AUSTIN—On Friday night, a Texas Senate committee approved a proposed “bathroom bill” on an 8-1 vote, sending the so-called SB3 to full consideration by the state Senate.
The vote followed a day when hundreds of Texans flocked to that state’s Capitol to rage, endorse, and wax poetic on the “bathroom bills,” SB3 and SB91.
On Friday evening SB91 was set aside leaving SB3 as the surviving bill. LGBT civil rights organization the Human Rights Campaign said that a floor vote on SB3 would likely take place early next week.
Texas legislators will now once again consider a bill that would require people to use most public bathrooms, showers, and changing facilities that match the sex listed on their birth certificate. Similar legislation died during the regular legislative session which ended in May.
On Friday, the bills’ many critics say their provisions mean transgender people will not be able to use the bathrooms of their choice in schools and public buildings.
Starting at 8 a.m., proponents and opponents of the measures lined up to testify, snaking through the hall and down a flight of stairs with signs like: “First they came for my Trans friends and I said OH NO YOU DON’T,” “Keep Texas Open For Everyone!” and “#Y’all Means All.”
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found the bathroom bill is important to 44 percent of voters compared to 47 percent who said it’s not important.
Senate leader Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has spearheaded the fight to regulate where Texans pee and poop.
The socially conservative Patrick labeled it a top priority, seeking to extend what he terms privacy protections for women and girls: “We cannot allow regulations that create a loophole for sexual predators,” he wrote in July.
But Texas House Speaker Joe Straus blocked the measure from passing his chamber. The pro-biz Straus—who is often compared to his hero President George H.W. Bush—continues to worry about the bill’s economic impact on the state. Critics have compared it to North Carolina’s, which the Associated Press estimated at the time would cost North Carolina $3.76 billion before it was partially repealed.
The CEOs of major Texas-based companies such as American Airlines, AT&T, IBM, Southwest Airlines, BNSF, and Texas Instruments along with tech companies Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have all sent letters to lawmakers opposing any bathroom-regulating legislation.
According to the New Yorker, Straus sent Patrick a message: “I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
Patrick responded to Straus by essentially holding hostage the continuation of a handful of state agencies, forcing Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session. Even if the bill passes Patrick’s Senate, it’s unlikely to make it through Straus’ House to reach Abbott’s desk.
Although the debate could prove moot, that didn’t stop those sounding off on Friday.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, both bills’ author, started off the proceedings by stating it is meant to “find a balance between the right to declare your gender and the right of a parent to protect your child.”
Responding to the opposition of business leaders, Kolkhorst said: “I put daughters before dollars.”
How transgender people put any child or anyone using a bathroom in any kind of danger, or violated their privacy just by being present going to the bathroom wasn’t made clear.
Words like “discrimination,” “intolerance,” and “privacy” recurred in nearly every testimony, which were limited to two minutes a pop.
The two sides alternated turns, though it was clear that the vast majority of those testifying on the bills opposed them.
Cassandra Matej, the CEO of Visit San Antonio, responded to Kolkhurst’s “daughters before dollars” mantra by telling the committee that she sells a perception of Texas to tourists, but is getting daily calls that business groups are leaving San Antonio never to return.
A few minutes later, a woman who supported the bill worried about the privacy of women. Several of those waiting to be called groaned and shouted “NO!”
Lily Wallace from Pasadena, a transgender woman in a black dress with red polka dots and red hair pulled back into a ponytail, got tired of the back-and-forth and went outside to sit on the hard wooden benches in the hall.
“I really wish I didn’t have to defend my basic human dignity against a bunch of bullies: the elected people in the statehouse. Again.” Wallace sighed. “But they have their fingers in their ears.”
On the same bench, a woman in a pink blazer from nearby Houston, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, supported the bill. “It’s not an issue of attacking ‘transgenders’ (sic). I believe in protecting the weakest in society: the children, little girls.”
Two hours into testimony, a group lead by Equality Texas and the American Civil Liberties Union filled both levels of the Capitol’s open air rotunda to protest the measures.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia railed against the bills: “It’s about dignity over discrimination. It’s about making sure that everyone is treated equally in Texas. And that when we y’all, we mean all,” echoing the signs behind her.
Garcia entered a bill allowing people to go to the bathroom they identify with.
Frank Gonzales, the father of a transgender daughter, approached the podium wearing a purple T-shirt that read Support Trans: “My family is tired and fed up. But I’m afraid the legislators of Texas have grossly underestimated the lengths a parent will go to defend their child.”
Gonzales called the bills hateful and bigoted: “This is not a Christian value. This is not a Texan value. And as the father of a transgender child who is simply trying to live the life she is meant to live, I will not stand for it.”
Later, he told The Daily Beast that he had a question for Gov. Abbott: “Why is he using his agenda to put my daughter in harm’s way?”
In the overflow room, dozens watched the testimony on a big screen. The crowd seemed overwhelmingly against the bills.
The marathon session continued into the evening, until the 8-1 vote was announced.