texas field organizer, said the session was an “enormous success.”

“We have had a very, very good session,” Williams said. “I think this is probably the second-most successful session for LGBT issues in the history of Texas.”

The most successful would be 2001, which saw the passage of the state’s hate crimes law that includes “sexual preference.” But Williams said this session was by far the most productive since Republicans took over the state House in 2003.

“There were more conversations on our issues than we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “We proved this session that LGBT Texans are vocal, we are engaged, we are a force to be reckoned with, and we can’t be ignored.”

Openly LGBT state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, said she was able to put a face on LGBT issues, helping spur dialogue among her colleagues. And while she was initially nervous about the session, but she was pleased to see so many pro-equality bills filed.

“I thought this could be a potentially harmful year for LGBT issues,” she said. “I think we had a pretty successful year. We were able to move legislation forward, which gives me a lot of hope for next session.”

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said the record number of pro-equality bills filed was because of strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

“That’s indicative of our allies positioning themselves to be on the right side of history,” Smith said. “They’re not afraid to file [pro-LGBT legislation] anymore.”

Republicans helped advance SB 538, authored by El Paso’s Jose Rodriguez, to remove the unenforceable “homosexual conduct law” from the Texas Penal Code. Dallas Republican John Carona supported the bill. Carona also supported SB 1316 — which would provide legal protections for same-sex minors in intimate relationships under the “Romeo and Juliet” defense — to help it out of committee.

The House version of SB 1316 by Gonzalez also passed out of committee. Neither bill made it to the floor for a vote. But Smith said passing three bills out of committee reflects a shift in opinion among lawmakers and the public.

“The allies are there now,” he said. “The issues are out front now.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has been a longtime LGBT advocate. He said lawmakers who haven’t taken a stance to be on right side of history have finally come to see that standing up for the LGBT community is the right thing to do.

“Those who didn’t get it before, they get it now,” he said.

Three anti-LGBT pieces of legislation and one anti-gay amendment all died. At press time, the fate of a fifth anti-LGBT measure was unclear.

Republican Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause’s HB 360 originally stated that student groups at state-funded universities could discriminate based on gender, race and sexual orientation. A compromise bill later passed out of committee that would have allowed student groups to disregard a school’s nondiscrimination policy in determining membership. Krause then attached the bill as an amendment to another bill and it passed the House. It was unclear whether the amendment would be included in a final version of the bill.

Smith said the tactics to pass anti-gay measures this session were less direct, with Krause saying his amendment called for free speech at universities. But in the end, he said the discriminatory purposes didn’t resonate with constituents who helped defeat them.

“The majority of Texans are not supportive of gay-bashing or blatantly homophobic or transphobic fear-mongering,” he said.

The Senate passed Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell’s SB 1218, which would have prohibited anyone from obtaining a marriage license with a document that lacks a photo, including an affidavit of sex change. But advocates delayed the process for its advancement in the House and it never made it out of committee for a vote.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, passed a committee substitute of HB 1568 that would have given the Texas attorney general the ability to discredit and defund school districts in the state that offer employees domestic partner benefits. The bill never made it to the floor for a vote.

Arlington state Rep. Bill Zedler ended up withdrawing an amendment that would defund LGBT resource centers at state universities when it hit the House floor in April.

News of the amendment that stated LGBT and gender centers caused high-risk behavior and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases created an uproar among LGBT advocates. Petitions and letters opposing the amendment were sent to lawmakers before it was withdrawn.

Coleman said the anti-gay sentiment in the Legislature was less vocal this session but was still present.

“What I do believe is the open bigotry from a verbal point of view is tamped down because it’s seen by public as unfair,” he said. “The people that are anti-LGBT would rather say nothing rather than be called homophobic.”

Although none of the LGBT-specific legislation passed, two of Equality Texas’ endorsed bills passed both chambers and would help LGBT citizens. HB 2482 by Houston Democrat state Rep. Carol Alvarado will create a study to determine the reasons major companies have chosen to invest or relocate to other states after considering Texas.

Smith said the study would help drive support for statewide job nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees. He brought up Gap Inc.’s decision to not move some offices to El Paso several years ago after citing a lack of LGBT protections.

Both the House and Senate versions of a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of protected classes in employment received committee hearings this session, but neither made it out of committee.

“If Texas wants to compete on a national and international scale, we can’t look like a backward place that’s biased against a segment of the workforce,” Smith said.

“Employers want to know that all of their employees will be treated equally.”

SB 831 by state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Coleman also passed. It expands mental health and suicide prevention programs in schools to include substance abuse.

When the session ends May 27, Smith said the work for the 84th Legislature will begin.

“We’re getting to the point where we’ve got enough bipartisan support to get bills out of committee but not enough to pass a vote,” Smith said.

Gonzalez said she’s looking forward to next session and having the “opportunity to have even more LGBT people on the House floor,” referring to lesbian activist Celia

Israel, who has announced her plans to run in Austin’s District 50.

“We only have forward movement in our future,” Gonzalez said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 24, 2013,

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