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Texas AG impeached, suspended pending outcome of Senate trial

The House voted 121-23 to suspend Ken Paxton and refer him to the Senate for trial on charges of bribery, abuse of office and obstruction

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The Texas House voted to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

LA Blade Editor’s note: For the vast majority of the past ten years the Texas Attorney General has waged a relentless campaign to limit the rights and equality of LGBTQ+ Texans, especially transgender Texans. Today’s vote is significant in terms of the possibility that a Senate conviction would offer a potential respite from Paxton’s attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.

By  Zach Despart & James Barragan | AUSTIN – In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

Saturday’s vote temporarily removes a controversial but influential Republican figure in Texas and nationally. He has led an office that initiated lawsuits that overturned or blocked major Biden and Obama administration policies, sought to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, aggressively pursued voter fraud claims and targeted hospitals that provided gender care to minors.

The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.

“This gentleman is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston. “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he’s allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.

Speaking against impeachment, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, called the process “wrong.”

“Don’t end our session this way. Don’t tarnish this institution,” Tinderholt said. “Don’t cheapen the act of impeachment. Don’t undermine the will of the voters. Don’t give Democrats another victory handed to them on a silver platter.”

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

Impeachment represents the greatest political threat to date for Paxton, who has been reelected twice despite a 2015 indictment for felony securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of official misconduct that began in 2020.

The impeachment vote, on the third-to-last day of the regular legislative session, capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol. From Tuesday to Thursday:

  • Paxton abruptly accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over the chamber while drunk and demanded that he resign.
  • The House General Investigating Committee revealed it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March.
  • The committee heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general.
  • The committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Paxton, who was comfortably elected to a third term last year, made a rare appearance before assembled reporters Friday to criticize the process, saying he was not given a chance to present favorable evidence. He called impeachment an effort by Democrats and “liberal” Republicans to remove him from office, violating the will of voters and sidelining an effective warrior against Biden administration policies.

“The corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” Paxton said. He added, “They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.”

Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.

All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.

In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.

Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.

The articles also referred to felony charges of securities fraud, and one felony count of failing to register with state securities officials, that have been pending against Paxton since 2015, months after he took office as attorney general. The fraud charges stem from Paxton’s work in 2011 to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney company was paying him for the work.

The impeachment articles also accused Paxton of obstruction of justice by acting to delay the criminal cases with legal challenges and because a Paxton donor pursued legal action that limited the pay to prosecutors in the case, causing further delays “to Paxton’s advantage.”

Taken in total, the accusations showed a pattern of dereliction of duty in violation of the Texas Constitution, Paxton’s oaths of office and state laws against public officials acting against the public’s interest, the impeachment resolution said.

“Paxton engaged in misconduct, private or public, of such character as to indicate his unfitness for office,” the articles said.

An attorney general had never before been impeached by the Legislature, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations of misconduct. Only two Texas officials have been removed from office by Senate conviction, Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

If Paxton is to survive, he will need to secure the support of 11 senators. With the 12 Democratic senators likely to support his removal, votes for acquittal would need to come from the 19 Republican members.

None has publicly defended Paxton. In a television interview Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said merely that he believed senators would be responsible jurors and “do their duty.”

A complicating factor is Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, Paxton’s wife. State law requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, though whether she will recuse herself from voting is unclear.

Paxton’s political base lies in the far-right faction of the Republican Party, where he has positioned himself as a champion of conservative causes and a thorn in the side of Democratic President Joe Biden. Paxton has criticized his opponents as RINOs (Republicans in name only) who “want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden’s extremist agenda by taking me out.”

He also retained the backing of the state Republican Party, led by former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who frequently attacks Republicans he considers to be insufficiently conservative. On Friday, Rinadi said the impeachment was Phelan’s fault for allowing Democrats to have too much influence in the House.

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of her state,” Rinaldi said in a statement.

