Op-Ed: Texas Youth Demand A Future Where We Can Be Free

by | Jun 9, 2023 | Immigration, Opinion

The regular 88th Texas Legislative session — which ended on May 29 — showcased exactly how far extremist legislators will go in their attempts to take away the freedoms of everyday people. From attacking our freedom to pursue a fully-funded public education to banning our communities from accessing health care and safety, far-right lawmakers have shown how they intend to make life harder for everyday Texans, instead of using their power to help us. 

These attacks are calculated as a means to distract and divide us. While most Texas Republicans have shown themselves to be equal opportunity oppressors, there is no doubt that Texas youth — especially young Texans of colors and LGBTQIA+ Texans — are a narrowly targeted demographic in their sight. From the start, legislative priorities during this session focused on attacking the racial and gender diversity of Texas youth. 

Senate Bill 17, a bill attacking diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), passed and is expected to be signed soon by Governor Greg Abbott. The bill bans DEI offices, institutions from requiring diversity training, taking diversity into account in hiring processes, and asking prospective employees to speak on the importance of diversity in their applications. By prohibiting conversations on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education, this law only adds to the innumerable barriers that first generation, low-income and Black and brown students already face in academic spaces. 

Senate Bill 14, a bill ending gender-affirming care for trans youth, was another legislative priority that passed during this session. The bill bans access to puberty blockers and hormone treatments for trans minors — treatments that are critical for their wellbeing and mental health. Ending gender-affirming care for trans minors demonstrates that Texas legislators hold no regard for the wellbeing of the children who depend on these lifesaving treatments. More insidiously, this bill shows that Texas legislators aim to end trans existence in Texas altogether, starting with targeting trans youth and their loving, affirming families.

Finally, while House Bill 7 – a draconian bill filled with anti-immigrant provisions aimed to curb and outright criminalize the diversity of our state – failed due to procedural delays. It was only a few hours away from becoming law. Among its numerous provisions, HB 7 called for a state deportation force that would empower civilians to racially profile, detain, and jail immigrants and citizens alike. It would have allowed the creation of separate “border protection” courts for immigrants, opening the door to greater abuses of power and weakening due process for everyone.

While the regular legislative session ended on May 29th, our organizing is far from over. Governor Abbott wasted no time in calling additional special sessions to force through his unpopular, failed agenda attacking immigrants, LGBTQIA+ folks and other vulnerable groups. The first special session called will focus on defunding public schools by cutting property taxes and once again targeting immigrants through criminal penalties. 

But there is one thing these fascist leaders seem to forget about Texas youth and that is that we fight back. Many of the progressive advancements of our time, including the fight for DACA, marriage equality, trans inclusion, and the fight against climate change, were led by an intersectional youth movement. We cannot and will not allow extremist Texas legislators to set us back decades and undo all of the progressive wins our movement has manifested.

In the special sessions that are to come, we must hold these fascist electeds and apathetic Democrats accountable. This means demanding that those who represent us at the local level show up to protect our young LGBTQIA+ and immigrant communities. In a time when fascism is sweeping the country we must remember that we protect us. Our continued fight will cultivate the people power and breed new waves of youth organizers who lead our movement forward.

Juan Martinez-Guevara hails from Dallas, Texas and serves as the Texas Policy Manager for United We Dream, the largest, immigrant youth-led organization in the country. Ivonne Diaz is a Senior Regional Program Coordinator with Texas Rising Action, a project of the Texas Freedom Network that builds the power of a rising generation of young Texans with an emphasis on communities of color by advocating for change in the cities and towns where they live and at the ballot box. 

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