By Cantor Sheri Allen
Advocacy was high on the priority list in March for Makom Shelanu Congregation in Fort Worth and Beth El Binah in Dallas. Representing both congregations, I, puck glass, Richard Allen and Cantor Don Croll woke up at the crack of dawn on March 8 to drive to the State Capitol for TENT’s (Transgender Education Network of Texas) Advocacy Day in Austin.
The goal was to help persuade legislators to vote against the 140 anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed this session. If passed into law, these bills, covering issues such as healthcare, education, identity documents and religious refusal would pose a real and serious threat to the lives and well-being of the LGBTQ+ (and especially transgender) community. We know personally of families moving out of state to avoid investigation, separation from their children and potential prosecution for simply supporting their loved ones’ desire to live authentically and receive basic healthcare.
Our contingent spent the day learning about effective lobbying strategies and having conversations with staffers and legislators, sharing our personal stories and dispelling the misinformation out there about what gender affirming care looks like — while stressing that best practices medical care for transgender youth is supported by every leading medical association, including the American Medical Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association.
Two weeks later, I made a return trip — joined by Makom Shelanu members Anntoinette Baker and Rachel Gollay — for All in for Equality Advocacy Day sponsored by Equality Texas, TENT, Texas Freedom Network, ACLU Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign. We joined 700 people from across the state for another round of training, legislator visits and a spirited rally on the Capitol steps. It was an empowering and uplifting experience to be present among so many others who were passionate about protecting LGBTQIA+ lives.
The stakes are getting higher every day as some of the most egregious bills are advancing and being referred to committees for hearings and votes. Just last week, SB14, (the Senate Bill which would prevent youth — even those currently receiving lifesaving healthcare — from accessing it or continuing it) passed out of the full Senate. It’s companion bill, HB1686, is still pending in committee. And SB8, the “Don’t Say Gay/Trans” Bill, calling for a total K-12 ban on instruction, guidance, activities and programming regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, passed out of the full Senate. SB250, which not only prohibits physicians from providing essential care for transgender youth, but also seeks to ban insurance companies from covering such treatment, was also voted out of committee.
If these bills become law, it will have catastrophic consequences for families of LGBTQ+ trans youth, especially when it come to healthcare. Without the opportunity to get the healthcare they desperately need, the suicide rates in the LGBTQ community — which are high enough already — will just keep escalating. Richard and I credit gender affirming surgery for literally saving our son Preston’s life.
As Jews we know that an attack on one community is an attack on all of us — and we are taught to never stand idly by when our neighbors are in danger. If you would like to take action to prevent the passage of these bills it only takes a few minutes to call and/or write your State Senator and House Representative and tell them to vote “no” on all of this harmful anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
To find out who represents you: https://bit.ly/3Umjlwh.
To keep up to date on the progress of these and other bills, Equality Texas has a bill tracker you can access: https://bit.ly/43oldIG.
There will be many more trips to the Capitol, more letters to write, more calls to make before this legislative session is over. I left the Capitol hoping that our collective voice and message – upholding the dignity and sanctity of all human beings — was heard. Time will tell.
Sheri Allen is Cantor and co-founder of Makom Shelanu Congregation in Fort Worth, and a member of the Conservative Movement’s Social Justice Committee, where she co-chairs their LGBTQ working group.