This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune
Gov. Greg Abbott sparked a national uproar last month when he authorized child-abuse investigations into families that allow transgender kids to receive gender-affirming care.
But the political momentum toward the move had been building for months, after the failure at the Legislature of a bill to block such treatments for kids paved the way for executive action amid a competitive primary season. Along the way, the issue emerged as a new litmus test for Texas Republicans.
The issue is no longer contained to just the party’s fringes — and it is unlikely to go away any time soon as the national fervor grows, Abbott’s directive faces legal challenges and it factors prominently into a slew of GOP primary runoffs.
“This is a winning issue,” Abbott’s top political strategist, Dave Carney, told reporters last week, brushing off any general-election concerns. “Texans have common sense.”
Abbott’s directive came shortly after the attorney general, Ken Paxton, issued a legal opinion classifying certain types of gender-affirming care as child abuse. Within days, the state was investigating a family after the parents received such treatment for their 16-year-old transgender daughter. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal sued on the family’s behalf, and a state district judge temporarily blocked the investigation but did not stop Texas from opening other, similar probes.
On Friday, Texas Children’s Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital in the country, said it was ending prescription of gender-affirming hormone therapies in response to Abbott’s directive. Another major hospital, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, closed a clinic for transgender teens last year. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the clinic had faced pressure from the governor’s office in the days before it dissolved.
Texas Republicans’ growing focus on what they call “child gender modification” is the latest illustration of the state’s swing to the right after the 2020 election. And it reached an apex as both Abbott and Paxton were in the final days of primaries where they were getting pressured from their right over the issue.
Conservatives pushing the initiatives say they are protecting children from making dramatic changes to their bodies before they are old enough to understand the ramifications. LGBTQ advocates say permanent treatments almost never happen in children and that Texas Republicans are making a cynical play with a vulnerable population with legitimate treatment needs in the crosshairs.
“I think what is happening here is that anti-LGBT politicians realize it’s politically advantageous to attack a minority or marginalized community that people know very little about,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas. “They are exploiting that knowledge gap … with disinformation about who transgender people are as a fear tactic.”
Caught in the political crossfire are parents like the Baizes, who have a transgender son. Melissa Baize lived in Fort Worth for 15 years before her family left the state last year, concerned about the ramp-up of legislation targeting trans children.
Baize said it’s been painful and surreal to be on the receiving end of political attacks from the state’s most powerful leader.
“As a parent, you try so hard to protect your kids whether they’re straight or gay or trans or anything,” Baize said. “And to have someone who’s in power, who has a voice out there and is saying that this is wrong and you need to turn on these people.”
Baize said she considered Fort Worth her home, and her husband was born and raised in Texas. But she said “we’re never going back, especially now” with the new directive.
From “bathroom bill” to now
The fight over gender-affirming care is the biggest policy battle in Texas over LGBTQ rights since the 2017 “bathroom bill” that sought to restrict which restroom transgender Texans could use. The legislation, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, never reached Abbott’s desk, stymied by stubborn opposition from the business community and then-state House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican.
When the bathroom bill was first introduced, Baize’s son was just 10 years old. But she said her son understood then that lawmakers were talking about kids like him. He started to feel afraid to use the bathroom he felt more comfortable in. That was the beginning of the stress that prompted them to leave town.
“We thought, if this is always going to be going south for us, it’s not going to be good for us as a family as a whole,” Baize said. “We needed to get our family back on track, and we needed to be somewhere safe.”
A good amount has changed since then for Republicans. In 2020, the GOP defeated the most serious effort in recent memory to turn the state blue and then used the redistricting process last year to shore up its majorities for the next decade. Combined with a national environment favoring the GOP in November, that laid the foundation for Texas Republicans to return to a time when the primary is far more consequential for them than the general election.
It was against that backdrop last year that the GOP-led Legislature, with Abbott’s support, became a red-meat factory, churning out laws that almost totally banned abortion, allowed permitless carry of handguns and tightened Texas’ already stringent voting rules. Some called it the most conservative session ever.
That year, Republican leaders moved forward on legislation targeting trans athletes that forced student to play on teams based on their sex at birth. That proposal failed in the regular session but passed in a special session after Abbott prioritized it.
Even as Republicans raced to the right on a host of issues, though, going after transition-related medical care for transgender kids remained on the back burner. Despite the efforts of some of the farthest-right members — and passage in the Senate — it never made it through the House.
Straus’ modern-day successor is Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont who initially gave LGBTQ advocates cautious optimism due to his 2019 comment saying he is “done talking about bashing on the gay community.” But their optimism dimmed when he allowed the bill on transgender student athletes to reach the floor last year.
