'We need to be making plans now.’ LGBTQ Texans reconsider their future in the state
Andony Ybarra of Carrollton said he first considered moving after Donald Trump won in 2016. He and his partner have parents in North Texas but are thinking more seriously about settling elsewhere.
“With the new Supreme Court, it’s kind of broadened to, do we want to leave the state, or do we want to leave the country?” he said.
Lara Young has two children who identify as LGBTQ. She moved from Texas to Gig Harbor, Washington in May and said it was the best decision for her mental health and that of her family after two solid years of turmoil.
Realtor Bob McCranie launched a new relocation service, called “Flee Texas” in the past few days. It’s to help gay people sell their house and find a trusted real estate agent in another state — a state with more reliable gay and trans rights.
These are the conversations LGBTQ Texans and their families are having. After abortion rights took a staggering blow last week, they're afraid that they'll be targeted next. They worry their marriages might be nullified — or that they will never be able to get married. They also worry they might not be able to adopt children or that their right to be parents will be even more under attack.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization nullified the nearly 50-year Constitutional right to abortion. The majority opinion’s reasoning also included serious warning signs for LGBTQ families. And at least one justice, in a concurring opinion, explicitly called for reversing legal protections for same sex intimacy and marriage.
McCranie started thinking about launching his new website a couple of months ago, around the time a draft of the Dobbs opinion leaked.
“A lot of the LGBTQ people I hang out with were having this conversation quietly,” he said. “And as the decision leaked and things were happening, I was like, I need to take some action on this.”
McCranie said he didn’t have an exact number of people who have used the site so far, but said he’s talked to about two dozen people about the topic in the past week.
The concern is far from theoretical: McCranie recalled that in 1998, when he and his first partner bought a house together, one of them had to be listed as a tenant to get the house insured. He fears a return to policies that relegate queer people to second-class status.
“What’s going to happen in three months or a year when Ken Paxton, [Texas] attorney general, goes after the sodomy laws or goes after gay marriage? What happens then?” he said. “We need to be making plans now to help get our community to safety.”
Recently, Republican leaders in Texas have used creative legal strategies in their effort to restrict abortion and gender affirming care for trans children. Paxton said gender-affirming health care for those kids was “child abuse,” which Gov. Greg Abbott then made subject to state child welfare investigations. (This issue is being litigated.) The state also pioneered a new approach to banning some abortions: letting private citizens sue people they suspected of aiding an abortion that occurred after the detection of fetal cardiac activity.
Paxton recently said he would defend the state’s law banning sodomy if the high court overturned its 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. A statute criminalizing same sex intercourse is still in the Texas penal code.
“My job is to defend state law and I'll continue to do that,” Paxton said.
Paxton and Abbott, both Republicans, are running for re-election. The Republican Party of Texas recently called homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle choice” in its platform.
LGBTQ Texans interviewed by KERA brought up Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs. Thomas favored reconsidering past rulings on same sex intimacy (Lawrence v. Texas), same sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges), and contraception for married couples (Griswold v. Connecticut).
“After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated,” Thomas wrote.
“Substantive due process” refers to a legal interpretation of the 14th Amendment that applies to several Supreme Court rulings involving sexuality rights and rights to make decisions about your own family and body.
Other conservative justices in the majority wrote the Dobbs opinion doesn’t affect rights other than abortion. But the dissent from the liberal justices argued that by saying the Constitution doesn’t protect abortion, the majority eroded the exact same principles that undergird gay rights.
This new legal uncertainty is leading gay families to shore up their legal documents, many of which are governed by state laws.
“If same sex married couples have children, they absolutely must take steps to make sure that both parents have a legally protected relationship to the kid,” said Shannon Minter, a Texan and legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
He listed a host of other precautions people should take.
“People should have wills. They should make sure that their health care providers know that they are married and that they want their spouse to be the one making decisions if anything happens to them. They should have powers of attorney for medical decision making and finances,” Minter said.
When is it time to go?
A lot of factors influenced Young’s decision to move, including the prolonged power outages from the 2021 winter storm. But the state’s 6-week abortion ban was sort of a final straw.
“Women do not have a say in this state,” Young said was the message she took from that law. “And I am a woman. I would like to have a say as a constituent.”
Young’s younger child will now start senior year in a brand-new school and state. Her husband is a pilot. She acknowledged her family is fortunate to have the financial ability to move.
“I will always have guilt that I didn’t stay to carry on the fight. I’ll always have guilt for that,” she said. “But it was definitely the right decision.”
Ybarra, 36, is a few years year away from being able to move. Next year he’s starting a program to become a radiology and X-ray technician. One of the benefits of his program is obtaining a portable, national license. But Ybarra and his partner haven’t made any firm decisions about moving.
In the meantime, he is considering hiring a lawyer to help them protect their financial ties.
“You need to make sure that your home and household are taken care of,” he said.
‘I don’t trust my state.’
Minter, at NCLR, said he has no intention of leaving the state. And Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, finds hope in the thousands of Texans who work against anti-LGBTQ policies.
“I know that our rights are kind of in this intricate web woven in large part by decisions from the Supreme Court but also by actions of people in power here in Texas, and that when one thread is missing the whole web sags a little,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope that we can protect our community.”
Families with trans children have already been on high alert. With the Dobbs ruling, that’s spread to all LGBTQ families. Ultimately, their physical and financial safety is at stake.
“I don’t trust my state to speak for all of its citizens,” Ybarra said.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.