A Texas Democratic state representative helped revive an anti-transgender bill that had stalled in committee, in retaliation against his fellow Democrats for defeating a bill he sponsored.
State Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston), the chair of the House Public Education committee, had previously brought Senate Bill 29, a measure that would prohibit transgender student-athletes from competing in sports based on their gender identity, up for a vote last Tuesday. The bill failed to advance, in part due to the absence of State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), who supports a ban on trans athletes, and due to Dutton abstaining from voting.
LGBTQ advocates had initially cheered the bill’s defeat, seeing the House Education Committee as the last reliable obstacle preventing its passage. Although House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) has expressed resistance to anti-LGBTQ bills dealing with controversial social issues, if the Speaker allows a floor vote — and particularly if he allows members of the GOP to vote their conscience — no one can be assured that the measure will be defeated.
On Thursday, Dutton introduced a bill that would empower Texas Education Commissioner Michael Morath to take over control of a school district and remove school board members if the district’s schools fails to meet various academic standards. The bill is a response to an ongoing fight between the Texas Education Agency and the Houston Independent School District regarding an agency attempt to take over the district in 2019.
That attempt was blocked by a state appeals court, but Dutton, a graduate of Houston Public Schools, is passionate about the need for reform, given that his own alma mater has received “F” ratings in recent years.
Dutton’s bill, which is largely unpopular among Democrats, was blocked by fellow Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), who argued that the bill gave too much power to the Texas Education Agency.
After his bill was voted down, Rep. Lina Ortega (D-El Paso), who had worked with Allen on the objection, claims Dutton said something to the effect of, “Because of what you did, SB 29 is coming back up,” according to the Texas Tribune.
Most Democrats fiercely oppose SB 29, seeing it as a both a discriminatory and malicious attack against transgender children, and an uncomfortable issue that’s difficult to talk about and that few understand. Additionally, because Democrats, for ideological reasons, may hold opinions regarding transgender inclusion in sports that are unpopular among a majority of Texans, reviving the bill only gives Republicans another issue to exploit when attacking Democrats in the 2022 legislative elections.
But that is precisely the gift that Dutton handed to Republicans when he retaliated against his own party, bringing up the transgender sports bill once more and voting, along with a now-present Rep. Huberty, to advance the measure out of committee and to the floor of the House.
“The bill that was killed last night affected far more children than this bill ever will,” Dutton said as he revived the measure and moved for its passage.
Because SB 29 previously passed the Senate last month, if it gains a simple majority in the House, it is all but certain to become law, because Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has previously vowed to sign a trans sports ban into law in the Lone Star State.
State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), a member of the House Education Committee, said the vote was “soul-crushing.”
“The vote, bringing it back up, was used as a form of retaliation by the chairman,” Bernal told the Tribune.
“Any policy that harms the emotional and educational well-being for our students is bad for Texas students, for Texas families, and for our state,” Turner told NBC affiliate KXAS. “The bill should move no further in the process, and the Texas House should be allowed to focus on common-sense policies that benefit Texans, not discriminatory legislation that attacks our children.”
Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, told the Tribune that his organization is already being contacted by parents of transgender children who are upset that their children will be targeted and barred from certain activities.
“It is an incomprehensible betrayal to see a Democrat, who heard desperate testimony from children and parents, take this incredibly harmful action out of sheer vindictiveness toward his Democratic colleagues,” Martinez said.
Opponents of the bill have noted that the only way it can be enforced is by flagging cisgender female athletes who do not conform to gender stereotypes of femininity and requiring them to “prove” their assigned sex at birth. Some critics believe that coaches or athletes, desperate to win at all costs, may even use the law in the future to accuse their opponents of being transgender in order to sideline their toughest opponents, as a way of cheating.
To illustrate how this would work, opponents point to the case of Heather Gothard, a cisgender female runner who won a road race in Cleburne, Texas, was accused by someone on social media of being transgender, which led some users to demand she be disqualified from competing as a woman.
“Regardless if I was trans or not, this should be a safe space for everyone, and I’m a firm believer that we all should, you know, have our own authentic self-expression,” Gothard told Spectrum News 1 in an interview. “It’s not right for someone to discriminate against me, just because I may not fit the stereotypical female runner, you know, I have short hair, I wear a hat, I wear longer shorts.”
But Adri Perez, the policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas, says that’s exactly what will happen — on a much larger scale — if SB 29 becomes law.
“While SB 29 specifically seeks to target transgender kids, it will open the door for discrimination towards any child who does not fit the gender norms expected of them,” Perez said.
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