By: Laisha Harris
Recently, with Governor Abbot’s attack on women’s reproductive rights, nearly 30 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced to the Texas Senate and House. The proposed ban on youth participation in sports that align with their gender identity and ban on affirming healthcare for trans-gender youth were introduced but did not pass. The Religious exemption allows for lawyers, ordained ministers, and priests to refuse their services to LGBTQ+ individuals if based on a strong religious belief or moral objection. The Gender Marker prohibits minors from amending their birth certificate to match gender identity. The Religious Exemption and Gender Marker bills are still being discussed.
The City of Houston is known for attracting and embracing people of different backgrounds, culture, and shade. Kendria Holmes, who is from Third ward, knew her entire life she liked women. In elementary, she would see the way the school would divide students by gender and started to realize the differences. “I did what I had to do to fit in, but by eighth grade, I felt comfortable in speaking up for myself, and when I got to high school, I embraced it. At Challenge Early College, boys would wear skirts and the teachers encouraged us to be ourselves. We had straight/gay alliance organizations, we would host panels and events, but church and school were always different. Church couldn’t answer my questions. Religion doesn’t speak to the scientific part of why I feel different than I look.” While Holmes’ identity was affirmed in school, she could not be herself when church was involved.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits any state from embracing, favoring, inhibiting, or denying a religion, or preventing a person from exercising their religious belief. Throughout the years, the Supreme Court has decided that there is a wall of separation between the church and state. Schools cannot mandate prayer at the beginning of the school day and a government agency may not embrace or deny services based on a person’s religion.
Wayland Adams, born in Cleveland, Ohio, finds that Houston is more progressive and welcoming of diversity. “Now the laws? That’s a different story. From what I noticed, the leftist ideologies are based on religion and yet one of the fundamental rights from the First Amendment is the separation of church and state.” This separation became noticeable to Adams during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Jackson. “They would ask her about her religious beliefs, but she would say that it is her responsibility to keep the church and the state separate. So, her religion cannot be used while she’s making decisions in the courthouse.” Adams says to honor the separation of church and state, the two cannot mingle when the state finds it convenient. “Science and data are one thing. Religion glorifies one life over another. It’s unfair to make decisions based off a religious belief for the whole of Texas rather than being religiously neutral in law-making.”
Holmes mentioned, “the people pushing these laws have their beliefs rooted in a religion, and those politicians are seeping their religion into the laws. Not to mention, Austin doesn’t reflect or represent the urban voices and urban areas such as Houston.” The representatives of Texas communities aren’t as diverse as Texas communities. With 2022 being a year for state-wide elections in Texas, we have an opportunity: fulfill our duty and vote for the candidate we desire. That way, when communities protest and demand change, we can say we tried it their way first.