AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Members of the Texas House on Tuesday looked set to pass their version of Senate Bill 14, an all-out ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors like those seen in other Republican-led states.
Had they done so, the bill would have next headed to the governor's desk, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott would have almost certainly signed it. Abbott, after all, helped lead a push last year to classify gender-affirming care as child abuse, rattling doctors, social workers and transgender Texans. Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, an avowed culture warrior and Abbott's second-in-command, has listed SB 14 as a priority for him.
Instead, what unfolded on Tuesday was almost exactly the opposite. Activists for LGBTQ+ civil rights led increasingly heated protests throughout the day — culminating in the felony arrest of one top activist, a yearlong ban from Capitol grounds for another and a temporary disruption in normal legislative proceedings just as SB 14 came up for a vote on the House floor.
Rather than passing SB 14, lawmakers punted it back to committee — a sort of demotion for a bill that just hours ago appeared ready for a House-wide vote. With just weeks left in the regular state legislative session, the fate of SB 14 by Tuesday evening seemed less certain than it did on Tuesday morning.
SB 14 will reportedly be back on the House floor on Thursday. As the sun set on Tuesday, LGBTQ+ activists remained conflicted on whether the events of Tuesday represented a win.
"We didn't derail anything," said Sofia Sepulveda, a trans woman and staff member at the civil rights group Equality Texas who on Tuesday was banned from the Capitol for a year.
As SB 14 came up on the House floor shortly after 3 p.m., state Representative Mary González, a Democrat from the El Paso area, raised a point of order with the bill, Texas Tribune reported. It was not immediately clear what precise issues were raised by González.
In theory, points of order are a technique used by lawmakers to raise concerns about the procedures of a bill's vote and passage. In practice, they're a political tactic meant to stall or kill controversial proposals like SB 14.
Around the same time, in the gallery above the House floor, a protester began leading a chant against SB 14. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which handles security for the Capitol, almost immediately began to clear the gallery.
"One, two, three, four, trans folks deserve more," that activist chanted as DPS officers began ordering people to leave.
The ensuing chaos unfolded quickly. On the third floor outside the gallery, activists carrying signs in support of transgender people faced off against supporters of the bill, almost all of them wearing red shirts with the message "Save Texas Kids" provided by the American Principles Project, a right-wing and anti-trans lobbying group that purports to be "America's Top Defender of the Family."
A scuffle broke out — though it's unclear how — and DPS began pushing bystanders and reporters. At least one anti-SB 14 protester was pushed to the ground and arrested.
Texas Freedom Network, a state civil rights group, confirmed that a staff member was taken into custody.
"The level of aggression shown by DPS at our state capitol today is deeply disturbing," a spokesperson for the group told Courthouse News. "Loving families, community members and advocates were here peacefully protesting an extremist ban on transgender healthcare that puts the lives of our youth at risk. None of them deserved criminalization or brutality."
The group declined to name that staff member, who remains in custody, citing that staff member's concerns about privacy and safety.
That person faces several charges, records from the Travis County Sheriff's Office show, including a felony charge for allegedly disrupting a meeting or procession and a misdemeanor charge for allegedly resisting arrest.
That person was not the first top activist to face off with DPS on Tuesday. Sofia Sepulveda, a staffer for Equality Texas, was also banned from Capitol for a year after dropping a banner inside the Capitol on Tuesday morning with the message "Let Trans Kids Grow Up."
Sepuvelda and her group were almost immediately stopped by DPS, she told Courthouse News in an interview Tuesday.
"This isn’t my first legislative session," she said. "I’ve never seen anybody getting banned for exercising their first amendment rights."
Sepulveda provided a copy of her DPS citation, which shows she was given a trespassing warning for the Capitol. Officers also accused her of disrupting traffic, she said.
“I wasn’t in the middle of the street, so what are [they] talking about?" she added. "I saw how the police were literally rounding up the queer community as if we were cattle."
After Capitol police cleared the gallery and the third floor of protesters, they then cleared the second, then the first.
Within minutes, they were leading trans-rights activists out of the building and onto the south lawn of the Capitol.
Activists who had spent years in the Capitol said they had never seen protesters completely forced to leave the building, even during a famous filibuster in favor of abortion rights by then-state senator Wendy Davis in 2013. After trans rights activists and journalists were cleared from the the top floors, those wearing "Save Texas Kids" shirts could still be standing above on the rotunda.
Victor Taylor, a spokesperson for DPS and a DPS sergeant at the Capitol, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the decision to clear protesters and whether those who supported SB 14 were treated more favorably.
Among those present at protests on Tuesday were transgender people and their families who have previously spoken to Courthouse News — including Lauren Rodriguez, the mother of a transgender son who is planning to leave Texas and who participated in an oral-history project on transgender Texans and their families.
"They just kind of pushed us to the south steps," Rodriguez said in an interview on Tuesday evening. "It's supposed to be our Capitol, our house."
Rodriguez expects SB 14 will make it back to the House later this week. Still, she saw the disruptions on Tuesday as "a small win."
“This is how desperate we are," she said. "We aren’t going to stop protecting our kids."Follow @stephentpaulsen
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