Still, through four legislative sessions last year, Phelan and his leadership team were able to keep off the floor an array of proposals targeting gender-affirming care for minors. That laid the groundwork for it to become a primary-season issue when the Legislature finally gaveled out in October — and raised the possibility that Abbott would have to take executive action to appease his right.
It was not long before the issue became a political liability for both Paxton and Abbott. Paxton got flack from some of his primary opponents who wanted to know why he was taking so long to formally weigh in on whether gender-affirming treatments constituted child abuse. The request for the legal opinion came in August from state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who would go on to wage a short-lived challenge against Paxton in his primary that fall.
Meanwhile, Abbott got badgered over the issue by primary challengers including Don Huffines, a former state senator from Dallas.
“Texans deserve a governor who will fight against the radical Leftist sickos and end their war on children,” Huffines said in one statement.
Another Abbott challenger, former Texas GOP chair Allen West, was able to crusade on the issue long before he launched his campaign because it was one of the legislative priorities of the state party he led.
Paxton released his opinion on Feb. 21, the middle of the early-voting period for the March 1 primary, and Abbott issued his directive the next day.
Paxton advanced to a runoff in his primary, and Abbott easily won his outright with nearly two-thirds of the vote. He now faces a Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, who has criticized the directive, pledging to protect transgender children in Texas and more broadly expand LGBTQ rights in the state.
Abbott’s campaign is not worried about the fallout.
“That is a 75-to-80% winner,” Carney, the Abbott strategist, said during a call with reporters the morning after the primary. “I don’t believe that even O’Rourke would think that if a parent cut off the hand of their kid, it wouldn’t be considered child abuse.”
There has not been any public polling on the issue recently in Texas. But the state’s Republicans overwhelmingly backed a primary ballot proposition last week calling for a ban on “chemical castration, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and genital mutilation surgery on all minor children.” (Medical experts say surgeries and irreversible treatments for transgender children are exceedingly rare.) The proposition got 93% support, and it was the third most popular among the 10 nonbinding propositions that appeared on the ballot.
“Clearly as of right now, the Republicans feel safe enough to do as they please,” said Andrew Sanders, an assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. “They’re definitely feeling confident that this is an agenda that can keep them in power.”
Another thing that has evolved since 2017 is Republicans’ relationship with the business community.
Once a bedrock constituency of the GOP, Big Business has found less of an audience with state GOP leaders as it seeks to influence them on social issues, at least publicly. A stark illustration of that came last year when American Airlines came out against the Republican-backed voting bill — and Patrick went on a rampage against it, essentially making an example out of the Fort Worth-based company.
”Stay out of things you don’t know anything about,” Patrick said at the time, “and if you want to get involved, then you’re taking that risk.”
Businesses are taking notice of the fierce blowback they can incur from the highest levels of state government. The Texas Association of Business, which was instrumental in stopping the bathroom bill, did not respond to a request for comment on Abbott’s directive on transgender youth.
The TAB was a top organizer of bathroom bill opposition in 2017. Opponents also got a boost when the NFL warned the Legislature against passing the legislation, suggesting it could impact future games in the state.
There has nonetheless been noteworthy business opposition to Abbott’s recent directive. Texas Competes, a coalition of over 1,400 businesses and business groups that advocates for LGBTQ rights, issued a statement saying it was “gravely concerned” about the directive.
“When Texas sends this dangerous message, it is at stark odds with our members’ values and competitiveness — especially in a climate where all sectors have struggled to recruit and retain a talented workforce,” the statement said.
Jessica Shortall, the managing director of Texas Competes, said in a separate statement that the group has “heard from several big employers that the outreach — and outrage — from their workforce exceeds even what they experienced in the 2017 bathroom bill fight.”
How much that means to Abbott and other state Republican leaders is an open question. Matt Rinaldi, the Texas GOP chair who was serving in the state House during the bathroom bill battle, argued in an interview that Patrick was “really ahead of the game” in going toe-to-toe with the business community in 2017.
“You’re seeing now that people are realizing that Big Business is quickly siding with the most extreme elements of the Democratic Party,” Rinaldi said, “and the Republican Party, in one of the largest political realignments we’ve seen in a while, is becoming the party of small business, working Americans and parents.”
Not going away
The national attention over the directive is not receding.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has said his agency is looking into what it can to help transgender kids in Texas in light of the directive. During his State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden decried the “onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families.” And on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Texas policy was “discriminating against exactly the kind of kids who we need to be loving and supporting.”
