During legislative debate on Senate Bill 6, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has maintained that the measure isn’t intended to target transgender people.
She has argued instead that her so-called bathroom bill is primarily designed to address a perceived threat of cisgender male sexual predators taking advantage of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws to enter women’s restrooms.
But on Thursday, speaking to a right-wing audience one day after SB 6 cleared the Senate, Kolkhorst appeared to acknowledge that the bill is motivated, at least in part, by anti-trans bias.
“Let’s be clear, when we talk about a child declaring their own gender, we’re talking about someone that was born a male being able to enter a restroom that is identified for girls,” Kolkhorst said at a “Faith and Family Day” rally on the Capitol steps. She then erroneously suggested that trans people “instantly declare” their gender identity.
“I believe in my heart that we must put safety and dignity ahead of social engineering that is disguised as civil rights,” Kolkhorst added, railing against the “radical agendas” of pro-LGBT groups and echoing a column she wrote that was recently published by Breitbart.
Addressing a few hundred conservative Christians who gathered for the rally, Kolkhorst went on to portray herself as a victim of persecution from “what is supposedly called a tolerant left, an anti-bullying left.” She said she received at least one death threat in response to SB 6, and argued the Legislature should set bathroom policies rather than cater to an unidentified “global organization.”
“Texas was built on a moral foundation,” Kolkhorst said. “Sam Houston spoke of doing right and risking the consequences. Houston’s words to me still ring true.”
Equality Texas responded to Kolkhorst by saying it would never condone any threat. And a coalition of SB 6 opponents issued a statement calling the bill “abhorrently discriminatory” and saying it goes against the Christian principle of “do unto others.”
The keynote speaker at Faith and Family Day was Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, who invoked Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian pastor executed in Nazi Germany. Cruz said religious freedom in America is under attack from “secular humanism,” calling on “the silent majority” of Christians to “wear our faith on our sleeves” — in this case, by “melt[ing] the phones” of Texas House members.
“The battle for SB 6 is not over,” Cruz said. “We cannot allow SB 6 to die in committee in the House.”
Hours before Cruz spoke, a key House committee chair, Representative Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, told the Dallas Morning News he sees “no evidence of a problem” that SB 6 would solve.
Meanwhile, at a briefing for Faith and Family Day participants prior to the rally, Representative Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, unveiled a letter he distributed to House members calling for them to publicly endorse SB 6. Schaefer said signatures on the letter will be made public at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
“If there’s any doubt in people’s minds about where people stand on it, perhaps this letter will serve to dispel any confusion,” said Schaefer, who in January tried to bar trans people from using Capitol restrooms based on gender identity.
A similar measure in North Carolina, House Bill 2, has cost the state’s economy hundreds of millions of dollars, according to PolitiFact. But Schaefer told the Observer he believes the economic impact of SB 6 in Texas would be “miniscule.”
Jonathan Saenz, president of the anti-LGBT group Texas Values, touted a list of SB 6 supporters, including representatives from 19 businesses. In contrast, more than 1,250 businesses, including 35 from the Fortune 500, have joined Texas Competes, a pro-LGBT coalition working to defeat the bill.
Dana Hodges, state director for Concerned Women for America, called it “disheartening” that witnesses opposed to SB 6 significantly outnumbered supporters, 271 to 43, at a Senate committee hearing last week.
“We’re the working people, so we were all at work, and I get that,” she added.
Hodges, who refers to SB 6 as the “Pervert Prevention Act,” also compared the fight for its passage to “spiritual warfare.”
“Until the church stands up, we’re going to continue to fight this battle, and they’re going to continue to gain ground,” she told Faith and Family Day participants. “I see it as spiritual warfare, and what the enemy intends for bad, the Lord will use for good.”