Today, Texas brings lawmakers back to Austin for yet another special session to reconsider its latest proposed discriminatory ban on transgender student-athletes and five other bills that would threaten gender-affirming health care.
If this sounds like a rerun, that’s because it is. Texas is one of dozens of states that considered anti-trans bills this year but try as they might, not one has passed the state legislature... yet. And they certainly did try: As The 19th reported, Texas lawmakers introduced the greatest number of anti-trans bills in the country this year, more than 40 bills—triple any other state. And despite not being passed, 29 of those bills are still pending.
Right now, eight states have restrictive laws on the books, or executive orders, banning trans kids from competing with cisgender classmates in school sports: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Legal challenges are underway in Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and West Virginia. So far, only Arkansas passed a law restricting transgender health care and that has been blocked by a federal judge.
The bill before the special session is Texas House Bill 24, introduced on Sept. 9 by former Baptist minister Rep. Bryan Slaton of East Texas. It would restrict participation on interscholastic teams beginning in kindergarten. Children and teenage athletes could only play sports that correspond with their sex assigned at birth or listed on their official birth certificate issued at or near the time of their birth.
“Over the course of all three special sessions the Governor has asked legislators to pass legislation that would exclude transgender youth from normal school activities, in this case K-12 sports,” Rachel Hill, community outreach and engagement manager of Equality Texas, told The Daily Beast. “No child deserves to be excluded from their peers. It’s especially out-of-touch to debate who is allowed to play sports while schools across the state are shutting down everything—including school sports—to cope with the spike in COVID-19 cases.”
As Hill sees it, since schools in Texas aren’t even offering sports, the reason Gov. Greg Abbott keeps bringing this issue back to the legislature is that it’s not about sports, at all. “This is a concentrated campaign to dehumanize and ostracize transgender youth in exchange for a few votes in a Republican primary,” said Hill in a post on the Equality Texas website.
The debate over trans youth is one of five topics to be tackled during the special session that begins Monday, including the key issue of redistricting. “The Texas Legislature now has the opportunity to redraw legislative and congressional districts in accordance with the new census numbers," Abbott said in a statement.
The others are how to allocate $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds and the controversial decision as to whether state or local governments can mandate COVID-19 vaccines as the federal government has done. Another agenda item is a ban on chaining dogs outside.
Gov. Abbott vetoed that animal cruelty bill this summer, calling it “micro-managing and over-criminalization.” But it’s the Texas approach to chaining children to the gender they were presumed to be at birth that should sound alarm bells. These proposals give a whole new meaning to “micro-managing and over-criminalization.”
The other five anti-trans bills to be considered in this special session threaten to ban life-saving health care for children and teens who identify as transgender and nonbinary. One even goes so far as to ban mental health counseling that affirms their existence. And to those who scoff at the word “existence,” let’s be clear: Living in a gender that is incongruous with what one knows to be true, whether it be at an early age or in middle age, is tantamount to not existing.
It’s one reason why 42 percent of LGBTQ youth say they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
The Trevor Project, which provided that grim statistic, issued a new research paper this week looking at why so few LGBTQ youth participate in school and community sports. Many respondents to the organization’s latest national survey cite discrimination and the fear of being mistreated as reasons. Only 32 percent of the 35,000 respondents said they ever participated in sports at school or as part of a club, compared to the majority of the broader population of U.S. youth. One young person explained, “I avoided athletic activities out of terror, not disinterest.”
During the regular legislative session that ended May 31, the Trans Lifeline suicide and crisis prevention hotline recorded a 72 percent increase in calls from Texas area codes, compared to May 2020.
The threat to trans children isn’t just from self-harm, either, as advocate and athlete Chris Mosier tweeted in April.
“Every time these politicians have renewed their push for anti-transgender legislation, I have thought about Leon, a 9 year old trans boy whose family had to leave Texas because they felt unsafe (as reported by The Daily Beast), or Libby who has been coming to the Capitol for five years to ask legislators to stop attacking her,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, in a post on Instagram. “I think about Aidelen Evans, Tiffany Thomas, Iris Santos, and Miss Coco Chanel Wortham—all transgender Texans who have tragically lost their lives to violence in 2021.”
It’s only September, and those four names have brought the national toll of transgender murders to at least 36, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That means 2021 is already on track to match or exceed the horrifying death toll of 2020, when at least 44 individuals identifying as trans were murdered for being who they are. The majority of them were Black women.
Equality Texas has issued a “Free to Be Me” toolkit to protect students’ rights, and suggests allies call Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, and urge him to not move the anti-trans bills to the floor.
“Trans kids, their parents, trans adults, and allies all across the country are watching in horror as the Texas legislature begins yet another session with trans youth in the crosshairs,” advocate Debi Jackson of Missouri told The Daily Beast. Jackson is raising a transgender daughter, Avery, who has been in the national spotlight since 2014, when Jackson gave an impassioned speech about how she came to accept that her child is transgender and a girl.
“Attacks on the rights and humanity of trans kids have been at an all time high in state after state this year, and we are all scared,” Jackson said. “Even families in ‘safe states’ know that the hate could spread. Our children's mental health is suffering, knowing that elected officials all over our country deem them as unworthy of equal rights. We are angry, exhausted, and praying that the Texas legislature will finally end without adding to the harm.”