More than 400 people registered to testify on the so-called bathroom bill on Tuesday during the measure’s first Senate hearing, which broke little new political ground but illustrated how the proposal has mobilized transgender Texans and their advocates.
Inside the Senate State Affairs Committee hearing, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, choked back tears as she laid out Senate Bill 6, which would require people to use public restrooms and locker rooms based on the “biological sex” listed on their birth certificates.
“While the media makes it so much about transgender, this is a bill to say that men should not go into women’s restrooms,” Kolkhorst said, adding that she believes the bill is a “privacy” and “women’s rights” issue.
The committee room was closed to the general public in the morning, with only credentialed media and witnesses allowed to attend despite several empty seats. The strategy was likely deployed by Senate leadership in response to several outbursts by observers at controversial hearings in recent weeks.
The first dozen speakers invited by legislators all supported SB 6. Those witnesses included representatives from Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council — both designated as anti-LGBT hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
By 9 a.m., an hour after the hearing started, all four nearby overflow rooms — where people were able to watch a livestream on a TV — were themselves overflowing, mostly with opponents to the bill.
— Sam DeGrave (@sgdegrave) March 7, 2017
Gail Barnett was among those who registered to testify against the measure. Like hundreds of others, she wore a purple blouse to signify her opposition to the bill. Barnett said she drove from Houston to speak out against Kolkhorst’s measure because her daughter is transgender.
“I want to protect her rights,” Barnett told the Observer. “I fear for her safety.”
People in the overflow rooms responded to Kolkhorst’s image on flat-screen TVs with boos. What started as murmurs of protest in these rooms reached a crescendo in the open-air rotunda of the Capitol shortly before noon.
As the committee recessed, organizers held an anti-SB 6 press conference in the rotunda. Hundreds of people chanted “Y’all means all!” and “Ain’t gonna let no bathroom bill turn us around.”
At the center of the press conference was Libby Gonzales, a 7-year-old transgender girl. As her mother, Rachel, spoke about the effect SB 6 would have on transgender kids, Libby held her mother’s hand and fidgeted nervously.
“They are putting these children at risk over a problem that doesn’t exist,” Rachel Gonzales said.
Kolkhorst, who said she authored SB 6 at the request of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, cited several recent crimes committed by cisgender men in women’s restrooms in Texas during the hearing. But Democrats on the committee were quick to point out that none of the perpetrators were transgender, and they noted that the activities in question — from voyeurism to sexual assault — are already outlawed in the state’s penal code.
Retired police officer Kim Farbo, who spent 13 years handling cases of sexual assault at the Austin Police Department, spoke at the press conference and said she encountered plenty of transgender victims of assault, but never dealt with a trans suspect. Farbo is now a law enforcement training specialist with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA).
Senator Joan Huffman, R-Sugar Land, who chairs the committee, said more than 420 witnesses registered to give public testimony, which is limited to two minutes per speaker. The public testimony began just after 3:30 p.m. and it isn’t immediately clear when the committee will vote on the bill.
“It’s going to be a late night,” Huffman said.
Though SB 6 is widely expected to pass the Senate, its fate is uncertain in the House.
Read more Observer coverage on the controversial bathroom bill and transgender rights in Texas:
- Dan Patrick Compares Bathroom Bill Fight to Alamo at Briefing Hosted by Anti-LGBT Hate Group
- Collin County Mayor Becomes Texas’ First Transgender Elected Official
- Texas Town Comes Together to Fight Transgender Bathroom Regulations
- 5 Texas families speak about the often-hostile environment for trans kids
- New Data Suggests ‘Bathroom Bill’ Would Burden Nearly All Transgender Texans
- Who Benefits from Dan Patrick’s Potty Politics? (Hint: Dan Patrick)
- Patrick, Kolkhorst Unveil ‘Deeply Divisive’ Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill
This article originally incorrectly reported the day of the hearing. The committee met on Tuesday. The Observer regrets this error.