While President Joe Biden made stops across Connecticut Friday talking up his Build Back Better agenda, promising to cut the cost of childcare in half, and advocating for human rights here and abroad, Republicans in Texas pressed ahead with an agenda of their own: To ban some school children from playing sports.
And the president said nothing about it.
Those children in Texas are transgender. State Republicans there spent the day talking about them behind closed doors in Austin, while the president visited a child care center in Hartford and took part in the rededication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights on the campus of the University of Connecticut.
Mr. Biden spoke of investing in early childhood education and care. He heralded the accomplishments of the late Sen. Thomas Dodd at the Nuremberg Trials 75 years ago, and honored the commitment of his son, former Sen. Christopher Dodd, to human rights. He declared that “our commitment to human rights begins at home.”
But the president said nothing about what was happening in Texas.
As the president flew home Friday night, the Republican-controlled Texas State Senate passed a bill that would require trans public school athletes to compete on teams that match the gender they were presumed to be at birth, not the gender with which they identify, as the Texas Tribune reported.
Senators added an amendment that would delete one by conservative Rep. Bryan Slaton, which defined “biological sex,” as well as a controversial requirement that prompted activists to label House Bill 25 “the drop your pants bill:” It would require a genital examination to verify a student’s sex. The Texas House is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Saturday, at which time representatives will cast a vote up or down to accept the bill without the Slaton amendment.
The next stop is the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign the measure into law. If so, Texas will become the 10th state to ban trans student-athletes from competing with cisgender kids. The only option for trans girls in those states is to play on boys’ teams, and for trans boys to compete with cis girls, or not play at all.
That’ll lead to the same circumstances in which former Texas state champion wrestler Mack Beggs was forced to compete against girls in high school.
“Basic Biology and Common Sense”
Proponents of this legislation argue it will protect cisgender girls, in particular, from potentially competing against athletes who were presumed to be boys when they were born, but now live and compete as girls. “To say otherwise is to reject basic biology and common sense,” State Rep. Valoree Swanson, who sponsored HB 25, told KHOU-TV.
Activists say what Swanson and her fellow Republicans are doing with this legislation is sending the message that Texas is not a safe place for transgender people to live. “Our lawmakers have a responsibility to do their job and enact policies that help all Texas families thrive, rather than perpetuating targeted oppression against young children and their families,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, in a statement. “The ‘debate’ over this anti-transgender bill is already exacerbating intolerance, fueling discrimination, and solidifying Texas’ reputation as the leading state for violence against trans people.”
Major employers in Texas have not been silent about their opposition to the measure: About 70 employers and investors signed a letter from the coalition Texas Competes, opposing restrictive state policies targeting the LGBTQ community.
But neither President Biden, nor any of the members of Congress or university officials who spoke at the UConn dedication had anything to say about Texas. Following the event, however, the chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee agreed to address the issue in a brief interview.
“We cannot be a nation that is intolerant, because that breeds hate,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D) Connecticut. “It breeds division and it breeds violence. And it breeds some of the atrocities and human rights violations. We cannot allow that to happen to people in Texas or anywhere else.” Trans rights are human rights, DeLauro affirmed.
Texas Republicans would appear to disagree.
Try, Try, Try, Try, Try Again
Friday’s vote is the fifth time this year the State Senate has passed legislation targeting trans kids who want to compete authentically in school sports. But so far, not one of the bills has reached Gov. Abbott’s desk, which is why he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have pushed for the legislation to be revisited again and again and again during this year’s regular and special sessions. Texas set a record in 2021 with over 50 bills targeting the health, safety, and humanity of LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State, more than any other state, making it the most harmful legislative year on record for this marginalized group.
President Biden apparently had other things on his mind Friday as he hopscotched across Connecticut.
“It’s time for us to invest in ourselves,” Biden told supporters and child care advocates in Hartford. “Show the world that American democracy works. We’ve always led the world not by the example of our physical power but by the power of our example.”
In his remarks, Biden referred to himself as a “congenital optimist,” based on what his doctor told him after his own brush with two brain aneurysms. Even so, the president on Friday said his Build Back Better pricetag was going on markdown.
“We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion,” conceded Biden. “We’ll get something less than that. But I’m going to negotiate. I’m going to get it done.”
Meanwhile in Texas, Republicans are one step closer to fulfilling their own commitment, to finally enact a law to ban trans children from competing authentically.
It’s not as if the president failed to include the LGBTQ community—and specifically trans people—in his powerful address on the bucolic UConn campus. He reminded the assembled dignitaries, faculty and students how he’s tackled race and gender issues thus far.
“We make the best case for gender equality, racial justice and equity, religious freedom, the rights of the LGBTQ+ peoples and other marginalized communities around the world by practicing what we preach,” Biden said. “First 10 minutes I was in office, I ended the Muslim ban; advancing racial equity throughout the federal government; overturning the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the United States military; establishing the White House Gender Policy Council.”
But as for what was happening in Texas on Friday, or what had already happened in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia: Not one word.
At several points, Biden raised his voice and pounded the lectern with his fist as he emphasized his commitment to human rights.
“I’ve raised these issues personally with leaders around the world—our friends and our adversaries alike—and I’ve made it clear that no U.S. President should stand by when human rights are under attack and maintain their legitimacy,” the president said.
“It is the job of the government to protect them and to uphold them equally for all people.”
Then what of the children in Texas who just happen to be transgender? A spokesperson for the White House did not respond to that question Friday evening.