Activists rally for transgender and immigrant rights in Texas

Protesters gathered in Austin to condemn legislation that would harm people of color and queer communities.

Protesters gather in the Texas Capitol Rotunda as State lawmakers begin a special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Protesters gather in the Texas Capitol Rotunda as State lawmakers begin a special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Dozens of activists supporting immigrants and queer people of color descended on the Texas Capitol Friday morning in an effort to disrupt an ongoing special session of the state legislature.

Carrying signs reading “#HereToStay” and “#HereToSlay”, protesters assembled in Austin for an initial rally, followed by a press conference and subsequent direct action at the capitol building. Organized by four groups—Aquí Estamos RGV, Organización Latina de Trans in Texas (OLTT), and national groups Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement and the Transgender Law Center—the event was meant to counter legislation targeting immigrant and queer communities.

During its regular biannual session, which ended in May, the Texas legislature passed SB4, a bill that attacks “sanctuary cities” and undocumented immigrants. In the special session currently underway, legislators are considering SB3 (previously known as SB6), a “bathroom bill” that requires transgender Texans to use the bathroom associated with the sex listed on their birth certificates, which failed to pass during the regular session.

Both bills have sparked outrage from activists, who say queer people and immigrants, especially people of color, are under attack by state lawmakers.

“Nobody should have to live in fear just because of who they are,” said Dani Marrero of Aquí Estamos RGV, prior to the rally. “We are going to the capitol to demand that our legislators stop singling us out for discrimination and harassment. Whether we are immigrants, transgender people, people of color, or all of the above, we are part of families and communities across the state and we deserve a fair chance.”

With queer immigrants of color disproportionately impacted by SB4 and SB3, Friday’s rally helped unite activists on the issues and draw attention to the sheer number of communities affected. On social media, users uploaded signs and video footage of the rally, emphasizing its intersectional nature:

 

While the rally itself was smaller than recent similar demonstrations—including a pro-immigration protest last week which culminated in the arrest of 15 activists—it still highlighted the ongoing tensions in the state.

Disputes over SB4 and other legislation targeting abortion rights, education, and the transgender community plagued the Texas legislature’s regular session this past spring, though many of the bills never made it to a vote. However, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called a special session in July after must-pass “sunset” legislation funding state agencies like the Texas Medical Board failed to make it to his desk. Since then, lawmakers have turned their attention to other legislation that didn’t make it the first time, including the “bathroom” bill.

This, coupled with legislation that’s already set to take effect, has many terrified. People of color outnumber their white counterparts in Texas, and the state is home to the country’s second largest population of undocumented immigrants after California. Texas’ transgender community is also second in size to the Golden State’s, according to one of the few studies available on the issue. Those demographics mean bills like SB4 and SB3 will have a disproportionate impact on Texans, something that has activists on high alert.

“The attacks we are seeing in Texas and across the country on transgender people and immigrants are appalling and wrong,” said Jackie Yodashkin, Public Affairs Director for Immigration Equality, in an email to ThinkProgress. “They put transgender people and immigrants squarely in harm’s way and hurt the broader public in the process. LGBTQ people, people of color, and immigrants make crucial contributions to our communities. We should embrace them rather than passing laws that attack them.”

Immigrants and transgender Texans aren’t the only ones concerned. More than 30 organizations have banned together to create One Texas Resistance, a state-wide effort to fight back against legislation targeting a number of groups. Two weeks ago, reproductive justice advocates appeared at the state house dressed as “handmaids” (in reference to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale) to fight for abortion rights. Meanwhile, disability and education advocates have also staged numerous protests throughout Austin.

That unity is empowering marginalized communities, Jess Herbst, the Mayor of New Hope, Texas and the state’s first openly transgender elected official, told ThinkProgress last month.

“One thing that’s different this time is that we have a huge coalition across issues,” Herbst said at the time. “Getting our people up here, getting people to ready to speak….we have a pretty concerted effort going on here.”

Numerous speakers at Friday’s SB4 event also made reference to those efforts.

“We’re presenting a united front against all forms of bigotry…it’s all connected,” said Raquel Willis, a transgender activist. Another activist, Monica Roberts, echoed Willis as she addressed the crowd outside of the Capitol building.

“It is important that we as queer people of color and trans people of color stand together,” Roberts said.