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Equality Texas Lobbies Lawmakers at Capitol

Bobby Blanchard
KUT News

Members and supports of Equality Texas, a lobbying group that advocates for LGBTQ rights in Texas, are spending their Monday lobbying at the state Capitol.

More than 20 anti-discrimination and pro-LGBTQ bills have been filed in the 83rd Legislative Session, and more than 500 advocates spent their Monday having “face-to-face” conversations with lawmakers about these bills and the rights they would guarantee.

Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, spoke at a rally before the lobbying began.

“The people who serve this state are real people just like me,” Smith said. “They just need to hear from enough of us to give them the strength to do the right thing for the people of Texas.”

One issue Smith said Equality Texas would be lobbying on is a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity/expression in the workplace. Rep. Mike Villarreal has filed a billon this issue.

“If this state wants to be competitive on the global stage, we must catch up with corporate America when it comes to employment practices that value all segments of our labor force,” Smith said.

Another issue Smith said Equality Texas would be advocating for was ending what he called insurance bias against individuals who have undergone gender reassignment. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed a bill on that issue.

“Texas has the highest rate of uninsured persons in the country, we should be doing everything possible to close this gap,” Smith said. 

Last week, Gallup released apoll came showing the uninsured rate in Texas has risen to 28.8 percent. 

Other issues Smith said Equality Texas would be lobbying for include marriage equality, birth certificates and discrimination in public schools.

State Representative Mary Gonzalez -- who is gay -- also spoke to advocates ahead of today's rally. Gonzalez has filed several LGBTQ-related bills this session.  She said Texas is changing, but added there are still challenges to getting any pro-LGBTQ legislation to pass in Texas.

“Getting a hearing is the first major challenge, and then getting it out of the committee, getting enough support is a challenge,” “Most committees are republican-dominated, so that component makes it really hard.”

However, Gonzalez said lobbying days helped “put a face” to these issues.

“I think a lot of times people just don’t know, representatives or legislators just don’t know how it affects peoples lives or there are people who actually care about it,” Gonzalez said. 

Last week, Equality Texas released new data from a poll that showed the support for same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ-issues has risen. According to the poll, 47.9 percent of Texas voters polled support gay marriage and 47.5 percent are opposed to it.

Smith said this is the first poll to show more Texans support same-sex marriage than oppose it, to the best of his knowledge.

Earlier last week, Texas Tribune released a survey showing 37 percent of Texans support gay marriage.

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