Advocacy Day in 2017 drew a large crowd, pictured, because of the controversial bathroom bill. This year lawmakers are considering equally-dangerous legislation. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

LGBT lobby day is set for Monday at the Texas Capitol

Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
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Equality Texas, the statewide advocacy and lobbying organization for LGBT rights, is joining forces with ACLU Texas, the Texas Freedom Network, Transgender Education Network of Texas and the Human Rights Campaign to host “All In for Equality Advocacy Day” at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Monday, March 18.

And Equality Texas Interim Director Samantha Smoot said this week that between 250 and 300 LGBT advocates are expected to participate in the day-long lobbying event.

“We are still gathering sign-upas,” Smoot said on Thursday, March 14. “It’s a little bit of a moving target, because we always have people who come out for the rally without registering [beforehand].”

Smoot said that there was “a great turnout” last week for Transgender Advocacy Day at the Capitol, organized primarily by the Transgender Education Network of Texas “They had more people come out just for the rally on the Capitol steps than had registered for the event,” she said. “That will probably happen Monday, too.”

What the estimated attendance exceeds the goals organizers had set and is an impressive crowd for a lobby day event, Smoot said, “We are going to have a lot smaller crowd in 2019 than we did in 2017.”

That, she explained, is mainly because there is no one high-profile issue catching public attention this year like there was two years ago when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his right-wing faction were pushing to pass an anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

“In 2017, the assault on our community was very dramatic, very direct and very mean-spirited,” Smoot said. “Our community mobilized and came out [for lobby day]. And they did it several times.”

But this year, she said, there doesn’t seem to be the same urgency in the community, even though the threat is just as serious.

“This session, there are more than 15 anti-LGBTQ bills, and one is already in the Senate,” Smoot said. “The threat level is tremendously high. But the issues this time are more complex, therefore the alarm has not gotten out as much as it needs to.”

The measure “already moving in the Senate” has to do with allowing discrimination based on religious beliefs.

“Dan Patrick took Senate Bill 444, which says that anybody — including health care providers — that is required to be licensed by the state of Texas can discriminate against our community by claiming sincerely-held religious beliefs and moved it up to SB 17, which means that this is a very high priority for the lieutenant governor,” Smooth said. “This is a terrible bill, and we need the community’s help to defeat it.

“We need people to come out for Advocacy Day,” she continued, “but just as importantly, we need people to get on the phone with their legislators, telling them to stop any and all attacks on our community. If you can’t be here Monday to lobby, then call your representatives. If you can’t call, then write. We need people speaking up.”

Advocacy Day starts with registration at 9 a.m. Monday, with participants gathering first at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center, located at 1201 Lavaca St., less than a block away from the grounds of the Capitol. There will be coffee and doughnuts, and participants can pick up their packets and T-shirts there. Participants are asked to attend one of two briefing sessions — one at 10:15 a.m. and one at 11:15 a.m. There will be a boxed-meal lunch at noon, followed at 1 p.m. by a rally on the Capitol steps.

“Then folks will spend the afternoon talking with their legislators,” Smoot said.

While allies in the Legislature need to hear appreciation from the LGBT community, Smoot urged LGBT people and their allies to contact lawmakers who may be seen as sitting on the fence and even those considered to be anti-LGBT, too.

“I would argue that you can make an even greater impact by visiting the office of a legislator who’s not with us yet,” she said. “What legislators want, first and foremost, is to get re-elected. So they pay a lot of attention to who visits their offices, who calls and who writes.

“But something even more important to consider is that we change hearts and minds when we are face-to-face with people, telling our personal stories. On a lobby day, you might not actually see your elected representative. But even a five-minute visit with a staff member is an opportunity for you to say, ‘This is how this bill would impact me and how it would impact my family,’” she added. “Some of the people in these offices have not ever really considered the harm some of this legislation would cause. So it is vitally important that we go to the offices of those who don’t already stand with our community. That’s who we need to reach and to convince.”