AUSTIN (CN) — The Texas Senate on Tuesday approved an anti-transgender bathroom bill, after long debate over its discriminatory nature and the harm it might wreak upon the state’s economy.
As with most bills in the Texas Senate, the 21-10 vote on Senate Bill 6 was largely along party lines, with only one Democrat, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining the Republicans.
The bill 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 certificate.
The bill is a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this session and he asked Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to carry it through the Senate.
As she presented her bill Tuesday, Kolkhorst said the measure has been unfairly depicted in the media, and that she has been unjustly called a pawn in Patrick’s scheme.
“The media have called it the bathroom bill, the potty bill; I’ve been subjected to many jokes,” Kolkhorst said in the Senate Tuesday. “They’ve made light of the issue, accusing us of wasting time. I will tell you, as a woman, this is not a joke.”
Kolkhorst said she became concerned about the issue long before Patrick asked her to write the bill, when the federal Departments of Justice and Education issued a guidance letter to help schools ensure the rights of transgender students in May 2016.
President Donald Trump rescinded that directive in February.
Kolkhorst said that while she respected the concerns of transgendered people, many of whom testified during a 21-hour public hearing on the bill last week, her bill was about the rights of women and children, and protecting their privacy.
Senate Republicans frequently mentioned women’s rights during the debate. Kolkhorst said her bill would ensure those rights are not “eroded,” because the “blurring of gender” will harm women.
“I think the people of Texas expect boundaries between gender,” Kolkhorst said.
Democrats challenged Kolkhorst on the unintended consequences of the bill. Many said it will wreak economic damage, as conventions, sporting events and businesses have indicated they would leave the state if the bill is passed.
Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, said three conventions have already decided not to come to San Antonio as planned, and that the city could also lose the 2018 NCAA tournament that’s expected to bring in $234 million.
Democrats were also concerned about how the bill would affect transgender people.
“Do you not see how much damage this bill is going to do?” asked Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston.
Garcia, who is not on the committee that heard the bill, stayed in the hearing room and listened to the public testimony that began last Tuesday morning and continued until 5 a.m. Wednesday.
She said during the debate in the Senate that the bill might contribute to the staggeringly high suicide attempt rate among transgender people by further stigmatizing them.
Garcia said that everyone could probably agree on a bill that would keep men out of women’s bathrooms, but the bill “isn’t that simple,” requiring people to use the facilities that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates instead of their gender identity.
“This is complicated because you made it complicated,” Garcia said. “You can just say, ‘Men should not go to women’s bathrooms as women should not go to men’s bathrooms.’ Plain and simple.”
Kolkhorst said it was important to tie the regulation to birth certificates to stop people who might take advantage of fluid notions of gender identity for nefarious purposes. Without her bill, she said, men could enter women’s facilities to commit lewd or violent acts.
“It is the open policy that allows for the mindset that a man can go into a women’s restroom,” Kolkhorst said.
She added that in Texas people can change their gender on their birth certificate, but as Garcia pointed out, the process is arduous and expensive. A birth certificate change requires the approval of a judge, but many judges in the state refuse to even hear the cases.
Fewer than 500 of 125,000 transgender people have changed their gender on their birth certificate, according to estimates from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Sen. John Whitmire told Kolkhorst that “all heck is gonna break loose” when transgender men and women are forced to use bathrooms in which they do not belong.
“How do you have a transgender woman that’s just as feminine as any woman on this Senate floor … go to a men’s restroom?” he asked.
Whitmire, considered by most senators to be the body’s expert on criminal justice issues, said most of the thousands of sexual predators in the state’s prisons committed their crimes against family members at home. He said he could not find a single assault that occurred in a women’s restroom, although Kolkhorst said she had heard of at least four such incidents.
Whitmire also said he found at least 30 statutes that protect women from the types of incidents Kolkhorst and other S.B. 6 supporters fear, including laws against harassment, voyeurism, sexual assault and indecency with a child.
Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who has filed competing legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, asked Kolkhorst whether the body was ever going to talk about the privacy rights of transgender people.
“Our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends and employees, in my case, they too have rights,” said Rodriguez, a Democrat from El Paso. “They too are at the forefront of a current civil rights struggle.”
He said federal courts have consistently ruled that transgender discrimination is unconstitutional sex discrimination, and said that S.B. 6 “is definitely discriminatory.”
The bill now heads to the House, where it could be less successful, as speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has said the bill is not a priority.