LONE STAR STATE
The Fight Against the Anti-Transgender Bathroom Bill That Could Mess With Texas
This week, Texas convenes a special session of the state legislature to advance a ‘bathroom bill’ condemned by trans people, activists, and business and faith leaders.
Landon Richie is scared, but also determined to fight on. Motivated by concern for his much-loved son’s safety and well-being, Landon’s father Aaron feels the same.
Landon is a transgender teenager, aged 14, from Missouri City, Texas. He currently uses the male bathroom, the bathroom that matches his gender identity, at his school.
Landon told The Daily Beast that he is “frustrated and fearful” that this bathroom choice could change as a result of his state’s Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and socially conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s determination to pass a bathroom bill or bills in a specially convened session of the Texas Legislature, beginning on Tuesday.
Depending on their final form, the bill or bills might stipulate that transgender students in Texas schools—and perhaps extending to state employees and those attending public universities in the Lone Star State—must use the restroom according to the gender printed on their original birth certificate, rather than their actual gender identity.
These restrictions would affect an estimated 125,000 transgender Texans, the second-largest trans population in the U.S. after California.
Patrick and Abbott, who on Friday announced his plans for re-election as governor, will attempt for a second time to pass such legislation at the special session after their first attempts—Senate Bill 6 and an alternative House measure, House Bill 2899—did not pass during the regular legislative session. (Also up for discussion at the special session, according to the Texas Tribune: anti-abortion measures, school finance reform, and mail-in ballot fraud.)
SB 6, which would have required trans people to use bathrooms according to their “biological sex,” would have also rescinded protections accorded to LGBT residents as they applied to bathroom use, and freed employers from executing such protections.
Hundreds of trans people spoke out against SB 6 when it was being discussed at the Legislature, including the influential Dr. Colt Keo-Meier, co-founder of Gender Infinity, the largest trans health conference in Texas.
A devout Christian, Dr. Keo-Meier spoke about his “sacred duty” to keep “God’s transgender children of all ages… alive and safe.” He also spoke of the all-encompassing health crisis affecting trans people, which is only exacerbated by discrimination and rejection.
Faced with one senator’s gripe over the general public’s “privacy rights,” Dr. Keo-Meier said that one group’s privacy “doesn’t come at the expense of the other.” Creating a separate place for transgender people to go to the bathroom would amount to segregation, Dr. Keo-Meier added.
Supporters of SB 6 seemed to conflate trans people using the bathrooms of their choice with the possibility of “predators” exploiting the fact that trans people could use those facilities as a cover for being able to commit crimes.
As reported in Think Progress, when launching “Operation One Million Voices,” in support of SB 6 in March, Patrick had tweeted “We don’t want to give sexual predators a free pass to enter their restroom.” He said that “this is not an LGBT issue, it’s not a transgender issue, it’s about preventing a free pass to sexual predators who are not transgender.”
Neither Abbott nor Patrick have explained, however, why if this is the case, they are crafting a law targeting transgender people’s bathroom use, rather than sexual predators.
Abbott, who like Patrick did not return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment for this story, has said he wants a bathroom bill that “at a minimum... protects the privacy of our children in public schools.”
Abbott, Patrick and their supporters have yet to fully define or specify what precise danger or hurt, or invasion of privacy, trans people using the bathroom of their choice could lead to for others.
Also unacknowledged by the men is the safety or physical and mental hurt trans people say they will experience by being singled out in law, or an acknowledgment of the “privacy” and “safety” trans people say that they deserve when visiting a restroom.
“Personally, I am frustrated that they are continuing to push bills that are unnecessary and dangerous to the trans community who are already hugely vulnerable,” said Landon Richie.
His father Aaron added: “I am disappointed with our leaders, Patrick and Abbott especially, for endangering the safety of the trans community, especially when it comes to our kids.”
