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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Equality Texas Fighting on the Front Lines Against LGBT Discrimination – Texas Senate Committee Focusing on Anti-LGBT Bills Out of Step with the Majority of Texans
Posted on February 19, 2016 at 9:32 am

Equality Texas Fighting on the Front Lines Against LGBT Discrimination – Texas Senate Committee Focusing on Anti-LGBT Bills Out of Step with the Majority of Texans
New Report Shows Widespread Support for LGBT Texans Against Discrimination – Another Names Steven Hotze and the Conservative Republicans of Texas as a Hate Group

This week, Equality Texas has been fighting for LGBT rights in Texas.  Steve Rudner, Chairman of the Board of Equality Texas, testified before the Senate State Affairs Committee in Austin during an interim hearing.  This is the same committee where several dozen pieces of anti-LBGT legislation were referred the last session. It will be the focus of many of the same pieces of discriminatory legislation expected to be filed during the upcoming 2017 Texas Legislative Session.

During testimony as the Committee discussed “religious liberty” bills which would allow discrimination in the name of religion, Equality Texas Board Chair Steve Rudner said, “I am confused as to who the victim is and who the aggressor is.  I believe that we are all God’s children, and we are all created in God’s image, which is contradicted by the notion that someone could discriminate based on religion.  Discrimination against the LGBT community is real and is being condemned by almost 600 Texas businesses (including 23 Fortune 500 companies)  in a coalition called Texas Competes which have strongly expressed the belief that LGBT people need to be welcomed in all areas of public accommodation.”

Two new reports this week confirm that the vast majority of Texans do not support discrimination of any kind against the LGBT community and one new report names one of the Republican leaders of the anti-gay movement in Texas, Steven Hotze, and his Conservative Republicans of Texas a hate group.

A new report from the Public Religion Research Institute shows there is widespread support for laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations.  Nationally, roughly seven in ten (71%) Americans support such laws, while around one-quarter (24%) oppose them. Majorities of all major demographic, religious, and political groups favor nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people. In Texas, 67% of Texans favor a law protecting LGBT people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. And 53% oppose, letting a small business owner, based on their religious beliefs, refuse to serve someone who is LGBT.

Link to the American Values Atlas study on public opinion about LGBT nondiscrimination laws and religious exemptions: http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/AVA-LGBT-Report-FINAL.pdf

Despite the strong support for nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people, there is some variation in the strength of support.  Eight in ten (80%) young Americans (age 18 to 29) favor these non-discrimination laws, compared to 61% of seniors (age 65 and older). Roughly three-quarters of Asian-Pacific Islanders (76%) and Hispanic Americans (74%) and about seven in ten (71%) white Americans support nondiscrimination laws, as do approximately two-thirds (65%) of African Americans.

“State legislators who support bills that discriminate against the LGBT community do not reflect or represent the opinions of most Texans,” said Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas. “Most Texans want their LGBT neighbors to be free from discrimination in employment, housing and access to services.  Most Texans believe businesses should serve all Texans, and most Texans do not support discrimination in the name of religion.  The Texas business community has said the same thing.  It’s time for our legislators to recognize that Texans are welcoming, and to adopt bills that expand equality for all.”

Another annual report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls Steven Hotze and Conservative Republicans of Texas a hate group in addition to other groups who also operate in the Lone Star state. The report – “Religious Liberty” and the Anti-LGBT Right – shows that the most active national groups backing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) in various states have long track records of working furiously against LGBT rights.  Many of these groups have networks of state and local allies to push RFRA bills.

“These vehemently anti-LGBT groups give lip service to religious freedom, but that is clearly not their goal in pushing these so-called ‘religious liberty’ laws,” said Heidi Beirich, report author and director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.  “This is about discriminating against LGBT people, plain and simple.”
They are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to create an atmosphere of bigotry and discrimination by legitimizing the very idea that LGBT rights threaten religious liberty, the report says. It also notes that few cases of such discrimination ever find their way into a courtroom, because most people who face discrimination on a daily basis have nowhere to turn.

“Religious liberty is a cherished constitutional value, enshrined in the First Amendment,” Beirich said.  “But, as earlier efforts to offer biblical justification for slavery and Jim Crow segregation have taught us, religious liberty should not, and must not, be used as an excuse to discriminate.” The report can be viewed at: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/ir160-spring2016-splc.pdf

Overwhelmingly, Texans believe that everyone throughout the state should be able to live without fear of discrimination. Legislators who support bills that discriminate against LGBT people are aligning themselves with hate groups that use lies and dishonesty to vilify our families and neighbors.  These same leaders do not reflect the brand of Texas, nor do they represent the opinions of most Texans. Texans value hard work where everyone is free from discrimination because we are a state big enough for all of us. Texans do not support discrimination in the name of faith. And, the Texas business community does not support discrimination. It’s time for Texas legislators to represent our Texas values – a state that welcomes our freedoms, our faiths and all of our families.

Today, we will take a moment to celebrate February 19, 2015. One year ago today, history was made when Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant became the first legally married same-sex couple in Texas history. Marriage Equality was one major step forward, but it did not achieve full equality for all LGBT Texans. Remarks from our Chairman, José Andrés Araiza, celebrating today’s milestone can be found at: https://www.equalitytexas.org/suzanne-bryant-and-sarah-goodfriend-texas-first-married-couple/