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Gender-affirming care ban clears critical vote in Texas

Democrats managed to delay a vote on the ban for almost two weeks — but in the end, it easily passed through the GOP-dominated Texas House in a largely party-line vote.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Transgender Texans and their allies attempted all kinds of maneuvers in their efforts to kill a proposed statewide ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

They protested. They testified. Democratic lawmakers used procedural tactics, including raising “points of order” questioning technical aspects of the law.

They were surprisingly effective, twice forcing bill sponsors to delay a vote — but in the end, and in Republican-dominated Texas, it wasn’t enough to kill such a hot-button culture-war issue. Senate Bill 14 passed a second floor vote on Friday along largely party lines.

The final vote count was 92-48, suggesting some of the body's 64 Democrats voted for it — though at press time on Thursday, the vote has not yet been certified.

From here, SB 14 will face smooth sailing, at least procedurally. After final votes, it will head to the desk of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it.

Abbott, after all, has declared gender-affirming care to be child abuse, last year ordering the state child-welfare agency to investigate families providing such care. Texas Child Protective Services has opened at least 15 such investigations, and some CPS workers have resigned in protest.

Even before this legislative session, transgender Texans were regularly showing up at public meetings to urge that agency to end the investigations. Now, as a full legal ban in Texas appears almost certain, many Texas families with transgender children are plotting out new lives in friendlier states.

Mitch Tillison lives in the Dallas-area with his wife, son and transgender daughter. He previously told Courthouse News that he planned to take his daughter to New Mexico if SB 14 passed, so that she could continue receiving care.

Tillison spent much of Friday watching the debate in the legislature. In an interview shortly after the vote, he said the whole family would soon be moving to Washington state.

"It's time to go," Tillison said. He was concerned not only about SB 14 but about growing hatred and violence towards transgender people and other minorities — including what he saw as an excessive response by Capitol police against trans protesters last week — and the effects all of it was having on him and his family. Untold numbers of other Texas families are now finding themselves in the same position.

SB 14 mirrors similar bills seen in other states, and particularly Republican ones. More than two dozen states have already passed or are currently considering similar measures, according to Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

SB 14 also mirrors a broader nationwide culture war over LGBTQ+ issues, in which hardline cultural conservatives have lobbed incendiary claims about LGBTQ+ people allegedly "grooming" and "mutilating" children. A slate of other proposed bills in Texas this year also targets transgender civil rights and LGBTQ+ free expression, including proposed restrictions on drag queens and allegedly obscene books.

The Texas Legislature meets every other year. Efforts to kill or weaken SB 14 started early this session.

For weeks, thousands of Texans turned out to protest against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and testify to lawmakers. In March, protesters staged a late-night "die-in" at the Texas Capitol after a Texas House committee hearing SB 14 cut off testimony around midnight — depriving trans Texans and their loved ones, some of whom had waited all day to speak, of their chance to testify.

Supporters of SB 14 have also made regular appearances at the Capitol. Among them were invited witnesses like Quentin Van Meter, an anti-trans doctor who once advocated for conversion therapy, and people in ubiquitous red "Save Texas Kids" shirts provided by the American Principles Project, a right-wing lobbying group that purports to be "America's Top Defender of the Family."


Many of the pro-SB 14 witnesses came from out of state to testify — and even still, they were dwarved by the anti-SB 14 contingent, who outnumbered them by a ratio of more than 20-to-one.

After all, for transgender people and their allies, the stakes were particularly high: Many were facing the prospect of their children losing gender-affirming care, which is correlated with better mental health outcomes for children with gender dysphoria.

“This is how desperate we are," Lauren Rodriguez, one such parent, previously told Courthouse News. "We aren’t going to stop protecting our kids." Rodriguez's son has already moved to New Zealand, and she plans to join him.

Both Republicans and Democrats argued they were on the side of protecting children.

Both the House sponsor of the bill, Tom Oliverson, a Republican from the Houston area, and the Senator sponsor, Donna Campbell, a Republican from Central Texas, pitched their bill as a way to protect vulnerable minors and their families.

"Senate Bill 14 is a child protection act," Oliverson told his fellow House members on Friday. He wanted to stop "harmful experimentation" on children, he said.

Oliverson claimed that doctors who provide gender-affirming care were not backed by science and were on an "intellectual island." In fact, mainstream groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to advocate for such therapies for children with gender dysphoria.

As SB 14 moved through the Texas legislature, protests against it got bigger and louder.

On May 2 — the first time House Republicans attempted a second-reading vote on SB 14 — protesters began chanting in the gallery above shortly after SB 14 came up on the floor. Normal House proceedings stopped, and Capitol police cleared much of the building in what one anti-trans group later proclaimed a "transurrection."

Two activists were arrested on felony charges that day, though charges against at least one of those activists were apparently later dropped. Another activist was banned from the Capitol for a year after dropping a banner in the public Capitol rotunda with the message "Let Trans Kids Grow Up."

When SB 14 came up for the second time in the House on May 5, Democratic lawmakers — most notably Representative Mary González from El Paso — once again managed to delay the bill on technicalities.

When it came up for a third time on Friday, 19 lawmakers, including Oliverson, proposed amendments. Oliverson's, which clarified that the law overall could still be enforced even if portions were invalidated, did ultimately pass.

Oliverson opposed every other amendment proposed on Friday — and every one of them was ultimately voted down. Among them was a proposal by Vicki Goodwin, a Democratic lawmaker from the Austin area, to commission a study on how SB 14 might impact child suicide. Oliverson opposed it, calling it "unnecessary."

Over SB 14's legislative journey, some changes were ultimately included. One passed amendment grandfathers in children who are already receiving gender care. Another change clarifies that non-transgender children can still receive gender-affirming treatments — for example, if they were born intersex. Democrats have called these latter provisions unconstitutional because they treat transgender people differently from other Texans.

By Friday night, some transgender Texans were trying to stay optimistic. They pointed to court cases like one out of the U.S. Supreme Court this week, in which justices unanimously sided with a transgender migrant facing deportation. But for good news like this, activists will have to look beyond the Texas Capitol — at least for now.

As the night darkened on Friday, transgender Texans and their allies gathered outside the Texas Capitol and marched towards a nearby park. It was an opportunity, Equality Texas activist Brad Pritchett explained, for transgender people to "be together" and "not be in this building."

They stood in a circle. They screamed at the top of their lungs. They tried to stay positive.

Sofia Sepulveda, a transgender woman and activist with Equality Texas, reminded people that this was "just a battle" in a bigger war and that transgender people had been fighting for their rights for generations. (Sepulveda is also the activist who was banned from the Capitol.)

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and we're there," she told the small crowd, "waiting for the next generation."

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Health

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