Texas Being Just Like Jesus Again
On Monday afternoon, the Texas legislature cleared Senate Bill 17, a bill that would allow licensed professionals such as doctors, lawyers, mental health professionals, social workers, and teachers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals -- or anyone else whose mere existence they believe somehow violates their deeply held religious views -- without losing their occupational licenses. Just like Jesus did in that famous scene in the Bible where he told all the gay lepers to get lost.
The bill is Lt. Governor Dan Patrick's baby, and one of a number of bills he's pushing this year meant to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ citizens of Texas in the name of "religious freedom."
The language in the bill is fairly broad. It doesn't mention LGBTQ people in particular, and could thus apply to anyone that someone finds objectionable for religious reasons. It could mean that -- in a state with startlingly high maternal mortality and teen pregnancy rates -- a doctor could refuse to treat sexually active unmarried women. It could also even mean that a doctor could say it is their sincerely held religious belief that they will not provide care for heterosexual Christians.
Bigoted laws have not been kind to Texas. Last year, Texas's tourism department testified that the transphobic bathroom bill cost the state $66 million in travel and tourism dollars. People didn't want to go there, businesses didn't want to hold meetings there because they didn't want to put their employees in a bad position. This law could have a similar effect. People get sick on vacations and business trips, too, you know.
Now, this is something that would be messed up in any area, just on the face of it -- but it's a little extra messed up in Texas, where there is currently a severe doctor shortage. Twenty-seven counties in the state don't have a single primary physician, while 24 have just one single physician. The state is ranked 47th in the country for adequacy of primary care. It's really, really, really bad. It is, in fact, dangerous. It could mean that a gay or trans person living in the state may have to drive hours in order to find a doctor who will treat them.
Should you Google "Texas doctor shortage," you will find a number of op-eds proposing a number of solutions. But one thing the state may want to consider is that they are enacting laws that make the state a place that not too many doctors would want to live. How many doctors want their kids to go to school and learn about creationism? How many doctors want their children growing up in areas with limited access to reproductive rights? How many doctors want their kids growing up in an area where the government is perpetually trying to make discrimination legal, or want to live in such areas themselves?
I'm not gonna say that bigoted laws are the number one cause of the doctor shortage in Texas or other rural areas -- there are other issues at play -- but I sincerely doubt that it is helping in any way. If you want educated people to move to your area, you have to make that area a place where they are going to want to live.
Dan Patrick thinks he's only hurting gay people with this legislation, and that he's doing it because that's what people in Texas want. And maybe they do! Maybe there are gonna be a whole bunch of bigots cheering this on, maybe it will make all of their days. But you know what they probably want more? To be able to go to the doctor without having to drive for an hour. So perhaps, instead of making it more difficult for people he doesn't like to access a doctor, he should spend his time trying to make it easier for everyone in the state to go see a doctor. Maybe that would be a better use of his time.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse