Out in the World: 4 organizations appeal to UN for anti-LGBTQ laws in Texas

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday January 24, 2024
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Demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin to speak against transgender-related legislation bills being considered in the Legislature on May 20, 2021 Photo: AP/Eric Gay, file
Demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin to speak against transgender-related legislation bills being considered in the Legislature on May 20, 2021 Photo: AP/Eric Gay, file

Four advocacy organizations called upon the United Nations to protect queer rights in Texas because the United States has failed to act on the "systemic attack" on LGBTQ rights, according to a Joint Allegation Letter sent this week to the global body.

The accusations came in a 37-page letter sent to 17 independent experts, working groups, and special rapporteurs at the U.N.

A coalition of Texas and national LGBTQ and human rights organizations supported by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law accused the state of conducting a "systemic attack" on LGBTQ rights that reach beyond its borders. They also claimed the U.S. government was doing nothing to address the attacks on a federal level — despite some judges having ruled that some laws violated LGBTQ rights. This left the organizations no other choice but to seek help from the U.N., according to the January 22 joint release.

"Today is a sad day for Texas," stated Ariel Dulitzky, director of the Human Rights Clinic. "Our state has not satisfied its obligation to safeguard the fundamental pillars of freedom, equality, dignity, and rights enshrined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We hope that with the United Nations' involvement, the rights of LGBTQI+ persons will be fully recognized, respected, and protected in Texas."

The coalition of organizations challenging Texas on the global stage are Equality Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, GLAAD, and the Human Rights Campaign.

"Failing to meet the minimum standards of international human rights treaties highlights the dire state of LGBTQIA+ rights in Texas. When state leaders fail us, we turn to the courts and the federal government, when they fail us we turn to the world," stated Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas. "We cannot pretend to be a beacon of freedom when our state is slipping behind global human rights standards that have been in place for nearly 50 years."

Martinez called Texas the "weakest link" in the country that is "dragging our nation into a human rights crisis that will do more than damage our global reputation, it will harm our LGBTQIA+ neighbors at home."

The advocates identified seven pieces of legislation out of more than 140 introduced in Texas' legislative session in 2023 that they claim "are a systemic attack on the fundamental rights, dignities, and identities of LGBTQIA+ persons." At least one, Senate Bill 14 that prohibits life-saving medical care for trans children under 18, was signed into law last year, according to the letter.

The advocates stated to the U.N. representatives that the bills open "the gates for discrimination by both public and private actors."

They claim the bills' "cumulative effect is to police the public and private lives of LGBTQIA+ persons." If they were to become law, their right to privacy would be violated and the laws would also negatively affect queer people's health care, education, housing, and identification as an LGBTQ person, especially transgender people, the advocates stated in the letter.

However, Texas is not only attempting to limit the rights of LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State. The advocates argued in the letter that Texas' discrimination has gone "unchecked" and "that state officials are now policing other states with unconstitutional laws," citing a Texas Tribune article about state Attorney General Ken Paxton issuing investigative subpoenas demanding medical information from Seattle Children's Hospital. Paxton issued the subpoenas based on the suspicion that the hospital was providing gender-affirming care to Texas children.

The advocates noted Paxton's 2022 opinion that equated certain medical procedures, including many forms of gender-affirming care, with child abuse, which led Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) to order the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents of transgender children under the age of 18 for child abuse.

In 2023, the ACLU tracked more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in state legislatures across the country and in Congress. The calendar reset January 1. So far this year, the ACLU is tracking 341 anti-LGBTQ bills. Among those bills, 189 were introduced, 15 of which were introduced this month, while the other bills mostly rolled over from last year. The rest of the 137 bills are advancing in various state legislatures. One bill placing an age limit on transgender youth health care was defeated in Wisconsin in December, but the state's House referred it to a committee on January 18.

The advocates noted in the letter that federal courts placed injunctions on some of the Texas legislation, but the U.S. hasn't "adopted a proper response to the systemic attack on LGBTQIA+ persons living in the state of Texas."

The advocates added, "Texas and the U.S. federal government are in violation of their international human rights obligations," with these proposed laws.

"Considering the danger this represents, we humbly ask for you to make inquiries into this backsliding of human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in the state of Texas, United States of America," the advocates wrote in the letter.

In December, a report by the U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the state of human rights in the U.S., citing the legislative action restricting LGBTQ people.

"The [Human Rights] Committee is concerned at the increase of state legislation that severely restricts the rights of persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," the committee stated in the report. It pointed to laws criminalizing gender-affirming health care for transgender people, limiting discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in schools, and participating in school sports, among other issues — similar examples as the advocates cited in their letter to the U.N.

Abbott and Paxton have yet to comment on the groups' letter to the U.N.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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