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Texas governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1

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Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Texas

Federal judge halts Texas porn law, says violates First Amendment

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U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction Aug. 31 that blocked a Texas law from taking effect the following day that would have required adult websites to use “reasonable age verification methods,” such as government ID, to ensure users who are accessing explicit content are aged 18 or older. 

The law, Texas House Bill 1181, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed on June 12, 2023, also required that websites display in 14-point font or larger the following warning: “Pornography is potentially biologically addictive, is proven to harm human brain development, desensitizes brain reward circuits, increases conditioned responses, and weakens brain function.” There were provisions in the law that should the website operators fail to adhere to the requirements, Texas attorney general would be able to sue non-complaint adult websites for $3 million per year.

In his ruling, Ezra noted that:

  • The law violates First Amendment rights of creators and consumers
  • The law has a chilling effect on legally-protected speech
  • Parental filters are a less restrictive and more effective method of protecting minors
  • The state does not have the right to compel speech in the form of health warnings

“The state has a legitimate goal in protecting children from sexually explicit material online,” Ezra wrote and added: “But that goal, however crucial, does not negate this Court’s burden to ensure that the laws passed in its pursuit comport with established First Amendment doctrine.”

“This is a huge and important victory against the rising tide of censorship online,” says Alison Boden, executive director of Free Speech Coalition. “From the beginning, we have argued that the Texas law, and those like it, are both dangerous and unconstitutional. We’re pleased that the court agreed with our view that HB1181’s true purpose is not to protect young people, but to prevent Texans from enjoying First Amendment protected expression. The state’s defense of the law was not based in science or technology, but ideology and politics.”

The Free Speech Coalition has argued that these new and expensive verification technologies present an unreasonable burden for both sites and users, stressing that members of the adult industry already register with parental filters and other software to help parents easily block adult content.

“The ruling rebuffs nearly every argument made by state legislatures, and not only in Texas,” says Boden. “While Texas presented the most straightforward path to securing a ruling like this, the issues are the same whether in Utah, Louisiana or Virginia. Anyone who attempts to bring a case in those jurisdictions faces little hope of success. We are thrilled with the decision and thank our co-plaintiffs for joining this battle and defending the industry. We are confident that the law will ultimately be struck down permanently.”

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Texas

Woman charged with threatening judge, Democratic congresswoman, LGBTQ people, others

Abigail Jo Shry made threats in voicemail to judge’s chambers

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U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Screenshot/YouTube KHOU 11 News)

A Texas woman has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing one of the cases against former President Donald Trump, along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Democrats in D.C. and LGBTQ people.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service filed a criminal complaint on Aug. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas accusing 43-year-old Abigail Jo Shry of relaying the threats in a voicemail to Churkan’s chambers in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 5.

According to the filing, Shry began her message by addressing the judge — who, along with Lee, is Black — with racist language, including the n-word, before vowing “to kill anyone who went after” Trump, “including a direct threat to kill” the congresswoman, Democrats in D.C. and “all people in the LGBTQ community.”

“If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024,” she said, “we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, bitch.”

Chutkan was assigned to the case prosecuting Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. On Friday, granting a request from the prosecutor in the case, Special Counsel Jack Smith, she issued a protective order against the former president warning him against making “inflammatory statements” about the case.

“The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool or intimidate potential witnesses, the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial to ensure a jury pool from which we can select an impartial jury,” Chutkan said.

Investigators who traced Shry’s voicemail to her cell phone say she denied having any plans to travel to D.C. or Houston to carry out the threats but warned that if Lee “comes to Alvin, then we need to worry.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Sheldon denied bail for Shry on the grounds that she had been charged several times for similar conduct over the past year, ordering that she be detained for 30 days.

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Texas governor signs ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’

Transgender athletes barred from teams that correspond with their gender identity

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed Senate Bill 15, or the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” which bars transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity at Texas universities and colleges. 

The law specifies that athletes compete on teams corresponding to the student’s biological sex listed on their birth certificates. Monday’s signing at the Blagg-Huey Library on the campus of Texas Woman’s University was purely ceremonial, as the governor had previously signed the measure two months ago.

“The legacy of women’s sports will be safeguarded for generations to come because of the law I am about to sign,” Abbott said. “Women in Texas can be assured that the integrity of their sports is protected in our great state.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that in addition to conservative lawmakers and other interested parties, Abbott was joined by former college athletes Riley Gaines and Paula Scanlan. Gaines, who attended the University of Kentucky, has built a media career stemming from her appearance at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in March 2022. During the 200 freestyle event she tied with Lia Thomas, a trans student athlete from the University of Pennsylvania. Scanlan was on the swim team with Thomas.

“This is huge news, not only for Texans but for girls across the country,” said Gaines. “This new law will protect the integrity of women’s sports by prohibiting men from competing against women’s athletes at Texas colleges and university.

“It’s pretty amazing that this law is even necessary,” Gaines continued. “If you have eyes and a brain and any amount of common sense, you can easily comprehend the fact that men, on average — and this is a fact — are taller, stronger, more powerful, can jump higher than women. It’s biological reality.”

When asked by a reporter if he understood that in the eyes of the LGBTQ community the law made them feel marginalized and how would respond to that Abbott snapped back that women like Gaines and Scanlan — not LGBTQ people — were the true victims of marginalization.

“These are the women who committed their lives — altered their lives — so that they can compete, and yet you heard Riley talking about how she was marginalized,” Abbott said. “She was the winner, and she was denied that victory.”

The Dallas Morning News noted that critics charge that the law seeks to address an issue that largely doesn’t exist. Only about three dozen openly trans athletes have competed at the collegiate level across the country, and none have been known to compete at a Texas college or university.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News about that criticism during a news conference after the bill signing, Abbott laughed but did not answer.

Also present outside the library as the event was underway were about 200 protestors, many who spoke with the Dallas Morning News telling the paper they believed the Abbott’s priorities were out of step with the wishes of the majority of Texans.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News about that criticism during a news conference after the bill signing, Abbott laughed but did not answer.

Also present outside the library as the event was underway were about 200 protestors, many who spoke with the Dallas Morning News telling the paper they believed the Abbott’s priorities were out of step with the wishes of the majority of Texans.

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