Paxton also has maintained a close relationship with Trump and filed an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Paxton also spoke at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the president’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Related:

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Zach Despart’s staff photo

Zach Despart

[email protected]

@zachdespart

James Barragán’s staff photo

James Barragán

[email protected]

@James_Barragan

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Texas Supreme Court okays ban on gender-affirming care for youth

Law banning gender-affirming care for trans kids allowed to go into effect by justices, each one a Republican

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The Texas Supreme Court (Photo Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

AUSTIN, Texas — Starting Friday, transgender children in Texas will no longer have access to the essential, appropriate and life-saving medication that helps them transition and overcome gender dysphoria. The all-Republican state supreme court refused to stop Senate Bill 14 from taking effect, denying an emergency request for temporary relief. 

“Transgender youth and their families are forced to confront the start of the school year fearful of what awaits them,” said a group of advocacy organizations in a joint statement. They filed suit in July to stop SB 14. 

The new law not only prohibits medication and surgery related to gender transition for all patients under 18, it also prohibits public funds from being used to pay for a minor’s gender-affirming care, and requires the Texas Medical Board to revoke the license of any doctors who provide it. 

Gender-affirming operations for minors are already rare, as the Associated Press has reported; Nationally-recognized medical guidelines recommend patients be at least 15 years old for such surgeries, and only then in special circumstances. Genital reassignment surgery is generally limited to patients 18 and older, according to guidelines for the medical care of transgender patients developed by the Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, or WPATH. 

Last week, a Travis County District Court ruled the law violates the rights of transgender children and their families and granted a temporary injunction. That blocked implementation of the ban, but the Texas Attorney General immediately appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and the justices lifted the injunction Thursday without any written explanation.

“Today’s cruel ruling places Texas’ transgender youth, and the families and medical professionals who love and care for them, directly in harm’s way,” said the advocates, which include Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Transgender Law Center, and two law firms. “The district court heard two days of testimony, weighed the evidence, and made a reasoned and thoughtful determination that the ban likely violated the Texas Constitution, and thus should be delayed while the full case plays out in court. Inexplicably, the Texas Supreme Court disagreed, and transgender youth and their families are forced to confront the start of the school year fearful of what awaits them.

When the law takes effect Friday, Texas will be the most populous state with healthcare restrictions on transgender children, the Associated Press reported. 

Of the 496 anti-LGBTQ bills considered by lawmakers in 45 states in 2023, 130 of them focused on restricting healthcare, like SB 14, according to the ACLU.
But unlike Texas, federal courts have blocked bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In June, a federal court struck down Arkansas’ ban on the grounds it violated the Equal Protection clause, Due Process clauses, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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Texas AG files appeal, trans youth healthcare ban will take effect

The state attorney general’s office appealed a state district court injunction that said the new prohibitions deprives trans kids healthcare

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LGBTQ+ activist Landon Richie protesting at a rally earlier this year at the Texas Capitol in Austin. (Photo Credit: Landon Richie)

By William Melhado | AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas law banning transgender youth from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy will go into effect next week after the state attorney general’s office filed to block a judge’s temporary injunction against Senate Bill 14.

In her decision Friday, state district court Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel wrote that SB 14 “interferes with Texas families’ private decisions and strips Texas parents … of the right to seek, direct, and provide medical care for their children.”

In response, the attorney general’s office filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court, a move that automatically pauses Cantú Hexsel’s injunction and will allow the law to go into effect Sept. 1. The attorney general’s office said such medical treatments are “unproven” and “pushed by some activists in the medical and psychiatric professions” in a statement announcing the appeal Friday evening.

Texas lawmakers passed SB 14 during this year’s regular legislative session, in addition to several other pieces of legislation affecting the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

Texas families and doctors sued the state in July with the hope of blocking the law. They argued SB 14 violates the Texas Constitution because it strips parents’ rights to make decisions about their child’s health care and discriminates against transgender youth by prohibiting access to this population specifically.

