Metro Weekly

Texas lawmakers pass adoption bill and anti-gay bathroom amendment

Amendment restricting trans students' access to restrooms billed as "compromise" measure

Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas – Photo: Daniel Mayer, via Wikimedia.

Texas lawmakers have passed two measures that will allow discrimination against LGBTQ people: a “conscience clause” bill relating to adoption, and an amendment that restricts transgender students’ access to public restrooms.

On a 91-50 vote, the House voted to add the bathroom amendment to a bill on schools’ emergency response plans in cases of natural disaster, active shooters, or other “dangerous scenarios,” reports The Texas Tribune. Under the amendment, students are required to use restroom and changing facilities consistent with their biological sex at birth. If a student “does not wish” to use such a facility, they will then be permitted to use single-stall restrooms and other facilities.

The success of the bathroom bill resolves the ongoing dispute between House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who preferred to avoid controversial social issues, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who has embraced them as he seeks to grow his political profile, in favor of Patrick.

The lieutenant governor previously threatened to keep lawmakers in Austin in a special session unless the House passed several bills that Patrick wanted to see passed, including a “bathroom bill” similar to the Senate-approved SB 6. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) previously expressed his support for Patrick’s package of preferred bills, putting more pressure on Straus, who had previously insisted that there was no need for a “bathroom bill” at this time.

House lawmakers, including Straus, have argued the amendment to the emergency response bill is a compromise, as it only focuses on bathroom use in schools and provides an alternative to transgender children. In contrast, SB 6 provided no alternative to for single-stall restrooms, and would have gone even further by prohibiting any city or county in Texas from passing its own LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.

Over the weekend, the Texas Senate voted to pass a measure previously approved by the House that allows adoption and child placement agencies to turn away prospective parents based on a caseworker’s personal religious beliefs. By passing that bill, Texas becomes the sixth state to allow agencies to block same-sex couples from adopting or serving as foster parents, without fear of punishment or censure by the state.

“Fresh off its passage of the most anti-immigrant legislation in the nation, the Texas legislature this weekend turned its attention to targeting women and children,” Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said of the bills’ passage. “With the passage of sweeping abortion restrictions and two measures authorizing discrimination against LGBTQ families and kids, our lawmakers seem determined to make discrimination Texas’ chief export.”

Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, ridiculed the idea that the bathroom amendment was somehow a compromise, saying: “[T]here can be no compromise on discrimination. Transgender children aren’t bargaining chips for lawmakers to trade, and their safety and dignity are non-negotiable.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, urged Abbott to veto the bills, calling it “appalling” to see lawmakers “block children from loving families and put the safety of transgender students in jeopardy at their own schools.”

LGBTQ advocates have argued that the restrictions placed on transgender students could potentially result in teachers or administrators involuntarily “outing” the children to their classmates when they require those students to use facilities that don’t match their outward gender presentation. 

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and director of law and policy at Lambda Legal, raised the likely possibility of legal action against the state, similar to the lawsuit that was brought against the state of North Carolina following the passage of HB 2.

“Against all actual facts, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is hell-bent on making transgender kids into scary villains. That’s not just wrong and abusive: it’s also begging to be sued,” Pizer said. “…If he does succeed in forcing discrimination into Texas law, you can bet that Lambda Legal will be on the case before the next school bell rings.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com