This story was originally published by The 19th
After signing a pledge opposing anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation last spring, companies like AT&T, Amazon, Pfizer, and CVS Health gave thousands of dollars to the campaign efforts of lawmakers who had been backing such bills, according to a recent analysis from Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm.
Lawmakers in six states who wrote, signed or sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ legislation received tens of thousands and, in a few cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, from major U.S. corporations in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, Data for Progress found.
Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho and Texas have been prolific in their efforts to bar trans students from school sports, restrict gender-affirming care for minors and ban LGBTQ+ discussions from classrooms over the past few years.
At least seven companies tracked by Data for Progress continued campaign donations for the 2022 election cycle to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation after signing a pledge against such bills from the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans. The pledge says the companies “are deeply concerned” about anti-LGBTQ+ bills and that they call for “public leaders to abandon or oppose” the legislation, but it did not explicitly address campaign donations.
Thirty companies that made campaign contributions were also official Pride sponsors in 2021 or 2022 for various cities across the country. Other companies, including General Motors, signed the pledge after making donations for the 2020 campaign cycle but have not given since then, according to the analysis, which goes through May.
Companies have long engaged in political spending that contradicts their public values while seeking to back other interests, such as favorable and unrelated legislation. This discrepancy is can be particularly stark during Pride month. While the donations may not have been made with anti-LGBTQ+ bills in mind, the money carries extra weight in the states that Data for Progress studied, since lawmakers there have actually passed anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation after introducing bills at a rapid pace, local and national LGBTQ+ advocates said.
Among the six states studied by Data for Progress, Alabama had the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers receiving corporate campaign contributions. The state recently passed a felony ban on puberty-blocking medication or hormone treatment for transgender youth — one of the strictest bills limiting access to medical care. It was blocked last month by a federal judge.
Dillon Nettles, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Alabama, said the funding from companies that have publicly espoused support for LGBTQ+ rights is “deeply disappointing” — and shows an inconsistent commitment to supporting the community.
“It seems really risky for companies at this point in time to be willing to backslide on that commitment knowing that this is a moment where the country is being more activated and galvanized by these attacks on trans rights, and even more broadly, LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.
Data for Progress’ analysis is also just a small snapshot of the larger campaign finance contributions that major companies have made to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers across the country. The newsletter Popular Information has tracked such spending for several years and has found that 25 companies eager to publicly celebrate Pride have donated $13 million since the start of last year to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ bills.
The 19th reached out to 16 companies for comment regarding their campaign contributions to politicians who had backed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. None responded except AT&T, which made the second-most donations of any company tracked by Data for Progress. (Toyota gave the most.)
When taking public positions on government policies, AT&T focuses on areas such as broadband access and expansion, spokesperson Alex Byers said in an emailed statement.
“Contributions to a particular lawmaker do not mean we support their views or actions on every issue,” he said. “We are mindful of diverse and complex societal issues that affect us, and we most immediately address these issues through direct social programs, philanthropy, employee benefits, and community involvement.”
None of the lawmakers named in this story returned requests for comment.
Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization National Black Justice Coalition, said that as anti-trans rhetoric among Republican lawmakers grows and more bills are actually making it into law, corporations that want to support LGBTQ+ people need to reevaluate their relationships with state politicians.
“There’s definitely a cognitive dissonance in saying you’re about equality and discrimination protections and for racial justice and LGBTQ+ equity and all of the things, and then to give millions upon millions of dollars to people working to undermine and demolish those protections,” they said.
In Data for Progress’ analysis, contributions to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns account for well over half of the total money spent on anti-LGBTQ politicians across these six states. He received just over $2.2 million, primarily from three companies based in Texas: Toyota, AT&T and Enterprise Products Partners, an oil and gas company, per Data for Progress’ count.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the second-highest-funded politician the organization tracked, received $302,000 for her reelection efforts, the bulk of it coming from Southern Co., which oversees Alabama Power. Several of her recent campaign ads have specifically showcased her support for anti-trans bills. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ranked third in campaign contributions at $192,000, with USAA and Farmers Insurance making the biggest donations.
In Texas, the state legislature held back-to-back special legislative sessions in 2021, with the last two specifically called to discuss anti-trans measures, among other bills. This year, Paxton issued an opinion labeling gender-affirming care as child abuse, and under Abbott’s order the state began investigations into families accessing gender-affirming care for their children. (The ACLU and Lambda Legal have filed another lawsuit to block state probes.)
Following months of those legislative sessions, Toyota, a Pride sponsor for Los Angeles this year, contributed $150,000 to Abbott’s reelection efforts in December, Data for Progress found. AT&T, which signed the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans pledge against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation last spring,gave $10,000 to Paxton’s campaign in February this year.
To Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, the campaign funds are a clear signal that many corporations will put their own self-interests ahead of standing with LGBTQ+ people.
While Pérez said companies need to be held accountable, they aren’t sure this is possible unless everyone makes a conscious choice to put that pressure on — including the LGBTQ+ groups platforming businesses that say they support LGBTQ+ rights.
“Do they have to be held accountable? Yeah. Are they going to change their minds? I don’t know,” they said.
Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said that making a pledge to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation while funding politicians who back these laws is ultimately meaningless. Advocates need meaningful help to get out of a “continued cycle of horrific moments,” he said, and to him that means going beyond publicly denouncing legislation after the fact.
Companies need to commit to employ more trans people, to provide benefits for queer families, and to not funding elected officials targeting trans youth, he said — while consumers need to reject a lack of integrity from companies who publicly back LGBTQ+ rights.
“It’s not going to change overnight,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the people have the power to intervene in this.”
Rachael Salisbury, vice president at a political research firm for progressive campaigns, who co-authored the Data for Progress analysis as a fellow for the organization, said she hopes that Pride organizations will use the data to screen companies that want to sponsor their events — and that companies will stop such donations.
When companies sign pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including the pledge by HRC and Freedom for All Americans, “those are just pretty words at this point,” she said.
“I want to give those leaders of those companies the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully they’re not being intentionally duplicitous, but even if it is just carelessness, we can’t tolerate that in our allies anymore,” Salisbury said.
HRC and Freedom for All Americans said in emailed statements that working with companies on issues like political contributions or private lobbying, respectively, are key parts of their advocacy work for LGBTQ+ rights.
“We encourage companies not to donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, and to reckon with how damaging and harmful those donations are to the community, including their own LGBTQ+ employees,” HRC press secretary Aryn Fields said in a statement.
“Companies have a singular ability to gain audience with lawmakers across the political spectrum, and can help share both the human and business reasons that this kind of policymaking is at odds with corporate values, public opinion, and long-term competitiveness,” Freedom for All Americans communications VP Angela Dallara said in an emailed statement.
On whether LGBTQ+ groups should ask companies for financial commitments when signing pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, or if something should be done differently on such letters, Freedom for All Americans does not have a position, Dallara said. HRC declined to comment on what changes should be made to such pledges.
Disclosure: Pfizer, CVS Health, the Human Rights Campaign, and the chairman of Enterprise Product Partners, Randa Duncan Williams, have been financial supporters of The 19th.
The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.
Under Katy ISD gender policy, student identities disclosed to parents 19 times since August
Public records obtained by the Houston Landing offer the first glimpse at how often the new, hotly contested policy has been used to disclose LGBTQ+ students’ identities to parents — even if the students aren’t ready.
Since narrowly passing a controversial gender policy two months ago, Katy Independent School District has sent 19 notifications informing parents that their child identified themselves as transgender or requested to use different names or pronouns at school.
The number of parental notifications, obtained by the Houston Landing through a public records request, is the first glimpse at how often the new, hotly contested policy has been used to disclose LGBTQ+ students’ identities to parents — even if the students aren’t ready.
So far, the district averages a notification to a parent roughly once every three days.
The district’s policy requires staff to inform parents if their student requests to use different pronouns or names, or if they identify themselves as transgender — and obtain written parental consent to comply with the request. It also prohibits employees from asking for students’ preferred pronouns and discussing “gender fluidity,” and requires students to use bathrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth.
Jarred Burton, a student leader at Tompkins High School’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance, said the number of notifications already sent to parents is both depressing and surprising. Critics, including Katy parents, LGBTQ+ students and local advocates, have blasted the policy as a dangerous measure with the potential to expose students’ gender identities to unsupportive parents, further harming a community that already faces a higher risk of mental health issues than their peers.
“It’s just sad to see this actually happening,” Burton said. “It shows that (the policy) is not a bluff.”
Board members who supported the policy hailed it as a measure that would center parents’ right to be informed about their child’s gender identity and protect teachers from making uncomfortable decisions about concealing such information from parents.
“(Parents are) supposed to be looking after the health and welfare of their child,” Board President Victor Perez said at a late August meeting. “Withholding that information from the parent, that is a great burden on staff.”
It’s unclear how many parents were already aware of their child’s gender identity. District officials also did not make any board members available for an interview on the matter.
“The policy is intended to provide parents and guardians the opportunity to be made aware of their child’s name change request, and the opportunity to grant or deny approval of said request,” Katy spokesperson Nick Petito said in a statement Wednesday.
Ash Thornton, a transgender man and a junior at Tompkins High School, said the number of notifications being sent home will discourage LGBTQ+ students from feeling safe to explore their identities.
