Transgender bathroom bill rhetoric heating up
News conferences show contrasts before hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill 6.
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.”
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.