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'We'll win this fight': Hundreds rally outside Texas Capitol, pledging to kill anti-LGBTQ legislation

 Hundreds rallied outside the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, March 20, 2023, to protest the anti-LGBTQ legislation making its way through the state Legislature.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Hundreds rallied outside the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, March 20, 2023, to protest the anti-LGBTQ legislation making its way through the state Legislature.

“You are magic.”

“We are voters.”

“We are f------ staying!”

Those were the messages hundreds of LGBTQ+ advocates and allies had for state lawmakers Monday afternoon as they rallied on the steps of the Texas Capitol.

The rally, which included people waving pride flags and signs of support, also served as a platform to protest a wide variety of bills currently before the Texas Legislature that would affect transgender youth and drag performers.

“We have a right to exist, and we aren’t going anywhere” Paige Hendrick, a software engineer from Austin, told The Texas Newsroom.

Hendrick has been transitioning for about a year.

“It has made my life significantly better,” Hendrick said. “My daughter now has a mother to love instead of a father to mourn.”

Hendrick wants other people transitioning to thrive in Texas, but she worries the more than 100 bills in the Texas Legislature targeting the LGBTQ+ community will make that near impossible.

Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas, said the anti-LGBTQ legislation might push people out of the state.

“As taxpayers, as people who occupy this state and people who occupy this space, we deserve to be in this space,” Jones told the crowd. “We don’t have to turn back and go nowhere.”

What are lawmakers considering?

According to LGBTQ rights organization Equality Texas, 140 bills targeting LGBTQ people have been filed in the Legislature.

The bills mirror legislation in states across the country restricting gender-affirming care and drag performances.

Just hours after Monday's rally, lawmakers passed two anti-trans bills in committee. The legislation would ban medical transition care for minors and changes to gender markers on their birth certificates.

Last week, Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, defended her bill that would end gender-affirming care.

“Our children need counseling and love, not blades and drugs,” she said.

Proposed bills from Republican lawmakers — like one filed by Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth — also target drag performances

Schatzline has said on social media the bill would “effectively outlaw family-friendly drag shows — which is already an oxymoron — from the state of Texas.”

Lawmakers also filed legislation that would classify venues that host drag performances as sexually oriented businesses. This means venues that host drag performances would have to pay the additional taxes that come with the label.

Drag artist and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Cynthia Lee Fontaine said this would harm establishments that have traditionally been a safe haven for LGBTQ Texans.

“Unfairly policing and taxing businesses that create safe spaces for LGBTIA+ communities only harms our community further,” Fontaine said.

A fight to kill

LGBTQ advocates at Monday’s rally said they’re not losing hope, despite the number of what they call “bad” bills.

Ricardo Martinez, the executive director of Equality Texas, told the crowd to remain “undeterred” by the hate and disinformation against the community.

“LGBTQ people have been sickly, intentionally and cowardly used as political pawns throughout history over and over and over,” Martinez said. “No more — That stops in Texas.”

Ana Andrea Molina, director of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas

He told the crowd that they will “win this fight.”

And they are looking at the past to hold on to their hope.

In 2021, during the last legislative session, over 70 anti-LGBT bills were introduced. Only one — a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams that match their gender identity — became law.

Ana Andrea Molina, the director of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas, recognized the movement has lost some small battles. But she said the current legislation makes it a war.

“They have brutalized us,” Molina said in Spanish. “But they have forgotten that we are seeds and we will grow.”

The rally also included Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness, who told the crowd that this wouldn’t be the last time LGBTQ Texans would make their voices heard.

“We will have to be back on these steps, in those chambers, protesting and fighting for our rights,” Van Ness said. “This is the first of many times.”

Being persistent is a must, said Ash Hall, a policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Texas.

“We win by being relentless, and by living out loud and by loving out loud,” Hall told the crowd. “Then I think that we're going to be just fine and I look forward to seeing you throughout this session and at the end, when we've killed more than 130 bills.”

And that’s what Paige Hendrick, the mother from Austin, wants.

Her daughter, 11-year-old Kali, said lawmakers should stop “making these dumb and stupid laws.”

Kali also said people should just focus on how great her mom is.

“I want them to know that she is brave, thoughtful and intelligent,” Kali said.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Aurora Berry