‘Bathroom Bill’ Opposition Mounts after Trans Activist is Brutally Attacked

Opponents, including activist Stephanie Martinez and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, say the ‘bathroom bill’ would further fuel anti-trans violence.

“What you do has real-world consequences,” Stephanie Martinez told lawmakers hours after she was attacked. “I am that consequence.”  Michael Barajas

Stephanie Martinez told police she met the guy online. Seventeen-year-old Rayshad Deloach, or “Jay” as she knew him, said he wanted to know more about transgender issues. So Martinez — a transgender woman, LGBT activist and familiar face at the Texas Capitol — agreed to meet and talk it out in person. Martinez would pick him up at his apartment when she got off work on July 20 and then take him to a nearby restaurant for a chat.

The two talked for a bit when she got to his far northwest Austin apartment that afternoon, but then Rayshad said he had to step away for a minute. When he returned, he was joined by a man police would later identify as his 26-year-old brother, Raymond, who jumped in the back seat of Martinez’s car, according to court records. Raymond said he had a gun and told her to drive. They stopped near an abandoned house, where Martinez says they ordered her out of the car, beat her to the ground and stole her purse. According to court records first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Rayshad would later admit to police “that he attacked Martinez because she was transgender.”

The next day, Martinez went before a Texas Senate committee to testify against a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender Texans in the special session of the Texas Legislature. She urged lawmakers to stop fueling the kind of anti-trans hate that left her with fresh bruises on her arms and face. “What you do has real-world consequences,” she testified. “I am that consequence.”

In addition to school districts, clergy and big-city mayors, big business has launched its own full-court press against a potty-policing bill that would block transgender Texans from using restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity. More than a dozen Texas-based corporations have written to state leaders warning them it would “seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investments and jobs.” Big Oil even made its voice heard this week in the form of a stern letter to state leaders from the Greater Houston Partnership.

But it’s people like Martinez, whose lives would be harmed by any state crackdown on trans-inclusive restrooms and school facilities, who have been the boots on the ground at the Capitol. During the regular session, Martinez waited some 16 hours to testify before the same Senate committee against a similar bill. She used up her vacation time to visit the offices of all 181 state lawmakers, some more than once.

Protesters gathering at the Capitol’s southern entrance.  Ignacio Martinez

While opponents like Martinez successfully blocked anti-trans legislation in the regular session, Governor Greg Abbott simply extended the timeline and called it a priority for his 30-day summer bonus round.

“So now I’m here again,” Martinez told the Observer last week in the Capitol basement. The full Senate had recently passed its latest version of the “bathroom bill,” Senate Bill 3, and Martinez was about to visit House members’ offices, again.

“We just keep coming back here, reminding them that we’re human beings, reminding them that there are consequences when you dehumanize us and call us dangerous,” Martinez said, pointing to her lip, which still showed some dark purple bruising.

While SB 3’s supporters claim it’s meant to safeguard “dignity, privacy and safety,” police chiefs from across the state gathered on the Capitol steps last week to debunk the longstanding lie that predators use nondiscrimination protections as cover to assault women and children in public restrooms. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo warned about the “open season it will create on discrimination.”

“Folks will feel emboldened, they will feel they can discriminate,” Acevedo said. “They will feel they can target and they will feel they can have vigilante justice out there because of this law.”

Now halfway through the special session, the big question is still what kind of command moderate and business-oriented Republicans have on the House. Speaker Joe Straus, by all appearances, remains firm in his opposition. Representative Byron Cook, who controls the committee any House version of the bill must flow through, recently wrote on his personal blog, “I do not condone duplicitous grandstanding on this issue and/or discriminatory legislation; nor do I support laws that will adversely affect our state’s economy.”

Still, Cook says he’d support “legislation that limits admittance (based on gender at birth) to multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in our schools and requires local schools districts to develop single-stall bathroom policies for its transgender students.” Meaning the House gatekeeper could still get behind something like House Bill 50, a measure filed for the special session that would only target trans-inclusive policies at the school district level. And if this is starting to feel like déjà vu, that’s because HB 50 essentially mirrors the “compromise” House members passed in the regular session.

Which explains why, if you’ve roamed the halls of the Capitol recently, you’ve probably run into transgender kids and their parents lobbying lawmakers. “This is not how we want to be spending her summer,” Kimberly Shappley, mother of a 5-year-old transgender girl, said outside of the Senate committee hearing last month. “But this is about her life, about what kind of future she gets to have.”

Last week, Amber Briggle posted a photo on Facebook of her 9-year-old son, Max, breaking down in tears outside Abbott’s office. “Can I just admit for a second how effing tired I am of having to comfort my baby and protect him from bullies in Austin?” she wrote. “Let me just be real for a second. This sucks so hard. He deserves a summer vacation with his friends, not a political pissing contest with the Texas Legislature. Not fair. I’m mad as hell.”

It’s unclear yet when the slower-moving House will take up some version of the “bathroom bill,” but Martinez says she’s still furiously trying to meet every lawmaker and legislative staffer she can until then.

The brothers Martinez accused of attacking her last month now each face aggravated kidnapping and robbery charges. Officials haven’t yet said whether they’ll prosecute it as a hate crime.

Martinez talks about the attack with people she meets at the Legislature. During the assault, she says one of the men lifted a heavy log, as if he was going to bash her head in with it. She thought about year-end memorials where they read the names of trans people who have been murdered.

“I could have been one of those names,” she said. “If we don’t end this debate, there will be more of those names.”

Michael Barajas is a staff writer covering civil rights for the Observer. You can reach him on Twitter or at [email protected].

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