“If this bill were to pass I would not be legally allowed to use the male restroom,” said Landon. “My school already asked that I use the nurse’s restroom. That is not the place I belong. I am a boy and I belong in a boys’ restroom. It’s segregation, and it can affect my studies and my school day.
“The nurse’s restroom is far away from anywhere else, and me using it raises the question, ‘Why I don’t use the regular restroom?’ If a bill was passed, my school day would be very different.”
Landon and his father are from alone. Trans people, civil rights groups, and faith and business organizations opposed to the bill who spoke to The Daily Beast called the measures, variously, not only “despicable” and “an attack on trans people,” but also “terrible” for business in the state.
One estimate has Texas standing to lose almost $6 billion of income should the bill or bills go into effect.
The Dallas Morning News reported Friday that IBM, one of the largest technology employers in the state, took out full-page advertisements in the Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News, and Austin American Statesman opposing the proposed legislation.
Top executives from the company will testify at the special session against the bills.
In May, IBM, alongside Apple and Facebook, sent Abbott a letter claiming “any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families.”
The most recent poll, conducted by the Texas Tribune, showed that 44 percent of Texans considered the bathroom bill important, compared to 47 percent who do not.
Texas will, say the proposed bill’s critics, face the same shaming as North Carolina received over its notorious “HB2” bathroom bill, with very real economic effects flowing from such legislation too—something the governor and lieutenant governor appear so far insouciant about. (HB2 mutated into the still much-criticized HB142 in March this year.)
Activists fighting to keep a bathroom bill off the statute book in Texas were recently emboldened by Republican House Speaker Joe Straus telling the New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright about his encounter with a senator-emissary allegedly sent by Dan Patrick to Straus’ office with a proposed bathroom bill.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,” Straus told the senator. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands."
According to 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, nearly nine times the rate in the U.S. population (4.6 percent). Seven percent of trans respondents had attempted suicide in the last year, compared to 0.7 percent in the general population.
The stalemate in the last session of the Texas legislature has led to Tuesday’s special session, whose estimated cost—if it runs to 30 days—could be in the region of $1 million to $1.2 million.
In Wright’s fascinating portrait of Texan political life, he reported that Patrick, a fervent cultural conservative, was the prime mover behind the anti-trans legislation rather than Abbott.
According to The New Yorker, at a prayer rally on the Capitol steps in February, Patrick declared, “They don’t want prayer in public schools, they’re not pro-life, they see nothing wrong with boys and girls showering together in the tenth grade, or a man being in a women’s bathroom.”
In May, after Patrick rejected his suggestion of a compromise bill, Straus said his concern was to “protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and more importantly to protect the safety of some very vulnerable young Texans.”
Two bills, HB 46 and HB 50, have so far been filed for the special session, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Simmons. A further Senate Bill, SB 23, is aimed at prohibiting cities from introducing non-discrimination legislation above and beyond that which has been sanctioned at state level.
HB 46 would stop school boards from enforcing policies that allow transgender youth or staff to use the restrooms of their choice; HB 50 would undo any ordinances passed in specific cities designed to protect the rights of trans people to use the public bathrooms they want.
Simmons told The Daily Beast: “At least in Texas, for 170 years since we’ve been a state, bathroom usage was understood. People used the bathrooms… you know, male used male, female used female.
“All HB 46 and HB 50 does is says this is an issue that needs a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. Right now, we don't need patchwork of ordinances around the state. We need to keep in place what is currently in place until there is a federal law or a state law change.
“We’re also protecting—just like a transgender woman might feel uncomfortable going into the biological bathroom of her choice; say she’s a biological man, but a transgender woman—a person who is not transgender who might feel very uncomfortable for someone who is biologically male to be in same shower or changing facility as them. We’re protecting their privacy as well.”
Simmons dismissed Speaker Straus’ concerns over trans suicide. “I don’t think there are any statistics that relate trans use in restrooms to suicide rates.” He added he would be happy to study such figures if they existed.
