AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Freedom Network, a progressive advocacy group that organized a protest against a bill that would ban minors from accessing puberty blockers and gender-transition surgery, said Wednesday the “aggression” they witnessed from Department of Public Safety troopers was “deeply disturbing.”
At least one of their members was arrested after DPS attempted to remove protesters from the area surrounding the Texas House chambers.
In a statement provided to KXAN, DPS said Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan requested the Texas House Gallery to be cleared. The Sergeant at Arms then notified DPS, which provides law enforcement and security at the Capitol, of the disruption and asked for help clearing everyone from the gallery. DPS said people were “escorted out of the Capitol building due to ongoing protests.”
“No tasers or pepper spray were deployed by DPS personnel at any time. Once the Gallery was cleared, proceedings in the House continued,” the statement reads.
Adri Pérez, TNF’s organizing director, was booked into Travis County Jail and held until Tuesday night before Travis County dropped all charges, the organization said. DPS said Perez was charged with assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest and disrupting a public meeting.
Another person was charged with assault by contact and released on site, DPS said.
“Loving families, community members, and advocates were there peacefully protesting an extremist ban on transgender healthcare that puts the lives of our youth at risk. None of them deserved criminalization or brutality,” TNF said.
Protesters violated the rules of the House gallery by displaying banners and repeatedly chanting in opposition to Senate Bill 14. Phelan removed the gallery of all members of the public, including supporters of Senate Bill 14.
“Rules matter in the Texas House,” Speaker Phelan said Tuesday. “Today’s outbursts in the gallery were a breach of decorum and continued after I warned that such behaviors would not be tolerated. There will always be differing perspectives, but in our chamber, we will debate those differences with respect.”
Rule 1, Section 5 of the House Rules requires the speaker to “preserve order and decorum.” Signs and placards are explicitly prohibited in the gallery.
After the gallery was cleared, protesters began gathering and chanting in the hallway immediately outside the gallery doors. One DPS trooper announced to the crowd over megaphone that they were too loud and that the House could not conduct business. The protesters continued chanting, at which point DPS took efforts to remove all members of the public from the third floor.
Eventually, DPS decided all protesters must leave the building completely, and the protest continued on the south steps of the Capitol with more than a dozen DPS troopers present.
The All in for Equality Coalition, under the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, also said they are “deeply disturbed” by the events.
“We witnessed violence and arrests today against Texans, many of whom are queer and transgender and who would be harmed directly by this bill,” they said. “Hundreds of people came to the Capitol to express their concerns about a bill that would ban life-saving healthcare for transgender youth. That bill was halted today based on a procedural point of order, but Texas lawmakers are still threatening to advance it. We urge them to show compassion to transgender youth and will hold them to account to protect the freedoms of all Texans.”