Trans­gen­der bath­room bill rhetoric heat­ing up

News con­fer­ences show con­trasts be­fore hear­ing Tues­day on Se­nate Bill 6.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

The trans­gen­der bath­room bill has emerged as this leg­isla­tive ses­sion’s most di­vi­sive topic — a wedge is­sue so po­lar­iz­ing that there is no com­mon ground and no hope of com­pro­mise.

Just how po­lar­iz­ing was on am­ple dis­play Mon­day, with three Capi­tol news con­fer­ences pre­sent­ing starkly con­trast­ing views of Se­nate Bill 6, which would out­law trans­gen­der-friendly bath­room poli­cies in pub­lic schools and uni­ver­si­ties and in gov­ern­ment build­ings.

The clash will con­tinue Tues­day when the first pub­lic hear­ing on the mea­sure is held at the Capi­tol. The op­pos­ing sides have spent weeks lin­ing up wit­nesses, and the Se­nate State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is brac­ing for hours of tes­ti­mony, even with com­ments lim­ited to two min­utes per speaker.

At Mon­day’s events, trans­gen­der Tex­ans said SB 6 dis­crim­i­nates against vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple who need a place in so­ci­ety, not shun­ning, and busi­nesses and tourism groups said its pas­sage would dam­age the state’s busi­ness-friendly rep­u­ta­tion and spark a back­lash that would hurt the econ­omy.

Repub­li­cans said the bill would pro­tect pri­vacy, par­tic­u­larly for school­child­ren and women, while pro­mot­ing de­cency and de­priv­ing

sex­ual preda­tors of an­other av­enue for lo­cat­ing vul­ner- able vic­tims in bath­rooms, locker rooms and other pri­vate set­tings.

Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick kicked things off Mon­day with a news con­fer­ence fea­tur­ing Chris­tian pas­tors; sup­port­ive sen­a­tors, in­clud­ing the first Demo­crat to fa­vor SB 6, Eddie Lu­cio Jr. of Brownsville; and the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of North Carolina, which last year en­acted a sim­i­lar bill crack­ing down on trans­gen­der bath­rooms that was met with boy­cotts from sports leagues and en­ter­tain­ers.

“North Carolina was the tip of the spear,” Pa­trick said. “We will be next to pass a bill that fo­cuses on a per- son’s pri­vacy and pub­lic safety and will say to par- ents ev­ery­where, ‘Your chil- dren will have pri­vacy in their schools.’ ”

Pa­trick also an­nounced the launch of Oper­a­tion One Mil­lion Voices, an ef­fort to mo­bi­lize Chris­tian churches in hopes of mo­ti­vat­ing ac­tivists in fa­vor of SB 6. Pa­trick said he hoped such a strong show­ing would push the bill through the House, where Speaker Joe Straus has ques- tioned the need for a bill tar­get­ing trans­gen­der bath- rooms.

“This is the is­sue that has re­ally gal­va­nized peo­ple,” Pa­trick said, adding that he ex­pected hun­dreds of pas- tors to be in Austin for the hear­ing Tues­day.

Pa­trick asked North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan For­est, who also will tes­tify at the hear- ing, to “de­bunk” crit­i­cism that the Texas bill would en­dan­ger the state’s busi- ness cli­mate.

For­est char­ac­ter­ized the eco­nomic back­lash to his state’s crack­down on trans­gen­der bath­rooms as mi­nor, amount­ing to one-tenth of a per­cent of the state’s an­nual gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

“This is an is­sue about do­ing the right thing. It’s not an is­sue about the trans- gen­der com­mu­nity,” For­est said. “This is an is­sue about pri­vacy and safety and pro­tec­tion for all peo­ple.”

Out­side the Capi­tol, al­most 400 trans­gen­der Tex­ans and their fam­i­lies and sup­port­ers gath­ered to op­pose a bill they said would sin­gle out vul­ner­a­ble school­child­ren and leg­is­late ha­tred against a fre­quently mis­un­der­stood group of peo­ple.

Frank and Rachel Gon­za­les of Dallas said their trans- gen­der daugh­ter, Libby, 6, is happy and well-ad­justed, largely be­cause she is ac­cepted for who she is at school.

“This dis­crim­i­na­tory bill would com­pletely turn her world up­side down,” Frank Gon­za­les said. “The pro­po­nents of this bill claim to have pri­vacy and safety as their pri­or­ity. How­ever, they are se­verely en­dan­ger­ing the pri­vacy and safety of many chil­dren of this state, in­clud­ing my daugh­ter.”

Gon­za­les said SB 6 would cre­ate a prob­lem where none ex­ists.

“If your con­cern is what is in chil­dren’s pants, then maybe you are the one who is be­hav­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately,” he said.

Also Mon­day, a coali­tion of busi­nesses and tourism groups op­er­at­ing as Texas Wel­comes All de­cried SB 6 as anti-busi­ness and a stain on the state’s rep­u­ta­tion.

“We are ask­ing law­mak­ers to end this need­less pur­suit of dis­crim­i­na­tory laws and fo­cus in­stead on mak­ing our com­mu­ni­ties as eco­nom­i­cally strong and cul­tur­ally vi­able as pos­si­ble,” said Hugh For­rest, chief pro­gram­ming offi- cer for South by South­west.

Tom Noo­nan, pres­i­dent of the Austin Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Bureau, said 22 orga- niza­tions have warned that they would not hold con­ven­tions or meet­ings in Austin if SB 6 passes, po­ten­tially de­priv­ing the city of more than $110 mil­lion in di­rect eco­nomic im­pact.

Just Mon­day, an­other group told Austin it would no longer con­sider the city for a 2020 event be­cause of SB 6, Noo­nan said.

“Our brand is all about in­no­va­tion, cre­ation and mu­sic,” he said. “That brand draws tal­ented peo­ple to Texas to live, work and play. ... Th­ese bills threaten our brand.”

PHO­TOS BY DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan For­est (left) — next to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham — said Mon­day that the eco­nomic back­lash to his state’s crack­down on trans­gen­der bath­rooms was mi­nor. “This is an is­sue about do­ing the right thing,” he said.

Frank and Rachel Gon­za­les, with trans­gen­der daugh­ter, Libby, 6, join trans­gen­der Tex­ans on Mon­day at the Capi­tol. SB 6 “would com­pletely turn her world up­side down,” Frank Gon­za­les said of his daugh­ter.

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