Despite opposition from business groups, author backs bill
JAMES RUSSELL | Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 7, was a long day at the Texas Capitol. That’s when the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 6, the so-called bathroom bill, authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham that would require transgender men and women to use public restrooms according to the sex noted on their birth certificates and not their gender identity.
Hundreds of people signed up to provide two-minute testimony for and against the bill, which opponents — including Equality Texas and a broad coalition of business groups — call “discriminatory.”
Kolkhorst insisted the bill was not about discriminating against transgender people when she laid out her bill to the committee earlier in the day.
“While the media makes it so much about transgender, this is a bill to say that men should not go into the women’s restroom or into the shower or locker-room,” Kolkhorst told the committee.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, replied that in that case, the bill is not necessary since there are laws already in place addressing the issue.
If Kolkhorst wants to prevent men from entering women’s bathrooms, Garcia asked, why not use simple language like “someone cannot enter the bathroom of the opposite sex”?
“If that’s really what your aim is, then why are we doing all these other things like the…reference to the biological sex on the birth certificate?” Garcia said. “Because I think that’s what leads to the concerns of many of the people in my district that this is discriminatory and that this is targeting transgender children.”
During the nearly 15 hours of public testimony on the bill, opponents again and again warned the bill would hurt people. Two mothers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area who have transgender daughters were especially concerned.
Rachel Gonzales of Dallas told the committee SB 6 would hurt her daughter. “Like every other parent here, I just want the best for my Libby,” Gonzales said of her daughter. “I want her to go to school every single day feeling safe and loved.
“But SB 6 is about hurting transgender Texans – and transgender kids,” Gonzales added. “It’s not only a totally unnecessary bill, it’s a dangerous bill.”
Chelsa Morrison of Grapevine agreed. “I think our kids need to be treated fairly,” Morrison told the committee. “I think our kids need to be protected from discrimination, and I’m here today to make sure my child is protected under the law.
“We are not fighting about bathrooms; we are fighting for our children’s lives,” Morrison said. “I urge you to listen to my story and the stories of so many other parents here today. Listen to our educators opposing this bill, and listen to the businesses warning you it’s bad for Texas.”
Legislation like SB 6 puts a divisive political agenda ahead of people who really need protection, said the Rev. S. David Wynn, lead pastor of Agape Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth.
“When transgender women, children and men go into the public restroom that is congruent with their gender identity, they are the most vulnerable person in that facility,” Wynn said. “They are already targets for bullying, shaming and violence. They are the ones who need protection, and shame on politicians for creating unfounded and misdirected conflict, hysteria and hate for this already overly targeted group.
“With all due respect, in my faith tradition, we call that sin.”
Texas Welcomes All, a coalition of tourism and convention leaders from across Texas, cited evidence of the economic fallout after a similar bill passed in North Carolina. According to data compiled by Texas Competes, a group of businesses who oppose anti-LGBT legislation, economic fallout from North Carolina’s similar law totals almost a billion dollars.
Not all speakers agreed, however.
Bo French, a failed Republican candidate for the Texas Legislature last session, testified for the bill. Without providing facts to back up his statements, French refuted multiple studies and data indicating that similar legislation had devastating economic impacts on Indiana and North Carolina.
French, who is believed to be considering another run for office, said the bill would in fact bring businesses to the state.
“Now the opponents of SB6 will caterwaul all day long about how this is bad and we will lose business in Texas. I say, don’t believe the radical leftists,” French said. “Their values are not our values. I believe that SB6 will put in place protections for our kids in school from would be predators and protect the rights of businesses. This will do nothing but attract business to Texas.”
French and other supporters of the bill were outnumbered, however.
According to official numbers, 44 people spoke in favor of the bill and 271 against. Among those who registered but did not testify, SB 6 opponents outnumbered supporters by almost 1,100.
But that did not deter committee members, who after almost 20 hours of testimony voted the bill out of committee on a party line vote of 8-1.
(One Republican committee member was not present for the vote, but asked to be counted as supporting its passage. One of two Democrats on the committee, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, voted in favor of the bathroom bill.)
The bill now awaits votes in the Senate, where it is likely to pass easily. The House, although also controlled by Republicans, is likely to prove a tougher sell, however. Speaker Joe Strauss has indicated that the bathroom bill is not among his priorities, and SB 6 opponents see him as their best hope of defeating the measure.
Your turn to lobby
• All In For Equality
Equality Texas, in coordination with ACLU of Texas, Human Rights Campaign, Texas Freedom Network and Transgender Education Network of Texas as well as numerous local organizations around the state — including Resource Center and Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas — are hosting All In For Equality Advocacy Day on Monday, March 20 in Austin.
Those planning to attend are asked to register on online at EqualityTexas.org. There is a $5 registration fee, intended to help reduce the rate of people who register then don’t show up. But those who want to intend but need a waiver of the registration fee can email Robert Salcido at robert.salcido@ equalitytexas.org.
Lunch will be provided.
“This is an opportunity for you to ask state leaders to pass inclusive policies that protect all Texans, including our children,” organizers said, “and end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”
• Transgender Lobby Day in D.C.
National Center for Transgender Equality is hosting the Transgender Lobby Day 2017 on Thursday and Friday, June 8-9, in Washington, D.C., to help “fight anti-trans legislation and promote trans inclusive policies.”
The organization encouraged transgender people, their families and friends and advocates and allies to register to participate. On Thursday, participants will meet with others from their state for a keynote address and training session. On Friday, after more training in the morning, participants will head to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected representatives.
For information, visit TransEquality.org or email Kory Masen, Lobby Day organizer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 10, 2017.