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Texas Faith Leaders Come Out Against bills Targeted at LGBT Texans

A group of faith leaders gathered outside the House chamber on Wednesday to protest legislation they see as discriminatory toward LGBT Texans.

Prayer is a staple of the Texas Capitol, where lawmakers begin each legislative day with an invocation and bowed heads.

But on Wednesday, about 50 faith leaders of various denominations lined the stairs outside the Texas House in protest. Their prayer was silent, but their message was clear: don’t legislate against LGBT Texans in our name.

Singing hymns and holding placards that read “My faith does not discriminate,” the group planned to deliver to lawmakers’ offices a letter signed by more than 200 faith leaders in Texas who oppose various proposals they see as discriminatory against LGBT people. Among those measures are two proposals that would regulate bathroom access for transgender Texans — Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 2899 — that are priority for some Republicans but haven’t progressed in the waning weeks of the legislative session.

“Often the voices of people from faith communities that are heard are voices of judgment and condemnation,”said Rev. Karen Thompson of the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin, whose congregation is mostly made up by LGBT members. “We’re here to say that there is another voice of the faith community that is welcome and encouraged.”

Wednesday’s protest further marked the divide among the faith community when it comes to the bathroom legislation.The message brought by those who congregated outside the House chamber strayed from that of pastors and other church leaders who for months have advocated for legislation to regulate bathrooms, citing concerns for the privacy and safety of women.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who has championed the Senate’s proposal — had also said he would galvanize 1 million Texas Christians in support of the bill.

Senate Bill 6 would regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex,” keeping transgender Texans from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. It would also prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

House Bill 2899 would ban political subdivisions, including school districts, from enacting or enforcing policies to protect a class of persons if they aren’t already protected by federal or state law as applied to bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people, including transgender residents, from discrimination in public accommodations, like the public bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The Senate bill was passed by the upper chamber in March but has languished in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus — who opposes the legislation — did not refer it to committee for consideration. Instead, a panel of House lawmakers considered HB 2899 but they have yet to vote on the measure since an April 20 hearing.

Since then, half of the Republicans in the House have signed on as co-authors. But it’s unclear whether the proposal will make it out of committee.

The faith leaders’ protest came on the same day a House committee is set to consider legislation that would allow county clerks to recuse themselves from signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples because of religious objections. The Senate signed off on a similar proposal last month.

Author:  ALEXA URA – The Texas Tribune

State Senator Rodríguez’s Statement on Senate Bill 6

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez released the following statement, also to be placed in the Senate Journal, based on his comments on the Senate floor, regarding Senate Bill 6, which targets vulnerable Texans for discrimination:

I believe the dialogue we’ve had in this chamber, and in the media surrounding this bill, make clear that Senate Bill 6 is problematic in several ways.

It violates individual rights. It conflicts with federal civil rights laws, and more broadly, conflicts with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all people. It is bad for business. It nullifies local control. It creates enormous liability issues for our schools and local governments.

While it purports to address a public safety issue, the testimony, from both law enforcement and from ordinary Texans, has made it clear: S.B. 6 will not make anyone safer. What it does is target the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

S.B. 6 makes these Texans, who are already too often targets of ridicule, discrimination, and violence, less safe. A transgender woman is a woman, and this law will make a transgender woman use a man’s bathroom.

There are laws against sexual assault or similar crimes that may happen in a bathroom. There is little evidence of people pretending to be transgender to commit those crimes, and to the degree they take place, they already are against the law. By contrast, there are high rates of harassment, assaults, and sexual offenses against people who are transgender. They are three times more likely than the general population to be victims of hate crimes. They are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the general population. Up to a third of transgender people report being harassed by law enforcement when they do report the crimes.

No matter how many times proponents of this bill say it is not meant to target Texans who are transgender, the facts above, the record from the Senate hearing, and public statements by outside backers of this proposal, make it clear that this is exactly its purpose.

This is further revealed when even common sense amendments to support local schools in their current policies, protect vulnerable children from harassment, and keep public employees from demanding to see a person’s birth certificate were rejected.

This is not only abhorrent, it is unconstitutional. S.B. 6 conflicts with federal civil rights laws because it discriminates on the basis of sex. Both Title VII and Title IX of our federal civil rights laws expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. S.B. 6 conflicts with EEOC and OSHA regulations regarding how employers, including state and local government employers, must treat transgender employees. Finally, because S.B. 6 cannot be reconciled with the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, it would put school districts, municipalities, and other governmental entities in Texas in an untenable position. Simply put, S.B. 6 exposes school districts and other government entities to litigation and liability.

While doing so, it also hurts the private sector. As testimony indicated, visitor bureaus reported that if S.B. 6 passed, based on the organizations they have been dealing with, direct spending losses in Texas would total more than $400 million. This would result in a $23 million loss to the state, which we could use for other programs during this difficult budget cycle (for example, to hire additional CPS caseworkers for our broken foster care system).

It is tragic that we are spending time considering this state-sanctioned discrimination, which is premised on imagined problems and unfounded claims, when we should be debating the real issues facing our state.

Nonetheless, it is my hope that in all the news coverage that has surrounded S.B. 6, that members of the public have at least received an introduction to our Texas transgender community. I hope the public has begun to appreciate transgender Texans’ unique needs and concerns.

Most importantly, I hope the public has begun to recognize their shared humanity — that these are our sons and daughters, co-workers, neighbors and friends. They deserve the same respect, compassion, and constitutional rights as anyone else.

In my district in El Paso, I’m incredibly proud of the work of my office’s LGBTQ district advisory committee. One of the group’s earliest projects was to organize a transgender visibility project, which compiled photographs and personal narratives of transgender El Pasoans.

Through this project I was introduced to several of my transgender constituents, including Claudia, a 48-year-old mother of four who remembers early in her transition using the men’s room, and being bullied and being subject to unwelcomed sexual advances. We would put her in danger again if we pass S.B. 6.

I also met Mason, a former intern in my district office, who said, “most people don’t know what transgender people look like and they let other people tell them they should be afraid. I’m just a son, a husband, a future dad. Please, get to know us, you’ll see there’s nothing to fear.”

I commend the brave transgender Texans who offered testimony at the Capitol last week.

I know most transgender people did not ask for this attention and, in fact, would prefer not to have it. Transgender folks almost uniformly report being harassed at work, if they’re fortunate enough to find employment at all. Most will experience family rejection. Many will experience homelessness. Some reports suggest that, nationally, documented violence against transgender people — in particular transgender women of color — is at an all-time high.

All of this media attention is no doubt terror-making to people who may spend their lives just trying to pass; failing to do so may put their lives at risk.

I also commend the parents of transgender children, who really helped put a face on the real dangers S.B. 6 presents to their families. These parents shared their concerns that their child would fall into depression; that transition was necessary. They shared concerns that their children would be bullied at school with impunity, without intervention from a caring school official.

Texas schools have a duty to respect and protect these children.

Some would claim school districts are overreaching when they refuse to discriminate against students on the basis of their gender identity. The truth is, proposals that would “out” transgender youth and force them to use bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identity actually put those children in danger.

S.B. 6 sends a message to schools that they don’t need to support trans kids. In a country where a staggering 40 percent of trans individuals attempt suicide, suggesting that schools shouldn’t be environments where trans kids feel safe and affirmed is simply unconscionable.

We know that the whole nation and world is watching what happens here. We’ve seen in other states where passage of anti-transgender legislation resulted in waves of public backlash and shame.

We don’t need this in Texas. We have to do better.

***

José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).

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