Equality Texas calls session “‘best combination ever’ for LGBT community
For the first time in recent memory, the LGBT community avoided any direct attacks during this year’s biannual General Session of the Texas Legislature, which ended Monday, May 28.
And the absence of enemy fire helped allow for some advances, according to Equality Texas Executive Director Paul Scott.
“This is really the best combination ever I guess in the sense of not having any anti-LGBT bills filed, and at the same time having 15 (pro-LGBT) bills filed,” Scott said. “That’s the most that we’ve ever seen filed in any one session.”
In the 2005 session, the LGBT community was hit with a successful constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
In 2003, there was passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, Scott said. That year also saw a proposed amendment that would have banned LGBT foster parenting. The amendment passed both the House and Senate but was removed from a bill by a joint conference committee.
Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, threatened similar legislation prior to this year’s session but never introduced a bill or proposed an amendment.
“We’re just pleased that thousands of children can wake up still having gay or lesbian moms and dads instead of having a state investigator in the house trying to remove them,” Scott said.
Another bill, which would have required people to present acceptable proof of identification before voting, died in the Senate after passing the House this year. LGBT advocates feared the bill, intended as an anti-immigration measure, effectively would have disenfranchised transgender people whose identifications do not match their name or gender.
Meanwhile, several pro-LGBT bills got hearings before committees. Even if bills aren’t voted on or fail to make it out of committee, hearings are considered important because they give groups like Equality Texas an opportunity to present testimony and educate lawmakers.
Those bills included HB 247, sponsored by Dallas Democratic Rep. Roberto Alonzo, which would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in insurance. The bill was heard by a House committee but did not advance to the floor.
“These were conversations we opened up for the first time,” Scott said.
HB 900, sponsored by San Antonio Democratic Rep. Michael Villarreal, would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing. The bill received a committee hearing for the second straight session but did not advance.
Another bill that received a hearing but did not advance out of committee, sponsored by Fort Worth Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey, would have launched a study into implementation of the state’s hate crimes act. Backed by Equality Texas, the bill sought to determine why despite 1,500 reported hate crimes since the act’s passage in 2001, there have been only eight successful prosecutions.
HB 833, sponsored by Houston Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton, made it out of committee but died on the House floor. The bill would have prohibited harassment in the state’s public schools. Named for a Houston girl who committed suicide after being bullied by friends, Corrine’s Law was not LGBT-specific, but Equality Texas supported it.
“The one thing that we feel really proud about is we were the only statewide organization working to get this bill even onto the floor of the House,” Scott said.
“It would have created a state model policy, which is definitely something we advocate. There is a wide variety of policies out there, and we feel like the state needs to come up with a model policy.”
Although he generally was pleased with the results of the session, his first as executive director, Scott said Equality Texas isn’t looking back.
“Our philosophy is that the session has not ended,” he said. “The 2009 session has just begun.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.