by Lyssette Galvan, intern with Rep. Mary González
In my first blog post, I talked about how representation matters. As the session continues, it is more apparent that representation matters especially when it comes down to bills. Bills that will hinder our safety, our voting rights, the autonomy of the bodies of women, and the lives of our transgendered children. All these bad bills ignite mixed feelings, as I have heard testimony in committees and then on amendments, followed by debates on the floor.
A part of me feels as though I came into the session with a naïve mindset, big googly eyes enamored with the idea of change and of finally having a path to the power necessary to make a meaningful impact. Slowly, that mindset has been changing, as this experience adds more fuel to my fire in the ways that we need to become more involved as communities of color and as LGBTQ+ communities to ensure all voices are being heard. These issues are important to me, and the ones that strike me the most as a former teacher are those that will affect our children if passed. This all has also made me realize that as a social worker, I must be more involved on the local level to educate our communities on why it is important to be present and support our representatives in local and state elections, and not only make our voices heard during federal elections. Early voting for local elections taking place this spring in Texas had a low percentage of registered voters going out to vote, a stark contrast to the much higher turnout rates in Fall 2020’s federal elections.
The timeframe that our State Senators and Representatives meet does not help constituents be able to travel and testify for or against bills that will impact their daily lives. Texas has a part-time legislature, one of only a handful of states where the legislature meets every other year, meeting for just 140 days every two years. I can speak from experience: This was exactly the experience I had four years ago with the bathroom bill, formally known as SB 3 which was a legislative priority that ultimately failed in the 85th session. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to take off work to express my opinion on the bill, but not everyone has that chance.
Not only was this true for me then, but recently it became more evident during the hearing of House Bill 4042 in the House Public Education committee. This bill, if passed into law, would not allow students who are transgender to play in their respective gender-identifying sport. There were a total of 77 people who registered to testify, among them, 63 people testified against this bill. This does not include those who registered for or against the bill; the number of those who registered against the bill was also more overwhelming than those for the bill.
One testimony in particular that I heard was from an advocate who spoke on behalf of a student. The advocate explained that due to the student already having spent many school days taking trips across the state to Austin to plead for civil treatment with the numerous other anti-trans bills this session, the student could not miss another day. It is a failure by our elected officials to have our students aware that their government does not protect them and their rights. We are showing our younger generations that our government will not always work towards the improvement of their lives, their liberty, or their pursuit of happiness. She is one of many students who, despite not even being able to vote, understands the seriousness of the power elected officials have on altering her life. In consequence, she needed to take time off from school to come to the Capitol and tell her story. I can only imagine the toll that it has taken on her, despite barely even having started her life already to have such a need to come and fight for her own rights.
As adults, we are all well too familiar with this issue of how our government tries to regulate our rights. Parents spoke on behalf of their children, on how this bill would hurt their children on many levels, but most importantly their mental health would be on the line. Schools are already underfunded when it comes to mental health, and we do not provide sufficient services and resources. But our state wants to take away rights from parents and tell them that they are wrong when it comes to their children. To put it blatantly, so much for “small government.” A pediatrician speaking on behalf of the Texas Pediatrics Society testified against this bill – as a medical authority in this field, the pediatrician testified that no evidence could back up the claim that transgendered girls have an advantage over cisgirls when playing sports. In addition, advocates from the Texas Association of School Psychologists, Intercultural Development Research Association, and the National Association of Social Workers- Texas Chapter testified against this bill.
Legislators are not listening to testimony, however, as HB4042/SB 29 was voted out of the House Public Education committee this past week. Do we want our government to put on paper and adopt harmful legislation that does not consider the lives that are being put into play with their decisions, without at least taking advisement from the very experts of the matter? The repercussions will be dire for all the children who already feel like outsiders rather than being able to live an innocent and care-free life.
Although we may be living in a red state, it does not mean that all constituents should not be heard. This is one of many examples of anti-trans bills that are being considered this session. My blog post does not include the anti-trans amendments that Republicans also have tried to tie to bills being heard on the House floor, thankfully those have not been successful. We are not sworn enemies, we are all American and Texans, everyone should be protected under the law regardless of political agendas. We should not allow oppressive bills to continue to grow in numbers. Change can only happen with an uprising of communities becoming aware of how to use their voice and being politically involved in our local and state-level elections. I truly believe that when we as social workers continue to advocate and unite all of our constituents in this great state, we can create a movement for more humane and just laws to be passed that will not hurt any of our lives and the lives of our children. They are watching our every move, one day they will be in our shoes. This is the time in our history that will define their futures and the future of our country. We must continue to fight the big fight for unity rather than division. Our society has engraved fear in our communities throughout generations. By reinventing what political differences should look like within the walls of the Chamber we can be one step closer to every person’s right to have their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Representation will always matter.