A man in a crowded, urban protest march turns away from the marchers to face the camera, smiling as he holds up a handwritten sign reading "Trans Rights are Human Rights."

Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws in Texas May Violate Human Rights Treaties

Four nonprofits are urging the United Nations to pressure the federal government to protect queer residents of the Lone Star state.


Kit O'Connell is a white person with a broad forehead and large nose and shoulder length, wavy brown hair. They are wearing a green metal wayfarer glasses, blue velvet coat, white button down with red accents and a red scarf wrapped loosely around their neck like a tie.

A coalition of four nonprofit organizations is asking the United Nations to take action to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ Texans. 

A January 22 letter sent from Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, and Human Rights Campaign to over a dozen independent experts, working groups, and special rapporteurs at the U.N. asks the international body to intercede in what the nonprofits called a “human rights crisis” in our state. The letter specifically highlights seven laws passed during the last legislative session which infringe on the rights of trans and queer residents, which the authors argue violate human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), originally adopted in 1966.

“Right now, queer people in Texas are dealing with a lot,” said Jonathan Gooch, director of communications at Equality Texas. “Technically, the ICCPR and other human rights treaties are the law of the land, and they should supplant any Texas law that violates them.”

“The ICCPR and other human rights treaties are the law of the land, and they should supplant any Texas law that violates them.”

Although legal challenges have already been launched against some of the bills, Gooch said the impetus to file the letter came after getting frustrated while “waiting on the federal government to do something.” The letter asks the U.N. to put pressure on the United States to enforce the international treaties through actions such as lawsuits which might force the state to repeal the laws, federal policy changes designed to protect human rights at a national level, or even passing new federal laws. 

“We’ve seen some action from the Biden administration [such as] updating regulations in the Department of Education to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and that’s important work,” Gooch added. “But with seven bills targeting and disproportionately impacting LGBTQ+ people, we need to see more.”

The laws targeted by the bill include:

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“Taken individually, the seven pieces of legislation … will disrupt the lives of LGBTQ+ people of various ages and backgrounds,” the letter reads. “Put together, the bills are a systemic attack on the fundamental rights, dignities, and identities of LGBTQ+ persons that opens the gates for discrimination by both public and private actors.”

The letter was crafted with assistance from University of Texas at Austin School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic, a program where law students take up human rights cases both in the United States and abroad. In a press release, Ariel Dulitzky, a clinical professor at law and the clinic’s director, suggested the state was also in violation of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “We hope that with the United Nations’ involvement, the rights of LGBTQ+ persons will be fully recognized, respected, and protected in Texas,” he continued. 

In a phone conversation with the Texas Observer, Dulitzky said that letters such as this one can be an important way to raise awareness about human rights abuses and, sometimes, influence things for the better. “It’s a way of … communicating the problems that we are having in Texas to the whole international community,” he said. 

During the administration of former President Barack Obama, Dulitzky said that a letter from the clinic to the U.N. helped urge the government to negotiate with Native American groups about the location of a proposed barrier at the border with Mexico. A similar letter authored by the clinic in 2015 has been used in ongoing litigation over extreme heat in Texas state prisons.  

“Many times it’s one additional element that can help move the needle in a positive direction,” Dulitzky concluded.