Low-income residents of a North Austin apartment complex are putting pressure on a developer intent on demolishing their homes, and they’re having some success in getting concessions. The Old Homestead, located on Clayton Lane near the intersection with Cameron Road, is set to be rezoned for vertical mixed use – meaning developers JCI Residential, an affiliate of the Journeyman Group, will be allowed more height and building size in exchange for affordable units. While the new property will have more units than the current 16-unit complex, residents say they’ll struggle to find apartments as affordable – or with a community so closely knit – amid Austin’s surging rental prices.
Alex Jones remains a toxic influence on American politics and society despite an apparently shrinking audience and dwindling sales at his Infowars online shop, plus mounting losses in a bevy of lawsuits. After decades of spreading anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, Jones now wants to stage a comeback by positioning himself at the front of a new wave of hatred—with the help of powerful friends like Republican U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“Alex Jones Broke The Groomer Gate Scandal … in 2008?!” read an incredulously phrased headline on a story published by Infowars in April. The post links an audio recording by Jones— in which he claims elementary school teachers are giving explicit sexual instructions to 6 or 7 year olds—to today’s “groomer” panic. “Grooming” refers to a behavior whereby pedophiles ingratiate themselves with a potential underaged victim. But right-wing pundits, including Jones, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the viral Twitter account @LibsofTikTok, now seemingly want to expand the definition to include openly LGBTQ+ teachers or anyone who speaks with young people about the existence of transgender people and gender diversity.
One thing that keeps me up at night is the thought of how unprepared the Left is to defend itself. I worry we’re simply not ready for what’s coming.
What I want to focus on in this short article is the idea that groups, from smaller collectives to larger nonprofits, need to be prepared for disruptive, even violent attacks from right-wing operatives. The actors can vary … white supremacists like Patriot Front or street brawling brownshirts like the Proud Boys, even media trolls like Infowars reporters.
At a recent rally for the rights of trans kids in downtown Austin, I watched as right wing trolls (yelling horrid things about pedophilia, groomers and imaginary surgery involving childrens’ genitals) attempted to storm the makeshift stage area where a series of speakers were holding space. The crowd were mostly queer-friendly Austin residents including many families. The organizers looked stunned. State Troopers eventually intervened, but only after regular, everyday people put their bodies in between the fascist trolls and the speakers. And it could have gone much worse. We’re just not ready.
“It’s heartbreaking to look back and see that the investigations of gender-affirming families have started, that the nightmare I had of someone knocking on my door and threatening to take away my kid is actually coming true for some people,” Camille Ray told me.
Ray’s family are like a growing number of families: they’ve left or plan to leave the state of Texas to protect a trans or queer child. She moved from the Austin-area to Maryland in August 2021, in order to protect her transgender son Leon. We spoke on the phone as she walked her dog on a hiking trail near her home, as research for my recent Austin Chronicle article on the fear and anxiety faced by trans people and their families.
Though the interview didn’t make it into the article, I wanted to share a little of it here since I know her experience mirrors that of so many other residents of Texas, and other states attacking their LGBTQIA+ young folks. People who make the painful choice to leave, essentially becoming political refugees from a state that hates their trans or queer children.
Despite a temporary halt to politically motivated child abuse investigations of families with trans kids, parents and advocates say they continue to live in fear as anti-trans moral panic sweeps through the Lone Star State’s GOP base voters and their leaders.
The ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal have won four successive rulings in their challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate normal gender affirming health care as child abuse. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to overrule a lower court’s injunction and allow Child Protective Services investigations to continue immediately. Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney from Lambda Legal representing the plaintiffs, told the Chronicle that she expects a favorable ruling, because both the law and medical experts are on Lambda Legal’s side.
… Texas continues to look for other ways to put pressure on trans kids, their parents, and their health care providers. In late March, Paxton’s office filed new investigative demands in a civil case against two pharmaceutical companies, Endo Pharmaceuticals and AbbVie Inc., which provide puberty-blocker drugs. Although approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of children who enter puberty early, they’re also prescribed (with the backing of experts like the American Medical Association) as a way to delay puberty in transgender kids who are too young to receive other forms of medical treatment such as hormones.
On March 25, city personnel moved 31 people living in a controversial encampment at St. Johns and I-35 into transitional housing at the Northbridge and Southbridge shelters, as part of the city’s HEAL (Homeless Encampment Assistance Link) initiative, adopted in the wake of last year’s local and state reinstatement of a ban on public camping.
For months, the encampment in and around St. John Neighborhood Park had generated concern among neighbors. On March 6, police shot and killed 28-year-old Miguel Ruiz Rivera, who lived periodically at the camp, after he had apparently been spotted firing a gun near one of the tents. At the same time, an outpouring of generosity from locals seeking to help unhoused neighbors inspired multiple fundraising campaigns and sustained volunteer efforts to feed, assist and, ultimately, house the campers before the city stepped in.