On Friday, more than 250 people signed up to testify, and the overwhelming majority spoke in opposition.
Hundreds of people formed a line that snaked through the Texas Capitol’s basement early Friday, waiting to testify as lawmakers continue to push a so-called bathroom bill targeting transgender Texans.
LGBT activists and allies swarmed the Senate State Affairs Committee hearing over Senate Bill 3 and SB 91, near-identical proposals authored by Brenham Republican Senator Lois Kolkhorst that would not only bar local governments and school districts from adopting bathroom policies that accommodate transgender people, but could also block trans students from playing school sports.
Kolkhorst, who championed similar measures that failed during the regular session, acknowledged that GOP lawmakers have already slogged through several grueling, hours-long hearings in their so-far unsuccessful attempts to strip local governments and school districts of nondiscrimination policies meant to shield transgender Texans.
On Friday, more than 250 people signed up to testify, and the overwhelming majority spoke in opposition. They carried signs reading “Classrooms not bathrooms” and “Don’t discriminate in the Lone Star State.” Supporters brought signs reading “It’s common sense; men shouldn’t be in showers with little girls.”
Patty Woodruff and her 16-year-old daughter, Izzy, drove four hours from Rusk to testify. Patty said Izzy, who is trans, has attempted suicide five times — an alarmingly common phenomenon that Patty said the “bathroom bill” would worsen.
“Dan Patrick should spend one day with a trans child and see if he still supports this bill,” Patty said.
Kolkhorst and supporters of the “bathroom bill” insist they’re safeguarding “dignity, privacy and safety,” despite no evidence of conservatives’ longstanding claim that nondiscrimination protections have been used as cover for sexual predators to assault women and children in public restrooms. Yet on Friday, Kolkhorst also seemed to acknowledge the debate’s culture-war overtones.
“This issue is about much more than bathrooms,” Kolkhorst told the committee. “This is about finding the balance between the right to declare your gender and the right of a parent to protect their child.”
Both bills — Kolkhorst said she filed two as a “precautionary measure” in the fast-moving 30-day special session — would mandate that restrooms, showers and changing rooms in schools or government buildings be “designated for and only used by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.” That means someone like Ashley Smith, a transgender woman from San Antonio, would be required by law to use the men’s restroom.
“You know that transgender women encounter violence at a much higher level than the general public,” Smith told lawmakers. “I am scared to think about what some people will do to us if this bill becomes law.”
Rene Slataper, a transgender man from Austin, said such restrictions would “make it nearly impossible for me to do my job,” which sometimes requires work on school campuses.
“These bills would send me to the women’s restroom and locker room,” he said. “If the purpose of this is to keep men out of women’s bathrooms, with all due respect, you’re doing it wrong.”
This week’s hearing comes amid intense, multifaceted opposition, including from public officials, who say the “bathroom bills” strip communities of local control; the business community, which warns of damage to the state’s economy; and schools, which want to respectfully accommodate trans students and their families.
CEOs and top executives from more than a dozen Texas-based corporations, including American Airlines and AT&T, wrote state leaders earlier this week warning the legislation would “seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investments and jobs.” More than a dozen top IBM executives traveled to the Capitol to lobby hard against any “bathroom bills,” and 15 San Antonio-area school districts recently signed a letter urging lawmakers to back off.
Meanwhile, some conservative supporters have shifted their focus back to transgender kids. Before lawmakers even gaveled in the special session, Representative Scott Sanford, a McKinney Republican, said in a recent TV forum that letting trans children explore their gender identities is equivalent to “child abuse.” Some supporters who testified worried that without the new measure, schools would “encourage gender confusion.”
Ultimately, Kolkhorst’s bill passing out of committee is a foregone conclusion, as only two of the committee’s nine members are Democrats — and just one of them, Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, even opposes the bill. Zaffirini questioned Kolkhorst about whether forcing trans Texans into bathrooms that don’t match their appearance puts them in danger: “How can we ensure their safety?” Kolkhorst’s response: “I think that’s what we’re debating today.”
Brad O’Furey, government relations manager with Equality Texas, said Kolkhorst’s bill will almost certainly sail through the full Senate. The real question at this point is what version of the bathroom bill lawmakers think they can push through the House. O’Furey has his eye on House Bill 50, which largely mimics a “compromise” bill lawmakers considered in the regular session. HB 50 would target trans-inclusive policies only at the school district level.
While narrower, that proposal is still plenty dangerous, O’Furey said. “We’re talking about 9-, 10-, 11-year-old kids who get bladder infections because they have to hold it throughout the day, or who get singled out and ridiculed because of who they are,” he said.
Staff writer Gus Bova contributed to this report. See video coverage from the Observer’s Facebook below.