By Austin Sanders
AUSTIN, TX – Over 400 citizens voiced their support or opposition in the public hearing of the Texas Legislature’s controversial “bathroom Bill” at the Capitol March 7.
After a full day of testimony, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 8-1 to move the bill to the full chamber. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was in opposition.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, 253 witnesses spoke in opposition to the bill, formally known as Senate Bill 6 or the “Texas Privacy Act,” with about 30 speaking in support of the legislation. Public testimony began around 4 p.m. and concluded at 4 a.m., before the committee moved to vote on the bill.
If signed into law, the bill would require any “institution of higher education”, such as Texas State University, to comply with new regulations on bathroom usage. Students would be required to use any on-campus “multiple-occupancy bathroom or locker room” which corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate.
A spokesperson for Texas State declined to comment because university policy prohibits staff from commenting on pending legislation.
Although the bill passed through the committee hearing, it has faced a rocky path on the Senate floor, receiving pushback from citizen activists as well as business advocates for the state. The groups suggest that the legislation is inherently discriminatory and will pose a significant threat to Texas’ economic prospects, respectively.
However, supporters of the bill, including those who testified at the Tuesday hearing, as well as the bill’s co-authors, suggest that it would protect women and children from sexual predators who could step around gender identification rules to spy on and assault women in the bathroom.
Meanwhile, opponents of the bill say it is discriminatory and would likely cause undue harm to transgender children. Melissa Dalley, a filmmaker living in Austin, attended the capitol hearing. She sees the bill as “stunt legislation” meant to drum up strong emotional responses from constituents.
“I think it’s ridiculous to waste so many resources to shout down a bill that is unfounded,” Dalley said. “I listened to (Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels) who wrote the bill. Their stories dealt with protecting women from harassment and sexual crimes, but it is a definite red herring. The bill will not help stop those problems.”
Transcend is a Texas State organization supporting transgender, non-binary and all gender diverse students. Jessica Soukup, co-advisor, estimates roughly 300 students at the university would be affected by the legislation. Soukup transitioned during her employment with the university and is concerned about how the rules would be enforced on campus.
“The legislation effectively places the ones on people to enforce it,” Soukup said. “If you are in a restroom and see someone go in a women’s room, and they don’t look feminine enough to you, it is your job to report it.”
This could cause potentially harmful cases of mistaken identity across campus. A university police officer, who wished to remain unnamed for this story, experienced a case of gender misidentification while working a Bobcat football game.
While in uniform, the officer approached the stadium’s public bathroom, one that would fall under new regulation under SB6. When the officer walked into the bathroom, a male fan in the stands stood up and shouted at the officer that they were “using the wrong bathroom.”
However, the officer was using the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity and biological sex. The officer confronted the fan by correcting their mistake, which rectified the situation without further incident.
The incident illustrates the possible dangers stemming from self-policing, which the legislation, as written, would require.
Opponents also point to a similar bill that was signed into law in North Carolina during that state’s 2016 legislative session. The North Carolina bill, according to some reports, has cost the state $201 million in lost revenues. Business groups ranging from the NCAA to PayPal have cancelled planned economic development in the state, citing opposition to the bill as their primary motivation.
Tom Noonan, president and CEO of the Austin Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, said that Texas could stand to lose millions of dollars if SB6 were signed into law an event earlier in the month.
“We have 23 organizations that have proactively reached out to the Austin CVB and said ‘if you pass this bill, we’re going to have to leave,'” said Noonan. “Before we add the 23rd, that was worth $110 million.”
Offering a differing perspective, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick declared in a March 6 news conference that SB6 did not discriminate against transgender students.
“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,” Patrick said.
Now that the bill has passed committee vote, it will hit the Senate floor next week. After a full Senate vote, the bill will move onto the House, where a battle is set to take place. House Speaker Joe Straus has expressed less urgency than Patrick in fast-tracking the bill into becoming state law.
In January, Straus offered comment on the bill in a speech before the Texas Association of Business. He expressed concern about the legislation’s potential impact on the state’s economy.
”There’s been a lot of work put into our state’s economic success. We want to continue that success, and we want Texas to keep attracting the best and the brightest. One way to maintain our edge is to send the right signals about who we are,” Straus said.
He also said that the bill “was not the most urgent concern of mine,” a statement in direct opposition to the stance taken by Patrick.