LGBT community looks ahead to 2013 legislative session to push for equality bills

Megan Strickland

Equality legislation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community in Texas has rarely had much success, but now has a better chance of passing in the 2013 Texas legislative session based on progress made in the previous two sessions, said Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas.

Coleman and Zac Evans, a Texas legislative aide and UT law student, spoke at a talk hosted by OUTLaw, the LGBT alliance for the UT School of Law, on Thursday about the progress made in the recently concluded legislative session and the steps the LGBT community will take to work for equality in 2013 and beyond.

“The 81st session was the first session where we were not on the defense,” Coleman said. “We didn’t have good things go through, but we were not fighting bad things and we actually saw some headway.”

The 82nd session was historic for the LGBT community because it was the first time pro-equality legislation passed, Coleman said.

“We had over a dozen pro-equality bills that received hearings, which is unheard of,” Coleman said. “A lot of people were amazed — not only in Texas but outside of Texas — that this was taking place. As many of you know, we were able to get two pro-equality bills passed, both related to anti-bullying.”

The anti-bullying bills, House Bill 1942 and House Bill 1386, will protect all children regardless of sexual orientation by requiring all school boards to adopt an anti-bullying policy in time for the 2012-13 school year.

Coleman said the LGBT community will focus on advocating legislation that protects workers from being fired for their sexual orientation and allows same sex parents to be named on birth certificates of children in 2013.

Evans said he and others are also working to make the state legal code match a Supreme Court ruling that made Texas’ anti-sodomy laws illegal. Evans helped present the case for House Bill 604, a bill that would have eliminated anti-sodomy laws, during the 2011 legislative session.

“HB 604 would have effectively amended the state penal code, to match what the Supreme Court laid out in Lawrence v. Texas,” Evans said. “Section 21.06 still makes it a misdemeanor to have deviant sexual relations with a person of the same sex. It’s shocking to me to see it on the books, frankly.”

Evans said the LGBT community will also fight to legally amend provisions within the Texas Health Code that require public schools to teach students that homosexuality leads to increased rates of HIV.

The best way to support legislation in the future is to continue to voice concerns to legislators while they are out of session now, Evans said.

“Even the hardest nuts do crack and come around every now and again, if you are persistent,” Evans said.

Law student Richard Sawyer said he is torn between supporting measures to take anti-sodomy laws off the books and legislation for equality in the workplace as the most important LGBT issue in Texas.

“My instinct is to say they need to repeal existing criminal laws, but they don’t have any practical effect on peoples’ lives,” Sawyer said. “They are symbolic. Anti-discrimination laws in the workplace affect every LGBT person in the workforce, so that’s probably a more practical place to start.”

Printed on Friday 21, 2011 as: LGBT coalition lobbies for equality laws