This summer, Texans saw the rise and fall of the so-called bathroom bill in the Texas Legislature, which would have denied transgender individuals the use of public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The bill became a rallying cry for authoritarian transphobes seeking to stifle the rights of city governments by overturning municipal nondiscrimination ordinances across the state. More importantly, they continued a decades-long crusade to suppress the human rights of the LGBTQIA community.
The bill’s prominence in cultural and political dialogue ensured it would have a place in this year’s Texas Tribune Festival. Activists and state lawmakers joined a panel called “The Politics of Bathrooms” on Saturday morning.
Almost immediately it became evident that those in favor of the bill were guided primarily by animosity and ignorance towards the transgender community. Nicole Hudgens, policy analyst for Texas Values, kicked off the panel by misgendering individuals using women’s restrooms and calling people “transgenders.”
Republican Rep. Ron Simmons filed both HB 46 and HB 50, barring public schools from enforcing measures to “protect a class of persons from discrimination” in regulating “access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.” He implied that the opposition is wrong in saying that the bill attacks trans individuals. He said it seeks to protect young girls from predators. Throughout the duration of the panel, Hudgens and Rep. Simmons vocalized their belief that lack of legislation against transgender people would only put children in danger of sexual abuse.
Historically, homophobes have hatefully painted the LGBTQIA community as predatory by creating a false marriage between homosexuality and pedophilia. This is no different, and the claim remains just as uneducated as ever.
In contrast, Republican Rep. Jason Villalba stated that no one is “going into bathrooms to assault people under the guise” of being transgender. However, he proposed that the best solution to appease both sides is to create a third, single-occupancy gender-neutral bathroom for transgender people.
Lou Weaver, activist and statewide Transgender Programs Coordinator for Equality Texas, perfectly stated that Villalba’s proposition sounds like a “separate but equal” argument and segregating transgender people is detrimental to their health.
Additionally, Weaver made the interesting point that opposition to the trans community, though always present, intensified in mainstream politics only after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision to legalize gay marriage made it hard to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians.
However, perhaps the most interesting conundrum in this tiresome issue is the economic impact of the proposed bills. While Republicans are usually much more big business-friendly than those on the left, big business is precisely what killed these bills in the legislature’s special session.
Jessica Shortall, strategist on business engagement in social and political issues, pointed out that businesses are increasingly unwilling to associate their brands with such harm to people. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, American Airlines, and AT&T all came out in opposition to the bill.
Ultimately, death to the proposed legislation came at the hands of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, who worked with Texas-based corporations to fight against the bills. According to Rep. Simmons, the bathroom bill would have likely passed if his fellow Republican hadn’t “waded in” and allowed the chamber to work its will.
When asked if he would re-introduce this kind of legislation in the 86th Legislature, Rep. Simmons refused to give a straight answer; however, he said that the issue would continue to be discussed.
Assuming Republican lawmakers remain fervently opposed to fundamental human rights, this is not the last we will see of regressive, transphobic legislation. The next legislative session will not be for another two years; however, we cannot stop educating people on how detrimental lawmaker’s actions may be towards entire, innocent communities. Republicans will keep trying and we will keep fighting.