Houston area political action groups, activists, and unions gathered outside the office of Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. on Tuesday to call for his resignation.
“It’s better if he goes now than in the next election,” said Alexis Melvin, president of the Houston-based nonprofit Transgender Foundation of America.
“We the Houston community are here to call for the resignation of Harold Dutton for his attacks on education but more specifically his attacks on transgender kids,” said Brandon Mack, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Houston.
The fury stems from a bill Dutton revived and voted in favor of last week, Senate Bill 29. The legislation would prohibit trans youth from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
As chair of the House Public Education Committee, Dutton revived the bill after his own legislation — a bill that would allow the Texas Education Agency to take over school districts that fail to meet state academic standards — was killed by a point of order raised by Houston Democrat Rep. Alma Allen.
The Texas Tribune reported that after the bill died, Dutton told another fellow Democrat who helped object to it, “Because of what you did, SB 29 is coming back up.”
Dutton made no secret of his tit for tat lawmaking when he voted in favor of the bill in committee last week (after previously abstaining on the vote).
“The bill that was killed last night affected far more children than this bill ever will,” Dutton said. “And so as a consequence, the chair moves that Senate Bill 29 as substituted be reported favorably to the full House for the recommendation that it do pass and be printed — and show the chair voting ‘aye’.”
The Tuesday press conference and protest was organized and attended by major political groups in the Houston area, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Federation of Teachers, Black Lives Matter Houston, Indivisible Houston, Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, and others.
“In the labor movement, we say an injury to one is an injury to all,” said Ashira Adwoa an organizer with the Houston Federation of Teachers. “When your civil rights are under attack, we will speak out with you.”
Adwoa said Dutton should instead focus on making housing more affordable in his district, and pull funding from charter schools to finance smaller class sizes and more wraparound services in public schools.
“This school year has been traumatizing to students, and we need to help them recover from this pandemic,” Adwoa said.
Hany Khalil, executive director of Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, described Dutton’s behavior as shameful.
“Dutton didn’t vote for SB 29 when it first came up in committee because he knew it was a terrible, hateful bill,” Khalil said. “He knew it would hurt vulnerable kids. And so he used it as a cudgel to go after legislators who stood up to him and his attempt to strip democratic power from our schools.”
“Trans kids deserve to be safe and loved, just like all of our kids,” Khalil continued. “And they’re not pawns — they’re not pawns to be sacrificed in a disgusting game of legislative chess.”
In an interview with the Signal, Khalil said the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation supported Jerry Davis in his 2020 primary challenge against Dutton because the incumbent lawmaker has been, “on a journey to the right in the last few years.”
President Houston GLBT Political Caucus Jovon Alfon B. Tyler delivered the sharpest remarks against Dutton during the press conference.
“I think that Harold Dutton is a mean, spiteful SOB and he doesn’t deserve to serve in the statehouse,” Tyler said. “What he deserves, is to go back wherever the hell he came from.”
“I think he’s incompetent,” Tyler told the Signal. “I’m unclear why he’s been reelected and I’m unclear what as a politician he has hoped to gain from continuing to serve. He’s an enigma and mystery to me.”
Tyler told the Signal that to his surprise, Dutton screened an endorsement from the GLBT Political Caucus in 2020. The caucus declined to endorse him (Tyler said screeners and the organization found him intolerable).
“I am hopeful that he doesn’t just get one primary challenger but a whole team of them,” Tyler said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org