I was supposed to write this post weeks ago, way back during budget week in April. Or was that in March? Lege time feels very different from usual work time. You never know when your boss is going to text or call you to get on the computer and do some work. When you walk into the office you never know what time you will get to go home. Sometimes that can be 5:30 pm, other times that can be 3 am. When you’re not writing analyses, you’re watching your committee, or the floor, or someone else’s committee. Maybe you’ll call a few people to get the latest word on a bill, update your bill tracker.
Always working. It can wear you down. At this point my emotional state is that of a honey badger who just doesn’t give a shit. My personality is that of a spiteful, rabid racoon fighting an alley cat over a piece of garbage. At this point in the session, that is what it feels like we’re doing. Everyone is just fighting each other over garbage.
Thursday, March 5th
On Thursday March 5th, the House fought over a particular piece of garbage. A bill that would allow the state to take over the largest school district in the state, Houston ISD. A terrible bill that died on the floor from a POO (Point of Order) as it rightfully should have. In retaliation, the author of that bill came back on the mic to announce that due to this POO, the House Committee on Public Education (Pub. Ed.) would reconsider the vote of SB 29, the senate’s trans youth sports ban that had failed to garner the necessary votes to pass committee just two days prior. I had turned in for the night by that point, a rare moment where I was able to catch a full 8 hours of sleep and missed this announcement.
I arrived to work bright and early Friday morning as usual. Several coworkers were already there printing out the day’s Legislative Study Group floor reports meant to be delivered to the Sergeant at Arms. As I was waiting for the last reports to be printed and stapled so I could deliver them, my coworker and friend Phoung Nguyen, who is assigned to Pub. Ed., called in a rush and explained that she was driving in because the committee was reconsidering SB 29. I was crushed.
I’ve mentioned in my previous post I am a transgender non-binary person. My pronouns are they/them or he/him and I present fairly masculine to the point that I get some unwanted attention when I happen to utilize the female restroom. I wasn’t out in high school as trans or queer, but I did participate in cross country and long-distance track. My senior year I was the team captain for cross country and led the women’s team to regionals that year. Sports were a big part of my high school years, as they are for many youths. I learned a lot about leadership, self-discipline, and how to properly take care of my body. I loved cross country and the comradery I built with my team.
As a non-binary trans person, I’m not sure which team I would’ve asked to compete on if I was out and had a choice during high school. But I would hope that whatever decision I made would have been met with acceptance and respect. As a social work student, you come to expect that from everyone because one of the core ethical values social workers follow is respecting the inherent dignity and self-worth of a person. At the Texas Legislature it is very obvious that is not a value some legislators follow.
Friday, March 6th
Friday, March 6th, I rushed into the committee room for Pub Ed. It was packed with activists and lobbyists eager to see what the new vote would be. Phuong was sitting at the front and I joined her. What followed was a conversation that is making me question if I want to pursue a career as a policy activist for the LGBTQIA+ community. An amendment had been added to the bill that would allow a study to be conducted of the “problem” of transgender athletes competing in public school sports. There is no “problem.” You also cannot adequately study something that you have outlawed. Transgender youth already face higher levels of bullying and harassment from peers and teachers than their cisgender counter parts. They face mental health issues, such as depression and suicidality, at four times the rate of their cisgender peers. 40% of transgender youth will either seriously contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide before their 24th birthday. A bill like SB 29 is not solving a problem. It is a bill disguised as a solution, but in reality is only promoting the hateful and harmful rhetoric that transgender youth are not welcomed in society.
In closing remarks before the vote, Chairman Harold Dutton, a Democratic representative from Houston stated that he didn’t know much regarding the issue of transgender youth in sports yet “the bill that was killed last night affected far more children than this bill ever will. So as a consequence, the chair moves that Senate Bill 29 as substituted be reported favorably to the full House with the recommendation that it do pass and show the chair voting aye.”
I cried when the votes were being tallied up. 8 Ayes and 5 Nays. I haven’t cried over a bill all session. Not when I listened to hours of testimony on HB 1399, another anti-trans bill, or when SB 29 held public testimony in its Senate hearing. The blatant disregard for the children and youth not just in Texas but around the world that would read articles about the bill and its hearing. See the video clips of the vote on social media. It broke my heart. I am still angry. I’m part of that 40% statistic. At 20 years old, my religious beliefs were at war with my gender identity and sexual orientation. I hated myself. Many transgender youth struggle with that self-hate, and to have your state reps disregard your existence in such a public setting? Horrifying.
This session in particular, transgender youth are facing attack after attack. Several states have outlawed medically affirmative gender care for transgender youth, such as reversible puberty blockers that provide just a few more years for a youth to fully come to a decision on if they want to medically transition or not. If you’re already struggling with hating yourself, what do you think happens when you see powerful parts of the rest of the world hating you back?
I hate having such a shameless, disgrace of a man have such an effect on my feelings. For the most part I’ve shoved that Friday in the back of my mind to deal with later. There are still other bills to analyze, phone calls to make, and floors to watch. I numb down to a honey badger to put off the floodgates I know are going to open as soon as I have time to breath.
SB 29 is sitting in Calendars right now, waiting to see if it will get a final chance to allow space for problematic and harmful conversations to take place. One calendar remains for this session to hear Senate bills in the House on 2nd reading. I’m not sure what’s going to happen or how I will react if it gets placed on that Tuesday calendar. With our work winding down, I’m worried I won’t be able to compartmentalize like I have been. I know my fellow LSGers will provide a safe space for me to fall back on. Or maybe they’ll be holding me back from storming the floor and giving those reps a piece of my mind. Guess I’ll find out if it gets placed on that calendar.
By Maddox Hilgers, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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