Equality will be under attack in Austin, Washington
The Texas LGBT community likely will spend much of 2017 on the defensive — against both discriminatory state legislation and new federal threats posed by the Trump administration. However, there will also be opportunities for progress at the local level, including the possible resurrection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). After peering into my glittery, bedazzled crystal ball, here’s what I see coming in the new year.
House Flushes Bathroom Bill
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s so-called “Women’s Privacy and Business Protection Act” — the clever, misleading title he’s assigned to a heinous anti-transgender bathroom bill — may clear the ultra-conservative Senate, but it faces an uphill battle in the House. Speaker Joe Straus says the bill won’t be a priority, and even Governor Greg Abbott is having doubts. The bill has generated strong opposition from the business community, which fears the type of economic backlash experienced by North Carolina over a similar law. Ultimately, those concerns are too much to overcome, and Patrick’s bill suffers the same fate as anti-gay marriage legislation in 2015.
Other Anti-LGBT Legislation Passes
While Patrick’s bathroom bill has dominated headlines, dozens of other anti-LGBT proposals will be considered by the 85th Legislature. Due to the same economic concerns, it’s unlikely lawmakers will pass sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills or measures that would nullify local nondiscrimination ordinances. However, more narrow anti-LGBT legislation that wouldn’t necessarily result in immediate, widespread boycotts poses a significant threat of becoming law. This includes a proposal to allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs, which nearly passed in 2015, as well a bill that could force public school employees to out LGBT students to their parents.
HERO is Vindicated
Two years after voters overwhelmingly repealed HERO, they may get another chance to weigh in this November. LGBT advocates have already launched an education campaign that could serve as a precursor to a formal signature-gathering effort for a ballot initiative. City Council members could also muster the political courage to pass the ordinance again, putting the onus on anti-LGBT groups to repeal it. Houston is the largest U.S. city without an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, and thanks to a hostile incoming presidential administration, it becomes even more critical for local governments to protect LGBT residents. If HERO supporters manage to finally dispel the trans bathroom myth, voters will narrowly approve the ordinance in an off-year election.
Cities Move Toward Banning Reparative Therapy
Last year, Dallas LGBT advocates were slated to discuss a proposal for the City Council to ban the dangerous, discredited practice of “reparative therapy” for minors. But sources say the discussion was postponed to avoid potential backlash from the Legislature in 2017. Once this year’s bill filing deadline passes, both Dallas and Austin could join a handful of other cities and states that prohibit mental health providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18.
Anti-Trans Lawsuits Give Way to New Threats
Attorney General Ken Paxton has made a living out of trying to undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure LGBT people are treated equally. However, Paxton’s two pending federal anti-trans lawsuits are likely to become moot when the Trump administration scraps the underlying initiatives. Instead, for the first time in eight years, the Texas LGBT community will face state and federal governments that are united against its civil rights. In addition to staving off attacks in Austin, advocates will be forced to fight back in Washington, D.C., against the repeal of Obama’s pro-LGBT executive orders, passage of the federal “First Amendment Defense Act” and even the potential reversal of marriage equality.