Denton Protest Erupts as Gov. Abbott Signs Save Women's Sports Act | Dallas Observer

Denton Protesters Tell Gov. Abbott There's 'Blood on Your Hands' Over SB15

Demonstrators at Texas Woman's University chanted: "Greg Abbott, you can't hide / We charge you with genocide."
Gov. Greg Abbott appeared in Denton on Monday for the ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 15.
Gov. Greg Abbott appeared in Denton on Monday for the ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 15. Simone Carter
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Chanting could be heard blocks away from the protest on an otherwise still Monday afternoon at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. “Transphobia has got to go,” the demonstrators yelled as the temperature approached triple digits.

Roughly 200 protesters had gathered to confront Gov. Greg Abbott at the ceremonial signing of the so-called Save Women’s Sports Act, which bars transgender athletes from playing on college teams that align with their gender. They came with a clear message for the Republican governor: Trans lives are on the line.

“Greg Abbott, you can’t hide / We charge you with genocide,” the protesters chanted.

Demonstrator Aubrey Escoto shielded themself from the sun with a rainbow parasol. They noted that Denton, which is also home to the University of North Texas, has two “pretty queer college communities.”

Escoto said the ceremonial signing seemed designed to provoke outrage.

“It's about restricting our access to the public — not just bathrooms and not just locker rooms and women’s sports,” they said. “It's pushing us into the margins.”

The new law comes amid an ever-deepening anti-trans moral panic. Texas is just one of several states nationwide that has passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in recent days.

The American Civil Liberties Union tracked 53 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in Texas this year, more than any other state. Lone Star lawmakers introduced one-fifth of all such legislation in the U.S. in 2023, a separate report found.

LGBTQ+ advocates have decried Senate Bill 15, which was formally signed into law in June, as both unconstitutional and cruel. It takes effect on Sept. 1 and mirrors a law passed in 2021 targeting trans athletes in K-12 sports.

While opponents of SB 15 say it punches down at transgender athletes, its supporters argue that such competitors have an unfair advantage.

Former college swimmers Riley Gaines and Paula Scanlan sat on either side of Abbott during Monday’s ceremonial signing in the TWU library. Several Texas GOP lawmakers stood behind them. 

“It's about restricting our access to the public — not just bathrooms, and not just locker rooms and women’s sports.” – Protester Aubrey Escoto

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Gaines rose to prominence as an activist after tying with transgender athlete Lia Thomas for fifth place in the NCAA championship’s 200-yard freestyle last year. (She also used Thomas' original name and repeatedly misgendered her during her speech.)

“When Gov. Abbott signed the Save Women’s Sports Act this summer, he sent a message to approximately 15 million Texan women that they will be treated fairly on the playing fields, in the sport arenas and inside the locker rooms,” Gaines said during the signing ceremony. “Governor Abbott, thank you for respecting our right to fair play, safe spaces and privacy.”

Gaines isn’t the only athlete demanding restrictions on trans players.

On Sunday, tennis legend Martina Navratilova blasted the country’s tennis association over policies that are inclusive of transgender women. When the World Surf League announced earlier this year that it would let trans athletes participate in women’s competitions, professional surfer Bethany Hamilton vowed to boycott.
Abbott has pitched SB 15 as necessary for safeguarding female athletes. He argued that women’s sports are being “threatened” nationwide by “biological men” vying for the same titles, teams and records.

During a post-signing press conference, Abbott said that competitors like Gaines and Scanlan — not transgender athletes — are the ones being marginalized.

Denton City Council member Brian Beck stood in solidarity with the protesters against the new law. He called the local community welcoming and inclusive, traits that stand in stark contrast to SB 15.

“I think Denton and TWU are being used as a mask, or to use the vernacular, as a beard,” Beck said. “And I don't think that it's appropriate to come in and say, ‘Here I am at a women's forum and event dedicated to celebrating women,’ and then to turn around and use that as a way to exclude people from the community — I think it's completely inappropriate.”

Monday's event grew heated at times. Gaines and Scanlan later claimed that protesters spat on SB 15's proponents.

State Sen. Mayes Middleton, a Galveston Republican who authored the law, railed against the demonstrators in a tweet.

“Welcome to the 'tolerant left' — spitting on us, throwing water on us and willing to get violent to oppose fairness in women’s sports, the save women’s sports act,” he tweeted.

But to many in the trans community, the flurry of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Texas and beyond amounts to a coordinated attack on their right to exist. “You're fucking killing people!” one protester screamed.

In April, Science magazine reported that scientists have yet to reach a consensus on how trans women athletes compete compared with their cisgender counterparts. Given the overall lack of conclusive data, some researchers have slammed World Athletics’ decision to ban trans track and field athletes as “discriminatory.”

The way protester Vaughn Richardson sees it, feelings shouldn’t supersede science when it comes to making laws.

“Anybody who signs off on [SB 15] is not really actually looking for facts or science,” she said. “They're looking for religious superiority and things of that nature.”
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Protesters on Monday railed against the so-called Save Women's Sports Act for being anti-trans.
Simone Carter

Evidence suggests that legislation like SB 15 has had detrimental effects on LGBTQ+ people. Around 86% of youth who identify as transgender and nonbinary say that debates surrounding anti-trans legislation have hurt their mental health, according to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ suicide prevention group.

Some LGBTQ+ Texans are considering fleeing the state. That subset includes Escoto, who said they were accosted in public earlier this year while out in downtown Dallas.

On the sidewalk leading away from the TWU campus, chanting could still be heard even after the ceremony had ended: “Racist, sexist, anti-trans / You have blood on your hands.”
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