“It signals that it’s something bad, them being transgender or expressing gender in a way that’s different,” Thornton said. “It definitely messes up student-teacher relationships.”
Employees are not required to comply with a student’s name or pronoun change even if a parent gives consent, the policy states.
One staff member on every campus is responsible for processing and sending notifications to parents and guardians, Petito said. The policy makes an exception for “cases of suspected abuse.”
Students belonging to LGBTQ+ clubs have told the Landing the policy has caused their schools to become less of a safe space and has instilled fear among LGBTQ+ youth in Katy.
“There’s just been this looming cloud of dread over a lot of people,” Burton said in a September interview. “There’s gonna be a lot of people that get in trouble by their parents or get hurt. … It just sometimes keeps me up at night a little bit because it’s hard to imagine how much hate people can have to pass something like this.”
The number of notifications sent to parents to date leaves Thornton to wonder what else is to come.
“It’s only been two months and there’s already 19, how many more people are going to be affected by even just the end of the semester?” he said.
The Houston Landing is a nonprofit newsroom devoted to public service journalism for all Houstonians.
‘This is a make or break moment’: Tennessee families ask Supreme Court to take on gender-affirming care
For the first time, attorneys working for LGBTQ+ rights have asked the Supreme Court to rule on a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth.
This story was originally published by The 19th
For the first time, attorneys working for LGBTQ+ rights have asked the Supreme Court to rule on a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth. Lawyers with Lambda Legal and the ACLU, alongside other legal partners, are asking the court to block Tennessee’s law preventing trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care.
Tennessee’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone treatments for trans youth first took effect this summer, when a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit blocked the statewide injunction that had kept the law from taking hold. A full decision came in September, when the 6th Circuit found that gender-affirming care bans for trans youth must stay in place in Kentucky and Tennessee as lawsuits continue.
Tennessee law allows patients already receiving care to continue until March 2024, but physicians have already begun weaning trans adolescents off their hormone treatments to avoid a sudden cut-off of treatment next spring, Sruti Swaminathan, a Lambda Legal staff attorney, previously told The 19th.
Attorneys representing transgender youth and their families in Tennessee are asking the Supreme Court to determine whether the state’s law violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses. These questions are at the core of recent conflicting decisions between federal appeals courts and lower courts that some LGBTQ+ experts have previously seen as the groundwork for a Supreme Court case on gender-affirming care.
“This next step is both uncertain and necessary. We must fight back with every tool that we have,” Chase Strangio, one of the most prominent transgender attorneys in the country, said on Instagram while announcing the high court petition. Strangio is the deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project.
In a written post on the ACLU’s website, Strangio alluded to the risk inherent in asking a conservative-majority Supreme Court to take up the case — while maintaining that advocates must exhaust every available option to protect gender-affirming care.
“We have witnessed this court disregard and infringe people’s bodily autonomy repeatedly, most recently with its devastating decision in Dobbs, which overturned Roe v. Wade,” he wrote. “We take this step with full knowledge that, no matter what happens, we will have to fight for each other and use every tool in our toolbox to defend all our rights to bodily autonomy.”
Four attorneys who have worked directly in other lawsuits on gender-affirming care bans or LGBTQ+ cases said that this marks the first time that a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights — who has been representing LGBTQ+ rights cases for decades — said that given the sheer number of states enacting gender-affirming care bans and other anti-LGBTQ+ laws, advocates have no choice but to fight them in court. After the 6th Circuit ruled in late September that gender-affirming care bans for trans youth must remain in place in Kentucky and Tennessee, taking the fight to the Supreme Court became necessary, he said.
“The stakes of a Supreme Court case are extremely high,” he said. “This is a make or break moment.”
If the court agrees to take up the case, it will either give transgender youth and their families relief and alleviate some of the hostile political pressure against trans people in the United States — or it will greenlight Tennessee’s law and pave the way for more attacks, Minter said.
The Supreme Court has recently declined to get involved with several trans rights cases, and in doing so, granted wins to advocates through inaction. The high court declined to intervene in a case on whether transgender student Gavin Grimm could use the bathroom that matched his gender identity, and whether a trans girl in West Virginia could play in school sports.
The Supreme Court has also declined to take up cases, most recently in 2021, in which attorneys representing incarcerated transgender women sought review of decisions denying gender-affirming care to their clients, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel and health care strategist at Lambda Legal.
The case of Aimee Stephens — which led to the high court’s landmark 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County — is the only recent example of the Supreme Court agreeing to review a case involving trans rights being threatened, said Chris Erchull, an attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. In that ruling, the Supreme Court found that LGBTQ+ people are protected against workplace discrimination.
