Earlier this week, what looked like a cruel April Fools’ Day joke turned out to be a real life attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. On April 1, Texas Representative Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) filed an amendment with the Texas legislature that would prohibit institutions of higher education, which receive state tax dollars, from funding, housing, supporting, or promoting “Gender and Sexuality Centers” on their campuses.
The amendment, now being referred to as Zedler-1, was attached to the Texas House General Appropriations Bill (HB1) introduced by Texas Representative Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), as well as the Senate Appropriation Bill (SB 1) introduced by Texas Senator Tommy Williams (R-Woodlands). The amendment proposes the incorrect assumption that "Gender and Sexuality Centers" promote and encourage students to participate in “high risk behavior for AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis B, or any sexually transmitted disease.”
LGBT and women’s resource centers exist to provide students with safe, welcoming, and educational environments. In the case of an LGBT resource center, its sole purpose is to provide students who are coming out, thinking of coming out, or who have been out, a place to feel safe and interact with students like themselves.
Growing up in public school in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, I was taught that being gay was wrong, that something was wrong with me because I was gay. It wasn’t until I stepped into my college resource center and found other students like me that I finally found peace with myself.
The LGBT Resource Center at the University of Houston changed my life. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to attend this university was because unlike other Texas universities it housed an LGBT resource center on its campus. This welcoming space helped me feel empowered, and helped me form professional relationships that will benefit my future and career. I’m fighting this attack on students because I want other young people to have the same opportunities I have had in college.
As soon as I received word of this attack on LGBT students, I created the “Get Off My Backpack” campaign which urges other young people like me, who have benefitted from their LGBT or women’s resource center, to contact their state representatives and urge them to vote no on Zedler-1 when it is put up for a vote on the Texas House floor, Thursday, April 4.
You can sign a petition telling the Texas legislature to oppose Zedler 1 here. If you are an LGBT young person, or you know an LGBT student, help Texas students by calling Texas representatives and tell them how your LGBT or Women’s Resource Center has positively affected your life, how it has helped you make healthier choices, and tell them to get off our backpacks!
James Lee is a Student Senator at the University of Houston and the Houston Area Outreach Intern for the Texas Freedom Network which works with the Texas Student Leadership Council, part of Advocates for Youth’s Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative.