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Texas Senate approves anti-trans bills amid mounting protests

The Texas Senate has moved quickly on transgender care and sports bans despite days of protests by activists at the Capitol.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Despite days of protests and testimony from doctors, transgender people and their allies, Republican lawmakers in the Texas Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to two bills impacting transgender Texans and appear set to do the same for a third.

Together, the bills impose sweeping new restrictions on the rights of transgender Texans to access gender-affirming care, change their birth certificates and play in sports that match their gender identity.

The first measure to get the body’s final approval was Senate Bill 15, a ban preventing transgender college athletes from playing as their preferred gender on sports teams at public universities. Sponsored by Republican Mayes Middleton and 17 others, the bill marks the continuation of similar work done by lawmakers in 2021, when the Republican-controlled legislature enacted restrictions on transgender athletes in K-12 public schools.

Also passed Wednesday was Senate Bill 162 by Charles Perry, a Republican state senator from Lubbock. The bill prohibits changing the sex on a minor’s birth certificate to match the wishes of a transgender child.

Finally, lawmakers advanced but have not yet passed Senate Bill 14, a bill that would heavily restrict transgender minors' access to gender-affirming treatments such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone therapies and gender confirmation surgeries. Physicians who violate the law face having their medical licenses revoked.  

Republican talking points on these measures have focused on gender-affirming surgeries — which some, including far-right state representative Tony Tinderholt, have taken to calling “mutilations."

In fact, such surgeries are a last-ditch treatment when other, reversible treatments like social changes and puberty blockers haven’t improved a transgender patient’s quality of life. Doctors in Texas rarely if ever perform such surgeries on children, and surveys show that even most transgender adults don’t opt for them.

Treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapies are largely reversible, despite claims that they are not.

Senator Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, is the bill’s author and a physician. As she laid out her bill before the full senate, Campbell claimed that such treatments are “unsafe, unhealthy, unethical and unacceptable.”

Campbell claimed gender dysphoria — the mental condition where an individual feels their biological sex and gender identity do not match — is temporary and should not be treated with permanent means.

She provided no evidence on the floor for her claims, which are out-of-step with the position of mainstream groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Texas Medical Association. Both groups say such care is safe and proven to help adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria.

Senate Bill 14 passed two procedural votes along party lines and is expected to get final passage as early as Thursday.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has listed both SB 14 and SB 15 as priorities for him, along with other bills that critics say also target LGBTQ+ people, including efforts to restrict drag shows and to remove from school libraries books that are deemed to be “obscene.”

Conversely, it's Senate Bill 14 and an identical House version, House Bill 1686, filed by Republican state representative Tom Oliverson, that have prompted the most concern from the transgender community.

Protests against those bills started in earnest around two weeks ago, when Senate Bill 14 first went before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on March 16.

The committee recessed that day without advancing on either bill. When they reconvened last week, hundreds of activists gathered in front of the Texas Capitol to call for equal rights for transgender people.

“Protect trans kids,” a crowd chanted as they marched onto the Capitol grounds. “Y’all means all.”

Less than an hour after the rally concluded, the Senate state affairs committee advanced two of the anti-trans bills to the full Senate: SB 14 as well as SB 162, the birth-certificate law.


Senate Bill 15, the sports ban, was reported favorably out of committee the next day, on March 21.

When the Texas House Committee on Public Health met on Monday to discuss the House version of the ban on gender-affirming care, Republican lawmakers were met with perhaps the fiercest opposition yet.

Thousands of people, including Christian faith leaders and parents of transgender children, flocked to the Capitol, dwarfing a small group who were there to support the bills.

They packed all three floors of a rotunda at the Capitol, singing hymns like “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” They offered hours of public testimony and filled out overflow rooms set up for those who could not make it into the committee room. 

LGBTQ people and allies gathered at the Texas Capitol on March 27, 2023, to voice their opposition to legislation that would restrict minors' ability to receive gender-affimring care. (Stephen Paulsen/Courthouse News)

Fewer than 100 people reportedly signed up to testify in favor of the bill, while thousands signed up to oppose it. Republican state representative Stephanie Klick, chair of the public health committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, has not yet released documentation on witnesses.

When Klick cut off testimony around midnight, protesters — including those who had waited all day for the chance to speak — staged a “die-in,” lying down in the halls of the Capitol.

“Klick lies, kids die," they chanted.

In their efforts to oppose SB 14, Democratic lawmakers have on their side mainstream doctors and untold numbers of riled-up transgender Texans and their families.

Among those who testified against the bill were parents like Frank and Rachel Gonzales, the Dallas-area parents of a 13-year-old transgender girl.

In his emotional testimony, Frank described how he initially struggled to accept his daughter’s gender identity. He thought she just needed to “kick around a soccer ball, go fishing” and do other male bonding activities — but “the harder I pushed, the farther she pushed away.” When the family finally agreed to let her try gender-affirming care, “she returned to being the happy, outgoing kid we know and love.”

“To be honest, I’m terrified to be here,” Frank said. “You don’t have to understand her, but I ask you to let me have the right to support her.”

If Texas ultimately bans gender-affirming care, “I’ll be forced to uproot my entire family,” he said. “It would be devastating to all of us, [but] it would be the only choice to keep my daughter safe. Please don’t put me in that position.”

To counteract testimony like this, Republicans have evoked the concept of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”, a discredited theory positing that social pressures lead children to identify as transgender. They’ve also relied on the testimony of “detransitioners,” people who have made the decision to reverse their gender transition and often allege — controversially — that doctors rushed or pressured them into such treatments.

They’ve also turned to the small contingent of doctors who oppose gender-affirming treatments. Among those who testified on Monday was Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a Georgia-based doctor who was once an advocate of “conversion therapy,” a discredited practice that purported to “cure” children of gay attraction.

Van Meter is no longer a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports gender-affirming care, and is instead the president of the much smaller American College of Pediatricians. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as a “hate group.”

Doctors who offer gender-affirming care are a “very closed community,” Van Meter testified on Monday. He insinuated that "they’re hiding something.”

Democratic lawmakers laid into Van Meter during questioning. Wasn’t it true, openly gay state representative Ann Johnson asked, that a judge had barred Van Meter from testifying in court after determining he wasn’t qualified as an expert?

Van Meter demurred. It was a “very complex circumstance,” he said.

When testimony ended around midnight on Monday, a large of number people — most of them opponents of the bill — had never gotten a chance to testify.

Among them was the Austin mother of a transgender 16-year-old boy, who had signed up to testify more than 12 hours earlier, at around 7:30 a.m. The mother asked to remain anonymous for this story, citing — among other things — the child-welfare investigations launched by Texas authorities into families who provide gender-affirming care to their children.

On Monday, the mother wanted to tell lawmakers that she was “here [on] behalf of my son and for all beautiful transgender children,” according to notes she’d written beforehand. She wanted to ask them “why the state of Texas feels they have the right to make decisions [about] my son’s healthcare.”

The clock ran out before she could testify. She was back again on Wednesday, hoping to talk to lawmakers. These days — like many Texas parents of transgender children — she spends a lot of time at the Capitol.

She also spends a lot of time thinking about moving away. “I have to make an exit plan, and so many other families have already left,” she said. “We’re getting run out of the state.”

Categories:Civil Rights, Politics

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