Republicans’ midterm debacle could have led the party to conclude that centering an assault on the existence of transgender people is not a winning electoral strategy. But it didn’t. Instead, the GOP is doubling down on its crusade against LGBTQ people. The most vivid example can be seen in the Texas legislature, which saw the introduction of 10 separate bills designed to criminalize gender-affirming care for trans youth, criminalize drag shows, ban trans kids in sports (again), limit changes to gender markers on the birth certificates of minors, and limit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
For those who are not terminally online, the continued attacks on LGBTQ rights, especially those around drag shows, may seem baffling. Those plugged into the online right’s anti-trans extremism, however, will not be surprised. The blitz in pre-filed anti-LGBTQ bills in Texas is the logical legislative follow-up to the chaotic and threatening scenes outside of drag shows, pride events, and children’s hospitals this past summer. Several LGBTQ events throughout Texas drew protests from neo-Nazis, proud boys, and Christian nationalists—while the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, a group of LGBTQ anti-fascists clad in all-black armed with AR-15’s, were present to provide community defense.
These extraordinary events were partially the result of a moral panic pushed by far-right online influencers such as Chaya Raichik, who runs the notorious Libs of TikTok account. One of the Raichik’s targets was a drag event at the Mr. Misster bar in Dallas. Because of her posts, the drag brunch was surrounded by far-right Christian nationalist protestors, one of whom yelled that the police should go in to the venue and put to “go in there and put bullets in all their heads … that’s what the badge is for.” The following Monday, Tucker Carlson covered the protest and opened with “another weekend in Weimar Germany,” a reference to the extremist view that the “degeneracy” of Weimar Germany—particularly its LGBTQ community—necessitated the rise of the Nazi party to restore “traditional” values. This talking point is commonly repeated in radicalized far-right forums.
The right’s obsession with drag shows is producing dangerous legislation in Texas. Two nearly identical bills introduced on Nov. 14, H.B. 643 and H.B. 708, would classify venues with drag shows as “sexually oriented business” in the same vein as strip clubs. Both bills define drag as “a performance in which a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.”
That definition would encompass every trans person who so much as sings or dances in any public venue and would attach criminal penalties for venue owners if a minor is present. The bill is so broad that it could theoretically apply to a trans person singing the national anthem at a Dallas Mavericks game. Even when only applying it to the intended target of drag shows, it would add onerous restrictions that could essentially eliminate drag shows in the state of Texas.
Since the bill adds the new provisions to an existing statute, additional regulations would attach. Local municipalities with restrictions around “sexually oriented businesses” such as proximity to schools, churches, homes etc. could apply making it near impossible to feasibly host drag shows. Venue owners where drag is performed could be required to pay a $5 fee per patron to the state and post anti-sex trafficking posters in restrooms. Most importantly, it would give Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has already called for the criminal prosecution of drag queens, the ability to file suit against venues who violate the law.
The obsession with drag is not isolated and much of the current moral panic was stoked online, as well. Throughout the summer, Libs of Tiktok began targeting children’s hospitals around the country for providing gender-affirming care, leading to Boston Children’s Hospital receiving death threats and bomb threats to its campus and the homes of providers.
Texas is no stranger to political attacks on health care for trans youth. In late 2021, the GENECIS clinic at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas that provided gender-affirming care closed as a result of political pressure from Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott. The clinic began accepting new patients again only after a provider filed suit against the state alleging improper political influence as the reason for its closure.
Earlier this year, Abbott, relying on an advisory opinion from Paxton, directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the families of trans minors for child abuse. Abbott’s order resulted in families being investigated by DFPS solely for having a transgender child. Some families went so far as to flee the state of Texas as a result of the threat of state investigations merely for following the standards of care for the treatment of their child’s gender dysphoria. This resulted in a mass exodus at DFPS that has left an agency already mired in scandal on the brink of collapse.
Paxton and Abbott’s plan to punish the parents of trans kids faced road bumps in the courts because Texas law does not actually deem gender-affirming care to be child abuse. Now GOP lawmakers are trying to change that. There are currently three nearly identical pre-filed bills—H.B. 42, H.B. 672, and H.B. 436—that would define gender-affirming care for trans youth as “child abuse” in the Texas Family Code. This treatment is the standard of care endorsed by every major medical organization in the United States. The new laws would criminalize the parents of trans children and open the door to their arrest, while their children would be forcefully separated from loving homes and thrown into a state foster system in crisis.
If labeling loving parents as child abusers wasn’t enough, two nearly identical bills—H.B. 41 and H.B. 122—would make it a felony offense for healthcare providers to perform gender-affirming care. Additionally, the bills would strip liability insurance protections from providers who perform such treatments. In total, there are five bills introduced into the legislature that would criminalize gender-affirming care for both parents and healthcare providers.
The rest of the anti-LGBTQ bills seem almost tame by comparison because they do not criminalize access to healthcare and the existence of trans people in public venues. But that does not mean they wouldn’t cause immense harm. One bill, S.B. 162, would ban changes to the gender marker of a minor’s birth certificate. Another, H.B. 631, is a carbon copy of Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that resulted in schools eliminating pride flags, LGBTQ teachers being told to hide pictures of their partners, and LGBTQ students being outed to their parents. Finally, H.B. 23 would implement yet another ban on trans kids playing in sports despite one being passed and signed into law in 2021.
One thing is clear from the bills pre-filed for next session: Texas is at war with its LGBTQ citizens. The urgency to pass these kinds of bills has only been exacerbated by far-right online influencers who seek to eliminate LGBTQ people from public life. It is too soon to say whether any of these bills will pass this upcoming cycle—though history suggests at least some of them stand a decent chance of enactment. If there was ever any hope that the midterm results would cause a hesitation to push anti-LGBTQ bills, that hope is gone now.