AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — After a 10-hour hearing and despite opposition from powerful state business groups, a Texas Senate committee Friday passed the latest version of its anti-transgender bathroom bill.
Senate Bill 3, the latest iteration of the bathroom bill, would restrict the use of bathrooms, showers and changing rooms in public schools and government buildings to a person’s sex as recorded on his or her birth certificate.
For the third time this year, hundreds of people waited for hours at the Capitol for their allotted two minutes to tell lawmakers what they think.
An earlier version of the bill, a pet project of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, passed in the Senate in May, but stalled in the House during the regular legislative session.
Patrick pressed Gov. Greg Abbott to pick up the issue during the 30-day special session that began last week, to address 20 of Abbott’s favored issues.
The bathroom bills, referred to as privacy legislation on Abbott’s special session agenda, have the support of 44 percent of Texas voters, according to a recent Texas Tribune poll.
But the vast majority of the more than 250 people who testified at the 10-hour hearing Friday — including city leaders, CEOs, human rights activists, educators, parents of transgender children, and transgender people — spoke against the bill, saying it would harm an already vulnerable population, and the Texas economy.
Ashley Smith, a transgender woman from San Antonio, told the committee that forcing her to use a men’s restroom could make her a target of violence.
“You know that transgender women encounter violence at a much higher level than the general public, and I am scared to think about what some people will do to us if this bill becomes law,” Smith said. “If I follow this law and I am attacked in public in front of my kids, what will that do to them?”
A photo of Smith posing with Abbott went viral last week after she posted it on Twitter with the hashtag #BATHROOMBUDDY.
“How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the governor doesn’t?” Smith captioned the photo.
Seven-year-old Libby Gonzalez, a transgender girl from Dallas, told legislators that “it would be so weird” if she had to use the boy’s bathroom.
“I don’t want to be scared to go to the restroom anywhere in public, and I never ever want to use the boy’s restroom,” she said. “Please keep me safe.”
The bill’s author Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said at the hearing that the aim of SB 3 is to protect public safety and privacy.
“Ask a parent if they approve of allowing boys to shower with girls in a locker room or ask a woman how safe she feels when a man appears into a restroom,” Kolkhorst said. “The media has not asked these questions very often and instead has tried to portray this issue as anything but what the bill actually is: a bill to protect the privacy of women and children.”
The few supporters of the bill who testified echoed Kolkhorst’s concerns about the safety of women and children, whom they said might be attacked by men posing as women for nefarious purposes.
Some supporters of the bill also spoke against “gender confusion,” and one woman used her two minutes to tout transgender “conversion therapy.”
When asked by a fellow senator whether she was concerned about crimes that might happen if transgender people use the facility that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate, if they don’t look like they belong there, Kolkhorst said she didn’t think that would be a problem.
“If someone looks as though they are female in that space, then I don’t think anyone is going to ask to see their driver’s license and their gender marker,” Kolkhorst said.
That prompted Kimberly Shappley, the mother of a transgender child, to ask Kolkhorst: “Are you recommending that I teach my daughter to break the law if she can get away with it?”
Shappley, who described herself as a registered Republican and a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, said she was “appalled” that so many legislators purporting to be Christians were supporting “segregation.”
“Jesus the Christ always defended marginalized against the religious politicians of his day,” she said.
“My daughter is not a threat to your daughters in the restroom. But your sons are definitely a threat to my daughter in the restroom, especially those of you who are teaching intolerance and prejudice.”
Earlier in the hearing, Kolkhorst maintained that she was putting “daughters over dollars,” a jab at the Texas Business Association, which announced Thursday that it would spend more than $1 million on ads against the bathroom bill.
The association, which typically aligns itself with right-wing interests in the state, has opposed all versions of the bathroom bill for months. It says such legislation could cost Texas $5.6 billion by driving away talent, jobs, tourism and investment. North Carolina suffered boycotts and lost jobs when corporations canceled expansions there after the state passed a similar bill. It repealed portions of the bill after seeing the results.
The Texas Business Association and several city leaders have warned lawmakers that Texas could lose top-tier sporting events, professional conferences and conventions of organizations that have anti-discrimination policies.
Louis Malfaro, president of the 65,000-member Texas American Federation of Teachers, told the committee that the legislation creates an “untenable situation” for school staff tasked with trying to enforce it, and would hurt students who already face a “disproportionate amount of stress and bullying in schools.”
“Teachers see this legislation for what it is. It’s discriminatory and it’s bullying,” Malfaro said. “We have a national campaign called ‘See a Bully, Stop a Bully,’ and we teach kids in school how to stand up to bullies. … I’m asking all of you to stand up to a bully. You’ve heard plenty of good reasons today why this legislation should not pass. Dan Patrick’s political goals should not supersede the interests of Texans.
“When a government starts to bully, that’s called oppression,” Malfaro said.
But by 8-1 vote, the State Affairs Committee approved SB 3. Laredo Democrat Judith Zaffirini was the only No vote. The only other Democrat on the committee, state Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voted with the Republicans.
The state Senate is expected to take up the bill this week.