By: Jarred Gammon

Follow on Twitter: @jarredtgammon

Recently the rights of the LGBT community have been a hot topic of debate nationally, and also here in Texas. With major shifts in public opinion, lawmakers and judges across the country were tasked with determining whether existing laws need to be amended to be more inclusive, including marriage equality and non-discrimination legislation. In Texas though, conservative legislators tried to make it clear early in the session that they, not pro-LGBT activists, would be the ones doing the cake cutting. Let’s take a look at how these issues played out in the 84th Texas Legislature.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.25.27 PM

* Above is a timeline tracking how LGBT-related issues manifested online during the legislative session

 

MARRIAGE EQUALITY

With the U.S. Supreme Court expected at the time to rule in favor of marriage equality, and on the heels of the state’s first court ordered same-sex marriage of a lesbian couple in Travis County, some Texas legislators scrambled to find ways to push anti-gay marriage legislation. House Bill 623, by Rep. Cecil Bell, would have prevented the state from using state funds to issue same-sex marriage licenses or to enforce a court order to recognize same-sex marriage. The bill, referred to as the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act,” included a provision that state or local government employees who do issue same-sex marriage licenses could potentially forfeit their salary.

House Bill 623 failed to pass the before deadline, but it was resurrected by Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio. In what some might consider to be the slimiest move of the session, Sen. Lucio, Chairman of the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, added the anScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.04.01 PMti-gay marriage provision into a broad county government bill (House Bill 2977) – something he kept secret from other committee members. The bill passed the committee with a vote of 4-2, but eventually died in the House. Later, Sen. Kelly Hancock authored a similar resolution (Senate Resolution 1028) that was passed in the Senate, where Sen. Lucio was the only Democrat voting for the resolution. Since Texas already had a constitutional amendment banning the marriage of same-sex couples, this was more of a symbolic gesture indicating that the Texas Senate had no intention of complying with a pro-gay marriage ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additionally, bills like House Bill 4105, another bill relating to insurance, enforcement, and recognition of marriage licenses that was coauthored by nearly every Republican in the House, and Senate Bill 2065, which protects individuals and religious organizations from being forced to violate a sincerely held religious belief (re: pastors forced to marry gay and lesbian couples), garnered a lot of attention – both in traditional news and on social media (see both bills listed in the top LGBT hashtags).

 

NON-DISCRIMINATION

There were also a number of bills that tried to legalize blatant discrimination against the LGBT community and reverse existing nondiscrimination protections. Legislation such as House Bill 3864, proposed by Rep. Scott Sanford, protects the right of religious-based child welfare service providers to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, and also permits religious education and denial of birth control. Many critics said the bill, which stalled in calendars, did not consider the welfare of the child and claimed that it would have unintended consequences like allowing for forced gay conversation therapy.

Then there was Senate Joint Resolution 10 by Tea Party Sen. Donna Campbell, which would have amended the Texas Constitution to allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. Rather than concede to public opinion of constituents, these legislators were swimming against the current in an effort to suppress their LGBT constituents’ rights.

 

ACTIVATING THE BASE

Using a mostly defensive strategy, organizations and associations advocating for LGBT rights managed to salvage a successful legislative session, despite fighting against a legislature stacked with social conservatives. With the backing of Texas Democrats who hold faScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.04.50 PMr lesspower than their Republican counterparts, LGBT supporters were able to marry a strong online presence with creative legislative tactics on the ground at the Capitol (like chubbing) to stave off harmful legislation.\

The pro-gay coalition was largely successful against the conservative offensive because they effectively mobilized their support groups to amplify their message, which resonates with younger generations, through social media. Younger Texans are more support
ive of the LGBT community, so being highly visible on social media was a smart tactic to keep this demographic engaged in the fight.

Also, the backing of large Texas businesses helped present this issue from an economic frame that appealed to fiscal conservatives. Partnering with the Texas Association of Business and major employers across the state may have been the difference maker for LGBT advocates.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.05.10 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.05.38 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.05.55 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.06.17 PM

As we have seen following the SCOTUS decision allowing same-sex marriage, the LGBT fight in Texas is FAR from over. We can expect the focus to shift to non-discrimination and equal protection moving forward, but the major players in the game remain the same. We look forward to seeing how both sides prepare in the interim, hopefully emphasizing digital media as a component to their overall strategy and execution in the 85th Texas Legislature.

 

Houston Proposition 1

America’s fourth largest city voted yesterday to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by city council, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (commonly referred to as HERO, also referred to as Prop 1 at the ballot). The ordinance provided new protections from race, age, sexuality, and gender identity discrimination.

Early polls indicated that the ordinance would be upheld, but as the election grew closer, there was a shift and public opinion predicted defeat. All eyes were on Houston as they took to the voting booths following very heated campaigns from both sides.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.21.53 PM

 

This popular vote for equality can teach us an important lesson on fighting for the frame. As you can imagine, the far right zeroed in on the gay and transgender protections as a means of defeating the ordinance. Specifically, “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms” became the slogan of HERO opponents. The opposition group, mostly led by a group of local pastors and social conservatives, falsely claimed that any man could go into a women’s bathroom at any time “simply by claiming to be a woman that day.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick went so far to say that HERO had “nothing to do with equal rights,” and that Texas voters will continue to reject liberal ideals.

Annise Parker, the city’s lesbian mayor, led the charge of HERO advocates, which consisted of gay rights activists, human rights and equality groups, Texas business groups, and a star-studded group of famous celebrities and elected officials. On the issue of bathrooms, Parker said those attacks were “”a calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little understood minority” (the transgender community).

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 2.17.16 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 11.16.53 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 2.23.17 PM

Supporters of Prop 1 tried to shift the focus off of the LGBT provisions and on to the other categories of protected citizens. They reminded voters just how diverse and multicultural Houston is, and how the city must protect all of its citizens. They also highlighted how this type of protection from discrimination already existed in 200 cities nationwide and 17 states!

Unfortunately for HERO supporters, this is Texas – a state that prides itself on being far removed from whatever the rest of the country is doing. Below are a few of the most popular tweets from both sides following the vote.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.47.45 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.53.38 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.53.13 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.52.43 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.52.58 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.24.06 PM