"Bathroom Bill" Written, Announced As Though Transgender People Don't Exist

Houstonians console one another after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which turned into a fight over transgender people's access to public restrooms, was defeated at the polls.
Houstonians console one another after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which turned into a fight over transgender people's access to public restrooms, was defeated at the polls. Daniel Kramer
And so it begins: As Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and State Senator Lois Kolkhorst announced yesterday, Texas's version of the Bathroom Bill — the deeply divisive issue of who can pee where — has been filed as Senate Bill 6, or the "Texas Privacy Act."

The bill would require school districts and local or state government agencies to adopt policies making it against the rules for — gasp — men to use the women's restroom or changing rooms, or vice versa, a policy based on sex assigned at birth. The bill will make it illegal for any cities to adopt ordinances that would contradict this policy, such as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. And any school district or government agency that tries to pass any such ordinance can be punished with civil financial penalties by the Texas Attorney General's Office — which will actually invest resources in investigating citizen complaints of men in women's restrooms.

Yet despite Patrick's and Kolkhorst's promises that this bill will provide the end-all-be-all solution to this heated bathroom controversy, both failed to address with even the slightest notion the reason why this bill is controversial.  Not once did either lawmaker utter the words "transgender" or "gender identity." And not once did they acknowledge that the law would, in effect, actually require fully transitioned transgender men — who, gasp, might even have penises — to use the women's bathroom. It would also require fully transitioned transgender women — who, gasp, might even have breasts and vaginas — to use the men's room, where, understandably, transgender women feel they would be much more at risk for the type of assault and harassment Patrick and Kolkhorst say this bill would help prevent.

It was as though an entire population of people, those most affected by the bill, were invisible in the minds of the lieutenant governor and the senator. Instead, they urged Texans to believe that this bill — oversimplified in its willful ignorance of these thousands of other peeing Texans — is just "common sense."

"Martin Luther King said our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter," Patrick said, the first thing out of his mouth at the podium. "This legislation, the Texas Privacy Act, is unquestionably one of the things that matters. It's the right thing to do. I know it. Texans know it. And Senator Kolkhorst knows it."

Kevin Nix, senior director of public affairs at Legacy Community Health — which sees roughly 800 transgender patients at clinics across Texas — said the lawmakers were creating a false impression that "there's some issue or problem here to be solved when there's not. Because who in the world wants men in women's bathrooms?" Nix asked. "No one. Period. Of course, what this is really about is pure and simple: It's discrimination against transgender people."

The real problem lawmakers should be concerned about, Nix said, is the effect that discriminatory harassment — or, laws that diminish people's sense of dignity by forcing them to use a bathroom they feel uncomfortable using — has on transgender people's mental health.

"Discrimination, in any form, against anyone, negatively impacts a person. That's a no-brainer," he said. "If you're telling hundreds of people where they can and can't go to the bathroom, that's going to have an impact over time. We see patients here who just hear this negativity directed at them over and over and it keeps being beat into their heads."

Furthermore, the business community has strongly opposed this bill, particularly after seeing economic consequences in North Carolina after its passage of its own bathroom bill. Calling the bill "discriminatory," the Texas Association of Business said in a statement that it estimates the Texas Privacy Act could cost Texas's economy billions of dollars.

“All Texans care deeply about safety and privacy, but Senate Bill 6 isn’t about either of those things,” said Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business. “Senate Bill 6 is discriminatory and wholly unnecessary legislation that, if passed, could cost Texas as much as $8.5 billion in GDP and the loss of more than 185,000 jobs in the first year alone. Our communities, our families and businesses across this state face a far more uncertain future if this kind of unnecessary regulation is enacted here."

Perhaps the only business-friendly plus side of the bill is that businesses would be allowed to adopt any kind of bathroom policy they want, without fear of government interference or consequence.

But still, they should probably be wary of Dan Patrick. When Target announced last year that it would allow transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity, Patrick wrote in a dramatic post on Facebook that he was "totally disgusted" and was never stepping foot in Target again, and he called on his Facebook followers to "boycott" the business.

Patrick took only three questions from reporters after the press conference, none of which addressed the effect of the law on transgender Texans. One asked whether cities that already have existing non-discrimination ordinances — which adopt policies like Target's when it comes to bathrooms while also ensuring equal rights for a dozen other classes of people — would have to repeal them.

Patrick dodged the question, only repeating what he had already said, which is that the bill prohibits cities from passing policies that allow men in ladies' rooms. "That's what this bill does."
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn