Two Harris County Commissioners made a strong case last week for the need to add gender identity and expression to local nondiscrimination ordinances and the state hate crimes statute.
That was almost certainly not their intent when Cactus Jack Cagle and Steve Radack coordinated a deliberate snub of their colleagues on the court and a group of transgender activists, hiding from them rather than appear in a photo together and refusing to sign a proclamation about the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Their behavior, however, proved that Republicans in Texas are not done discriminating against transgender Texans.
During the November 12, 2019 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, Commissioner Adrian Garcia requested that his colleagues approve a resolution commemorating November 20, 2019 as the 20th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day honors the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence, and creates an opportunity for people to be educated about how violence affects the transgender community.
Commissioner Garcia invited several leaders to speak about the Day of Remembrance and the continuing legal discrimination and cultural erasure transgender people face, including transgender rights activists Lou Weaver and Maria Gonzalez, and Andrea Molina, Executive Director of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas.
Garcia spoke of the symbolic weight and importance of bringing resolutions about issues that in past years would have been impossible to bring forth due to stigma and discrimination. He thanked Weaver and Gonzalez for advocacy and guidance they provided him when he served as Harris County Sheriff.
“We worked on policies that made national news,” he reminded them, referring to the nondiscrimination policy he implemented in 2013 for the Harris County Jail that not only guaranteed equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates, but allowed transgender inmates to be housed based on their gender identity rather than sex assigned at birth.
Weaver addressed the court on plans to mark the Day of Remembrance in Texas: “We have lost four people [in the state] to anti-transgender violence this year alone, and we are going to read the names of over 200 people that we’ve lost this year [across the country], most of whom…are transgender women of color.”
County Judge Lina Hidalgo, thanking Weaver for attending court, shared how transgender activists have educated her about the lag in civil rights protections transgender Texans face.
“I’ve learned that in Texas, we don’t include transgender rights under the hate crimes legislation,” she said.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis noted that when he sponsored Texas’ James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which passed in the state’s 77th legislative session in 2001, it named only the classes outlined in federal law at the time—race, ethnicity, religion, and gender.
Weaver underscored the detrimental impact not having gender identity explicitly included in the law has on law enforcement’s ability to investigate and solve hate crimes. Only enumerated classes are tracked in crime statistics, so it can be difficult to understand the true number of incidents.
What isn’t being tracked often isn’t being taken into account during investigations, and misgendering a crime victim can have a seriously adverse effect on law enforcement’s ability to solve a case.
Weaver shared the story of a transgender woman, murdered in 2016 in Austin, who was initially described by the male name assigned to her at birth because police did not find current identification with her body. The press, for four days immediately following the crime, also shared the male name. Friends and potential witnesses who might have had relevant information did not realize whose death was being investigated.
Molina, speaking through a translator, noted that as someone who has survived despite violence and discrimination directed at her because of her transgender identity, she was grateful to Commissioners Court for the resolution.
“Today, with this resolution—it gives a new opening to create a new trust with the people of Houston, the opportunity to protect the transgender community.”
As is customary, Judge Hidalgo called for a break so community members present to receive resolutions could pose with her and the commissioners for photographs.
First up were members of law enforcement being recognized for retirement. Holding their resolution, they posed with all four commissioners and the judge.
As Weaver, Gonzalez, and Molina stepped up for the next photograph, however, Commissioners Radack and Cagle quickly stepped through a door behind the dais into the hallway.
As Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Garcia and Ellis posed with the activists, Commissioner Radack could be seen peeking through the door to check on progress.
As soon as the next community group came forward, holding the county’s resolution marking World AIDS Day, Radack and Cagle strode back in to be included in the photograph.
“Having two elected officials act so disrespectful to residents of the county they represent is heartbreaking,” Weaver stated the day following the meeting. “I hurt for the trans and nonbinary community living here in the largest county in Texas.”
He posted a photograph of the resolution on Facebook.
Not only had Radack and Cagle left the room to avoid being photographed, they had also refused to sign the resolution.
Weaver noted how grateful he was to Commissioner Garcia for proposing the resolution, and to Judge Hidalgo and Commissioner Ellis for welcoming him and his colleagues so warmly and with respect.
“It is a shame the other two ran and hid,” he concluded with disappointment.