AUSTIN (KXAN) — A for sale sign went up recently in front of the house that Lauren Rodriguez called her dream home. Even though she only moved in two years ago, her plan now is to sell it so that she and her family can not only leave the Austin area, but the country entirely.

woman stands next to her son in graduation regalia
Lauren Rodriguez posts next to her 18-year-old son Greyson at his high school graduation last year. (Courtesy Lauren Rodriguez)

“We’re definitely not staying in Texas,” Rodriguez said. “The goal is to hopefully leave the country, but I have to see if we can get that worked out. If not, we’ll try to go to a safer state, but it makes me nervous because I don’t know how long a state will be safe for.”

She credits the political climate in Texas and restrictions pursued by the state legislature related to the transgender community for cementing her decision to seek a life outside the U.S. She and her 18-year-old transgender son Greyson spent the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions going to the Capitol multiple times to testify against bills like the one that ultimately passed last year requiring Texas public school athletes to play sports based on their biological sex at birth. At least 18 states have now approved legislation banning trans athletes from participating in sports, according to the LGBTQ advocacy organization Athlete Ally.

She fears what proposals will come during the next session, pointing to the platform approved this summer by the Republican Party of Texas. The new language included labeling homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and opposing “all efforts to validate transgender identity.” Some members opposed the language and worried it would hurt the party moving forward. After the vote, a group representing the state’s LGBTQ Republicans blasted the Texas Republican Convention as a bunch of “crazy people.”

Many LGBTQ advocates also said they expect state lawmakers to work toward codifying an executive order signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year that directed the state’s child welfare agency to conduct abuse investigations into families with trans children.

“I had hope. I don’t have hope anymore,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone talks about the Austin area being blue. I feel like it’s really like a blue mirage. We moved here from a smaller town thinking we’d be safe. Two years later after building our dream home, we’re selling it because it’s still not safe.”

Flee Texas service

After hearing stories similar to Rodriguez’s, Bob McCranie, a gay Dallas-based realtor, created a new real estate service online called Flee Texas to help LGBTQ Texans. The website reads, “If you feel the need to leave the jurisdiction of Texas, let us help you sell your property here and connect you with an LGBTQIA or ally agent in a better location of your choice.”

“Almost every LGBTQ person I’m having dinner with or talking to or whatever has in the back of their mind, ‘What’s my plan B? How do I get out of here?'” McCranie said. “This is turning, and some of the people are responding, ‘Well, we should all just stay in fight.’ A lot of us have fought for — for me, 17 years. It’s just everybody’s thinking about, ‘Where do I go next?'”

Since the Flee Texas website went live, McCranie said it’s gotten at least 500 hits a month. However, no homes have been sold yet through this effort. He admits it’s perhaps too early for that now, but he said the upcoming legislative session or future Supreme Court cases may lead some to seek out assistance to find a new place to call home.

People recently expressed concerns about how the high court’s conservative majority might eventually rule on LGBTQ rights based on a separate opinion that Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in support of the reversal of Roe v. Wade. According to our news partners at The Hill, he called for the overturning of previous decisions based on that same precedent that created protections for access to contraception, same-sex intimacy and marriage equality.

“I’m an ambassador for Texas. I’m an ambassador for our cities to say, ‘Here’s a great place where you can live near parks, near whatever. Here’s a great house. Here’s all the excitement about being here,'” McCranie said. “I now have to shift that into: all this great stuff is tainted by the idea that you won’t be equal here. You may actually be threatened here, and your children may actually be taken away from you.”

McCranie pushed back on criticism that his Flee Texas tool may potentially capitalize on people’s fears.

“If you’re looking at this as a money-making venture, then you’re not seeing it from the perspective we are,” he said. “We’re here to help people improve their lives and get out from under the weight and the threat that’s there for their family, and that’s the service we’re providing.”

Where to next?

For Lauren Rodriguez and her family, they’re planning to relocate to New Zealand, a place more than 7,300 miles from Texas. She said she intends to secure a student visa so she can pursue a graduate degree at a university on the island nation located in the Pacific Ocean southeast of Australia.

She said New Zealand appealed to her family because of the country’s friendlier policies toward queer and trans people. For example a law passed in December last year that made it easier for people to change the sex on their birth certificates, according to The Guardian.

Because of the lengthy visa approval process, though, Rodriguez doesn’t expect to be able to move there until July next year. She launched a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of moving and rental deposits in the meantime while her family waits for their home to sell.

The mother of another Texas transgender activist, Kai Shappley, also started an online fundraiser to help them leave the state. According to the Shappleys’ GoFundMe page, they were able to move from Texas after bringing in more than $50,000 in donations.

In a speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Gov. Abbott acknowledged people leaving Texas due to the political climate. He said the state seeing the most number of Texans moving there is California and then made a joke about the swap happening.

“Why would someone from Texas move to California? It’s because they like the Gavin Newsom type of liberalism, so we have an exchange program going on,” Abbott said to the crowd. “We’re getting the California conservatives. We’re sending them our liberals.”