‘Bathroom Bill’ Critics: There is No Middle Ground for Human Rights

Beginning late Wednesday night, a House committee heard hours of testimony opposing HB 2899, the House’s version of the “bathroom bill.



Danielle Skidmore speaks at a Capitol press conference opposing SB 6.  Sam DeGrave

Governor Greg Abbott is calling the Texas House’s version of the so-called bathroom bill “a thoughtful proposal.” The author of the bill has touted it as being business-friendly. And unlike the Senate version, it does not explicitly require people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex assigned on their birth certificate.

“You simply can’t compromise away the rights of people,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that advocates for the separation of church and state, at a Wednesday press conference organized by opponents of the proposal.

On Wednesday night, the House State Affairs Committee is expected to hear hours of testimony on HB 2899, authored by state Representative Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton.

The House bill’s broad language, which does not reference transgender people, gender identity or sexual expression, could cause collateral damage by voiding protections granted to other groups by local governments that aren’t protected under federal law.

Several major Texas cities, including Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas and Plano, have added discrimination protections to public accommodation ordinances for groups such as veterans or elderly people. Opponents worry HB 2899 would have the unintended consequences of nullifying those protections.

“How much discrimination is the right amount of discrimination?” asked Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “It’s never been about bathrooms. … It’s about dislike, misunderstanding and prejudice against transgender people.”

Libby Gonzales, a 7-year-old transgender girl  Sam DeGrave

Rachel Gonzales and her 7-year-old transgender daughter, Libby, have become a familiar sight at the Capitol this session. Gonzales called the HB 2899 “enormously disheartening.”

“[Lawmakers] are putting [my daughter’s] life at risk on a daily basis by suggesting that we pass this legislation. HB 2899 would remove my daughter’s school’s ability to keep her safe,” said Gonzales. “All of her educators and her classmates support her, and should an issue arise in the future, her school would be stripped of any ability to protect her.”

While Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made bathrooms a priority throughout the session, House Speaker Joe Straus has criticized the measure as “manufactured” and “unnecessary.”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Straus said his position had not changed. Abbott, who has been slow to weigh in on the controversial legislation, said he would “work with the House and the Senate to ensure we find a solution.”

“In every case, the supporters of these bills are trying to pretend they’re about something other than discrimination, but calling discrimination ‘privacy,’ or ‘religious freedom’ or ‘consistency’ doesn’t make discrimination any more palatable or morally acceptable,” said Miller.

State Representative Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said that he has never had a constituent tell him that the “bathroom bill” is a good idea, or that it is needed. Bernal authored San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which added sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status to the city’s list of groups protected from discrimination in 2013. Under HB 2899, a portion of San Antonio’s ordinance would be nullified.

“This version of the bill demonstrates clearly that this was never about protecting women,” Bernal said in an interview with the Observer. “If we’re just going to hurt people and no one is helped. That’s not governing, that’s politics.”

Bernal’s district includes the AT&T Center, where the San Antonio Spurs play, and the Alamodome, the future destination for the 2018 NCAA Final Four. A new study commissioned by the San Antonio Area Tourism Council estimates that the state’s tourism industry would lose approximately $3.3 billion and 35,600 jobs annually if the legislation becomes law.

North Carolina, the first and only state to pass a “bathroom bill,” faced a national backlash over House Bill 2 that included the NCAA moving the 2017 Final Four out of North Carolina.

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