AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — After a 21-hour hearing that began Tuesday morning, a Texas Senate committee approved an anti-transgender bathroom bill, ignoring the pleas of hundreds of constituents who testified against the measure.
It’s the second time this session that a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing has been flooded with opponents to legislation that many consider discriminatory and dangerous.
In February more than 500 people traveled from across the state and waited hours to testify against a bill that would ban “sanctuary cities.”
On Tuesday, until 4:50 a.m. Wednesday, hundreds camped out at the Capitol for their chance to testify on Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people in Texas to use restrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities that correspond with the “biological sex” on their birth certificates.
In both cases, most of those who testified opposed the legislation. But their voices fell upon the ears of the Republican-dominated committee that’s charged with guiding several of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities through the Senate.
The committee wasn’t there to be persuaded.
More than 400 people registered to testify at the hearing on S.B. 6, which began early Tuesday morning.
Before public testimony began the committee heard from seven invited witnesses, which took up most of the morning. Five witnesses, including four from out of state, supported the bill.
North Carolina Lt. Gov Dan Forest, who spoke at a joint press conference with Texas Lt. Dan Patrick on Monday, persuaded the committee that concerns about the economic harm of the bathroom bill are unfounded.
He said a similar bill in his state has had “minimal” impact, though numerous high-profile sports and entertainment events have been canceled because of the bill and several businesses canceled plans to expand in North Carolina. Forest said the total economic impact has been “less than one-tenth of one percent of our annual GDP.” North Carolina’s annual gross domestic product is $400 billion, so 0.1 percent would be $400 million.
“It will never be good public policy to allow a man a free pass to enter a shower or locker room for any nefarious purpose,” Forest said.
Tony Perkins, president of Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group, said that S.B. 6 takes a “commonsense approach to an issue of public safety and personal privacy.”
“It would be traumatic for many children to change in front of people of another biological sex,” Perkins said.
He said Texas’ approval of S.B. 6 would influence the direction of the country on the issue.
As they waited for their chance to have two minutes to make their case to the committee, hundreds of opponents gathered for a press conference in the open air rotunda, chanting, “You can pee next to me” and “All love, no hate, don’t discriminate in my state.”
“I first want to apologize to all the people here who have so far had to endure several hours of lies and misinformation about what S.B. 6 is and what it,” said Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas. “Each of you has heart that this bill is not about discrimination, and not about transgender people. It is about both. And you are here to stand up and testify to that truth.”
Rachel Gonzales, of Dallas, held the hand of her transgender daughter Libby, who has long dark hair, and wore a flowing pink skirt and sparkly ballet flats. Gonzalez told the crowd how terrifying it feels to know that her child would likely be victimized at some point in her life “for living the life that she was born to live.”
“These legislators are slapping a huge target on the back of my 7-year-old,” Gonzales said. “This is not confusing; this is not confusing for her classmates. They know exactly who she is, she knows exactly who she is and it’s absurd to suggest that she should go into the boys restroom.”
Gonzales read a letter written by one of Libby’s classmates who said the idea of her friend being forced to use the boys bathroom was “mean and scary.”
“Let her pee where she wants to pee,” the child wrote.
Ken Ballard, also from the Dallas area, said he’d spent the morning hearing nothing about people like his son, a 14-year-old transgender boy, but “a lot about bogeyman that are going to invade women’s restrooms.”
Ballard recalled reading his son’s suicide note two years ago which described how he did not feel like he could go on living in a world that does not accept him.
A bill like S.B. 6, Ballard said, reinforces the fears of many transgender people.
“Have we learned nothing from the progress of the last 50 years?” Ballard said. “Let’s not step backward now.”
Ballard quoted the lyrics of country singer Garth Brooks: “When nobody walks a step behind, we shall be free.”
After public testimony finally began at 2:30 p.m., 253 witnesses testified against the bill, while 29 supported the measure, according to the Austin-American Statesman.
Jess Herbst, mayor of a small town called New Hope, northeast of Dallas, asked the committee how they planned to enforce the bill.
Herbst, who is transitioning to female, is the first transgender mayor in Texas, and one of only seven elected transgender officials in the country.
“I just want to be able to go to the women’s room and not have someone ask me at the door for my papers, or worse, subject me to a physical examination to determine am I male, am I female?” Herbst said. “Are we all going to have to carry around papers with us? What kind of state would Texas be if anybody couldn’t go to the bathroom without being able to prove how they were born?”
Several other transgender people, parents of transgender children and allies gave personal, emotional testimony through the night.
Ariana Peterson, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Austin, waited until 2:30 a.m. to speak against the bill, defending a transitioning friend.
“It hurts me to know that there is a possibility that my friend’s safety could be compromised because our state government believes they know us better than we know us,” Peterson said.
She said she didn’t want to grow up in a place where people might not feel comfortable “coming out as who they are” because they fear going out in public.
“It baffles me that someone could not find this bill discriminatory,” Peterson said. “This bill ostracizes a group of people that are as valid as anyone else.
The committee voted to send the bill to a Senate by 7-to-1 vote, with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voting with the Republicans.