The state of Texas has spent 2022 demonizing and attacking LGBTQ people. Whipping up a moral panic with hate speech pulled from corporate media headlines, Texas politicians have introduced dozens of bills criminalizing transgender people. This in turn has led to a steep increase in attacks against LGBTQ people.
But even as the attacks increase, popular movements have shut down the fascists in major cities and small towns alike, often greatly outnumbering them. There is still a long road ahead for Texas anti-fascists, but a few powerful victories give reason for hope.
Hate speech paved the way for fascist violence
The national panic around LGBTQ existence is not an accident, but a coordinated campaign with political ends. Anti-trans and anti-gay hate speech has proliferated across the media. Fox News ran 170 segments attacking trans people in a three-week period between March 17 and April 6.
News anchors are endlessly repeating the lie that children are being “groomed” into being transgender, echoing anti-gay panics and Satanic cult conspiracy theories of decades past. The media is using the most visceral language possible about trans children, including repeating the libelous term “chemical castration,” in order to provoke confusion, fear and hatred against trans people.
Instead of loudly and publicly denouncing the vile rhetoric, “centrist” corporate media have normalized it. Writing for the Texas Observer, Kit O’Connell debunks the New York Times’ false claim that there is a “debate” over transgender health care and exposes the source of the Times’ “debate” as anti-gay hate groups.
Far-right rhetoric against trans people has now spilled over into a full-blown homophobic assault, often dovetailing with racism, sexism and anti-semitism.
This has corresponded with Republican legislators adopting and advocating for these same extreme positions. The Texas Republican Party platform, adopted in June 2022 — right in the middle of Pride Month, no less — declares that “[h]omosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice,” and that they oppose “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”
Republicans scramble over each other to introduce new hate bills
New bills being introduced seek to criminalize trans existence by restricting what sports teams children can play in, designating wearing clothing for the “opposite” gender as inherently sexual, restricting or outright banning health care access for trans people, and more.
Most of the previous year’s proposed transphobic legislation died in the House, apart from HB 25, which essentially bans transgender children from sports. 2023’s HB 23 would expand the restrictions passed last year. The bill sows distrust of birth certificates themselves, only accepting them as a valid proof of sex if the gender marker was “entered at or near the time of the student’s birth” or corrected due to a clerical error.
Texas legislators are trying to redefine and criminalize “drag” through HB 643 and HB 708. Both bills classify venues with drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses” and define “drag” as “a performance in which a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.”
The bill’s definition of “drag” is so broad that it would not just encompass drag artists, but all transgender performers. If passed, any performance which includes a trans person onstage at all — the national anthem before a sports game, a string quartet performing at a wedding, a ballet performance, an open mic night — would be classified like strip clubs, and the owners would be subjected to criminal penalties if a minor is present. This is not to mention the harm this would cause to actual drag performers, who are under constant threat of violence across the country.
Far-right legislators are also seeking to do away entirely with health care for trans children. HB 42 would expand the state’s definition of child abuse to include providing gender-affirming care to a child/teen and would make it a felony for any health care provider to provide this care to a child/teen.
Studies show that denying gender-affirming care to youths can increase depression and suicide rates by up to 300 percent in just six months. If HB 42 passes, it will undoubtedly lead to higher suicide rates among trans youths, while anyone who attempts to help obtain medical care for them will be charged with heavy criminal penalties.
The number of similar bills is proliferating like the heads of a hydra. HB 42, HB 122, HB 41, HB 436, and HB 672 all prohibit health care for transgender youth. These are dozens of bills targeting LGBTQ people — especially youth — businesses that host them, medical professionals that treat them, education that acknowledges LGBTQ existence, and even parents that support their own children.
Republican politicians are scrambling over each other to prove who can introduce the most anti-LGBTQ legislation.
The executive branch of Texas is weaponizing every aspect of state bureaucracy against trans people. Attorney General Ken Paxton has attempted to form a list of all trans people in Texas using driver’s license info, and earlier in the year, worked with Governor Greg Abbott to order that parents of trans children be investigated for child abuse.
Texas legislators are increasingly bringing self-described fascists into the halls of power. State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) hired self-described Christian nationalist Jake Neidert as his legislative director. Neidert has called for the public execution of people for bringing children to drag shows. Neidert’s twin sister Kelly, a self-described “Christian fascist,” is the founder of the hate group Protect Texas Kids, which is responsible for attacks on Texas drag shows.
Fascist attacks repelled in city after city
The legislative attack on trans people and the media bombardment of hate speech also serve another sinister purpose: They have activated a network of fascist groups against LGBTQ people. Out of 141 protests against LGBTQ events across the country, 20 of the protests took place in Texas, the most in the nation. North Carolina came in second with 10 protests.
Fascist groups have served as the “muscle” to directly shut down venues friendly to LGBTQ people. But they have met large protests wherever they have appeared. Almost always outnumbered, the far right has found no major allies in Texas cities or towns.
On July 10, Protect Texas Kids protested a drag show in Houston. One hundred and fifty people showed up in 103-degree heat to defend the venue against 18 fascists, a ratio of 8 to 1.
On Dec. 13, the fascist militia, This Is Texas Freedom Force, tried to shut down a holiday drag show in San Antonio. They were met with over 300 pro-LGBTQ counter-protesters, outnumbered 4 to 1.
On Dec. 17, a group of openly fascist organizations tried to stop a drag show in Grand Prairie near Dallas. They were outnumbered by 75 counter-protesters, who successfully defended the event.
In other cities where shows have taken place — such as Katy and Pflugerville — fascists sporting neo-Nazi symbols have disrupted shows without being able to shut them down. Other shows in Amarillo and Temple saw protests, but even in smaller Texas cities, drag shows are gaining popularity and are defended by pro-LGBTQ groups.
Sadly, the threat of violence has forced some venues to cancel events: Shows in San Antonio (Dec. 3), Austin (Dec. 18) and Denton (Sep. 18) were all shut down under threat of violence.
Notably, many of the canceled shows are in cities where anti-fascism is strong, and were shut down by business owners before the community could rally to their defense. All across the state, when venues refuse to cancel a show and the community mobilizes in support, the fascists are exposed as completely impotent and forced to retreat.
Only the people can stop fascism
LGBTQ Texans will ring in the New Year in a state trying to criminalize every aspect of queer existence. Right-wing politicians, working hand-in-hand with openly bigoted media, have created a hostile legal atmosphere for trans people. But the third prong of this assault, the mobilized fascist militias, have met fierce resistance in every corner of the state.
There is nothing settled about the fight for trans rights in Texas. The consciousness of the state has shifted to the left in recent years, even as the state government has shifted even more to the far right. Texas has been singled out for fascist attacks on LGBTQ people not because its right-wing government is so powerful, but precisely because its form of extreme class rule is so unstable and unpopular.
The corporate-backed Texas far right fears that if its system of bigotry and extreme oppression falters, it will lose control of the state to the millions of people crying out for a better system. It is imperative that progressive people all across the state prove the bigots’ greatest fears correct!