A Texas Senate committee of state lawmakers voted Friday to approve a restriction on public restroom use for people identifying as transgender.
In an issue that has become a divisive national political debate, the two bills SB3 and SB91 require transgender people to use only multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond to the sex written on their birth certificate.
The legislation would prevent local governments and schools from implementing so-called ‘non-discrimination’ policies — originally put in place by the Obama administration — which allow people to select whether they use male or female bathrooms based on their chosen gender identity.
With only Laredo Democrat Judith Zaffirini in opposition, the almost unanimous 8-1 vote advances the new legislation to the full State Senate.
The final decision was delivered after almost 11 hours of testimony from hundreds of members of the general public. For the third time in 2017, more than 250 social justice and LGBT activists, business leaders and far-left group members registered to give evidence at the debate, which has again brought national media attention to the State Capitol in Austin.
‘Bathroom bills’ have become a highly contentious issue in the United States over the past two years, attracting the criticism of Hollywood celebrities and prominent LGBT figures like Kaitlin Jenner and Ellen DeGeneres. The debate raged in North Carolina for over a year and resulted in economic boycotts and large public protests.
Previous attempts to restrict local governments and schools from implementing the non-discrimination policies have failed in the state of Texas.
Activists argue that the new legislation will enable government-sanctioned prejudice against transgender people and put the trans community in danger. Many who opposed the bill labeled it as ‘hateful’, ‘discriminatory’, ‘un-Christian’ and potentially damaging for local businesses. They also claimed that it would worsen the already high rate of suicide among transgender people.
Conservatives in support of the bill maintain that it will help to ensure privacy and protect public safety. They accuse opponents of putting people at risk just to cater to a tiny section of the population.
Anyone can declare that they are transgender or gender fluid, regardless of whether they have undergone surgery or hormone treatment. Proponents of the bill believe that this puts women and girls at risk from sexual predators posing as transgender men.
In a recent case in Toronto, a transgender Canadian male named Jessica was permitted to stay in a women’s shelter, but then assaulted several of the occupants. A man in Virginia was arrested for entering the ladies’ bathroom in drag and then filming young girls in cubicles.
The issue is further complicated by the transitioning process — the various stages of hormone treatment and plastic surgery — in which transgender women can still physically resemble women, and vice versa. This could also be a risk if they are allowed or forced to use the men’s bathroom, locker room or showers.
Many Republicans in support of the bill feel they have been unfairly demonized for expressing legitimate concerns over the issue. They dispute the notion that people should be able to choose which bathroom they use based on their own subjective gender interpretation, regardless of their current physical appearance. Moreover, an increasing number of prominent medical authorities have stated publicly that transgenderism is a psychiatric illness and are now refusing to carry out reassignment surgery.
Some local officials raised concerns that the wording of the legislation in its current form could prevent trans students from taking part in certain school sports. The bill’s author Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has agreed to amend the legislation on the Senate floor to address this issue. However, she did not indicate what changes might be made.
The Senate house is expected to examine the controversial bill over the coming weeks.