Paxton appealed the judge’s ruling that halted the first known investigation to stem from the directive, but a court rejected the appeal Wednesday. That means a Friday hearing can proceed over whether the district judge will issue a statewide injunction blocking all such investigations.
Then there are the electoral ramifications going forward. Paxton is in a primary runoff against Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has criticized Paxton’s opinion as an empty gesture, citing the money he has “accepted in campaign funding from gender transition clinics for illegal immigrants.” That is a reference to Paxton’s financial support over the years from Border Health PAC, the political arm of DHR Health in the Rio Grande Valley, which in 2017 opened a Gender Care Clinic at its Family Medicine Center.
It is unclear if that clinic is still operating. A DHR Health spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
There are also at least two Republican primary runoffs for state House in which transgender rights rank as a leading issue. State Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, the chair of the House Public Health Committee, is in a runoff against a challenger, David Loewe, who has been attacking her for not doing enough to stop “gender modification.” It is also a top debate in a runoff for an open seat in which one of the candidates is Jeff Younger, a North Texas father who came to prominence through a protracted custody battle involving a transgender child.
“I know how to use political power,” Younger wrote Tuesday on Facebook, sharing the news about Texas Children’s Hospital. “My five year campaign to shut down these barbaric abuses is bearing fruit.”
Baize said it’s still hard to watch what’s happening in her home state.
“It’s like, you pick on the weakest ones you can to get ahead, to get the attention they need.” Baize said. “They’re just bullies, and the worst kind to just keep attacking and attacking and attacking. And then thinking of new ways to attack us more and more.”
Sneha Dey contributed reporting.
Disclosure: UT Southwestern Medical Center, DHR Health, Equality Texas, Facebook, Texas A&M University, Texas Association of Business and The New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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.
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.
Texas consistently leads the nation in attacks on trans people. Here’s how Houstonians are fighting back.
After attending the Houston Pride parade in June, Søren Beregan just wanted to dance. Beregan, a trans man, and his partner, who is nonbinary, were enjoying themselves at a Montrose-area nightclub when a man approached them.
“I’m better than you,” the man said aggressively.
Caught by surprise, Beregan laughed it off. “In a way it felt almost affirming as a trans guy to have a cis guy feel threatened by me,” he said, using a shortened form of the word cisgender, which means someone whose gender identity corresponds to their sex at birth. “But then later, I was like, wow, that sucks. It is scary to walk around in public … and know that there are people who are upset seeing you just living your life.”
Although he didn’t show it, Beregan felt helpless. In the past, when he was femme-presenting, he occasionally wore dresses and heels. “I was never taught how to fight. I was never taught how to defend myself. It was always ‘have a guy around you,’” he said.
But since transitioning over a year ago, things are different. He wants to be self-sufficient at a time where there have been increased attacks and hateful rhetoric against his community statewide.
On a recent Saturday morning, Beregan was among roughly 20 attendees in a de-escalation and self-defense workshop at the Montrose Center aimed at training participants on how to defend themselves from a physical attack, in lieu of carrying a gun.
It’s one of the ways that some trans Houstonians are taking matters into their own hands to protect themselves in Texas, a state that introduced more anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-transgender bills than any other state this year, and at a time when data shows anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is on the rise.
Texas lawmakers passed three bills this year that impact trans rights: Senate Bill 12, which bans “sexually oriented performances” – a term originally used to classify drag shows – in the presence of minors; Senate Bill 14, which bans medical care for trans youth to treat gender transitioning or gender dysphoria; and Senate Bill 15, which requires trans college athletes to compete on sports teams based on their biological sex. SB 14 and SB 15 went into effect on Sept. 1, while SB 12 awaits a final ruling from a federal judge in Houston after the ACLU of Texas challenged the law on behalf of several LGBTQ+ organizations.
“With all the anti-trans legislation in Texas, it’s like we’re the next target,” said George Zemanek, the president of Transmasculine Alliance Houston. The group, which organized the weekend workshop, provides community support to anyone assigned female at birth who is questioning their gender or who identifies as non-binary, female-to-male or transmasculine – a term that includes both trans men and nonbinary people assigned female at birth who define their gender as masculine, or who seek medical transition towards masculinization.
Zemanek said the thinking behind the quarterly workshops was, “Let’s do a physical safety training and let’s talk about all these things, because it may become an issue.”
The secret weapon
Trainers from Third Ward Jiu-Jitsu, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide affordable and inclusive self-defense training,led the workshop, which focused on de-escalation tactics and skills such as dodging a punch, or how to twist away if someone grabs your wrist. Instructors also reminded attendees to remain vigilant and put their phones away in public.