Cantú Hexsel’s injunction would have blocked the state attorney general’s office, the Texas Medical Board and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission from enforcing the law. She wrote that transgender youth and their families would “suffer probable, imminent, and irreparable injury” if SB 14 went into effect while the legal battle ensues. A trial is set to begin May 6.

The judge indicated the lawsuit would likely succeed. Agreeing with the plaintiffs, she said that SB 14 was unconstitutional because it violated parents’ rights to make decisions about their children, infringed on doctor’s freedom to practice medicine and discriminated against transgender youth by withholding access to health care.

“This Act was passed because of, and not in spite of, its impact on transgender adolescents, depriving them of necessary, safe, and effective medical treatment,” the judge wrote.

In a hearing last week, medical experts testified to the efficacy of transition-related care in alleviating mental health issues associated with gender dysphoria — a medical term for the distress someone experiences when their gender identity doesn’t match their body.

Defense attorneys called doctors and other experts to discredit the existing evidence that supports the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments on transgender youth diagnosed with gender dysphoria. They argued the risks of these drugs — and transition-related surgeries, which are rarely performed on children — outweigh the benefits.

In the larger medical community, there is less debate over the use of these treatments. Leading medical associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support the use of transition-related care for people under 18.

Alex Sheldon, executive director of GLMA, an association of LGBTQ+ health professionals that is one of the plaintiffs, hailed Cantú Hexsel’s ruling before the attorney general’s office appealed it.

“This ruling stands as a testament to the unwavering dedication of Texas families and the medical expertise of GLMA‘s health professional members, who with each testimony have clearly demonstrated that gender-affirming care is evidence-based, life-saving care,” Sheldon said in a statement Friday. “Although this was just one battle of many, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fight for the rights of trans youth and health care providers offering gender-affirming care in Texas and throughout the nation.”

Similar to Texas’ law, restrictions to transition-related care in other states have faced legal challenges in recent months.

In June, a federal judge ruled that Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors is unconstitutional because it violates the due-process and equal-protection rights of transgender children and their families. Federal judges in FloridaKentucky and Tennessee have also blocked those states’ laws from going into effect. An appeals court intervened to allow Tennessee to implement its ban, and the Kentucky federal judge lifted the injunction he issued, allowing the law to go into effect.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

Editor’s note: The full program is now LIVE for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 21-23 in Austin. Explore the program featuring more than 100 unforgettable conversations coming to TribFest. Panel topics include the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead, how big cities in Texas and around the country are changing, the integrity of upcoming elections and so much more. See the full program.

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Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Judge temporarily blocks Texas’ ban on trans youth healthcare

Texas families and doctors sued the state in July with the hope of blocking the law. They argued SB 14 violates the Texas Constitution

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A transgender pride flag sits on the desk of lawmakers during debate on Senate Bill 14, which bans puberty blockers and hormone therapy for trans kids. (Photo Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

By William Melhado | AUSTIN, Texas – A state district court judge has temporarily blocked a Texas law banning transgender youth from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

In her injunction Friday, Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel wrote that Senate Bill 14 “interferes with Texas families’ private decisions and strips Texas parents … of the right to seek, direct, and provide medical care for their children.”

Texas lawmakers passed SB 14 during this year’s regular legislative session, in addition to several other pieces of legislation affecting the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

Texas families and doctors sued the state in July with the hope of blocking the law. They argued SB 14 violates the Texas Constitution because it strips parents’ rights to make decisions about their child’s health care and discriminates against transgender youth by prohibiting access to this population specifically.

The state could appeal the state district court’s decision in an effort to let the law go into effect Sept. 1.

LA Blade Editor’s Note:

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, ACLU, Transgender Legal Center, Lambda Legal, and the law firms Scott Douglass & McConnico LLP and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP argued for the injunction in court last Tuesday and Wednesday.

 “We are elated by the court’s ruling, which strikes a blow against this outrageous attempt to ban necessary and often life-saving medical care for Texas’ transgender youth, cut off access to medical care for adolescents already receiving treatment, and require the state to revoke the medical licenses of physicians providing the best standard of care to their transgender patients,” said Paul D. Castillo (he/him), Senior Counsel, Lambda Legal. “We will continue to fight for our clients and for all transgender youth in Texas until this dangerous law is permanently set aside.”   

