The LGBT rights backlash under Donald Trump’s presidency got off to an early start this week.
Texas state lawmakers filed proposed bills ahead of the 2017 legislative session, which begins on Jan. 10. The 400 laws set to be debated by legislators next year include regulations that would force anyone casting a ballot in Texas to provide valid identification at the voting booth, a proposal to ban sanctuary cities in the state, and a pair of bills that would bring the battle over trans bathroom use to the Lone Star State. There’s also legislation that, if enacted, would effectively out LGBT students to their families.
This is a harbinger of things to come. Over the next four years LGBT rights will face a sustained challenge from entities on the far right. Following the election, the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-LGBT group behind California’s Prop. 8, sent out an email to supporters calling it a “bright and exciting time” for dismantling the basic civil liberties that LGBT people hold dear. Those sentiments are likely to be echoed by other lobby groups, politicians, and leaders who regard the Trump administration as a mandate to hate.
More than 200 anti-LGBT bills were introduced to local legislatures in 2016, as the Human Rights Campaign reports. Many of these bills, facing retaliation from the business community, were tabled or voted down. Those that passed faced sustained and organized resistance.
After House Bill 2 was passed in North Carolina, more than 200 major companies threatened to boycott the state over the legislation, which blocks trans people from using the public restroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity. The NCAA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte in response to the bill, and businesses like PayPal and Deutsche Bank nixed planned expansions in the state. These and other reactions represented millions in lost investment in the local economy, and diverted hundreds of new jobs.
The Williams Institute, a pro-LGBT think tank at UCLA, estimated that the bill will cost North Carolina $5 billion every year it remains a law.
During the recent gubernatorial election, exit polls showed that two-thirds of voters felt HB 2 had harmed the state. Its widespread unpopularity has led to the ouster of Gov. Pat McCrory, the incumbent who stood by the law even as it cost the state millions. After he was defeated by his challenger, Democrat Roy Cooper, in the 2016 race, McCrory has attempted to contest the results of the election by alleging voter fraud.
As a result of the political quagmire in North Carolina, many states declined to enact similar legislation. Although Georgia’s “religious liberty” bill passed both houses of the state’s General Assembly, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it last April. The legislation, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers based on “sincerely held religious beliefs,” was a virtual clone of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in Indiana last year. That law, which was later amended, cost the state a reported $60 million in economic backlash.
Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, believes that this time will be different. You might remember Patrick as the politician who suggested that the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, deserved it because they were LGBT. “A man reaps what he sows,” he tweeted, although that message has since been deleted. He has made it a top priority in 2017 to chip away at equal protections in the Lone Star State — with a particular focus on the already vulnerable trans community.
First up, State Senator Konni Burton introduced Senate Bill 242, which LGBT advocates argue could force educators to out queer and trans students to their parents. (Burton has claimed it won’t.) The legislation was introduced in response to a policy in Fort Worth public schools that prevents teachers and faculty from disclosing a trans student’s gender identity to their families. Those guidelines were amended after pressure from Patrick.
Given that an estimated 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, this bill could be extremely harmful to students, leading many to be kicked out of their homes and communities.
Then there’s Senate Bill 92, which will void local ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination. Cities like Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco have laws in place that offer equal access in public accommodations on the basis of either gender identity or sexual orientation. That prevents bias in areas like housing, employment and public places, which include restrooms.
Striking down those laws will reportedly impact nearly 9 million people, as Equality Texas reports. That amounts to more than a third of the state’s population.
Lastly we have what supporters are calling the “Women’s Privacy Act,” one that would force transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth. Speaking to the Dallas Regional Chamber in October, Patrick said that the bill is necessary to prevent “men [from going] into a bathroom because of the way they feel.” He also claimed that it would prevent a rise in sexual assaults against women and children that results from allowing trans people to use the appropriate bathroom.
The problem is that there has been no reported uptick in violence as a result of non-discrimination legislation. More than 200 municipalities across the U.S. have such laws on the books, and equal access has yet to lead to an outbreak in violence.
Although the bill hasn’t been officially introduced, the “Women’s Privacy Act” will likely be up for a vote next year.
Like the National Organization for Marriage, Patrick believes that Trump’s presidency makes it the right time to push through such a bill. “Starting in 2017, we will have a friend in the White House who was clearly elected because the people of this country believe in the conservative principles that have guided the way we govern in Texas — life, liberty and lean government that promotes prosperity,” he said in a press release.
Trump, who was named president-elect following his surprise win in the 2016 election, has done little to signal that his administration will be opposed to bills like the ones set to be debated in Texas. Thus far many of his nominees and floated nominees for the cabinet share an anti-LGBT history.
During his tenure in Congress, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s reported pick for attorney general, voted against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He also was in favor of adding a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union solely between one man and one woman. Sessions, who once “joked” that his only problem with the Ku Klux Klan is that they smoke marijuana, could replace Loretta Lynch, one of the government’s most vocal advocates for trans equality. During an impassioned speech in May, she stood up against HB 2, calling the North Carolina law “impermissibly discriminatory.”
Steve Bannon, the CEO of Breitbart, who will serve as Trump’s top advisor, once referred to the alt-right as a more intelligent version of “old-school racist skinheads.” His own website, which frequently uses anti-gay slurs in its headlines, is the face of that movement.
Bannon famously referred to members of the Seven Sisters schools, the coalition of women’s liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, as a “bunch of dykes” during a 2011 radio interview. He also opposed Target’s decision, which went public in April, to allow trans people to use the bathroom of their choice in the company’s stores. The 62-year-old, who was once accused of choking his wife, claimed the popular big box retailer is “trying to exclude people who are decent, hard-working people who don’t want their four-year-old daughter to have to go into a bathroom with a guy with a beard in a dress.”
As other states look at the team Trump is building in the White House, they are likely to view his administration as offering carte blanche when it comes to passing whatever anti-LGBT legislation they’ve had hanging out in the bottom drawer. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is fighting to uphold HB 1523, his state’s own “religious liberty” bill. It was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year, but Bryant is lobbying a federal appeals court to overturn that decision. In Trump’s America, he might stand a better chance.
The Texas Association of Business has warned that passing such laws could have a detrimental impact on states. The group estimated that the three proposed bills could cost Texas as much as .5 percent of its GDP every year they’re enacted. That doesn’t sound like much until you do the math. The Texas economy brought in $1.4 trillion in 2013 (the most recent reliable economic measure); at the estimated rate that’s a loss of $7 billion a year.
Although Houston voted down its non-discrimination ordinance in 2014 with little economic blowback, more than 947 businesses have already pledged to boycott any anti-LGBT legislation pushed by the General Assembly. These companies include American Airlines, Southwest, Dell and Texas Instruments. Businesses like Salesforce and PayPal, which were instrumental in the boycott of other states, hosted a meeting on Wednesday in San Francisco to organize future efforts, as BuzzFeed reports. It was attended by representatives from 100 companies.
Patrick has threatened retribution against businesses that boycott Texas, reportedly telling corporate leaders: “You’re either with us or against us.” Whether he has the leverage to impact their bottom lines remains to be seen.
It might be easy to chalk the Trump presidency up to “deja vu all over again.” After all, LGBT laws are frequently introduced to state legislatures, even in states with Democratic control. Few of these bills have even the faintest hope of passing. What the U.S. is witnessing, however, is a moment in politics without precedent, one that is opening the Pandora’s box of anti-LGBT forces. There have been more than 400 hate crimes reported since Trump was elected, which has normalized racism, homophobia and all forms of bigotry.
History may very well repeat itself, and these bills will fail. But in an America where white nationalists and bigots run the country, we should prepare for the worst and hope for better.