- SXSW 2014
Photo provided courtesy of GetEQUAL TX
Five members of GetEQUAL TX raise their fists in front of the Travis County jail Wednesday after being released on bond.
Five members of the LGBTQ-advocacy organization, GetEQUAL TX, were arrested at the state Capitol on Wednesday during sit-ins meant to urge lawmakers to vote on a workplace anti-discrimination bill.
Five members of an LGBTQ-advocacy organization were arrested at the state Capitol on Wednesday during sit-ins meant to urge lawmakers to vote on a workplace anti-discrimination bill.
Senate Bill 237, more commonly known as the “Fair Employment Act,” is currently before the state Senate Committee on Economic Development. The bill would make it illegal for Texas employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The five individuals were part of a group of more than a dozen members of GetEQUAL TX that protested at the Capitol throughout the morning Wednesday in support of the bill.
Tiffani Bishop, Lead for the Central Texas chapter of GetEQUAL and one of those arrested Wednesday, said the protesting came as a last resort after an intense lobbying effort by the group, as there is less than a month remaining in the legislative session.
"We've marched, lobbied, petitioned, visited their offices personally and called their offices every single day for the last two months,” Bishop said. “At this point, nonviolent civil disobedience is our only option."
The GetEQUAL TX members’ protest efforts led them to the offices of four different senators, beginning with state Senators Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, around nine a.m.
A group in Deuell's office began loud chants while sitting in office chairs and standing until state troopers warned them they had to leave or face arrest. Three were arrested in Duell’s office.
In Birdwell's office, a small group discussed relevant issues with members of Birdwell’s staff, including his chief of staff, Ben Stratmann.
"I know there were SB 237 protests and arrests next door to our office and in some other Senate offices, but we didn't have any protesters in Senator Birdwell's office,” Stratmann said. “I had an opportunity to speak at length with some extremely polite gentlemen about their support of the bill."
Following efforts to speak with those senators, members of GetEQUAL TX entered the offices of Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.
Two more were arrested in Hancock's office.
The five individuals arrested were booked into the Travis County jail on charges of criminal trespass and released Wednesday night on personal recognizance bonds.
The protest took place on May 1, known internationally as "May Day," as it is known as a day of protest for the working class.
Bishop said the activists will continue to pressure legislators to act on the bill, which has not been scheduled for a vote.
"We will continue to fight for our jobs and our survival until our message no longer falls on deaf ears," Bishop said.
Stratmann said Birdwell does not support the bill and requests for comment from the offices of the other senators were declined.