“The court decision is a critical victory for transgender youth and their families, supporters, and health providers against this blatantly unconstitutional law,” said Brian Klosterboer (he/him), attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “As Texans, we believe that each one of us should have the freedom to be ourselves and have access to best-practice medical care that we need for ourselves and our children without facing cruel discrimination or bullying designed as policy. Trans Texans shouldn’t have to go to court to defend their basic rights, and we will keep advocating for our clients every step of the way.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

Editor’s note: The full program is now LIVE for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 21-23 in Austin. Explore the program featuring more than 100 unforgettable conversations coming to TribFest. Panel topics include the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead, how big cities in Texas and around the country are changing, the integrity of upcoming elections and so much more. See the full program.

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Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Texas high schoolers confronted: “You Deserve Hell”

Students at McCallum High School headed out to the waiting busses, & were confronted by a small group of approximately eight street preachers

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Screenshot from mobile phone video posted to social media by a McCallum High School student showing anti-LGBTQ+ street preachers.

AUSTIN, Texas – After the final bell rang on Tuesday signaling the end of the school day and as students at McCallum High School headed out to the waiting busses, they were confronted by a small group of approximately eight street preachers holding anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion signs shouting slogans and anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech.

An Austin Independent School District spokesperson confirmed that the protestors showed up around 4 p.m. as students were being dismissed from class.

“The protesters were on the sidewalk but were blocking the buses, so they were asked to move,” the spokesperson for the Austin ISD said. “Austin ISD Police officers were on-site to ensure everyone’s safety, and the protesters left after about an hour.”

McCallum Principal Andy Baxa in a letter to parents wrote:

Dear McCallum High School community, I regret having to share with you that about eight demonstrators with anti-LGBTQ and antiabortion signs arrived at our school today during dismissal. The demonstrators were on the sidewalk and were blocking the buses.

We immediately contacted our campus police who required the protestors to move out of the way of the buses and onto the public sidewalk.

Austin ISD Police officers remained on-site to ensure everyone’s safety, and the demonstrators left after about an hour.

If your child was exposed to this hateful demonstration and needs support, please contact our counseling team at 512-414-2519.

I want to emphasize that these hateful messages are in direct opposition to our values here at McCallum and to the values of our district. Austin ISD is committed to creating a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment for all students and staff.

Austin’s independent newspaper, The Austin Chronicle reported: Austin ISD police were also there to stand between the harassers and the students, but some parents still expressed alarm. “Very upsetting, with everyone wondering what to do,” one parent told the Chronicle. “Should we respond? Should we ignore? Just very unsettling that something like this could happen so close to a school.”

Parents were also concerned about what seemed to be vague threats. One of the men yelled that Jesus will “judge the living and the dead. That’s what he’s gonna do. I’ve already seen some transvestite out here boo-hooing and crying. … God’s people will never comply with the Devil’s lies.”

Editor’s Note: Caution the following YouTube video was uploaded by the anti-LGBTQ+ group protesting at McCallum High School.

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Texas university students brace for LGBTQ resource center closure

Students confronted with impact of new law requiring all state-funded colleges & universities to close diversity, equity & inclusion offices

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UH LGBTQ Resource Center marks National Coming Out Day on October 11, 2022. (Photo Credit: UH LGBTQ Resource Center/Facebook)

By Monique Welch | HOUSTON – Jamie Gonzales, a former program coordinator at the University of Houston’s LGBTQ Resource Center, hasn’t slept well ever since she heard that the center will be disbanded in accordance with Senate Bill 17, a law banning diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at public higher education institutions.

Although she knew the closure was coming after the bill passed in April in the Texas Senate, she still found herself emotionally ill-prepared to grapple with the reality: an end of an era for a place that served as a beacon of acceptance, safety and support for thousands of queer “Coogs,” as UH students often call themselves.

