AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Co-opting a feminist slogan made famous by Hillary Clinton, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest told Texans on Monday that “women’s rights are human rights,” and that the two states’ anti-transgender bathroom bills would protect women and children.
“This has never been about anything but privacy, safety and security for women and children, and it’s really about doing the right thing,” Forest said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick invited Forest to “debunk misinformation” about 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.
“It’s about preventing a free pass to sexual predators who are not transgender from being able to walk into any bathroom with any child or any woman at any time,” Patrick said at the news conference.
The Senate State Affairs Committee will hear public testimony on the bill at a hearing Wednesday.
North Carolina’s bathroom bill, passed in March 2016, has cost the state more than $630 million in business, according to estimates. The NCAA, athletics conferences and numerous entertainers, most recently the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, have canceled events there in protest.
The Texas bill has been widely criticized by business leaders, including the Texas Association of Business, for the economic harm it could inflict upon the state.
Opponents also call the bill an attack on transgender people and their families, which needlessly fuels panic about bathroom predators.
“This unnecessary, unenforceable law would simply function as a tool to target and discriminate against transgender Texans and their families,” said Church Smith, CEO of Equality Texas after the bill was introduced in January. “As folks get to know transgender Texans, you’ll find that they care about privacy and safety just like everyone else, and simply want to be able to go to school, work, out to dinner, and provide for their families.”
Forest said Monday that the bill is not “an issue about the transgender community” and criticized people who think it is the “most discriminatory bill known to man ever in the world.”
He compared the bill to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“When we passed that, we didn’t say that every parking space needs to be handicapped-accessible, every bathroom stall needs to be handicapped-accessible,” Forest said. “We said, ‘No, you need to find reasonable accommodation for a small minority of the people who have certain handicap needs,’ and that’s what we did. That’s the way America works.”
Forest said S.B. 6 provides “reasonable accommodation for a small minority of people who have these issues. And that’s showing compassion.”
The “reasonable accommodation” in the bill text allows schools to let transgender people use single-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities on request.
Forest also challenged the economic impact studies, saying the North Carolina bill cost his state only one-tenth of 1 percent of its total gross domestic product.
“All is well in the state of North Carolina and in the state of Texas,” Patrick said. “In fact, some might argue that when you have policies that protect women and children, that’s an added value to want to move your business to Texas.”
The bill is a legislative priority for Patrick this session, who was flanked at the press conference by several of the bill’s 16 Republican co-authors and one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.
“We can be compassionate and fair to all while working to defend human dignity, to avoid bigotry and to respect religious liberty and individual morality,” Lucio said.
Also Monday, Patrick announced an initiative called “Operation 1 Million Voices,” to rally the “activist voices” of Texas pastors to support the bill.
He invited pastors from across the state— one black pastor, one Hispanic pastor, and one white pastor — to speak at the conference to show that people of all races and denominations support the bill.
According to The Texas Observer, at a Monday briefing for pastors hosted by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group, Patrick compared the struggle to pass S.B. 6 to the Battle of the Alamo, which ended with the massacre of Texas fighters on March 6, 1866.
“Today, on this day, 189 people sacrificed their lives at the Alamo because they believed in something,” Patrick said, according to the Observer. “We’re not asked to give our lives. We’re not asked to grab our guns. We’re just asked to go cast courageous votes.”
Patrick needs 19 votes to get the bill through the Senate, and given that there are 19 Republicans, the bill is likely to pass.
There is less support for the measure in the House, where speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has said the bill is not a priority.
At a January meeting of the Texas Association of Business, Straus said he was concerned about the economic effects of the bill.
“I think we should be very careful about doing something that can make Texas less competitive for investment, jobs and the highly skilled workforce needed to compete,” Straus said at the time. “One way to maintain our economic edge is to send the right signals about who we are.”