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Texas lawmakers are going after gender-affirming care. Will they succeed?

Demonstrators hold signs in support of transgender youth and rights in response to recent proposed legal action against parents seeking gender affirming healthcare for their children to be charged as child abuse at the Rally for Trans Youth at the Texas State Capitol earlier this month.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Demonstrators hold signs in support of transgender youth and rights in response to recent proposed legal action against parents seeking gender affirming healthcare for their children to be charged as child abuse at the Rally for Trans Youth at the Texas State Capitol earlier this month.

Texas lawmakers have already introduced dozens of bills that take aim at gender-affirming care, transgender kids, and their parents.

The proposals are carried by Republican lawmakers, like Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood.

“This is loving care,” Hall told The Texas Newsroom on Thursday. "(It) expresses our love and concern for children, to give them the opportunity to reach a maturity where they can make a decision for themselves.”

Hall’s bills are part of a growing effort to pass anti-trans legislation in GOP-led states.

According to an analysis by NPR, state lawmakers across the country introduced 306 anti-trans bills in 2020 and 2021. An overwhelming majority targeted trans youth.

While Republicans hold majorities in the Texas House and Senate, LGBT advocates in the state say that doesn’t mean their proposals are destined to become law.

Anti-trans legislation

Hall’s bills range from prohibiting insurance companies from covering gender-affirming care to revoking the license of a doctor who performs a gender-affirming surgery on a minor. His legislation would apply to people under 18 years old, although Hall said there is some talk about increasing that to people under 21.

He also is the author of a Senate Resolution that calls for the “ending” of gender-affirming care in Texas.

“We don’t let children get tattoos, drink alcohol, even buy cough medicine in a drug store, or smoke,” Hall said. “So, why in the world would we let them cut their body parts — healthy body parts off?”

While arguments like this may make sense to some, research backs up the importance of allowing trans children access to gender-affirming care.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Gender-affirming surgeries are associated with numerous positive health benefits, including lower rates of psychological distress and suicidal ideation, as well as lower rates of smoking.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University said transgender and nonbinary children without access to this care experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation than their cisgender peers. Those with access tend to see a decrease in gender dysphoria, depression and anxiety.

Other bills before the Texas Legislature go after drag shows, designating them as sexually-oriented businesses.

This would mean that minors would not be allowed to attend events with drag queens, and the venues would be subject to investigations from the Texas Comptroller.

Overall, more than 40 such bills are being considered by state lawmakers.

“I think it’s alarming to see how many have been filed.” said Johnathan Gooch, the communications director at Equality Texas. “These bills target every aspect of life for LGBTQ Texans.”

Gooch told The Texas Newsroom the proposals are part of a slate of “invasive” legislation presented by the Republicans in state government.

He said there’s a tendency by legislators to fetishize the lives of LGBTQ people and that their perceptions starkly differ from how these Texans actually live.

“Most LGBTQ Texans, to be frank, are boring,” Gooch said. “They just want to go about their lives, and enjoy our beautiful state, and eat some good BBQ.”

Gooch said people pushing for restrictive policies are out of touch with what Texans really want — and there is some data backing that up.

According to a 2022 poll by the LGBT advocacy group The Trevor Project and Morning Consult, 45 percent of Texas voters support transgender minors having access to gender-affirming care.

Meanwhile, 31 percent opposed providing those services.

State Representative James Talarico, a Democrat from Round Rock, said Republican lawmakers are focusing on the wrong priorities.

“We talk about the impact on trans kids and their families, which is horrific,” Talarico said. “But there’s also an opportunity cost because we only have five months every other year to try to solve all the huge problems our state faces.”

He said Texans who support LGBT rights should not feel defeated after seeing what bills have been introduced, and points to 2021.

That year, during Texas’ last legislative session and the special sessions that followed, over 70 anti-LGBT bills were introduced. Yet only one — a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams that match their gender identity — became law.

“We shouldn’t give up, because you can fight here in this building,” Talarico said. “It’s a Republican dominated-Legislature, bad things are going to happen, but there’s absolutely room to weaken bills, kill bills, slow down bills, and there’s room to change hearts and minds.”

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.