There are, in fact, many statistics showing the high levels of discrimination and prejudice experienced by transgender Texans.
In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 61 percent of trans Texans reported avoiding public restrooms because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. Thirty-six percent limited what they ate or drank so they wouldn’t have to visit a restroom.
Simmons told The Daily Beast that if another legislator wanted to introduce a piece of state-wide legislation in opposition to his and the governor and lieutenant governor, then the legislature could debate and vote on that. “These (Simmons’) bills are saying that we should leave things in place until there is further debate and change in the state and federal law.”
Should any trans person feel uncomfortable using the bathroom in the manner desired by Simmons, Abbott, and Patrick, “they (the institution) can provide special accommodation, or a single-use scenario,” Simmons told The Daily Beast.
Simmons dismissed the suggestion that many trans people feel that would lead to physical discomfort, and merely perpetuates discrimination, stigmatization and prejudice.
“I would respectfully disagree,” Simmons said. “I would understand why they would say that. But you also have 99.7 percent of the population who is not transgender, and I believe just as many 15 and 16-year-old girls and boys who do not want to shower or change in the presence of someone of the opposite biological sex, even if they're gender-identified.”
A reporter asked if Simmons had surveyed 15- and 16-year-olds for their views, or had any supporting statistics or material to make such a statement about what those young people think.
“I have personally not done that,” said Simmons. “What has been done is polling throughout the country and in Texas that clearly says parents do not want their schoolchildren changing in changing facilities and multi-occupancy bathrooms with people of the opposite sex. I also want to treat everyone with respect.”
A reporter pointed out to Simmons that the “people” he was referring to would not be of the opposite sex, but of the same sex as they identified as transgender.
“They’re identifying as that. They are not biologically the same in most cases,” Simmons replied.
Simmons dismissed accusations that the bills were, as their critics see them, charters for discrimination and prejudice. “We are doing exactly the opposite. We are making sure no one as far as we are concerned is being discriminated against.”
During a Friday conference call organized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), representatives from a range of civil rights organizations poured condemnation on the planned bathroom bills.
JoDee Winterhof, the senior vice president of policy and political affairs at HRC, said Abbott and Patrick, having introduced 30 anti-LGBTQ bills—with 11 passing in at least one chamber—were “trying to make Texas a leader in discrimination.”
Late last month the Texas Supreme Court ruled that same-sex spouses should not receive the same spousal benefits as heterosexual couples.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal are already preparing to mount legal challenges should the bathroom bill or bills pass.
Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project, told The Daily Beast: “The courts have held over and over again that laws that discriminate against trans individuals run afoul of laws prohibiting sex discrimination and afoul of the Constitution’s guarantee of legal protection and due process.
“The Supreme Court has made particularly clear that an animus against a particular group of people cannot be the basis for supporting legislation targeting a group of people.”
With the Texas bathroom bill/s, said Strangio, “we have procedural irregularities, lies, targeting the trans community, which are impermissible bases to pass legislation. Any legislation passed in this context are susceptible to legal challenge.”
In Texas itself, Lisa Scheps, interim executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told The Daily Beast that the state’s trans population feels “particularly targeted and under attack. I’m completely flummoxed about the idea of it possibly passing seeing as how disastrous on so many levels it proved in North Carolina. Nobody is supporting this.
“The Legislature is just lying to get it passed by saying this is about the safety of women and children when it’s not. It’s simply a discriminatory bill to discriminate against gender-diverse people in the state of Texas. I’m just so confused why it seems to be so necessary to go to so much trouble to get it passed. They purport to be about ‘family values,’ but it’s really just a way to spew hate.”
Scheps, like others, saw legislators as focusing on a bathroom bill as a wedge issue to stoke up support for the Republican base in Texas. “Since the marriage equality became legal, trans people are next up. It’s a dangerous time to be trans.”
