Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton prepares to testify at a Texas Senate hearing in 2015 (photo by Jana Birchum)
Attorney General Ken Paxton is at it again with initiatives that smack of fascism. The Washington Post broke the news this month that in June, Paxton’s office asked the Texas Dept. of Public Safety to gather a list of all Texans who changed the gender on their driver’s licenses in the past two years.
That request – made a month after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott overreached in trying to investigate families with transgender children for child abuse – was answered, but not with the list the A.G. asked for. DPS complied and found 16,000 instances of gender changes on licenses in the previous 24 months, but determined that collecting accurate data on the reason for those changes was not possible. “Thus, no data of any kind was provided,” a DPS spokesperson told the Post.
Newly elected state Rep. Lulu Flores, D-Austin, who will be joining the Texas House’s LGBTQ Caucus, said the Post report disturbed her. “What, are we going back to the Stasi in Germany? We’re going to have people turning in their friends? Or even closer, it’s like McCarthyism. It doesn’t seem to be justifiable in any way, shape, or form. I want to know, what [is Paxton] thinking, and how in the world could this ever be justified?”
Context tells us it’s likely that Paxton is exploring options to criminalize transgender people. This is the same attorney general who, in July, went on TV and insinuated that Texans should be jailed for having gay sex. Following the Dobbs decision overturning the right to abortion, Paxton said the Supreme Court should overrule several other decisions as well, including Lawrence v. Texas, the court’s 2003 finding that Texas’ “sodomy law” criminalizing gay sex – Section 21.06 of the Penal Code – was unconstitutional. (It remains on the books, though, despite multiple attempts by legislators to repeal it.) He also thinks the court overstepped on Griswold v. Connecticut, which confirmed married couples’ right to seek birth control, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which confirmed the right to gay marriage.
As for the specific purpose of gathering these names, Paxton’s office has left the public guessing. Actually, they deny requesting the list. “Why would the Office of the Attorney General have gathered this information?” Assistant Attorney General June Harden asked the Post in an email, later adding, “Why do you believe this is the case?”
The Post believed this to be the case based on 1) internal DPS emails that repeatedly referred to the request as coming from the A.G.’s Office; 2) a DPS spokesperson’s confirmation that they received a “verbal request” from the A.G.’s Office; and 3) an anonymous state employee who told the Post that the A.G. bypassed the usual channels (DPS’s government relations and general counsel’s offices) and went straight to the driver’s license division to ask for the list.
We hardly need this news to confirm the state’s hostility toward transgender Texans. A dozen bills filed this Lege session would reduce transgender Texans’ freedoms; among other things, they would ban gender affirming counseling for minors, transgender students from participating in school sports, and some drag shows.
Democrats in the Lege have their own bills coming up. Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, pointed to another bill to repeal Section 21.06: “And that’s really critical because the Supreme Court showed us with Dobbs that we can’t trust their decisions to hold, and it’s still on the books. And most Texans agree that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is their business.” More on that next week, in our first of two issues previewing the 88th Texas Legislature.