“There were a lot of special moments held in that space,” said Gonzales while crying during a phone interview this week.

SB 17, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will require that all state-funded colleges and universities close their DEI offices. It also bans any mandatory diversity training.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law June 14. Houston-area Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who filed the bill, said in a June statement that it would promote a “merit-based approach” and “[w]hat sets SB 17 apart from other proposals is that the legislation delivers strong enforcement with mandates to return Texas colleges and universities to their core mission — educate and innovate.”

He said in the statement that the law does not affect student-led organizations. But UH’s LGBTQ Resource Center was a university-run program and falls under the law.

Surprise announcement

Before Thursday, the effect of the law at UH was unclear to many students, alumni and faculty. But all that changed last week when students noticed a flyer taped to the door of the center that read, “In Accordance with Texas Senate Bill 17, the LGBTQ Resource Center has been disbanded.”

University officials later said the flyer was posted “prematurely” and “without the full consultation and communication process.” But the unauthorized announcement went viral on social media and gave many a harsh glimpse into a reality they weren’t yet ready to accept.

Currently, both the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion — a university-run multicultural center — are still operating. But a UH spokesperson confirmed in a statement that there will be changes to university policies to comply with SB 17. The statement said those changes will impact both centers and “require a reconfiguration of departments, employees and their scope of work.” The university plans to present a full implementation plan to the Board of Regents later this month.

Although an official plan is coming, the university’s initial lack of communication left some students, faculty and alumni in anguish, concerned about the future and unsure of what to do next.

The center offered a safe space for many students to be their authentic selves, navigate their identity with peer mentors, and seek training in allyship, sensitive language and gender-neutral pronouns. Besides providing a physical space, the LGBTQ center also organized activities such as a student trip to Washington, D.C., in 2018 to speak to legislators. Gonzales said that upon their return, the impact was evident.

“I remember there was one student out of the group, and when we came back, I remember her changing her major to government. That next year, she ran for [Student Government Association] president and won. That hadn’t even been on her radar before,” she said.

A center decades in the making

Maria Gonzalez is a UH associate professor of English who was among the core group of faculty, staff and students who helped establish the LGBTQ resource center. The group, formerly known as the “Cougar Allies,” made incremental strides toward developing a more inclusive university, she said, such as convincing the university in the years before same-sex marriage was legalized to use the word “guest” rather than “spouse” in communications. But it still took more than a decade of activism before the center officially opened in 2010, she said.

“It was one of those progressive things that took a while to get done,” Gonzalez said. “This is a conservative state, still is. Adding gender identity, gender expression, creating all these things was seen as provocative, and most universities weren’t particularly interested in leading the charge for such things.”

The UH Student Government Association president, Benjamin Rizk, said that regardless of what the law says, Texas legislators can’t change culture or people’s beliefs.

“Although in name UH can’t be exactly diverse and inclusive, it can still be a place of well-being and community,” he said. “You can’t change what people think. It doesn’t really matter what the hell you put on paper.”

Gonzalez said that although it’s infuriating to regress on the progress made, the fight isn’t over. Her mission now is to put the onus on faculty and staff to find ways to support the LGBTQ community.

“I’m telling people to double down,” she said. “All the programs on this campus have to realize that they can’t depend on the LGBT resource center to do anything anymore because it doesn’t exist. So it’s their job to take care of their LGBT students now. Now it’s everybody’s job.”

Disclosure: University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Editor’s note: The full program is now LIVE for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 21-23 in Austin. Explore the program featuring more than 100 unforgettable conversations coming to TribFest. Panel topics include the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead, how big cities in Texas and around the country are changing, the integrity of upcoming elections and so much more. See the full program.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Woman charged: Threatens Federal judge, LGBTQ people & others

A Texas woman has been charged with threatening to kill the federal judge overseeing the criminal case against former President Donald Trump

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Abigail Jo Shry of Alvin, Texas ( Mugshot: U.S. Marshal's Service via Harris County, Texas Sheriff's Department)

HOUSTON – A Texas woman has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing one of the cases against former President Donald Trump, along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Democrats in D.C. and LGBTQ people.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service filed a criminal complaint on Aug. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas accusing 43-year-old Abigail Jo Shry of relaying the threats in a voicemail to Churkan’s chambers in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 5.

