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Shifting the Narrative — the 86th Legislative Session
Posted on May 28, 2019 at 3:28 pm

The Texas Legislature just wrapped up the 86th Legislative Session — which means LGBTQ Texans can now rest a little easier, knowing that Dan Patrick and his cadre of anti-equality crusaders won’t have the opportunity to legislate discrimination again until January 2021.

A Bittersweet Conclusion

Of the 20 anti-LGBTQ bills filed this session, Equality Texas and our partners were able to stop all but one — including putting a halt to SB 17, Dan Patrick’s “License to Discriminate” bill that would have allowed open discrimination against LGBTQ people by anyone licensed by the state of Texas.

Unfortunately, in the final two weeks of the session, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen rammed through SB 1978, the so-called “Save Chick-fil-A” bill.

The bill went from dead in the water to passing both chambers in nine days. Dan Patrick used every tool to push SB 1978 through the Senate — suspending the rules and holding a sham ‘ghost hearing’ with no notice or testimony. Speaker Bonnen rushed the bill through the House.

As originally filed, SB 1978 was one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this session.

But thanks to the power of your actions, and a growing majority support for LGBTQ equality, the bill was gutted. The most harmful provisions were taken out, and what eventually passed simply reaffirms First Amendment protections for the right to associate.

That’s right. Dan Patrick and Dennis Bonnen were so determined to pass an anti-LGBTQ measure that SB 1978 doesn’t actually create new policy. Instead, SB 1978 exists purely as political messaging. It’s an anti-LGBTQ ‘dog whistle’ that perpetuates the false narrative that religion is under attack from LGBTQ equality — a narrative that is extremely dangerous for our community.

Change in Tone this Session

Despite the 11th hour, expedited passage of SB 1978, the tone of this Session was markedly different from the “bathroom bill” days of the 85th.

We killed 19 bills this session, including Dan Patrick’s priority legislation — SB 17, the “license to discriminate” bill. And when Dan Patrick stripped preemption legislation of its protections for the local nondiscrimination ordinances (NDOs) that cover our community, we succeeded in getting those protections restored in the House. Dan Patrick’s opposition to letting nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Texans in a few cities stand was so strong that — rather than accept the legislation with protections for our community — he chose to let the preemption bills die. Now that’s real animosity.

We don’t expect Dan Patrick’s attacks to cease any time soon. Patrick, along with Texas Values’ Jonathan Saenz, Texas Pastor Council’s Dave Welch, notorious anti-LGBTQ activist Steve Hotze, and Wallbuilder’s David Barton, remains as well-funded and focused on stripping our community of dignity and rights as ever. And while we were able to kill SB 17, the ‘License to Discriminate’ and the other dozen radically discriminatory religious exemption bills, the insidious ‘religious exemption’ attacks on our community propagated by Project Blitz and others will be here for years to come.

Promising Signs of Change

This session, we changed hearts and minds as well as votes, as legislators who supported last session’s bathroom bill took public stances in support of equality.

Republican Senator Kel Seliger, who voted for the bathroom bill last session, this year voted against SB 17 and SB 1978, and spoke out on the Senate floor against discrimination.

The House State Affairs committee voted unanimously to add language protecting local nondiscrimination ordinances to a set of preemption bills aimed at paid sick leave. Just two years ago, five of the Republicans on that committee who voted to restore NDO protections were co-authors of the bathroom bill.

And Representative Dade Phelan, the Chair of House State Affairs committee, publicly stated that he was “done talking about bashing on the gay community. It’s completely unacceptable. This is 2019.”

Pro-LGBTQ Gains

This session saw the historic formation of an LGBTQ Caucus, whose members represented LGBTQ Texans on the floor of the Texas House, and advanced pro-LGBTQ legislation further than ever before.

Several bills that would add real protections for LGBTQ Texans made it to a hearing for the first time. Some of these legislators have persevered for over a decade to advance these measures:

  • HB 517 (Israel) a ban on conversion therapy,
  • HB 85 (M. Gonzalez) protections for consensual sexual conduct between same-sex underage couples,
  • HB 3281 (Hinojosa) elimination of the gay/trans panic defense,
  • HB 2089 (Coleman) streamlining the process for changing gender markers on official documents,
  • HB 244 (Farrar) statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, and
  • HB 1513 (Coleman) adding gender identity to the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act.

Grassroots Power

Despite the passage of SB 1978, these signs that our community’s power is growing are undeniable.

This progress is a direct result of community action — of pro-equality voters showing up at the ballot box in November, of LGBTQ people traveling to Austin to testify and bravely share personal stories, and of Equality Texas supporters by the thousands answering the call to contact legislators, time and time again.

In showing up, raising your voice, and sharing your stories, you made legislators face your humanity and feel our movement’s breadth and support. That grassroots power remains our community’s greatest strength.

The Fight Continues

During the 86th Legislative Session we moved the needle from the “bathroom bill” fight all the way to SB 1978, a bill that doesn’t actually make policy.

This is progress. But we won’t be done until passing a bill like SB 1978 that invites discriminatory rhetoric is unthinkable.

Until we can stop playing defense and pass proactive legislation protecting our community from discrimination and addressing the issues that affect our lives.

Until lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Texans and their families have full equality in the hearts and minds of our fellow Texans and in all areas of the law.

We’re proud to keep fighting alongside you until we get there.