Houstonians react after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, HERO, fails to pass in November 2015.
Houstonians react after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, HERO, fails to pass in November 2015.
Daniel Kramer

Texas House Votes to Restrict Transgender Kids' Bathroom Use in Public Schools

Thwarting Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's threat to force a special session over the bathroom bill, the Texas House voted Sunday night to pass bathroom restrictions for transgender students in all public schools.

The measure passed 91-50 in the form of an amendment, tacked onto Senate Bill 2078, which relates to schools' "multi-hazard operating plans," and is a stripped-down version of the so-called "bathroom bill," Senate Bill 6. Under the amendment, authored by Representative Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), schools must require students who "do not wish to use the facilities designated for use or commonly used by persons of the student's biological sex" to instead use a single-occupancy bathroom. In other words, transgender kids must use be separated from everyone else, which Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) said echoed Jim Crow-era segregation.

"I was living through that era. Bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now,” Thompson, who is 78 and black, said on the House floor. “America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.”

The vote came in the eleventh hour, after Dan Patrick had threatened Wednesday to force a special session if the House didn't vote on two pieces of Senate legislation, a property tax reform bill and the bathroom bill. He had intended to hold hostage the budget and what's called the "sunset safety net," which keeps various state agencies from shutting down while they await review. House Speaker Joe Straus had called Patrick's threat "regrettable." For months, Straus has refused to even put SB 6 into a House committee, calling it "manufactured and unnecessary." But apparently, not enough House members were willing to give up their summer vacation to stand their ground with Straus.

SB 6 was significantly more restrictive, extending the biological-sex-based bathroom rules to all government buildings and public universities. It included measures allowing bathroom vigilantes to file complaints with the Texas Attorney General's Office if they saw "men in women's restrooms," and the AG would actually use law-enforcement resources to investigate the jurisdiction and see if it had an illegal non-discrimination ordinance in place, such as the failed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Cities could have been fined for adopting such policies.

Under Paddie's amendment, it is unclear what will happen to schools that currently allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identities — but LGBTQ groups are fearing the worst. To many, Paddie's amendment is just as bad as SB 6.

"Targeting some of the most vulnerable children in our state is abhorrent, shameful and disgraceful," Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said in a statement. "The Texas lawmakers of the 85th legislative session are on wrong side of history. No matter how upset or scared our LGBTQ friends and families are feeling this evening, Equality Texas wants you to know that we stand with you; and we will fight to protect you."

Senate Bill 2078 still has to head back to the Senate for any final tweaks before it goes to Governor Greg Abbott's desk.

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