According to the filing, Shry began her message by addressing the judge — who, along with Lee, is Black — with racist language, including the n-word, before vowing “to kill anyone who went after” Trump, “including a direct threat to kill” the congresswoman, Democrats in D.C. and “all people in the LGBTQ community.”

“If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024,” she said, “we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, bitch.”

Chutkan was assigned to the case prosecuting Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. On Friday, granting a request from the prosecutor in the case, Special Counsel Jack Smith, she issued a protective order against the former president warning him against making “inflammatory statements” about the case.

“The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool or intimidate potential witnesses, the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial to ensure a jury pool from which we can select an impartial jury,” Chutkan said.

Investigators who traced Shry’s voicemail to her cell phone say she denied having any plans to travel to D.C. or Houston to carry out the threats but warned that if Lee “comes to Alvin, then we need to worry.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Sheldon denied bail for Shry on the grounds that she had been charged several times for similar conduct over the past year, ordering that she be detained for 30 days.

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Texas Governor signs anti-trans ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’

Outside the library were protestors, who told the media Abbott’s priorities were out of step with the wishes of the majority of Texans

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-trans Saves Women's Sports Acts, August 7, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

DENTON, Texas – Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott on Monday signed Senate Bill 15, or the “Save Women’s Sports Act,’ which bars trans athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity at Texas universities and colleges.

The law specifies that athletes compete on teams corresponding to the student’s biological sex listed on their birth certificates. Monday’s signing at the Blagg-Huey Library on the campus of Texas Woman’s University was purely ceremonial, as the governor had previously signed the measure two months ago.

“The legacy of women’s sports will be safeguarded for generations to come because of the law I am about to sign,” Abbott said. “Women in Texas can be assured that the integrity of their sports is protected in our great state.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that in addition to conservative lawmakers and other interested parties, Abbott was joined by former college athletes Riley Gaines and Paula Scanlan. Gaines, who attended the University of Kentucky, has built a media career stemming from her appearance at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in March 2022. During the 200 freestyle event she tied with Lia Thomas, a transgender student-athlete from the University of Pennsylvania. Scanlan was on the swim team with Thomas.

“This is huge news, not only for Texans but for girls across the country,” said Gaines. “This new law will protect the integrity of women’s sports by prohibiting men from competing against women’s athletes at Texas colleges and university.

“It’s pretty amazing that this law is even necessary,” Gaines continued. “If you have eyes and a brain and any amount of common sense, you can easily comprehend the fact that men, on average — and this is a fact — are taller, stronger, more powerful, can jump higher than women. It’s biological reality.”

When asked by a reporter if he understood that in the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community the law made them feel marginalized and how would respond to that Abbott snapped back that women like Gaines and Scanlan — not LGBTQ people — were the true victims of marginalization.

“These are the women who committed their lives — altered their lives — so that they can compete, and yet you heard Riley talking about how she was marginalized,” Abbott said. “She was the winner, and she was denied that victory.”

The Dallas Morning News noted that critics charge that the law seeks to address an issue that largely doesn’t exist. Only about three dozen openly transgender athletes have competed at the collegiate level across the country, and none have been known to compete at a Texas college or university.

Asked by The News about that criticism during a news conference after the bill signing, Abbott laughed but did not answer.

Also present outside the library as the event was underway were about 200 protestors, many who spoke with The News telling the paper they believed the Abbott’s priorities were out of step with the wishes of the majority of Texans.

