As Gov. Greg Abbott continues his push to reopen the state, COVID-19 cases keep climbing. It’s a distressing sign, and one that will likely continue to disproportionately affect marginalized communities. It’s also providing an impetus for LGBTQ lawmakers and advocates to forcefully push for anti-discrimination measures in Texas.
A global report filed last month by the United Nations noted that worldwide the LGBTQ community was being severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly HIV-positive and trans people. The report highlights that the LGBTQ community faces not just a lack of access to healthcare or disruptions to medication and treatment, but other complications including “elevated risk of domestic and family violence; social isolation and increased anxiety; scapegoating, societal discrimination, and stigma; abuse of state power; and organizational survival.”
State Rep. Julie Johnson, a founding member of the statehouse’s LGBT caucus sees this on the ground in her district. “Our marginalized and vulnerable communities were already faced with an inequitable system and the pandemic has magnified it,” Johnson told the Signal. “The state continues to be behind in testing individuals for COVID-19, while simultaneously moving forward with re-opening.”
Johnson was one of many candidates that flipped a state house district in 2018. She notes that she ran on a platform of expanding healthcare. Serving on the House Committee on Insurance, Johnson now sees firsthand the inequality within the healthcare industry in Texas. In the last session, she filed a bill “aimed to expand consumer protection and increase access to care, including removing tedious prior authorization requirements for HIV medication.”
With COVID-19, Johnson sees an opportunity to further galvanize support for an LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill that will be filed next session by state Rep. Jessica González. Two Republicans have said they support the bill, which is causing some friction with certain Republican party leaders.
Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez also sees the bill as a major opportunity, and something their organization will be spending a lot of energy pushing. Since the COVID-19 threat emerged, Equality Texas has been compiling resources for the LGBTQ community on their website. In addition to providing resources for medical supplies or medication, they have been working to connect members with mental health providers or food assistance.
“We are a vulnerable population,” notes Martinez. With no protections on the statewide level, LGBTQ Texans are uniquely threatened in housing, employment, and healthcare. Martinez believes that once the bill is passed, the organization can turn to connecting every LGBTQ Texan to quality healthcare.
In addition to pushing the anti-discrimination bill, Johnson is actively working to flip the Texas Legislature. “The LGBTQ community will continue to be ignored, targeted, and discriminated against until we have leaders that are dedicated to achieving equality for all. If we want to improve the state’s response to our communities in need during times of crisis, we need to elect new leaders.”
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