The House's LGBTQ Caucus Makes History

Queer rights: targeted by many, protected by some at the Capitol

The House LGBTQ Caucus: (l-r) Erin Zwiener, Mary González, Julie Johnson, Celia Israel, Jessica González (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The charge against queer and trans Texans this session was once again framed in terms of "religious liberty," with many bills – including Senate Bill 1978, which will become law – stemming from Project Blitz, described by Equality Texas and Americans United for Separation of Church and State as a "national far-right initiative" to "redefine religious liberty" laws to "justify discrimination" against LGBTQ communities and others. According to EQTX, SB 1978 author Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola (along with Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, author of the House companion bill) borrowed not just strategy, but actual text from Project Blitz for the measure banning government entities from penalizing people or businesses who've donated to or are affiliated with a religious organization, even if those groups are known to have discriminatory practices. Nick­named by its supporters the #SaveChickFilA bill, SB 1978 garnered attention and momentum after San Antonio refused to let the fast food chain open a location at the city's airport due to its well-documented relationship with anti-LGBTQ organizations. Though it did shrink in its impact on its way through the Lege, the surviving bill still threatens LGBTQ rights while shielding those who discriminate.

Brandon Creighton (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The Senate's loudest anti-LGBTQ voice, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also fought to strip Texas cities of their nondiscrimination ordinances via local preemption bills filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. After the House State Affairs Committee restored NDO-preserving language, those measures stalled and died; advocates believe Patrick was unwilling to move the bills with the retained queer and trans protections.

Bryan Hughes (Photo by Jana Birchum)

But not all queer history-making at the Capitol this year was bad. Offering a glimmer of hope, five out women – including three rookies – banded together to form the House's first-ever LGBTQ Caucus. On May 9, Reps. Mary González, D-El Paso; Celia Israel, D-Austin; Jessica González, D-Dallas; Julie Johnson, D-Car­roll­­ton; and Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, marked their first major victory by killing Krause's version of the #SaveChickFilA bill. Though they couldn't stop SB 1978, the five women, supported by nearly 20 allies who joined their caucus, gave some of the fiercest speeches ever offered on the House floor. On May 20, acknowledging the bill would move forward, Israel told her colleagues: "You may not think you are hurting Texas children today with this bill, but you are ... the genesis and nexus of this bill are in hatred."

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86th Texas Legislature, LGBTQ Caucus, Senate Bill 1978, SaveChickFilA, LGBTQ rights, religious liberty, Project Blitz, Equality Texas, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Bryan Hughes, Matt Krause, Dan Patrick, nondiscrimination ordinances, Brandon Creighton, Mary González, Celia Israel, Jessica González, Julie Johnson, Erin Zwiener

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