DALLAS (KXAN) — The end of this month can’t come soon enough for Paul Lewis. He’ll get to hand over the keys to his house in a Dallas suburb and start a long drive north, where he’ll become the latest LGBTQ+ Texan to leave the state in hopes of finding a friendlier place to call home.
“Part of me hates the fact that I’m leaving Texas, the home I’ve always known,” Lewis said, “but part of me is also excited by the fact that I get to start a new chapter.”
The lifelong Texan committed in January to begin looking for somewhere else to move. He explained how two factors ultimately solidified that decision, pointing to the growing number of LGBTQ+ restrictions introduced this legislative session as well as the frequency of deadly mass shootings happening in the state. He noted his home in Carrollton is 20 minutes from the Allen Premium Outlets, where a gunman killed eight people in May. Plus, the governor recently signed a bill into law that would ban transgender minors from receiving certain health care options to help in their transition.
“I don’t feel like Texas is my home anymore,” Lewis said simply.
He ended up selling his home through a real estate service launched last summer by the Dallas-based broker, Bob McCranie, who sought to help LGBTQ+ people list their homes in Texas and then connect them with an agent in another state or even a different country where they’d like to go next. McCranie initially called it “Flee Texas,” but soon changed the name to reflect a broader group of people expressing interest in the service.
“What we discovered was we got so much response from other states that we decided to expand and become ‘Flee Red States,'” McCranie said Tuesday. “We’ve helped 27 groups of people so far get out.”
When someone goes to the website FleeRedStates.com, a message reads, “As LGBTQIA+ citizens in Red States, many of us feel at risk. Current laws are highly discriminatory against trans youth and their families. Our marriages, our families, and even our safety are at risk. If you feel the need to leave the jurisdiction of a Red State, let us help you sell your property here and connect with you an LGBTQIA+ or ally agent in a better location of your choice. We are licensed in Texas and we have affiliates in all 50 states and several countries.” People can share their contact information to create an account and start the process of connecting with a real estate expert.
“We’re calling it kind of the ‘rainbow Underground Railroad,'” McCranie said. “We’re trying to get people out quietly and get them to someplace where they feel safer.”
McCranie said Saturday he would like to “apologize and acknowledge the harm for the use of the underground railroad in discussing the LGBTQ migration from red states.”
In a statement sent to KXAN, he added, “In no way was I trying to equate the slavery based oppression that African Americans experience today with the opportunity the LGBTQ white people have to escape to a different state or country.”
He concluded by saying, “I’ve learned a lot from this, and I hope it serves as a learning opportunity for others.”
Gov. Abbott response
The governor held an event Thursday to sign a bill that will bar transgender women from playing on female sports teams at the collegiate level, which expands upon a law passed two years ago in Texas. KXAN asked Abbott to address its reporting that dozens of people are leaving the state because they said lawmakers keep pursuing these kinds of laws. He responded to a question about what he would say to LGBTQ+ Texans who assert they no longer feel welcome here anymore.
“Texas of course is a very welcoming state, and we want everybody to be here,” Abbott said. “So much so because the policies we promote, Texas over the past decade has been the leading state in the United States of America people choose to move to for our policies, and we will continue to advance policies that protect children, that protect women in sports but protect all Texans and their freedoms.”
After working in Texas real estate for more than 20 years, McCranie called it a “sad thing” to change his business to now help people leave the state rather than put down roots here. However, he said he has no plans to stop it anytime soon because he still worries which LGBTQ+ restrictions the state’s Republican leaders will pursue next.
“What we all want as human beings is to feel a level of safety, and if your state is making you feel unsafe, there’s no reason to stay,” McCranie said. “I can’t believe somebody could look at, let’s say, California or New York versus Texas and Florida and say that LGBTQ people feel more welcome in Florida and Texas. Do you think that’s a reasonable presumption? Of course not.”
Where to next
A woman who sold her home recently in the Austin area now resides in New Zealand, where she traveled to last week to reunite with her transgender son who’s in nursing school there. They decided to go somewhere overseas rather than another state because they’re concerned about a possible shift in the national political rhetoric against transgender rights.
McCranie told KXAN some of the people whom he helped through the Flee Red States service now live internationally, too, in places like Portugal, Mexico and Ireland. However, many of his clients moved somewhere else in the U.S.
When Lewis leaves the Dallas area at the end of the month, he’ll be bound for Michigan. He said it’s not only closer to some of his family, but state leaders there also worked to codify protections for the LGBTQ+ community. For example, earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a law that expanded the state’s anti-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Under Texas state law, those remain unprotected classes despite efforts to change that by mostly Democratic state lawmakers and LGBTQ+ advocates.
As he spends the next two weeks packing up his belongings, Lewis shared what he hopes Texas leaders will take from hearing how their policies are making him and other LGBTQ+ people flee the state.
“You should honestly be ashamed with the amount of injustice that you’re bringing into the state of Texas because that’s not my Texas. That’s not the Texas I grew up in,” Lewis said. “My Texas was you are proud to be from here. You helped your neighbor. You were loving and kind, and you’re turning into something else because my Texas doesn’t feel that way anymore. I feel more hate brewing in the state than I have my entire life, and your decisions are making it worse.”
It remains unclear whether legal challenges will emerge to some of the laws that Gov. Abbott signed this year. Several legal advocacy groups, though, already announced they planned to file a joint lawsuit against the state soon over the law that will ban gender-affirming care options for transgender minors. They argue it stops young people from accessing “medically necessary care.”