Why the Austin Police Force’s “It Gets Better” Video Matters
Texas has earned a reputation as an anti-gay state, something the state’s GOP has done little dissuade from with its aggressively anti-gay party platform. However, in a new It Gets Better video the Austin Police Department wants to send a message to LGBT kids that, despite what they might hear from some quarters, they are valued members of society.
The video features several personal stories from department staff and officers; from feeling being gay might be a barrier to serving as an officer, to being told that being gay is “biblically wrong,” there are tales of sadness and rejection.
However, the video also contains a message of hope, one that is expressed most succinctly by Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo who affirms the department’s commitment to equality and inclusiveness.
Watch the video below:
This statement by the Austin Police Department is made even more significant when put in context with the LGBT rights landscape in Texas.
Texas of course is perhaps best known for its role in the Lawrence v Texas supreme court case in which the state’s sodomy law (specific to “homosexual conduct”) was declared unconstitutional in 2003, a landmark ruling that served to make sodomy laws unenforceable–even though they remain on the books in several states, including Texas.
Texas specifically bans same-sex marriage via a 2005 constitutional amendment and will not recognize other partnerships such as civil unions. This has an impact on adoption rights in the state even though there aren’t any official bars on gay people adopting at this time. It is particularly problematic when those on the judiciary interpret the law in order to bar gay people from leaving their kids with their spouse/partner.
Also, while local authorities have moved to offer some discrimination protections to their LGBT residents, there exists no LGBT-inclusive state level anti-discrimination law, nor one that protects LGBTs from discrimination in the housing sector, meaning it is still legal to fire or make homeless an LGBT person simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Texas does allow for gender reassignment, but how this squares with marriage laws in the state has been met with widely different interpretations from several Texas judges.
Further, as recently as 2010 the Texas Republican Party, which retains majorities in both legislative chambers, published in its platform a call to Congress that they be allowed to enforce the state’s surviving sodomy statute.
In the platform the Party wrote:
We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texas.
The platform went on to say:
Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, or should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples.’ We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.
In fact, Governor Rick Perry made his opposition to gay people an opening gambit of a highly ridiculed campaign video entitled “Strong” where he said:
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
It’s not that Texas is singularly the most anti-gay state in America, it is simply that the Texas GOP has made its anti-gay stance a very particular selling point, despite Texas residents regularly polling in favor of gay rights and even increasingly in favor of same-sex marriage.
It is for this reason that the Austin Police Department’s It Gets Better video is perhaps doubly important in demonstrating that institutionalized homophobia in Texas is not absolute and that there are some in positions of authority who are willing to stand for equality.
Image taken from video, no infringement intended.