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Legislative Agenda – 2017

Comprehensive & Fully-Inclusive Nondiscrimination Protections

All Texans should have the rights to provide for themselves and their families, to live in a safe place, and to access public spaces, safely and without fear of losing these rights because of who they are or whom they love. To ensure the fair treatment of all Texans, the Texas Legislature should adopt comprehensive and fully-inclusive legislation prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, and state contracting.

Any legislation which would seek to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression should be opposed, including any legislation that:

  • Restricts access to restrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities based upon gender assigned on birth certificate.
  • Restricts the ability of local elected officials to pass or enforce ordinances, rules, or regulations that are not identical to state nondiscrimination protections, and/or restricts local governments to only protecting the attributes covered under state law.
  • Modifies the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1999 which currently ensures the protection of religious liberty while respecting civil rights.
  • Provides any form of religious exemption in the delivery of products, goods, or services to the public, including child welfare services.
  • Provides any student organization with an exemption from campus nondiscrimination policies based upon personal religious belief.
  • Provides any government official with an exemption from performing the duties of their job based upon personal religious belief.

Non-Comprehensive, Fully-Inclusive Nondiscrimination Protections

Because Texas does not have a specific civil rights/nondiscrimination act, any existing protections are found in separate code sections of Texas statute – Labor Code, Property Code, Government Code, and Civil Practice & Remedies Code. While comprehensive legislation is preferred, support should also be given to piecemeal legislation that may be filed as follows:

  • Employment nondiscrimination
  • Housing nondiscrimination
  • Public accommodations nondiscrimination
  • State contractor nondiscrimination
  • Public school nondiscrimination
  • Insurance nondiscrimination

Equalizing Access to the “Romeo & Juliet” Defense

It is a felony in Texas to engage in sexual contact with a person under the age of 17. However the law creates an “out” in situations where the contact was consensual, the parties involved are over the age of 14, and the parties are within three years of each other’s age and are of the opposite sex. This is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults may wish they hadn’t made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time. This “out” does not exist for teen sweethearts who are dating someone of the same sex, creating a risk that a teenager may be sent to prison and forced to register as a sex offender for becoming physical with their sweetheart. In order to ensure fair and equal treatment, the Texas Legislature should remove the provision requiring the parties to be of the opposite sex.

Standardizing Modifications of Identity Documents

Texas law allows people assigned a gender at birth that does not reflect their true gender to legally change their recognized gender. However, the process for doing so is not clearly laid out in statute. This has resulted in a patchwork of different processes and precedents across the state. In order to ensure that all Texans can be assured fair treatment by the courts, the Texas Legislature should adopt legislation providing a standard process for modification or reissuance of identity documents.

Repeal Unconstitutional Provisions from Texas Statute; Amend to Reflect Marriages of Same-Sex Couples

Texas statutes that have been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court should be repealed from the books so that the written law reflects both constitutional reality and actual practice. The Texas Legislature should repeal all references to “Homosexual Conduct” that were declared unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, and should repeal all restrictions on marriage that were declared unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Texas Legislature should also affirmatively amend statutes to reflect and address marriages of same-sex couples and their family relationships.

Penalties for Licensed Health Professionals Claiming to Provide “Conversion Therapy” to Minors

“Conversion therapy” is the attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression through psychiatric counseling. The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the American Academy of Physician Assistants have all denounced conversion therapy as ineffective and dangerous. The Texas Legislature should create a penalty for licensed health professionals who claim their treatment can change the sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of a minor.

Transgender Hate Crimes Protections

In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed the “James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act.” The Act allows trial courts to impose stiffer penalties for crimes committed due to bias against the victims’ real or perceived “race, religion, color, sex, disability, sexual preference, age, or national origin.” There are no similar protections available for victims of crimes caused because of bias against the victim’s gender identity or expression. As with the currently listed attributes, gender identity and gender expression are universal traits that have historically been the basis for widespread and systemic discrimination and violence in our culture. Therefore, the Texas Legislature should enact legislation adding gender identity and gender expression to the current list of attributes in the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act.

Access to Culturally Competent Healthcare

The human right to healthcare means that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes access to all medical services. Hospitals, clinics, medicines, and doctor’s services must be accessible, available, acceptable, and of good quality for everyone on an equitable basis. The Texas Legislature should enact legislation which will:

  • Expand delivery of culturally competent healthcare to LGBTQ populations.
  • Increase access to, and funding for, HIV treatment and prevention including Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) prevention efforts.
  • Support suicide prevention, including efforts to reduce LGBTQ suicidality rates.

Any legislation which would reduce access to culturally competent healthcare should be opposed.

Equal Pay

It is illegal, under current Texas law, to pay a woman less for doing the same job as a man. However, as Texas law is currently written, a woman has only 180 days after her pay is set to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. In Texas, households headed by two women make, on average, 11% less than households headed by a woman and a man, meaning that LGBTQ women are disproportionately affected by pay disparity. In order to ensure equal pay guarantees have real effect, the Texas Legislature should adopt legislation to allow for complaints to be filed up to 180 days after the issuance of a paycheck that reflects discriminatory pay practices.

Accessibility of Gestational Agreements

Under current Texas law, only married individuals may enter into a gestational agreement. These agreements are used to ensure that all parties involved with using a surrogate to create a family are protected by the law. The lack of access to these agreements has not stopped nonmarried people from using surrogacy as a way to grow their families, but it does prevent people from being protected by the law. In order to ensure the legal protections of surrogacy agreements are available to all parents and surrogates, the Texas Legislature should adopt legislation allowing married and nonmarried persons to enter into gestational agreements.

Homeless Youth Housing

Current law requires parental consent for most minors to be able to access housing services such as homeless shelters. This requirement prevents LGBTQ youth who may have been kicked out by their parents from accessing safe housing. LGBTQ minors with unsupportive parents need a pathway to access safe housing. The Texas Legislature should enact legislation creating a mechanism to allow minors experiencing parental abandonment, or who face unsafe situations at home, to legally arrange for their own housing.

Criminal Justice Reform

The Texas Legislature should adopt legislation that:

  • Reduces incarceration for Class C misdemeanor offenses.
  • Reforms bail requirements for nonviolent offenses.
  • Reduces jail suicides.

Reducing Violence

The Texas Legislature should adopt legislation that seeks to reduce violence, including violence directed toward the LGBTQ community.

Voter Rights

The Texas Legislature should adopt legislation that seeks to ensure the exercise by citizens of their right to vote.

Any legislation which seeks to infringe upon the exercise of the right to vote should be opposed.

Prison Rape Elimination Act

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) passed Congress unanimously and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. PREA standards include policies regarding the treatment of the LGBTQ prison population, who are significantly more likely to encounter sexual violence in prison. Gov. Abbott has refused to implement the PREA standards. The Texas Legislature should direct the Governor’s office to fully implement PREA.

Immigration Detainers

An ICE detainer—or “immigration hold”—is one of the key tools U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses to apprehend individuals who come in contact with local and state law enforcement agencies and put them into the federal deportation system. An ICE detainer is a written request that a local jail or other law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after his or her release date. ICE’s use of detainers to imprison people without due process and, in many cases, without any charges pending or probable cause of any violation has raised serious constitutional concerns. The Texas Legislature should enact legislation affirming a local jurisdiction’s ability to operate its jail facilities, including denial of detainers for persons who are otherwise eligible for release.

Any legislation that seeks to penalize localities for failure to hold individuals who are eligible for release should be opposed.