Trans people in Texas were both mobilizing and fearful, Scheps said. “What Straus said about suicides is true. The amount of vitriol spewed against trans people is scary for a lot of us. I know when I need to use a restroom and in the State Capitol I don’t feel as safe as I did before. Suddenly there’s a different feeling in the air and it’s scary. A lot of us in our community are marginalized already and to have one other thing like this gives a tipping point.
“Many trans people are socio-economically depressed, and trans women of color are being killed at an ungodly rate.”
The bills were most insidious in how they targeted trans youth, said Scheps. “These kids are already marginalized in school, now you want to put them into situations that are unhealthy, terrifying and not safe. These are defenseless young people, many of whom don’t have parents advocating for them either.”
Scheps applauded one school she went to that insisted that anyone who had a problem with trans kids using the bathroom of their choice should themselves choose another bathroom.
Young trans people have told Scheps they are scared, and feeling dehumanized.
The proposed bills, she said, only give schools more power to discriminate following President Trump’s rescinding in February of the Obama administration’s directive that the federal government considered restrictions on transgender students’ access to restrooms and locker rooms to be in violation of Title IX’s 1972 ban on sex discrimination in public education.
Lou Weaver, Transgender Programs Coordinator for the statewide campaigning organization Equality Texas, said the planned bill or bills “say ‘You’re not the same, you don’t deserve the same equality,’ when really we are Texan, and part of all Texans is to have the same strong values and be able to go to work and school and take care of our families.”
“Dan Patrick is creating a solution in search of a problem, and Straus sees it for what it is. We want all Texans to call their elected officials to say, ‘We want Texas to be on the right side of history. We do not want this.’”
As led by IBM and Apple, the world of commerce also appears set against the proposed Texas bathroom bills.
Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, a coalition of more than 1300 employers and chambers of commerce mobilizing against the bills, told The Daily Beast that Texas was at the “beginning of a journey” of economic decline and possibly disaster.
Ten significant conventions in Texas have already been canceled, Shortall said, meaning a loss of $26.5 million. The overall financial impact of the bills passing has been estimated to be $4.1 billion through 2020, and $5.6 billion through 2026, she said.
Shortall has noted that businesses, used to lobbying purely focused on the bottom line, have been raising their objections with Texas legislators in more “moral” tones, denouncing the targeting of a specific minority group. Conservative politicians like Straus, she said, are also speaking out in a way they haven’t done before.
Shortall said the financial impact of the bills would not only be measured in the millions, but also in ordinary Texans working in the tourism industry—the second-largest business in Texas after oil—also suffering as meetings were canceled. “So you have those empty hotel rooms not needing to be cleaned, and all the workers in those hotels not being required for their shifts.” Restaurants, bars, taxis, construction (for the building of new hotels) would also be affected, she said.
“This is a manufactured issue and one that will damage Texas families, communities and budgets—and for some reason that harm does not appear to be a priority to the Legislature,” Shortall said.
Job recruiters, said Shortall, were already reporting difficulties in attracting talent to Texas as a result of publicity around the bills, with millennials particularly hostile to the idea of working in a state known to be so actively anti-LGBT. “Ultimately, companies won’t want to invest money in expanding and growing jobs in this state if it is not consistent with our values,” Shortall said.
Kathryn Gonzales, operations and programs director of the non-profit Out Youth based in Austin serving LGBT youth in Central Texas, said the group had seen “a huge spike in trans youth saying, ‘This really hitting me hard,’ and increasing suicidal ideation among them. In many cases our youth are not accepted at home, not accepted at school, then on top of that our state leaders are saying, ‘You don't matter here.’ They didn't understand what the problem is and why they are being targeted.”
The trans children she knows are “exhausted” by the six months of wrangling about why they can’t use the bathroom “that conforms with the gender identity they know themselves to be. They want to know when it will be over. They thought it was over. Then the special session was announced.”
