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Former CEO Of Equality Texas: 'It's Long Past Time For The State to Update Its Civil Rights Laws'

Julia Reihs/KUT
Former Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith says it's long overdue for Texas to make it illegal to fire someone, refuse service or deny housing based on someone's orientation or identity. He says he "can always be hopeful" that will happen in Texas.

Chuck Smith stepped down in December as CEO of Equality Texas. He had joined the organization in 2003 and first served as a volunteer at the organization's Lobby Day. Have rights for LGBTQ people strengthened in those intervening 15 years? Well, Smith says, yes and no.

Smith says he has seen progress in the rights and equality of LGBTQ people since he started working with Equality Texas in 2003. He points to Supreme Court decisions such as Lawrence v Texas in 2003 which struck down Texas' anti-sodomy law. Smith also notes evolving legal rights and public opinion on same-sex marriage. But he is quick to point out the progression has not been linear.

"There has been, and still is, an organized anti-LGBTQ industry," says Smith. "Even within 2003 and from 2003 to 2005, we saw in Texas and across the country a wave of defense of marriage acts."

Smith says his work over the years and the work of the LGBTQ rights movement have always been fighting a two-pronged war on both the legal and societal fronts.

"Ultimately, success is not only having equal protection under the law," says Smith, "but having equality in the hearts and minds of our fellow Texans."

Although no longer in an official role, Smith has his eye on the Texas state legislature during this legislative session. One of his biggest concerns is a carryover from the 2017 session.

"There were 17 bills filed in the last legislative session that sought to allow discrimination under the guise of personal religious beliefs," Smith recalls. "I don't believe that's going to go away. In fact, I think there will probably be an increase of similar type legislation."

Listen to KUT's interview below to hear more from Smith including what he considers to be his most significant accomplishment during his years at Equality Texas:

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.