Abbott Defends ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’, Saying Lawsuits Should Be ‘Dismissed Automatically’:

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LGBTQ+ advocates sue to block Texas’ new drag law

A new legal challenge says the law is so broad and vague that it criminalizes constitutionally protected expression

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Drag artist Brigitte Bandit and other attendees wait to testify against Senate Bill 12 in March. Bandit is among LGBTQ Texans and advocacy groups trying to black the new law, which goes into effect Sept. 1. (Photo Credit: Leila Saidane/The Texas Tribune)

By Rebecca Schneid | AUSTIN – LGBTQ+ Texans and advocates filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block a new state law that criminalizes some drag shows — and other performances — if they occur in front of children.

Senate Bill 12, which goes into effect on Sept. 1, originally sought to classify all drag shows as sexual performances, but it was dramatically altered throughout the regular legislative session. The version the Legislature eventually approved criminalizes performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children as well as any businesses that host those shows.

But it’s how the law defines sexually explicit behavior that spurred the lawsuit.

The complaint argues that SB 12’s language is overly broad, allowing for too much discretion for police, prosecutors and municipalities to decide what is or is not illegal.

“In its zeal to target drag, the Legislature passed a bill so yawning in scope that it criminalizes and restricts an enormous swath of constitutionally protected activity,” says the lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “The State has threatened the livelihood and free expression of many Texans.”

Under the law, business owners would face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit performances in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.” Performers caught violating the proposed restriction could be slapped with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

The Attorney General’s office, whose acting leader is one of the defendants in the suit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. State Sen. Bryan Hughes, who authored SB 12, and several co-authors of the legislation also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Texas, argue that SB 12 violates the First and 14th Amendments because the law “discriminates against the content and viewpoints of performances and imposes prior restraint on free expression.”

According to The Dallas Morning News, attorneys who have reviewed the bill say it could end up criminalizing behavior common at everything from Pride parades to bachelorette parties.

The bill classifies the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied with sexual gesticulations as sexual conduct.

Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer and one of the plaintiffs, criticized the addition of “accessories or prosthetics” to the bill.

“Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?” Bandit asked lawmakers earlier this year. “It’s still really vague but it’s still geared to try to target drag performance, which is what this bill has been trying to do this entire time, right?”

In a press release attached to the complaint, Bandit stated that they will not allow the drag community to be “used as a scapegoat or a distraction by politicians.”

Other plaintiffs are The Woodlands Pride, Abilene PRIDE Alliance, Extragrams LLC and 360 Queen Entertainment LLC.

In addition to the acting attorney general, they are suing the district attorneys Montgomery and Bexar counties, the county attorney of Travis County, The City of Abilene, Woodlands Township, Montgomery County and Taylor County.

GLAAD, Equality Texas and the Transgender Education Network of Texas released a statement criticizing the law and portraying it as an attempt to unconstitutionally restrict the lives of LGBTQ+ Texans.

“The goal of this law is to chip away at our freedoms and eventually erase queer and trans existence from the public sphere,” said Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy advisor for TENT. “The plaintiffs of this case demonstrate true Texas values by standing strong for queer and trans rights. We’re supporting them every step along the way.”

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Editor’s note: More than 200 speakers are now confirmed for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival in downtown Austin from Sept. 21-23. Each year, the Festival engages, challenges and surprises attendees with unexpected talent mashups, must-see interviews and more, curated by the award-winning journalists at The Texas Tribune. See the lineup and get tickets today.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Texas Trans families sue to stop youth healthcare ban

The families argue the new law violates their parental rights by stopping them from providing medical care for their children

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People gather in the state Capitol on May 12 to protest Senate Bill 14, which bans puberty blockers and hormone therapies for transgender youth. (Photo Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

By Eleanor Klibanoff and William Melhado | AUSTIN – Several families with transgender children are asking a judge to block a new Texas law that would stop minors from accessing many types of transition-related health care, including puberty blockers and hormone therapies.

The families argue the new law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, violates their parental rights by stopping them from providing medical care for their children and discriminates against transgender teens on the basis of sex. Several doctors have also joined the lawsuit, arguing the law interferes with their licensure and ability to practice medicine.

