Where Do the Queers Go from Here?

Texas LGBTQ civil rights activists face a wild ride forward

Iana Di Bona (left), fiancée of Get Equal's Tiffani Bishop (right)
Iana Di Bona (left), fiancée of Get Equal's Tiffani Bishop (right) (photo by KXM)

In the last 24 hours, a "citizen's filibuster" helped defeat Texas' draconian Senate Bill 5, and the Supreme Court of the United States delivered a number of rulings, including the overturning of the federal marriage ban. How do these events impact the movement for LGBTQ equality? Find out now at the Gay Place.

Women’s rights advocates won a startling victory in the Texas State Capitol last night, defeating Senate Bill 5, the most aggressive anti-abortion bill Texas has seen since Roe v. Wade, in one of the most gripping moments in Texas legislative history. After 11 hours of patient, careful filibustering by Sen. Wendy Davis (D, Fort Worth), Senate Republicans almost managed to end her filibuster on a series of technicalities, including the germaneness of Texas’ 2011 forced ultrasound bill, as well as “inappropriate touching” when a fellow senator helped her into a back brace. As the filibuster wore on, activists in orange shirts filed into the building, quietly filling the gallery, then the overflow rooms and the rotunda itself. When it became clear that Senate Democrats had exhausted every parliamentary possibility to run out the clock, at 12 minutes to midnight, activists sprang into action, literally shouting down any possibility of counting the votes, defeating the bill.

Some might say reproductive rights are not a queer issue, but Chuck Smith with Equality Texas says this bill especially brought our movements together. “The reproductive rights and LGBT movements share allies and opponents, and it is definitely in our best interests to work together, and to continue to work together. The clinics that would have been closed also provide important, compassionate health services to lesbian women and transgender Texans, so this bill was important to us. What we saw last night was the magnitude of the impact people can have when they’re motivated to actually show up. We can make change happen, but nobody is going to do it for us.”

Tiffani Bishop with GetEQUAL was part of last night’s actions and thinks we can learn from their success. “Nobody stepped on anyone’s toes. We, the activists, really let the coalition lead. We were ready for direct action, and in the end, we had let every conventional method fail and when the time came for the ‘unruly mob,’ we were ready. But it’s important that we respected the lobbying groups’ boundaries, and they recognized the potential of our tactics when it became necessary. Everybody did their job. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas did their job: they lobbied, informed the activists, organized the community, communicated out to their constituents, and highlighted the handful of lawmakers that were doing their jobs well, and when it became necessary, they joined the mob.”

At the national level, a number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have come down in the last 24 hours, including drastic changes to the Voting Rights Act and the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. The LGBTQ civil rights movement now stands at an important crossroads. Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage still stands, and employment discrimination is still allowed against gay and transgender Texans. According to Bishop, “I am upset that Prop 8 was a one-state ruling, but the rulings on both Prop 8 and DOMA give us the recognition as a class of citizens that opens the door to workplace equality, marriage equality, all of it.”

The changes to the Voting Rights Act are also important for LGBT Texans. According to Smith, “The repeal of DOMA will have positive consequences for binational couples, but there are attempts to manipulate voting and who has access to it, and with the Voting Rights Act decision, it will take great efforts to get people registered and voting. A big impact will be the disenfranchisement of people whose state IDs don’t reflect who they are, specifically transgender Texans.”

There is much work to do, but we still have plenty to celebrate. Today (Wednesday) at 6pm, activists will gather at Fourth & Lavaca to celebrate today’s SCOTUS decisions. Thursday at 7pm, the Q (3408 West) will host a community discussion, “Does Stonewall Still Matter?” and Friday night, a wild “Remember the Riots” rumpus will take place at the Chain Drive (504 Willow).

Where do we go from here? Chuck Smith sees a bright future. “The first stop is to pass a statewide fair employment act, and then to move on freedom to marry. More than 90% of businesses already have policies protecting LGBT workers, but Texas’ increasing reputation as a hostile place for certain groups is a threat to economic development.” As for marriage, “It would take 100 votes in the House to repeal the constitutional ban, and 75 to repeal Texas’ statutory marriage ban, both of which must go for marriage equality to be possible in Texas. We need the votes. It will take time and lots of work, but we’ll get there."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

News, SCOTUS, Wendy Davis, Activism, GetEQUAL, Equality Texas, Abortion, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Chuck Smith, Tiffani Bishop, queer

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