For Gonzales, the authorities have identified what facilities they have control over to “paint a target on to backs of trans kids.”
“If this passes kids will kill themselves. Period. If this happens kids will die,” said Gonzales. “What bothers me most is that they don’t care. They have drawn the trans community as the nemesis that the rest of society needs protection from when in reality it’s the trans community that most needs protection from the general public because legislators keep stoking the fires of misunderstanding and hatred.
“We are way more likely to get assaulted in a bathroom than assault someone in a bathroom. There is no forethought in any of this, and it’s sad. We are the next scapegoat.”
Young trans people report a range of experiences at school, said Gonzales. “It goes from ‘Nobody talks to me at school because of who I am,’ to ‘I’m constantly bullied by students and staff and can’t use the bathroom that matches my gender identity and nobody will call me by name and pronoun.’
“We also have the opposite of that: kids saying their schools are cool, they are called by their right name, records are properly updates, teachers will use correct pronouns, they can use whichever restroom they want, and play on gendered sports teams.”
Gonzales finds it fascinating that Austin, known for its cool, progressive image, possesses more official bureaucracy to negotiate, whereas she has found schools in more suburban and semi-rural areas more smoothly welcoming to trans kids.
“I will ask those head teachers why, and their response is always the same, ‘It’s the right thing to do, and it’s what Jesus taught us to do.’ The religious component is important. Those folks are reading their Bibles and saying, ‘Well Jesus would want me to treat these kids in the right way, as a human being.’”
A broad coalition of religious groups is supporting trans people too, to counter the hardline religious groups traditionally visibly, and more loudly, ranged against LGBT equality.
Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact and the Texas Interfaith Center For Public Policy, said her group represented 5 million Texans belonging to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim denominations.
“We support equal respect and honoring the diversity of all people in the state,” Moorhead told The Daily Beast.
Politicians should focus on practical strategies to help all Texans, rather than using minority groups like trans people for “ideological sparring,” she added.
“It would be irresponsible for mainstream faith communities to stay out of the fray when clearly this issue has become a fight for the heart and soul, for the culture, of Texas.”
Worshippers are coming together to lobby legislators, said Moorhead. “This isn’t optional. If you care about our state’s culture of diversity and inclusiveness, if you think Texas’ friendliness is a value to bring to America, you better get on down to Capitol and tell them to cut this anti-transgender nonsense out.”
In May, the Dallas Morning News reported that Abbott had reached out to leaders of ten churches in order to “drum up support” for the then-stalled SB 6. bathroom bill. For the “One Million Voices” campaign, Patrick had allied himself with anti-LGBT groups such as Vision America, the Texas Pastor Council, and Texas Values.
According to ABC News, Texas conservative groups are threatening Republicans that if, following Straus’ lead, they don’t support Abbott and Patrick's bathroom bill in the special session, then come the 2018 GOP primaries they will be the object of attempts to unseat them.
“When legislators and the ideological right-wing lobby try to paint the picture of faith communities supporting this legislation, we’re here to tell people that mainstream faith communities do not," Moorhead told The Daily Beast. "I don’t think anyone wants this state to be the state it would be if Texas passes the bill. I think Texan legislators love Texas too much to let this happen to it.”
The proposed bills not only bring threat, but also absurdity. It is not just young people who the bills would affect, Kathryn Gonzales told The Daily Beast.
“If the law passes, I as a trans woman who works in public schools, would be forced to use the boys’ restroom in the schools I go to because my birth certificate has not been amended. That will be uncomfortable, but I’m willing to do it just to show how silly this whole thing is.”
According to Abbott and Patrick’s desires, Gonzales would have to use the boys’ restrooms in all the high schools, middle schools and elementary schools she visits as part of her job.
“I don't know what sane person would think that was a good idea,” she said. “That feels really gross. The whole argument this time has been, ‘We want to keep men out of women’s restrooms. We want to protect the privacy of women and children.’ Well your new law is putting a trans woman into a little boys’ restroom in an elementary school.’”
