The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2023-12-15/opinion-everythings-bigger-in-texas-until-you-look-at-supportive-lgbtq-public-policies/

Opinion: Everything’s Bigger in Texas ... Until You Look at Supportive LGBTQ+ Public Policies

“I should feel safe, secure, and confident in myself to be a gay Texan student”

By Guilleremo Gudino, December 15, 2023, Columns

My mom used to tell me all the time that "everything is bigger in Texas." A phrase that has garnered so much national attention should live up to its reputation, right? The heart is huge among friendly neighborhoods and our love for football knows no bounds, but what about the policies that are supposed to uphold this attitude? Texas is knowingly becoming a battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. Public policies that once embraced diversity, inclusion, and complete respect now leave us wondering, as LGBTQ+ Texans, where do we stand? The political pressure alone is enough to make a gay student like myself feel so small in a state where "everything is bigger." Everything should be bigger in Texas, and that includes supportive public policies for LGBTQ+ Texans.

As a gay Texan, I witness and experience challenges to maintain and openly be myself. I feel the push back against equality when House Republicans put forth a bill to limit or attack the LGBTQ+ community. I feel the stares of fellow Texans when I walk down the street in a pair of 5-inch shorts that show off my legs. I think about how I am supposed to make myself smaller, how to disappear from the public long enough to just get to my class or store without judgment. I listen to the news and hear the false claims made about "the gay agenda" happening in our schools. Of course, the only gay agenda that ever existed was gay people being themselves; that is hardly a cult or mass producing brainwashing agenda.

One of the most contentious issues in Texas is the debate surrounding transgender rights, a vehement attack on the LGBTQ+ community. Public policy is a twilight zone for many trans youth and adults. Each attack breaks down one policy that has been put in place to protect my fellow community. No doctors, no gender affirming care, no help? All of this is enough to hurt and destroy the life of a trans Texan. How could I as a gay person understand this? Well, everything is bigger in Texas, and that theory follows with the bigotry and conservative views toward LGBTQ+ Texans. I watch trans youth struggle to be understood and protected and I wonder what could be or should be done to help them. The answer is simple: Everything should be bigger, including protective public policy.

The hostile political climate has made many cities unsafe for the LGBTQ+ community. As a gay person living in Austin I get to experience a net of safety and comfortability, but there are even streets or businesses where I am made to feel unwelcomed and that is clear because I'm queer. This hostility is a reminder that hate crimes are possible and still happen. The climate is a reminder of the need and opportunities to protect and help gay, trans, and queer people, especially students doing their best to foster social change among peers.

I don't want to sit in the classroom and be worried that my voice might be too high or that I might appear too feminine. My education shouldn't be compromised because public policy dictates that diversity can't be fostered openly. The history of my community should not be erased from school curriculum when we are advocates that have helped shape social change. Gender, sexual orientation, pronouns are all a part of a person's identity and that deserves respect and acceptance, even here in Texas.

"Everything is bigger in Texas" is a phrase that should live up to its name in public policy. I should feel bigger in Texas. I should feel safe, secure, and confident in myself to be a gay Texan student. Public policy needs to be bigger in Texas. Adversity doesn't stop my mission of equality; it only further proves the need to be "bigger" in Texas. It is my hope that, as we continue to navigate these challenging times, we can find common ground and build a Texas where all residents, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can thrive without fear of discrimination or prejudice. We are here to stay, and these hurtful public policies need to go away.

Guilleremo Gudino is a first-year master of public affairs student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Gudino is originally from Dallas, Texas, but has lived in Austin for the last four years and hopes to later go to law school and practice in Texas.

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