“If you’re just walking around with your head down like this the whole time, it is the perfect opportunity for someone to attack,” said Andrew Degar, the cofounder of the group, while demonstrating.
A studious Beregan meticulously watched as the instructors broke down different techniques. “I’m a little guy and [when] I do that frame, how do I then quickly back out of that position so that I’m not then just gripped by this giant?” he asked Degar, physically demonstrating the scenario he had in mind.
Other participants haven’t experienced physical attacks, but wanted to be proactive.
“I go to the University of Houston. I take public transit so I’m often out and about, so I thought knowing something about breaking away from grabs and getting away from people could be helpful,” said 31-year old Ed Kneelan who took turns practicing with the other participants.
“Fortunately I haven’t had anything fishy happen ever, but I know that can happen, so I think it’s better to be prepared,” he said.
A proactive approach
By taking a proactive approach, Zemanek believes that it will empower the trans community to be aware and know what to do in situations like a public protest, where people may be at an increased risk of physical violence.
“I foresee that at some of these protests against anti-trans legislation, you’re gonna start to see trans people getting arrested,” he said. “Some of these protests can be pretty wild.”
A spokesperson from GLAAD, an LGBTQ+advocacy organization, confirmed to the Landing that there have been 209 anti-LGBTQ incidents targeting drag events nationwide since early 2022. Texas consecutively had the most incidents and threats with 21 reported incidents so far this year, and 27 reported incidents in 2022, a representative said via email.
An April update on its 2022 analysis noted that there was an uptick in attacks beginning in Pride season that year, which is typically during June, and continuing through the midterm election cycle. At this year’s Pride celebration in Houston, participants spoke to the Houston Landing about the apprehension they felt due to the wave of anti-trans legislation. “You never know, there’s crazy people that do things that you don’t expect,” Carlos Gallardo told the Landing while celebrating Pride in Montrose.
It’s not just physical attacks and threats that have rattled the trans community. A joint report from GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League released in June found that anti-LBGTQ rhetoric and harassment has also increased within the last year, with more than 350 hate and extremist incidents recorded in the U.S.; Texas had the third most with 30 incidents.
The return of community patrolling
The rise of anti-LGBTQ+ incidents over the last several years has motivated community activists like Ethan Ganz. He is the co-founder of the Montrose Residents Coalition, a group that is joining forces with the nonprofit Affinity Coalition To Overcome Unethical Theories HTX (ActOutHTX) to revive the work of a Montrose-area volunteer surveillance group called Q-Patrol, which launched in 1991 but dissolved in 2002 due to financial woes, newspaper archives show.
“I really think it’s necessary now,” he said to participants assembled in a circle following the training.
A group of citizens organized Q-Patrol shortly after the murders of Paul Broussard and Phillip Smith, two gay men who were killed outside a gay nightclub in Montrose. Their brutal deaths sparked civil unrest locally, led to national discussions and prompted the Houston Police Department to launch an undercover initiative, dubbed Operation Vice Versa, where officers masqueraded as gay men. Officers were attacked in multiple incidents and many people were arrested within two weeks, according to the website Houston LGBTQ History and ABC13.
Originally Q-Patrol worked in tandem with the police, but now, “That’s not really what they’re trying to do,” Ganz said. “A lot of our people do not feel safe around the police,” he added.
In the 1990s when the original Q-Patrol reigned, it was illegal to carry a handgun openly or concealed without a license, but open carry was made legal in 2021. Ganz still discourages open carry of any firearms, but said volunteers can carry a concealed weapon, mace or a taser at their discretion.
Beregan is uncomfortable carrying a gun and can’t pocket his mace or pepper spray into most bars, so he views self-defense as his best weapon. After taking a few classes recently, he now feels better equipped to defend himself and plans to continue training with the Third Ward Jiu Jitsu’s monthly LGBTQ+ focused self-defense classes. But he has no plans of joining Q-Patrol at this time.
Acknowledging their limits, Ganz said the goal of Q-Patrol is to help people before police need to get involved.
“So if we see somebody that’s alone, we’ll walk them to the car. We see someone drunk in the street, we might engage with them and see what we can do to help them. This is more about being seen engaging our community, taking care of each other.” Ganz said they will also carry power banks to help people charge their phones to call a ride.
More training is needed in de-escalation, CPR, first aid, and, eventually, shooter response practice and Narcan training to ensure safety, Ganz said, but he anticipates Q-Patrol will hit the Montrose streets soon.
The Houston Landing is a nonprofit newsroom devoted to public service journalism for all Houstonians.