Tomorrow, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hear House Bill 2227 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). The bill would add gender identity and expression to the list of characteristics covered by the state’s hate crime law. Currently, Texas law allows prosecutors to seek tougher penalties for crimes motivated by bias against certain characteristics (or percieved characteristics) of the victim. These characteristics include the race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, and “sexual preference” of the victim, but not the gender identity or expression. Because gender identity and expression is not currently included prosecutors are unable to pursue hate crimes charges if the victim is targeted for being transgender or for behaving in a way that the perpetrator considers gender inappropriate (such as a man being “sissy” or a woman being “butch”).
Coleman has offered this bill in previous sessions, but it never makes it out of committee. Inevitably representatives from far right-wing organizations like the Texas Eagle Forum or the Liberty Institute testify against the bill, claiming that it creates "special rights" for some people that are not enjoyed by others. This opposition seems to miss that, with the exception of "disability," the attributes listed in the current statute are universal. Everybody has a race, everybody has a nation of orgin and everybody has a sexual orientation (even if that orientation is "asexual"). The idea that the hate crimes law create "special rights" is ludicrous. It protects all people from being targeted due to immutable characteristics.
Gender identity and expression belongs in this list. Everyone has a gender identity (even if that identity is non-gendered), and everybody has a gender expression. Additionally, like the other attributes listed GI&E has historically been a reason individuals have been targeted for hate crimes. For the state of Texas to not include it is shameful.
During the same hearing the committee will also hear another one of Coleman’s bills: House Bill 2165, as as well as an identical piece of legislation, House Bill 604 by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston. The bills would remove the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas Penal Code. The law prohibiting homosexual conduct was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, making it unenforceable. Only the Texas Legislature has the power to remove the law from the books and lawmakers have, thus far, been unwilling to do so. Similar legislation has been filed every session since the Supreme Court ruling, but has always failed to pass.
Two weeks ago, Criminal Jurisprudence member Wayne Christian (R-Shelby, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Sabine and Jasper Co) (who on Friday passed an amendment to the budget requiring "family and traditional values centers" for state universities that have gender and sexuality centers), told the Austin American-Statesman that having the law on the books “better reflects the views of a lot of citizens.” Christian’s statement is not surprising considering that last year the Republican Party of Texas (of which he is a member) voted to add renewing enforcement of the homosexual conduct law to its platform. Even Farrar, one of the bills’ author, is pessimistic about its chances, but said that it was important to file the legislation to encourage conversation on the topic: “If nobody files the bill, then nobody talks about [the bill]” she told the Statesmen. “That’s the value of filing bills that may be unpopular because over time you can change peoples’ minds and their hearts.”