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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

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.

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

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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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

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.

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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.

Donation Link Here

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Texas

Bill restricting ‘explicit shows’ in front of children heads to Abbott

“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders” Advocates: ‘revisions to the legislation still target drag’

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The Texas State Capitol on June 8, 2022. (Photo Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune)

By William Melhado | AUSTIN – The Texas Legislature gave final approval Sunday to a bill that will criminalize performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children as well as any businesses that host them.

Originally designed as legislation to restrict minors from attending certain drag shows, lawmakers agreed on bill language that removed direct reference to drag performers just before an end-of-day deadline. The bill now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Under Senate Bill 12, 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.

After lawmakers from both chambers met in a conference committee to hash out the differences between their versions of the bill, the House and Senate released a new one that expanded the penal code’s definition of sexual conduct. The bill classifies as sexual conduct the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied with sexual gesticulations.

Advocates said this addition is aimed at drag queens’ props and costumes, which is evidence that lawmakers are still targeting the LGBTQ community.

Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, amended the legislation in the House by removing explicit reference to drag. Shaheen told The Texas Tribune that members had viewed videos of performances in which children were exposed to “lewd, disgusting, inappropriate stuff.” He said the updated bill addresses what was in those videos. Shaheen did not specify which videos concerned lawmakers.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, authored SB 12 after a small but loud group of activists and extremist groups fueled anti-drag panic by filming drag shows and posting the videos on social media. Those groups characterized all drag as inherently sexual regardless of the content or audience, which resonated with top GOP leaders in the state, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Advocates say the revisions to the legislation still target drag, even if those types of performances aren’t directly mentioned in the bill.

Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, criticized the addition of “accessories or prosthetics” to the bill. Drag artists performing in front of children don’t wear sexually explicit costumes, Bandit said, adding that this bill creates a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t acceptable to do at drag shows.

“Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?” Bandit asked. “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?”

Shaheen said that including direct reference to drag performers wasn’t necessary to the intent of the bill, which was to restrict children from seeing sexually explicit material.

“You want it to cover inappropriate drag shows, but you [also] want it to cover if a stripper starts doing stuff in front of a child,” Shaheen said.

Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, spoke against the bill Sunday just before the House gave it final approval in a 87-54 vote. She criticized the removal of language that previously narrowed the bill’s enforcement to only businesses. González warned that the bill’s vague language could lead to a “domino effect” of consequences.

“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders,” said González. “It can go into your homes and say what is allowed in your homes after the lines ‘commercial enterprise’ were stricken out.”

During a House hearing on SB 12, Democrats questioned whether the bill’s language would also ensnare restaurants like Twin Peaks that feature scantily clad servers. Shaheen said the way the bill is written exempts these types of performances.

LGBTQ lawmakers applauded the removal of the direct reference to drag performers. But advocates fear the phrase “prurient interest in sex” could be interpreted broadly since Texas law doesn’t have a clear definition of the term, said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who testified against the bill in a House committee.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the term is defined as “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion,” though the language’s interpretation varies by community.

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William Melhado’s staff photo

William Melhado

[email protected]

@williammelhado

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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. 

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

Continue Reading

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