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Chants of “Protect trans kids” echoed across the Capitol as hundreds of LGBTQ Texans and their supporters gathered Saturday afternoon to express anger and fear over a slate of rapidly moving bills targeting queer people.
The mid-April heat matched the anger many felt toward Republican lawmakers who seek to ban transgender students from playing college sports, queer youth from accessing transition-related health care and other efforts to restrict LGBTQ rights.
“Welcome to the resistance,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group that organized the march, said as he implored protesters to do everything in their power to stop the legislation in the final six weeks of the legislative session.
After gathering several blocks north of the Capitol, chanting protesters marched amid drag queens and rainbow flags before rallying on the south steps to hear fiery speeches and offer consolation.
“Right now everyone’s upset, frustrated, speechless,” said Natalie Kennedy, an Austin resident who showed up Saturday to support the queer community.
The Texas Senate has already passed all of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority bills focused on LGBTQ people, including legislation that would restrict schools’ role in discussing the existence of LGBTQ people, block transgender kids’ access to gender-affirming care that major medical groups support, ban trans college athletes from joining sports teams that align with their gender identity, and defund public libraries that let drag queens read to children.
The House — which has historically served as an obstacle to legislation that would curb the rights of LGBTQ Texans — has also showed signs of moving quickly on some of these bills.
On Friday, a House committee advanced new versions of House Bill 1686 and Senate Bill 14, which would ban trans youth from accessing puberty blockers or hormone therapy. The bills now require trans youth already receiving those treatments to be weaned off the prescription medication. The bills would also ban surgeries, though they are rarely performed on adolescents.
Outside the Capitol, Alexander Peden’s stomach was emblazoned with the words, “Trans bodies are holy.”
For Peden, 20, the fight to protect access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy is deeply personal. Peden started taking testosterone when he was 15 years old, saying it was “absolutely fundamental in saving my life.”
Without access to hormones, Peden said his family would have had to leave Texas, a state they’ve called home for generations.
Peden warned that banning puberty blockers and hormone therapy — crucial treatments for youths struggling with bullying, ostracization and thoughts of suicide — would invariably lead to unnecessary death. Access to hormone therapy was a life saver, Peden said, adding that he believes he was finally able to be comfortable in his body after transition-related surgery.
“I finally let out a breath I had been holding my entire life,” he said.
Medical experts say gender-affirming care is aimed at improving the mental health of trans youth. Transgender children are far more likely to be depressed and attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. A 2015 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality found 40% of the roughly 27,000 transgender people surveyed had attempted suicide — almost nine times the average rate in the country.
Bills that seek to restrict health care and regulate what drag shows can be performed in front of children have been condemned by more than 100 advocacy groups and churches. Democratic chairs of six House caucuses, including the House LGBTQ Caucus, have also denounced the slate of legislation.
Melissa Meyer has navigated the challenges of being a queer Texan and was relieved to have found a community that supports her.
“I know who loves me and who doesn’t, and that’s a gift,” Meyer said.
The “disgusting bills” targeting trans youth, Meyer said, are attacks on the LGBTQ community and values Texans hold dear. Families of trans youth have already fled the state out of fear of the governor’s directive to launch child abuse investigations against parents who provide their children with gender-affirming care.
“To think our tax dollars are going to targeting trans kids,” Meyer said, shaking her head.
Zoë Schirmer, a transgender adult, said they were terrified about what these efforts could mean for their future. Schirmer pointed to efforts in several other states to ban transition-related care, such as a recent emergency rule by Missouri’s Republican attorney general to restrict access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy for youth and adults.
Despite the decades of progress the LGBTQ community has made, Schirmer said, it feels as though the rug is being pulled from beneath trans youth.
A common refrain Saturday was discomfort over how aggressive lawmakers have pursued anti-LGBTQ bills this session.
Peden and others worried that Texas would become inhospitable for queer people if these bills were to become law.
“It got so bad so fast. And it looks like it’s going to get worse,” Peden said.
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