Hun­dreds tes­tify on trans­gen­der bill

Bath­room leg­is­la­tion dis­cus­sion ex­pected to last well into the night.

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

The Texas Se­nate opened con­sid­er­a­tion of the trans­gen­der bath­room bill Tues­day with a pub­lic hear­ing that drew hun­dreds of wit­nesses and pro­duced hours of pas­sion­ate, some­times tear­ful tes­ti­mony.

Sup­port­ers said Se­nate Bill 6 was needed to keep bi­o­log­i­cal men out of pri­vate spa­ces used by women, to deny sex­ual preda­tors an ex­cuse for en­ter­ing a woman’s re­stroom, and to pro­tect a sense of safety and mod­esty in bath­rooms, locker rooms and dress­ing rooms.

Op­po­nents told the Se­nate State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee that SB 6 need­lessly de­mo­nizes vul­ner­a­ble trans­gen­der peo­ple to solve a nonex­is­tent prob­lem, makes Texas ap­pear big­oted and jeop­ar­dizes the state’s econ­omy by invit­ing boy­cotts and mak­ing it harder for busi­nesses to at­tract tal­ented work­ers.

With more than 430 peo­ple signed up to speak — enough for well over 14 hours of tes­ti­mony at two min­utes per wit­ness — dis­cus­sions were ex­pected to last well into the night.

But it quickly be­came ap­par­ent, shortly af­ter the hear­ing be­gan at 8 a.m., that the com­mit­tee will ap­prove the bill, per­haps in time for a Se­nate floor vote next week.

Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick has al­ready of­fered as­sur­ances that SB 6 will pass the Se­nate, send­ing it to a

more un­cer­tain wel­come in the House — which Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, un­der­scored in a con­ver­sa­tion with re­porters.

“Clearly, I’m not a fan of the bill that they are dis­cussing in the Se­nate com­mit­tee to­day, but I’m focused 100 per­cent on the House’s pri­or­i­ties,” Straus said. “They have their agenda, we have ours, and we’ll worry about our agenda and mak­ing progress on some is­sues that I be­lieve are im­por­tant to ev­ery Texan.”

The hear­ing be­gan with state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, ex­plain­ing that she in­tended her bill to pro­tect pri­vacy and cod­ify “what has been ac­cepted prac­tice in Texas and else­where for decades.”

SB 6 also tries to “strike a bal­ance for all chil­dren,” she said. “One class should not get su­per-pro­tec­tion over an­other.”

State Sen. José Ro­dríguez, D-El Paso, ques­tioned whether SB 6 was con­sti­tu­tional. “We have a bill here that is clearly dis­crim­i­nat­ing based on gen­der,” he said.

SB 6 would pro­hibit trans­gen­der-friendly bath­room, locker room and chang­ing room poli­cies in pub­lic schools, uni­ver­si­ties and in gov­ern­ment build­ings. It also would over­turn city and county re­quire­ments for trans­gen­der bath­rooms and pro­hibit cities and coun­ties from with­hold­ing con­tracts based on a com­pany’s bath­room pol­icy.

Vi­o­la­tors who al­low peo­ple to use the bath­room of their gen­der iden­tity, not the sex listed on their birth cer­tifi­cate, could be fined $1,000 to $1,500 for the first of­fense, ris­ing to $10,000 to $10,500 for sub­se­quent vi­o­la­tions.

A new ver­sion of the bill sub­mit­ted to the com­mit­tee Tues­day no longer in­cluded en­hanced penal­ties for as­saults com­mit­ted in a bath­room or chang­ing room.

Kolkhorst said she re­moved that sec­tion af­ter sev­eral vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault told her that such at­tacks are heinous no mat­ter where they oc­cur. “This has been quite a jour­ney for me, in many ways a faith jour­ney,” she said.

In­vited wit­nesses in­cluded Tony Perkins, pres­i­dent of the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, a con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., who said SB 6 would close a loop­hole that could give men the abil­ity to en­ter women’s bath­rooms and locker rooms.

“The threat comes from those who would ex­ploit the sit­u­a­tion, by those who would pose as trans­gen­der” to act as a voyeur or com­mit sex­ual as­sault, Perkins said.

State Sen. Jane Nel­son, R-Flower Mound, said friends “who have been mo­lested or worse” have ex­pressed sim­i­lar fears.

“I re­spect the rights of trans­gen­der stu­dents to have their own per­sonal needs met. But speak­ing as a woman, I sure do expect my right to pri­vacy,” Nel­son said.

Shiloh Sat­ter­field, 10, told the com­mit­tee that she found the idea of bi­o­log­i­cal males in the girls re­stroom “scary, awk­ward and very, very weird” when the Drip­ping Springs school dis­trict made ac­com­mo­da­tions for a trans­gen­der stu­dent.

“I felt very un­com­fort­able know­ing that a boy can come into the re­stroom with me. A re­stroom is a pri­vate place, and I’d like to keep it that way,” she said.

The com­mit­tee also heard from Mar­i­lyn Mor­ri­son, a trans­gen­der third-grader from the Dallas area who has been bul­lied at school and said it would be em­bar­rass­ing to have to use the boys bath­room. “This bill is hor­ri­fy­ing to me and all my other trans friends,” she said.

Dr. Colt Keo-Meier, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who treats trans­gen­der peo­ple and is a trans­gen­der man, feared the im­pact of SB 6 on the es­ti­mated 125,000 trans­gen­der peo­ple in Texas. Stud­ies have found that 40 per­cent of trans­gen­der peo­ple have at­tempted sui­cide, and the big­gest pre­dic­tor of sui­cide is a feel­ing of not be­long­ing, he said.

SB 6 tells trans­gen­der peo­ple they don’t be­long, he said: “This bill is killing my pa­tients.”

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Hun­dreds rally against the trans­gen­der bath­room bill Tues­day in the Capi­tol open-air ro­tunda. More than 430 peo­ple were signed up to tes­tify about the bill.

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CANS­TATES­MAN

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equal­ity Texas, in­tro­duces Mar­i­lyn Mor­ri­son, an 8-year-old trans­gen­der girl, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence op­pos­ing Se­nate Bill 6 in the Capi­tol Ex­ten­sion Ro­tunda on Tues­day.

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