Politics

Transgender children and their parents say they feel ‘abused’ as Gov. Abbott prioritizes bill targeting trans athletes

The Texas Legislature is now in round three of this year’s special sessions. Back on their priority agenda is a controversial measure that would restrict which sports teams transgender student athletes can play on.

Rachel Gonzales with her transgender daughter, Libby.

This story was originally published on Texas Standard.

Supporters of Senate Bill 3 say it's about ensuring fairness in young women's sports. But for transgender students in Texas and their parents, the measure's return is solidifying concerns that they and their families aren't welcome in the state.

Eleven-year-old Dallas resident Libby Gonzales loves sports and just wrapped up swim season. She also spends a lot of time adding to her Pokémon collection. Libby has also been doing things a lot of kids her age haven't. She's spoken out against bills filed in the Texas Legislature she feels have negatively targeted her.

"Lawmakers have to stop attacking trans kids," Libby told an LGBTQ forum hosted by Equality Texas earlier this year. "We're just normal kids that want normal lives, but they won't stop trying to keep us from the things every other kid has."

Libby is transgender. Her mom, Rachel Gonzales, says her daughter has identified as a girl since she was six years old.

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"There was a dire need for her to transition," Gonzales said. "She had become so angry and so sad. And it was just a very obvious downward spiral."

The LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas says more than 10 measures were introduced in the Legislature this year targeting trans people in the state. Most of those bills didn't gain traction in this year's regular legislative session. But a measure restricting transgender youth participation in public school sports has been made a priority by Gov. Greg Abbott in every special session this year.

Libby says she's worried about the bill becoming law.

"It's taking me like, a really long time to fall asleep because of this bill," Libby said. "Because I won't be able to do sports with my friends. I won't be healthy and I'll be sad and just... angry."

Supporters of this legislation say it's about ensuring fairness in middle and high school women's sports in Texas.

Jonathan Saenz is president of Texas Values, a right-leaning religious liberty non-profit.

"Senate Bill 3 is a real simple bill," said Saenz. "When it comes to deciding what sports a student plays in, you go by the birth certificate closest at birth."

Political experts, though, say Abbott is also acting strategically. In the March 2022 primary, he'll face two particularly conservative challengers.

Rebecca Deen teaches political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"If you look at primary voting on midterm elections, on off-year elections, it almost always is going to be the farthest ends of your electorate," Deen said.

She says Abbott keeps making Senate Bill 3 a priority because it appeals to this "farther" conservative voting bloc.

Since January, the Texas Senate has passed the bill out of the chamber four times, most recently last week. But according to Jonathan Saenz, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan isn't doing enough to get the bill through the House.

"The only reason why the Save Women's Sports bill has not reached Governor Abbott's desk for a signature – and he will sign it when it comes to his desk – is because the leadership in the House has not gotten it done," Saenz said.

During the last special session, Houston Democrat Harold Dutton was able to kill the bill in the House Public Education Committee, which Dutton chairs. Now, Saenz and other SB 3 proponents are urging Phelan to move the legislation into a different committee.

"The speaker holds all the power to decide where a bill is referred," said Saenz. "So, we've communicated that, they know that, and so that expectation is this bill needs to go to another committee."

But, on Monday, the legislation was once again referred to the House Committee on Public Education. However earlier this month, Phelan created the House Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety. No bills have been referred to that committee yet. On Friday, during an interview at the Texas Tribune Festival, Phelan said if the bill does move out of committee, he thinks it will pass the full House.

Meanwhile, other parents of trans children say Senate Bill 3's continuous resurrection is making them pretty nervous. Karen Krajcer of Austin is the mom of a transgender girl.

"They have a right to live just like anyone else does," said Krajcer. "And that's really what we're arguing for, is the right to exist."

She's not revealing her daughter's identity because she's worried about her child's safety. Krajcer has lived in Texas all of her life. But when asked what she'll do if the bill becomes law, she says it could be the final straw.

"Certainly, I feel like it's important to stay and fight, but at what point am I hurting my children by asking them to be subjected to this?" Krajcer said.

Krajcer says because of this measure and others introduced this session targeting transgender youth, she's debating leaving the state.

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