Texas Lawmakers Advance Transgender Bathroom Bill

As the Texas Senate met to approve an anti-transgender bathroom bill in March, hundreds of constituents rallied to testify against the measure. (File photo by Kelsey Jukam, CNS)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Seeking to avoid a special summer session, the Texas House on Monday gave in to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s demands that it pass legislation to restrict the use of bathrooms by transgender people.

At a press conference last week, Patrick gave the state House of Representatives an ultimatum: pass some version of Senate Bill 6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill,” before the end of the legislative session on May 29 or be prepared to stick around this summer for a special session.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said in a statement that Patrick’s threat to force a special session was “regrettable,” and that “nobody is going to get everything they want” out of the 140-day session.

But Patrick’s threat worked, and the House approved a measure that would prevent transgender students from using school bathrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The measure was added as an amendment to Senate Bill 2078, which relates to school districts’ “multihazard emergency operations plans” to ensure that schools have plans for responding to natural disasters, active shooters, and other dangerous scenarios.

The amendment, which passed on Monday in a 94-51 vote, requires that public schools and charter schools accommodate the “right of each student to access restrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities with privacy, dignity, and safety” by providing single-occupancy facilities for students who do not wish to use the facilities corresponding to their biological sex.

The amendment is a pared-down version of SB 6, which would have required transgender people in Texas to use restrooms in government buildings, public universities and public schools that correspond with the biological sex on their birth certificate.

Patrick has said that SB 6, one of his priorities this session, was about protecting the privacy and safety of women and children.

“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 a news conference in March.

The bill sailed through the Senate, but stalled in the House, where it failed to get a committee hearing.

Straus said at the beginning of the legislative session that bathrooms were not one of his priorities, and he did not want Texas to experience the economic blows that North Carolina did when that state passed similar legislation targeting transgender people.

In a statement Sunday, Straus said that Rep. Chris Paddie’s amendment would allow the state to avoid the severely negative impact of SB 6.

Rep. Paddie, R-Marshall, who offered the school bathroom use amendment to SB 2078 during a House debate on the bill Sunday, said his proposal was not intended to discriminate against anyone.

“It makes sure that there are accommodations for all children,” Paddie said.

He said the measure would apply not only to transgender students, but to other students who might not want to use multiple-occupancy facilities for medical reasons or because they’re bullied or even just shy.

House Democrats who pushed back against the amendment Sunday were not convinced by Paddie’s description of its intent.

“Let’s be very honest and clear here,” Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said. “This amendment is the bathroom bill. And the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people. Some people don’t want to admit that, maybe because they’re ashamed. And make no mistake about it, this is shameful. We all know what we’re doing and everyone watching knows too.”

Moody said there was no emergency relating to transgender kids using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, but there is an emergency in how transgender kids are being treated.

He noted that 77 percent of transgender students report being mistreated and 54 percent report being harassed because of their gender identity. Another 24 percent of transgender kids have reported being physically attacked, while 13 percent report they have been sexually assaulted, Moody said.

He said the amendment would only “amplify” the mistreatment of transgender students by their peers.

Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, compared the bathroom-use measure to Jim Crow laws that forced black Americans to use different bathrooms than whites.

“I lived through the separate but equal period,” Thompson said. “I can tell you as an African American how deeply I felt discriminated against … bathrooms have always been used to divide us.”

Thompson said that the push to make transgender kids used separate restrooms from their peers was based in fear rather than fact, and that no one in her district had ever asked her to pass any legislation relating to bathrooms.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said that Texas has more important issues to deal with, like foster care, opioid addiction and an education system she described as “byzantine.”

“This amendment has turned a fine bill about school emergency procedures into a harmful one about where children use the bathroom,” Israel said. “This is just more red meat for the base, more red meat for the March voter at the expense of kids … We are allowing a small portion of the electorate to waste the House’s time simply to ensure that the base has plenty of red meat.”

“These days are not good days for the state that we love and the institution that we serve,” Israel said.

It’s unclear whether the amendment was enough to appease Patrick. In a statement Monday, he said that he hadn’t seen the language on the amendment before the House voted on it, and he had concerns about its ambiguous language.

“There is still time for the House and Senate to address these concerns … in a meaningful way,” Patrick said.

On Sunday, the Texas Senate passed another measure that many have said is also discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In a 21-10 vote Sunday, the Senate passed a bill that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies in Texas to refuse to place children in homes that conflict with their religious beliefs.

House Bill 3859 protects the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of child welfare service providers, protecting the groups if they refuse to place children in non-Christian or LGBT households. The bill shields providers that decline to assist any potential foster or adoptive parent whose lifestyle might conflict with the groups’ religious beliefs, meaning unmarried or divorced people could be refused services as well.

As the House passed the bill earlier this month, HB 3859 will now head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.

In a statement Sunday, Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith said that, in passing SB 2078 and HB 3859, Texas lawmakers are “on the wrong side of history.”

“No amount of discrimination is acceptable,” Smith said. “There is no middle ground. All discrimination is bad, full stop. Targeting some of the most vulnerable children in our state is abhorrent, shameful, and disgraceful.”

SB 2078 needs another vote in the state Senate before it heads to Gov. Abbott’s desk.

The current legislative session for Texas lawmakers ends May 29. The next one begins Jan. 8, 2019.

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