Metro Weekly

Do Texas Anti-LGBTQ Laws Violate Human Rights?

Advocates are requesting that the United Nations condemn the laws, and pressure the U.S. government to intervene.

Illustration: Todd Franson

LGBTQ advocates have sent a letter to the United Nations claiming that a spate of anti-LGBTQ laws in Texas violates international human rights.

It warns the global body of the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in Texas due to the passage of seven different bills aimed at restricting LGBTQ rights or visibility.

The letter was submitted by Equality Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic.

Addressed to 17 independent experts, working groups, and U.N. special rapporteurs, the letter alleges that the laws significantly infringe on LGBTQ individuals’ rights.

“Taken individually, the seven pieces of legislation (the ‘Bills’) discussed in this submission will disrupt the lives of LGBTQIA+ people of various ages and backgrounds,” the letter reads. “Put together, the Bills are a systemic attack on the fundamental rights, dignities, and identities of LGBTQIA+ persons that opens the gates for discrimination by both public and private actors.

“Considering the danger this represents, we humbly ask for you to make inquiries into this backsliding of human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in the state of Texas, United States of America.”

The advocates also assert that the U.S. federal government has failed to adopt sufficient measures to protect against anti-LGBT discrimination. Despite some federal courts intervening to block select laws, the advocates say the federal government has not “adopted a proper response to the systemic attack on LGBTQIA+ persons living in the state of Texas.”

The bills in question include measures barring trans-identifying minors from accessing gender-affirming care, prohibiting public universities from maintaining diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, banning collegiate transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity, and allowing chaplains to counsel school children, without any limits on proselytization.

Other measures include a ban on “sexually explicit” content that primarily targets LGBTQ-related books, a bill banning drag performances in public, and a bill to prohibit localities from passing or enforcing nondiscrimination ordinances that have not been explicitly approved by the Texas Legislature. 

The letter explains in detail how each law violates the United States’ obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties.

The signatories claim that the laws violate LGBTQ Texans’ right to live free from discrimination, their right to privacy, their right to access health care, their right to freedom of expression, and right to education.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee said in a December report that it was concerned with the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ legislation being introduced in various states.

In the letter, the signatories have asked the U.N. to request information from the U.S. federal government about how it will defend the rights of LGBTQ Texans, and to recommend, publicly, that both the Texas and federal governments adopt legislation instituting stronger protections for LGBTQ rights.

Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, tells Metro Weekly that LGBTQ Texans, especially those involved in advocacy work, face an “incredibly hostile environment” in the state with a proliferation of bills — with 141 introduced last year alone — seeking to restrict LGBTQ rights or visibility.

“We fought at the legislature,” he says. “We talked to lawmakers about the harm of these bills. We marshaled thousands of people to the Capitol to uplift their personal stories. And yet we continue to see the same result of anti-LGBTQ animus. We’re asking the U.N. to look into the abuses of human rights here in Texas and intervene on our behalf.”

Martinez is not aware of another state that has issued a similar request but notes that, since Texas advocates believe this is one of the few options available to them, it demonstrates how extreme the anti-LGBTQ attacks have become in the Lone Star State.

“I know what it feels like as a queer Texan to live in Texas,” he says, “to navigate daily life with a certain fear, and a checklist of risk assessment in every space that I enter. This allegation letter to the U.N. is focused primarily around the seven bills that passed last year. But there were 141 anti-LGBTQ bills that were filed.

“And the problem isn’t just those bills. It is also the weaponization of state agencies where Texas leaders have weaponized departments — Family Protective Services, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners — against LGBTQ Texans.

“We’re also seeing the proliferation of disinformation create an unsafe landscape for LGBTQ people,” Martinez adds. “You’re seeing the rise of radicalized parent groups, and hate groups that are targeting our community. You’re seeing the infiltration of our safe spaces, where anti-LGBTQ extremists are showing up, armed, to pride or drag shows, and you’re seeing this rise in vigilantism and intimidation. So this is a layered attack on LGBTQ Texans. I’m sure that other states are experiencing similar things, but it is amplified here.”

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