UPDATE: March 8 ― After more than 13 hours of public comments, the State Affairs Committee voted 7-1 to approve the bill, according to the Texas Tribune. It now will go to the full Texas Senate for consideration.
The Texas Senate gave a first hearing Tuesday to a controversial bill that would force people to use only the public restroom designated for the sex listed on their birth certificate.
Some of the state’s most powerful Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, back the bill on the use of bathrooms in public schools and government buildings. But opponents ― including LGBTQ activists, civic rights groups and business leaders ― view it as a direct attack on the rights of the transgender community, which already suffers from bullying, hate crimes and an elevated suicide rate.
More than 400 people signed up to testify at the State Affairs Committee hearing, with supporters and opponents both well represented. With each person allotted two minutes to speak, the public comment segment of the hearing was slated to continue well into the evening.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican, toned down the original bill’s aims, offering a committee substitute that struck a section that would have imposed criminal enhancements against those convicted of some crimes committed in bathrooms of the opposite gender. But she continued to argue that the bill offered a safeguard protecting the privacy of women and children from men who might enter women’s restrooms with predatory intentions.
While the media makes it so much about transgender, this is a bill that says men should not go into a women’s restroom. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)
“While the media makes it so much about transgender, this is a bill that says men should not go into a women’s restroom,” Kolkhorst said.
One supporter told the committee about how she was traumatized after a man filmed her in a public restroom with a hidden camera.
A young girl told the committee she feared boys entering her restroom after her school in Dripping Springs adopted a policy allowing students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity ― a decision made to accommodate a 9-year-old trans girl, according to The Texas Observer.
“I’m against the concept of transgenderism being imposed on millions of Texas students,” another supporter said.
But opponents repeatedly pointed out that existing law already prohibits men from assaulting women in public bathrooms, or any other locations. The birth certificate designation, however, will create a problem for the state by forcing many transgender people into bathrooms or locker rooms where they’d feel uncomfortable or vulnerable to bullying.
Clinical psychologist Colt Keo-Meier ― who specializes in working with transgender clients and is a leading researcher on trans issues ― said he has faced problems changing the gender markers on his birth certificate despite transitioning a decade ago. He asked the committee whether its members wanted to force him, a man with a full beard, to use women’s restrooms.
Despite Kolkhorst’s insistence that Texas offered ways for people transitioning genders to change their birth certificates, Keo-Meier said the $300 price tag, not including lawyer’s fees, made it unaffordable for many. Even those who do have the money routinely face bureaucratic obstacles. “Judges routinely deny letting my patients get their gender markers changed, even when they have a letter from me,” he said.
Because of the hostility many trans people face ― including from close family members ― they suffers a suicide attempt rate topping 40 percent, Keo-Meier said. If Texas legislators were to pass the law, he argued, the state itself would reinforce that rejection.
“It communicates to transgender people that they don’t belong,” Keo-Meier said. “Quite literally, this bill is killing my patients.”
It communicates to transgender people that they don’t belong. Quite literally, this bill is killing my patients. clinical psychologist Colt Keo-Meier
A parent of a transgender student told the committee that her young daughter’s gender was mistakenly assigned as male at birth and she had worked with her to transition from an early age after a therapist identified the issue. She used the girls’ bathroom at her elementary school without problems for the most part.
“Her only issue was watching out for the girl with the purple shoes who told her she was disgusting,” the mother said. “This bill would be devastating for my daughter.”
Her daughter, who also spoke before the committee, said it would be “embarrassing” to use the boys’ restroom and that her presence in the girls’ bathroom didn’t cause any problems. “All I want to do is tinkle and get out.”
Patrick ― the state’s No. 2 elected official who presides over the Senate ― considers the bill a priority. A vote may come after the public comment period ends Tuesday night.
Republicans, who back the bill in larger numbers than Democrats, control both houses of the state Legislature. The Texas governor is also Republican.
But many conservatives worry the bill will lead some businesses to boycott the state. House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) is not a fan of the proposal, which could undermine its chances in the lower chamber.
Patrick took up the idea largely in reaction to Obama administration guidance that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms that matched their gender identification. The Trump administration’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded those instructions two weeks after his confirmation.