Kids, Parents and Politicians Ask Senators to Rethink the "Bathroom Bill"

Sam Horwitz via flickr creative commons
Seven-year-old Libby Gonzales just doesn't want to be scared going to the bathroom at her public school.

"I never ever want to use the boys restroom, it would be so weird," said Libby, testifying in front of the Texas Senate's Committee on State Affairs Friday. "Please keep me safe, thank you."

Libby, like dozens of other trans kids who joined their parents at the Texas capitol Friday, showed up to oppose the very issue that, in part, forced Governor Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session in the first place: prohibiting trans Texans from using a public restroom that matches their gender identity.

During the regular session, this issue was packed into Senate Bill 6. This time around, it's jammed into two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91. Both bills would restrict bathroom use in government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

The author of both of these bills, Sen. Lois Kolkhurst, says they're only meant to protect women's privacy, on the belief that trans women are a threat to biological women using the bathroom — or the idea that predatory men will somehow take advantage of flexible bathroom rules. But there's little data backing up her claims.

When this issue was first brought up in January, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus sent a memo to the capitol, alerting lawmakers that “there have been no incidents reported in San Antonio with respect to this issue." The memo was re-read to the committee by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Friday.

Meanwhile, a recent survey by Equality Texas found that nine percent of the more than 1,000 trans Texans surveyed said they’d been physically denied access to a restroom in the past year. Nearly half of the people surveyed reported being verbally harassed in K-12 schools. A quarter of them were physically attacked and 17 percent reported being sexually assaulted while at school.

Parents of trans kids say these bills will protect no one — and only endanger their young children.

"If you care about women's safety, pass a bill to ban sex offenders from using public restrooms," said one father of a young trans daughter. "This is not a privacy bill; this is a comfort bill. You're not comfortable with transgender people...and making it our problem."

Some supporters of the bills said they didn't believe in transgender people, that it's a mental health problem that could be cured with therapy. At one point, a woman told the row of Senators that allowing a child to be transgender is “child abuse.” Another blamed the rise of LGBTQ rights for AIDS.

"You have no idea how difficult it's been to sit here and listen to all the names my daughter has been called today," said a mother of a 14-year-old trans girl, through tears. "You're telling her she's different, she does not belong. You put her in great danger just for being who she is."

Trans adults opposing the bill asked Kolkhurst how law enforcement would be able to check if their gender matched the bathroom they were using. Kolkhurst suggested a driver's license. But, according to testimony, most driver's licenses are marked with the gender a trans person identifies with, not their biological sex.

"Are transgender people going to have to carry their birth certificates?" asked an opponent to the bills. The debate was oddly reminiscent to the regular session's debate over Senate Bill 4, a "show me your papers" bill that would let police ask anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant for their ID.

Both Mayor Nirenberg and representatives from the San Antonio business community urged Senators to reject the bill, since it's already scarred the city's reputation.

"It’s as bad for business as it is for most vulnerable members of our community,” said Nirenberg. “This is discriminatory legislation, and discrimination is not good for the economy. This is an attempt to protect children and women against an issue that does not exist.”

Cassandra Matej, CEO of Visit San Antonio, the city’s agency for conventions and tourism, said her office gets calls daily from organizations and people letting them know they will no longer do business in San Antonio. In March, Matej told the Express-News that the city's already lost $3 million from groups refusing to hold conferences in San Antonio for lawmaker's support of the so-called "bathroom bill".

Opponents of the bill made sure Kolkhurst knew who would be at fault if her bills lead to violence against trans kids — not Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who's arguably been the loudest supporter of the legislation.

"Whatever happens as a result of this falls on your shoulders, Sen. Kolkhurst," said one man. "I hope you remember that."

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