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Former gubernatorial candidate Davis visits UH for panel

Panelists James Lee, Dean of Graduate College of Social Work Alan Dettlaff, Sen. Wendy Davis and Rochelle Tafolla talk at a panel discussing “Lies into Laws” at Agnes Arnold Auditorium 2. | Emily Burleson/The Cougar

The Graduate College of Social Work and Texas Rising at UH hosted a “Lies into Laws” discussion panel Monday evening on Texas legislation in the Agnes Arnold Auditorium 2 featuring former Texas State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and GCSW Dean Alan Dettlaff.

The panel opened with a 45-minute discussion with questions from Texas Rising at UH, a left-leaning political organization, followed by a Q&A session with the audience. The crux of the panel discussion was around the misinformation used to justify a bill or sway voters. Davis said the “far-right side of the aisle” uses fear to motivate people’s biases and perspectives to support passages of their laws.

Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance received a vote in 2015, which would have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity. Davis said fear was used to help strike down the proposition with commercials depicting a man “going after your little girl” in a bathroom.

“There wasn’t a single incident of any kind of harm caused by a transgender person in a bathroom in the state of Texas,” Davis said. “So it was based on a lie, but they used that fear to justify the kind of things they are attempting to do.”

Wendy Davis

Davis rose to national attention in June 2013 when she gave an 11 hour filibuster to block the passage of an anti-abortion bill at the end of a special session. The bill was eventually signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry the following month in another special session. During Davis’s filibuster, more than 150,000 people watched live on YouTube and the hashtag #StandWithWendy trended worldwide.

She lost the 2014 gubernatorial election to now Gov. Greg Abbot by 20 points, using the recognition she received from her filibuster to attempt to win the governor’s office. She said at the panel she is a “retired politician” and now leads a nonprofit called Deeds Not Words that brings together young women to influence legislation.

Last week Variety reported that Sandra Bullock will play Davis in a film titled “Let Her Speak.” Davis said that there is a short list of directors Bullock and the producers want to lead the project and said that she likes the screenplay, but it “could use some tweaks.”

Bathroom bill

Last January a bathroom bill was proposed in the Texas Legislature that would have regulated what bathrooms transgender Texans could use. The bill was killed by the Texas House of Representatives.

“The was one great victory for the LGBTQ community, and the state of Texas, because really what that legislation would have done is said Texas is an unwelcoming state that seeks to discriminate against a specific population,” said UH alum James Lee, who is the Hispanic Caucus state committeeman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Lee said that he helped push a University-wide protective policy for LGBTQ students when he was at UH. He said he saw transgender students being followed and questioned about their gender identity when he was a student. He cautioned that the current defeat of the “bathroom bill” was not a total victory.

“The consequences of that legislation, even though it didn’t pass, are really something we are going to be seeing for the next few years,” Lee said. “It’s going to be providing a continued stigma the LGBTQ community has faced for many years.”

Tougher immigration enforcement

The panel made comments about Senate Bill 4, an immigration bill signed into law this year that requires local law enforcement agencies, including campus police, to follow through requests by federal immigration authorities to detain someone suspected of being in the country illegally. Parts of the bill have been blocked and are being tested in court. Dettlaff said students in the social work college organized to spread awareness of S.B. 4.

“The main lie is that crime committed by the immigrant community is rampant, that undocumented immigrants are drug dealers, traffickers, murderers,” Dettlaff said.

Davis called the bill the a “loss” and said it plays on racial fears.

“One of the things I think is really important is even in the instances where we lose the immediate fight, for example SB4, there is so much value in the fight, and there is so much value in adding your voice to it,” she said.  

Call to action

After a 45-minute discussion, the panel ended with a Q&A. Panelists urged students to take action and avoid “slacktivism.”

Panelist Rochelle Tafolla, vice president of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said young people need to vote.

Davis said that young people often ask her why it’s important to vote if their one vote won’t make a difference.

“Politics is the place that the harms are happening, and when we remove ourselves from it, we give a hater power,” Davis said. “I encourage them to think about canceling the vote of one hater. Your job is to show up and cancel the vote of one hater.”

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