The lawsuit, which was filed in state court Wednesday, relies on legal arguments similar to those that have halted or blocked restrictions in several states, including Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee.

“The attack that Texas legislators and the governor have launched against transgender youth and their families and providers is stunning in its cruelty,” said Paul D. Castillo, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit. “They are actively ignoring the science, dismissing best-practice medical care, intervening in a parent’s right to care for and love their child, and explicitly exposing trans youth in Texas to rampant discrimination. This law is not just harmful and cruel, it is life-threatening.”

All major medical associations support the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria, the distress someone feels when their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. But in recent years, conservative groups have launched an all-out war on gender-affirming care, branding it “genital mutilation.”

Earlier this year, Republicans in the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 14, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June. The law stops transgender minors from accessing puberty blockershormone therapies or transition-related surgeries, which medical experts say are rarely performed on children. Children already receiving this care are required to be weaned off in a “medically appropriate” manner, the law says, which many doctors say would be unethical.

“The science on gender dysphoria lacks sufficient high-quality evidence documented, and there’s a growing list of harms, established side effects that accompany patients,” state Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Cypress Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, said during debate on the bill. Oliverson has said the bill was written to withstand expected court challenges.

After the lawsuit was filed, Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano tweeted that the challenge was expected: “What should also be expected is the State of Texas vigorously defending this law that protects children from dangerous and irreversible modification and mutilation procedures. We will fight. And we will win.”

The Texas attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Although the law has yet to go into effect, health care options for transgender minors are already narrowing in Texas. In May, Houston-based Texas Children’s Hospital announced it would discontinue hormone therapy and other gender-affirming care treatments. The same month, adolescent health specialists at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin parted ways with the hospital after Attorney General Ken Paxton announced an investigation into the hospital.

“I can’t tell you what it feels like to be on the end of a call of a parent who has lost their child because their child looks out into the world and sees a world [where], overwhelmingly, adults are telling them and bullying them that they do not belong here, that they are not well, that they are not who they are,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “Then you strip away what’s already a thin layer of the system of health care to support our communities here in the state of Texas. And it’s an even worse outcome.”

Schilling said the law’s “chilling effect” is also diminishing health care options for transgender adults. Some families have decided to leave Texas to ensure their children can continue to receive health care.

“Because my daughter might need puberty blockers in the next few months, I am temporarily relocating out of state with her and my other child,” said one of the plaintiffs, identified in the lawsuit as Mary Moe, who is the mother of a 9-year-old transgender daughter. “I am heartbroken to have to take my children away from their home and their father, even temporarily. But I know that Texas is not a safe place for my daughter if this law forbids her access to this care.”

Texas is the largest of 18 states that have recently passed restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors. But these laws, which mostly sailed through Republican-dominated statehouses, are running into significant barriers in the courtroom.

In June, a federal judge ruled that Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors is unconstitutional because it violates the due process and equal protection rights of transgender children and their families.

“Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that, by prohibiting it, the State undermined the interests it claims to be advancing,” the judge wrote.

Federal judges in FloridaKentucky and Tennessee have also blocked those states’ laws from going into effect, although an appeals court intervened to allow Tennessee to implement its ban.

This lawsuit is filed in state court, citing parental-right protections laid out in the Texas Constitution.

“The Texas Constitution provides stronger rights for parents, stronger rights in the guarantees of equality … and much stronger rights with respect to the individual rights of autonomy,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Paul Castillo said. “Those decisions that rest with parents are at their apex when they are made in consultation with physicians who recommend this medically necessary care.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Texas Governor Abbott signs bill banning trans youth healthcare

Texas joins over a dozen other states restricting transgender minors from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapies

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Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major at university & a leading trans activist protesting at the Texas Capitol Building last month. (Photo Credit: Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen & William Melhado | AUSTIN – Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [Month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Non-Binary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached attorney general Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Los Angeles Blade Editor’s Note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to “protect youth” while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

**********************

Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

Donation Link Here

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