AP NEWS

First LGBTQ Caucus in Texas House pushes back against critics

February 20, 2019

Members of the first LGBTQ Caucus in the Texas House gathered Wednesday to push back against Christian groups that are opposing efforts to make Texas laws more inclusive of same-sex relationships and transgender issues.

The five members of the caucus were joined by faith leaders and the heads of LGBTQ chambers of commerce who support their legislative push, which includes bills that would make it illegal to discriminate against people in housing, public accommodations and employment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In Texas, there is no state law protecting those groups from discrimination, though some cities, including Houston, Austin and San Antonio, have adopted anti-discrimination ordinances.

“The Bible I read does not tell me to discriminate against my neighbor, but to love my neighbor and to treat everyone as I would like to be treated,” said the Rev. Michael Diaz, associate pastor of Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas, at a news conference on the steps of the Capitol. “Like the majority of Texans, I believe it’s time our state laws reflect the same sense of respect to gay and transgender Texans.”

Christian advocacy group Texas Values says the efforts of the caucus and its supporters amount to an attack on religious freedom.

Texas Values is also calling out bills authored by LGBTQ Caucus members state Reps. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, and Celia Israel, D-Austin, that include penalties for counselors and therapists who attempt to change a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“These ‘Ban the Bible’ bills at the Texas Legislature are an aggressive effort to create excessive government control over people’s lives. Creating more government control and threatening Christians with jail time or fines is putting personal politics over constitutional liberty,” said Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values.

The bills that Texas Values is opposing include:

House Bill 1190 by Hernandez and House Bill 517 by Israel, which would provide penalties for mental health providers who engage in “unprofessional conduct” by attempting to change the sexual orientation of a child.

House Bill 978 by state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, which would amend the Texas Family Code to use gender-neutral language when discussing marriage — changing references to “man and woman” or “husband and wife” to “two individuals” or “spouses.” The bill would also amend the Health and Safety Code to remove provisions regarding the criminality or unacceptability of “homosexual conduct.”

House Bill 244 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, House Bill 254 by state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and Senate Bill 151 by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in jobs, public accommodations and housing.

Senate Bill 154, also by Rodríguez, which would allow an individual to apply for a new birth certificate with a change to their name and sex by providing a sworn affidavit by a physician -- not a court order, as mandated under current state law.

As well as Hernandez and Israel, the House LGBTQ Caucus includes state Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso; state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton; and state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood.