Student LGBT Activists Rally at UH to Condemn Host of "Religious Freedom" Bills

Becca Keo-Meier, a gender-non-conforming social work graduate student at the University of Houston, said they use the "clean bathroom."EXPAND
Becca Keo-Meier, a gender-non-conforming social work graduate student at the University of Houston, said they use the "clean bathroom."
Meagan Flynn
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Texas legislators sure spend plenty of time and energy thinking up religious freedom bills. This session, around two dozen anti-LGBT bills are making their way through the Legislature, in many cases giving business people or medical providers the right to refuse services to LGBT people based on "sincerely held religious beliefs."

So on Tuesday, LGBT students and allies held rallies across Texas asking conservative lawmakers to stop pushing laws that give Texans the right to discriminate, in the name of religion, against a whole group of already-vulnerable people. About two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the University of Houston's MD Anderson Library, holding signs that read, "Texas students against hate." They hoped to shed light on the fact that there are far more bills than just the "bathroom bill," which seeks to regulate transgender bathroom rules, that will harm the LGBT community.

"Throughout this legislative session — and in particular when discussing SB-6, the anti-trans bathroom bill — LGBT people have been unfairly demeaned and vilified," said Ali Lozano, one of the organizers with the Texas Freedom Network. "We hope that none of the 24 anti-LGBT bills become law, but just having this debate, a debate about whether transgender individuals should simply be permitted to exist in public spaces, and the rhetoric used by some at the Capitol, has only put LGBT individuals at greater risk."

Some bills, such as Senate Bill 522 by Republican state senators Charles Perry and Brian Birdwell, would allow county clerks to recuse themselves from signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples if they believe doing so would violate those sincerely held religious beliefs (hereafter known as SHRB). Another Senate bill authored by the same pair of ambitious religious freedom fighters would allow people employed in any of Texas's 65 licensed occupations to refuse service to people if those folks violate their SHRB.

So, for example, private medical providers wouldn't really have to help trans patients if they assert that being transgender violates their SHRB; barbers wouldn't have to cut gay people's hair if they didn't feel like it; plumbers could let toilets overflow and electricians could keep people in the dark if they happened to religiously disagree with the customer's sexual orientation. And the bill would prohibit the state from disciplining them for any of this.

Other bills allow wedding-industry businesses, such as cake makers and florists, to refuse service to LGBT couples (HB 2876 by Representative Scott Sanford), allow "conscientious refusal" of health-care services of any kind based on moral beliefs (HB 2878 by Sanford) and allow child welfare service providers to refuse to take in LGBT kids (SB 892 — also by Senator Perry).

None of these bills has made significant headway in the Lege, at least not yet. The so-called bathroom bill, SB 6, has passed in the Senate, but its future is far less certain in the House. A House substitute, HB 2899, is less restrictive than SB 6 and does not include provisions about requiring school districts and cities to enforce bathroom bills based on biological sex, but prohibits jurisdictions from passing trans-inclusive bathroom policies. Which, to the LGBT community, is not much better.

"As a person who is regularly harassed in restrooms, it's unfair for me to have to avoid restrooms and changing facilities due to fear of confrontation," said Becca Keo-Meier, a queer graduate social work student at the University of Houston. "These attempts to push certain groups out of public life would place gender-expansive groups at risk of further harassment and abuse.

The youngest speaker of the afternoon was a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Lincoln Dow. He called out legislators for wasting their time on discriminatory legislation while more important issues linger.

"Our legislators have just under five months every two years to pass laws, and they have real issues to deal with — things like education, CPS and our infrastructure," Dow said. But instead these so-called public servants spend their time attacking the LGBT community. Wouldn't it be nice to have elected officials who actually expend effort to protect them from discrimination, not to legalize it?"

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