Hundreds of people testified at the state Capitol on Tuesday about the so-called “bathroom bill.”
Senate Bill 6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public spaces that correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth. It passed out of the Senate Committee on State Affairs hearing, which lasted more than 20 hours, on a vote of 7-1 and will now go to the full Senate for a vote.
Supporters say the bill would improve public safety. Its sponsor, Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, says it would stop sexual predators from committing crimes in bathrooms.
But Democrats on the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee, including Jose Rodriguez of El Paso, said there’s no evidence the bill is fixing an actual problem.
“Are you aware of whether there have been any incidences in these cities that have these ordinances?” he asked. “Where a transgender person has committed a crime in a restroom?”
Kolkhorst could not give an example, but said the measure would prevent predators from taking advantage of those ordinances.
The Rev. David Wynn, a transgender man who is pastor of Agape Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth, told the committee he took that argument personally.
“When it’s said … that the purpose of this bill is to go after sexual predators and it is a bill restricting a transgender person’s right to use the appropriate bathroom, I take that very personally because you are equating myself and my community with sexual predators,” he said.
Those who support the measure say nondiscrimination ordinances that protect transgender people’s rights, like one in Austin, basically legalize lewdness. Dana Hodges with Concerned Women for America told the Senate panel she was passionate about seeing the bill passed.
“I, myself, was the victim of being videotaped by a hidden camera placed in a women’s public bathroom stall by a man,” she said.
Dr. Colt Keo-Meier, a transgender man living in Houston, said the bill would not solve these problems and instead could hurt transgender people, who are already dealing with high rates of suicide.
“This bill does nothing to change people’s intentions whatsoever. But this is not about if we allow trans women to use women’s restrooms then somehow this parade of crimes will happen. This is just a strange idea,” he said. “And unfortunately what it does is it leads to the death of my people.”
Keo-Meier, who provides medical care to the transgender community, said going to the bathroom while you are transitioning is already a tough process and that state lawmakers shouldn’t make it any harder.
Sen. Rodriguez said that transgender individuals, including some whom he had hired, “have been subjected to violent, physical assaults by being forced to go into the bathroom that they’re not identifying with.”
He has put forward his own bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
A coalition of civil and religious liberties organizations, sexual assault experts, faith leaders and families issued a statement Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to reject the bill.
“Lt. Governor Patrick appeals to the worst chapters of our history, in which discrimination runs rampant and understanding and compassion are absent,” Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas said. “Transgender students, like transgender adults, don’t want to cause any problems. They simply want to use the bathroom when the need arises.”
The Austin Chamber of Commerce said Monday that 23 groups had threatened to cancel events in the city if Senate Bill 6 passes. The chamber declined to identify which groups contacted it.
The bill has been a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. House leaders have said the bill is not a priority, however, and Gov. Greg Abbott has remained neutral on the issue.
This post has been updated.
Andrew Schneider contributed to this report.