Meet the Anti-LGBTQ Extremists Leading the Assault on Equality in Texas
When Texas’ 85th legislative session officially kicks off on January 10, anti-LGBTQ extremists in the state will be well into their campaigns to pass a slew of laws attacking LGBTQ equality.
Lawmakers in the state have already prefiled an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ laws. On the first day of the prefiling session, in November, a Republican filed a North Carolina-style bill to undermine local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Another prefiled bill would require public school teachers and counselors to out LGBTQ students to parents. And on January 5, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) announced the filing of another North Carolina-style “bathroom bill.”
A number of anti-LGBTQ extremists with high-level government connections are behind these and other regressive bills that will arise over the 140-day state legislative session. They include:
Jonathan Saenz, president of Austin-based Texas Values:
- said gay sex is a “dangerous and risky sexual activity that can fiercely jeopardize a person's well-being”;
- advocates for discredited and harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy; and
- agreed that gay activists are trying to put Christians in “concentration camp[s].”
Jonathan Saenz is the president of Texas Values, the lobbying arm of the Plano-based Liberty Institute, an organization notorious for peddling malicious misinformation to stoke fears about threats to religious liberty, including warning about a “reverse Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for Christians in the military. Saenz gained some notoriety in 2014 after it was revealed that he founded Texas Values after his wife left him for another woman in 2011.
Saenz has high-level allies in the Texas government, including Gov. Greg Abbott’s outreach director, Ben Taylor, who called Saenz a “good friend.” A year and a half ago, Taylor emailed Saenz a copy of the governor’s statement regarding the 2015 Texas Supreme Court decision allowing a same-sex divorce, to which Saenz responded, “Maybe we need a special session to make same sex divorce illegal.”
Saenz took credit for both drafting and pushing through Texas’ “Pastor Protection Act,” which became law in 2015; it allows clergy to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs. Previously, he was a vocal supporter of keeping Texas’ unconstitutional, defunct anti-sodomy law on the books and a proponents of denying benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees, even if the benefits were offered to opposite-sex spouses.
In addition to pushing anti-LGBTQ extremism, Saenz has lambasted evolution as a "left-wing ideology" that "any respectable scientist" should see through. He's also a strong proponent of having Bible classes in public schools, accusing opponents of such classes of being "enemies of religious freedom."
Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council:
- called former Houston Mayor Annise Parker a “sodomite”; and
- compared repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to letting loose a “poisonous cloud of chemical weapons” that would “release GLBTQIA activists onto our soldiers like hound dogs of hell.”
In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC), which is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), though it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. As HAPC/USPC/TXPC’s spokesperson, Welch routinely espouses hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including reffering to gay people as a "morally depraved special interest group" and people who support LGBT rights as part of the "forces of spiritual darkness."
In 2009, Welch joined an anti-gay smear campaign against Annise Parker, then Houston’s city controller, warning voters of a “gay takeover” of city hall. After Parker was elected mayor, Welch declared that her election, along with President Obama’s, were signs of America's "cancer of the soul." In a 2010 newsletter, Welch attacked Parker for supporting the city's pride parade, calling her a "sodomite" and a leader of “amoral depravity.”
Despite his extremism, Welch’s group frequently hosts high-level politicians and policymakers in Texas. In October, Lt. Gov. Patrick held a special conference call with members of TXPC to discuss faith-based improvements to the state’s foster care system. Texas Monthly investigated Attorney General Ken Paxton’s first two years in office and found that Welch successfully lobbied Paxton’s office to file an amicus brief in defense of a bishop accused of violating campaign finance laws. Before Welch got involved, Abbott, who was attorney general at the time, declined to file an amicus brief in defense of the bishop, whose ministry is recognized as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Steven Hotze, president/CEO of the Conservative Republicans of Texas:
- warned that LGBTQ equality is part of a communist plot to take down America;
- brandished a sword on stage while vowing to “fight the homosexuals”; and
- made unsubstantiated medical claims that birth control makes women “less attractive” and that men who lose their testicles “have difficulty reading a map.”
Dr. Steven Hotze is the CEO and founder of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, a group that SPLC has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group for spreading malicious lies about LGBTQ people. Hotze has been an anti-gay activist in Texas since the 1980s. After the U.S. Supreme Court made its 2015 marriage equality decision, Hotze urged Paxton to fight the “illegitimate SCOTUS ruling,” saying that the justices “hate God and want to let the Sodomites queer our country.” Hotze later kicked off his own multicity tour of Texas in protest of the marriage equality ruling by brandishing a sword to an audience while vowing to “fight the homosexuals” and the “satanic cults” that drive them.
While speaking at an anti-LGBTQ extremist conference this year, Hotze compared LGBTQ people to termites and warned that LGBTQ equality is part of a long-term communist plot to take down America. Hotze, who has a medical degree, also dabbles in questionable medical practices -- a 2005 investigation into his “alternative” practices found that his literature made unsubstantiated claims that birth control makes women “less attractive” and that men who lose their testicles “have difficulty reading a map, performing math problems and making decisions.”
Despite his extremism and dubious medical practices, Hotze has long been an influential figure in the Texas conservative movement, with Republican candidates seeking his endorsement. Hotze was also touted as a hero on Fox News in 2014 for filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. Hotze also released a series of auto-tuned songs with titles like “God Fearing Texans Stop Obamacare,” one of which included the refrain “We will defeat Obama and the socialists.”
Jared Woodfill, recently appointed president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas:
- called the word “transgender” a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert”; and
- says being LGBTQ is a “wicked lifestyle.”
A board member of Texas Values Action and previous Harris County GOP chairman, Jared Woodfill currently serves as president of Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas. Along with Hotze, Woodfill previously helped lead the campaign against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Woodfill successfully defeated the comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance by fearmongering and peddling the debunked “bathroom predator” myth.
This past summer, Woodfill and the Conservative Republicans of Texas launched a campaign to boycott Target for its transgender-inclusive restroom policy. The “Campaign for USA” website smears the word “transgender” as a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert.” It also accuses the “LGBT homosexual political movement” of wanting to make it “mandated that this wicked lifestyle be taught to children in school” so that children can be “recruited into the homosexual lifestyle.”
Conservative Republicans of Texas has infused $1.6 million into Texas elections over the last five years. While he doesn’t have the same high-level government connections as Welch and Saenz do, Woodfill is frequently featured as a guest commentator on Houston’s Fox 26, the TV station that helped fuel the repeal of HERO with its unique and aggressive peddling of the "bathroom predator" myth.