Texas GOP Pushing anti-Transgender ‘Bathroom Bill’

Texas GOP proposes SB6 - Privacy Protection Act - a transgender bathroom bill

Joining with Kentucky and Virginia this week, the Texas GOP is proposing legislation to ban transgender individuals from using gender-segregated facilities that align with their gender identity. SB6 – also known as the Privacy Protection Act – targets transgender people for explicit discrimination in places of public accommodation.

The comprehensive legislation doesn’t just target the transgender community; rather, it also targets local government forbidding any contradictory legislation to protect gender identity. The targeting of cities is no coincidence; the now-overturned Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in addition to Charlotte, North Carolina’s similar (and also defunct) anti-discrimination law are both potentially the impetus for ensuring local government has no control over its own policies and regulations.

Besides the local government provision, SB6 has the effect of targeting transgender persons in schools, government buildings, pubic buildings/areas (such as airports), and more.

Commenting on the legislation, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick abused the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote his proposal. “We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” he said in a press conference at state capitol. “But we know we’re on the right side of the issue. We’re on the right side of history. You can mark today as the day Texas is drawing a line in the sand and saying no.”

Despite conservative glee over the introduction of SB6, businesses across Texas are hesitant and sometimes angry. The Texas Association of Business is among those as they labeled the legislation “discriminatory” in a statement released following Patrick’s remarks. And they’re angry with reason: according to experts, Texas “stands to lose approximately $8.5 billion — a loss of 185,000 jobs.”

Other organizations released statements echoing the same sentiments.

Speaking on behalf of the ACLU of Texas,  legal and policy director Rebecca L. Robertson said:

“After having watched the debacle in North Carolina, it is shocking that the Lieutenant Governor would be so intent on pursuing SB6. It’s unnecessary, discriminatory and inconsistent with the constitutional value of equal protection for all.  And that’s to say nothing of the havoc it will wreak on the Texas economy should it pass. Make no mistake — the invidious intent of SB6 is to deny transgender Texans the ability to participate in public life.”

ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke added:

“The Texas State Legislature has exactly one constitutionally assigned duty: to pass a budget. If they’re planning on spending the session on SB6 and spiteful legislation like it, we’d much rather they restrained themselves to that one duty, packed up their circus tents and went home. But if the Lieutenant Governor is truly worried about the safety of women and children, he would cease his assaults on women’s well-being, repair Texas’s moribund CPS program and see to the millions of uninsured children whose lives and futures have been compromised by our lawmakers’ warped priorities.”

The bill faces opposition from within the legislature as well. In a statement State Senator José Rodríguez said:

“Regardless of what shape this bill takes, its intent is clear: singling out transgender people for discrimination.  Discrimination of any kind is antithetical to Texas values of equal opportunity for all people.  Any legislation that would attack transgender Texans — especially vulnerable transgender children — is not only morally wrong, but, as we’ve seen in states like North Carolina, will hurt Texas’ economy and reputation around the world.  Frankly, the Texas Legislature has real issues to address like adequately funding our schools, improving health care, and fixing our broken CPS system.  These issues deserve our focus, not the demonization of transgender Texans.”

In his promotion of SB6, Patrick appeared to hedge his bets as he demonized the transgender community.

“Transgender people have obviously been going into the ladies’ room for a long time, and there hasn’t been an issue that I know of,” Patrick said. “But if laws are passed by cities and counties and school districts that allow men to go into a bathroom because of the way they feel, we will not be able to stop sexual predators from taking advantage of that law, like sexual predators take advantage of the internet.”

This alone should worry any rational person. Barring transgender men and women from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with sexual assault. In the decades cities and states across the nation have had transgender protections on the books, not one incident has occurred directly tying a trans person (or even a cisgender person posing as a transgender person) to sexual assault.

Using the boogeyman ‘sexual assault’ line of argument is a smoke screen to mask the hate and vitriol behind targeting one of the nation’s most at-risk (and most violently harassed and attacked) minorities.

SB6’s sponsor Sen. Lois Kolkhorst didn’t offer much in the way of truth or equality either when she promoted the bill. On Twitter she said, “Today I filed Senate Bill 6, the Texas Privacy Act, to protect every Texans right to personal privacy.”

When asked by reporters how the law would be enforced – if law enforcement would literally “police” bathrooms for violations – Kolkhorst commented the bill “allows an individual who feels uncomfortable to report that.” She added, “the responsibility falls on all of us to protect citizens and ensure that their personal and private rights are secured.”

The statement reeks of vigilante justice – something transgender men and women are quite familiar with as many endure harassment at the hands of cisgender men and women every day of their lives even without laws targeting their safety and privacy. We interviewed a transgender woman yesterday in fact that experienced that sort of ‘concerned citizen’ effort first hand.

While it’s uncertain if SB6 will make it through the state legislature given the potential economic price tag and House Speaker Joe Straus’s reticence to dive into culture war issues in a session he wants to devote to economic improvement, Texas does have a Republican-controlled majority and LGBTQ basic civil rights haven’t been a priority for most conservatives there in recent years.

Should SB6 pass, LGBTQ protections in 12 cities would be affected meaning more than hundreds of thousands of Texan LGBTQ people could instantly lose basic equal rights protections.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he's worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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