Republican lawmakers in Texas have introduced a bill that would allow individuals to sue drag performers and the venues that host them if a child is in attendance at a performance— an enforcement mechanism that LGBTQ and abortion advocates have compared to that of Texas’s 2021 abortion ban, which effectively encourages bounty hunting.
House Bill 4378 is one of six anti-drag bills introduced by Republicans in Texas, and comes days after Tennessee became the first state in the U.S. to criminalize drag performances. Fourteen other states have introduced similar legislation this year.
While Texas has not yet outlawed drag performances, a Dallas restaurant that has hosted drag brunches in the past recently received a letter from the Texas Comptroller’s Office announcing that the agency had launched an investigation into the business to determine if the establishment should be considered “sexually oriented.”
LGBTQ advocates have warned that Texas’s latest anti-drag bill could have dangerous consequences — specifically for transgender people, who have been the target of legislative attacks in the state for months.
On February 18, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion defining gender-affirming care for minors as an act of child abuse after the legislature failed to pass a ban on gender-affirming care. Four days later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a widespread ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth and ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the families of trans kids. While civil rights groups sued to block Abbott’s directive, leading to an issuance of a temporary restraining order by a district judge, many families of trans children have been forced to leave the state.
In 2022, transgender activist and civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo wrote that the Texas legislature was organizing an “all-out war on trans people’s existence.” In November 2022, lawmakers had introduced two bills that would classify venues that host drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses,” legally similar to strip clubs. The bills’ definition of drag “would encompass every trans person who so much as sings or dances in any public venue,” Caraballo warned.
While these bills have not moved since being referred to State Affairs, 45 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this session in Texas. Advancing bills include legislation that would make providing gender-affirming care a felony offense; a bill that would define gender-affirming care for transgender youth as “child abuse,” which would lead to the criminalization of parents of trans children; legislation to ban gender marker changes on birth certificates for minors; and a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Texas has also introduced a bill that would ban trans children from participating in sports, although a sports ban was already signed into law in the state in 2021.
Most notoriously, Texas lawmakers have advanced Senate Bill 1029, which would effectively end trans adults’ access to gender-affirming care. This bill would ban public funding for gender-affirming care, bar some health plans from providing “coverage for a gender modification procedure,” and expand legal liability for providers that offer gender-affirming care.
“Texas has become one of the most dangerous and hostile places for transgender youth and transgender people and their families in America,” said Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser of the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
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