“As far as the very recent and unprecedented slate of attacks that include bans on access to bathrooms, bans on access to participation in sports, bans on drag shows, and most alarmingly, the bans on access to health care, this is the first case that has been appealed to the Supreme Court,” Erchull said.
In light of the unprecedented scope of these legislative attacks, it is crucial that transgender Americans do not give in to fear, Minter said. These laws are meant to silence and repress trans people, and to scare the community into inaction and hiding.
“We all have to do everything we can, within our power, to resist that,” he said.
The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.
Texas’ ban on certain drag shows is unconstitutional, federal judge says
Senate Bill 12 would have prohibited performers from dancing suggestively or wearing certain prosthetics in front of children. Critics sued the state, saying it violated the First Amendment.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune
U.S. District Judge David Hittner found Senate Bill 12 “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.” The struck-down law prohibited any performers from dancing suggestively or wearing certain prosthetics in front of children.
Hittner ruled that language discriminated based on viewpoint and is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.
“The Court sees no way to read the provisions of SB 12 without concluding that a large amount of constitutionally-protected conduct can and will be wrapped up in the enforcement of SB 12,” the ruling reads. “It is not unreasonable to read SB 12 and conclude that activities such as cheerleading, dancing, live theater, and other common public occurrences could possibly become a civil or criminal violation.”
The plaintiffs who sued the state celebrated the order, saying in statements shared by their lawyers that the decision affirmed their rights to express themselves.
“I am relieved and grateful for the court’s ruling,” drag performer Brigitte Bandit said. “My livelihood and community has seen enough hatred and harm from our elected officials. This decision is a much needed reminder that queer Texans belong and we deserve to be heard by our lawmakers.”
Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, who authored SB 12, defended the bill and pledged to challenge the ruling. The Texas Attorney General’s Office will appeal the ruling, a spokesperson said.
“Surely we can agree that children should be protected from sexually explicit performances. That’s what Senate Bill 12 is about,” Hughes said. “This is a common sense and completely constitutional law, and we look forward to defending it all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes.”
Critics of the bill, though, say that Republican lawmakers and officials this year have incorrectly — and unfairly — portrayed all drag performances as inherently sexual or obscene.
While SB 12 was originally billed as legislation that would prevent children from seeing drag shows, the final version did not directly reference people dressing as the opposite gender.
However, Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, made it clear that drag shows were the bill’s target — comments and history that Hittner wrote “the court cannot ignore.”
Last month, Hittner temporarily blocked SB 12 from taking effect on Sept. 1 after a two-day hearing for a lawsuit filed against the state by a drag queen and LGBTQ+ groups.
LGBTQ+ Texans, advocates, artists and business groups who sued the state, argued that the law discriminates against the content of performances and restricts equally protected free expression that is protected under the First and 14th Amendments.
In Tuesday’s 56-page ruling, Hittner noted a survey of court decisions “reveals little divergence from the opinion that drag performances are expressive content that is afforded First Amendment protection.”
“Drag shows express a litany of emotions and purposes, from humor and pure entertainment to social commentary on gender roles,” the ruling reads. “There is no doubt that at the bare minimum these performances are meant to be a form of art that is meant to entertain, alone this would warrant some level of First Amendment protection.”
Other states have passed similar legislation restricting drag performance, which have also been struck down by federal courts.
In June, a federal judge in Tennessee, appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled a law there was unconstitutional in its effort to suppress First Amendment-protected speech.
Bucking that trend, another Texas federal judge last week issued an opinion that supported drag show restrictions.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk said that West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler acted within his authority when he canceled a campus drag show. Kacsmaryk wrote that Free Speech jurisprudence had “not clearly established that all ‘drag shows’ are categorically ‘expressive conduct.’”
Hittner acknowledged his Panhandle counterpart’s ruling Tuesday. Hittner pointed to a letter in which Wendler explained his reasoning for banning the show, comparing drag to blackface and a slapstick sideshow.
“The president’s sentiment reinforces this Court’s opinion that while some people may find a performance offensive or morally objectionable, it does not mean the performance is not expressive or given First Amendment protection,” he wrote. “Not all people will like or condone certain performances. This is no different than a person’s opinion on certain comedy or genres of music, but that alone does not strip First Amendment protection.”
LGBTQ+ advocates welcomed Hittner’s decision Tuesday.
“Today’s ruling is a celebration for the LGBTQ community and those who support free expression in the Lone Star State,” GLAAD President and Chief Executive Officer Sarah Kate Ellis. “Texas now joins an increasing number of states whose discriminatory and baseless bans on drag performances are being recognized as unconstitutional and an attack against everyone’s freedoms.”
William Melhado contributed to this story.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.