Gonzales is sometimes asked why she can’t use the teachers’ or nurses’ restrooms. “If I have got to go to the bathroom I’m not going to hunt down someone with a key for one of those bathrooms. I’m going to go to the nearest bathroom like we all do. If this new law passes, I’m going to end up having to use the little boys’ restroom and it’s going to make things super-uncomfortable for everybody.”
It’s very clear to Gonzales that legislators “have a particular image of what a trans woman is, and that they didn't know that trans men even existed. My boyfriend is a trans man who would be required under the new law to use a little girls’ restroom in a school.
“He looks like a man. He is a man. The new law will demand that he is going to be a man in a girls’ bathroom. They didn't think this through logically. It just makes no sense to me.”
Gonzales came out as a gay man at 14, then as trans woman when she came to know herself as one. She has had the dual experience of having her gay right to marry denied, and now as a trans woman is enduring a new, if familiar, set of challenges and prejudices.
The legislators think of trans people as characters from an old Jerry Springer show, Gonzales said. “Then they meet me or a trans man or a non-binary person and they go, ‘You’re not scary, We don’t see why this is a big deal.’ She has been in transition for seven years and has “never had a single issue in a bathroom, but I won’t go see a doctor or a yoga class or social event unless there’s someone there I already know. My personal safety is always a concern.”
As Tuesday approaches, OutYouth is running a Take My Hand Texas campaign to show support for trans youth. People should also express their support for Speaker Straus “for being on the right side of this,” Gonzales added.
The damage of the bill, if it passes, will be not just what it prohibits but the scrambling message it sends, said Gonzales, about trans bathroom usage outside school and state confines (in shopping malls and the like), and in providing a green light for anti-trans bashers and vigilantes.
The fear of being attacked affects trans people of all ages, which makes the politicians’ talk of protecting others from trans people all the more ironic.
Landon Richie told The Daily Beast that before high school he was “brutally harassed by students and placed in uncomfortable situations” at middle school. There he used the nurse’s restroom because he felt most comfortable and safest there. Throughout middle school he would try “to hold it in” to avoid going to the restroom.
At high school he is most comfortable in the male restroom. If the proposed new laws materialize, his use of another restroom would bring “unwanted attention,” he said, and simple frustration that he would have to travel across school to use a restroom when his chosen restroom is near to his classroom.
“Already I am wary when I step into the restroom. I don’t know who I know in there, will they know my past, and now I think about the reaction there will there be given this increased focus on the place where I feel uncomfortable.”
Listening to Dan Patrick and his supporters has shown Landon “the level of ignorance” about what being transgender is.
“It’s very fear-derived and not educated. These people are not aware of what they are talking about. They think they are doing something good, but they are being extremely harmful to an extremely vulnerable group of people and they don’t seem to realize it.
“It’s most definitely affected my mental health. I find myself feeling a lot of stress and worried how this situation will turn out and what it will mean for my future. The reality is so many trans kids like myself find it very worrying and frustrating to hear these claims over and over again, knowing that the ignorance is something we’re going to have to battle for quite some while.”
His father Aaron told The Daily Beast that the Texas bathroom bill fight had kept him and his wife Erika “motivated to love and support our kid and do everything we can to keep him safe. Part of that now includes making several-hour trips to the state capitol to speak to elected officials in an attempt to educate them on how harmful this bill is to our family, our son, and our many friends and loved ones.
“Regardless of the outcome of the special session we will not stop fighting for our kids’ rights. We will not give into discrimination against our kid.”
“I want legislators to know trans people are not asking for any accommodation or special treatment,” Landon said. “We just want to be able to exist and go through life safely. We are no less deserving of love, respect, and dignity. We are human: your neighbors, your kids. We just want to live our lives as ourselves without having to worry about if and where we will be harmed. Because of these bills those risks are greatly increased.”