Metro Weekly

Texas bathroom bill defeated as special session wraps up

Failure of anti-transgender measure gives LGBTQ activists a respite until next special session, or January 2019

Photo: Nikolai Nolan, via Wikimedia.

LGBTQ groups are breathing a sigh of relief as Texas legislators adjourned their special legislative session without approving a bill that would police which restrooms transgender people can use. 

But many activists are also calling for increased vigilance, as the issue is likely to be brought up once again when the legislature convenes in Austin for its regular session in January of 2019. They also concede that opponents of LGBTQ rights will continue to propose such bills, at least until the courts resolve the question of whether such legislation violates transgender people’s constitutional rights.

The state Senate, which is much more ideologically conservative, easily approved SB 3, the latest iteration of the bathroom bill, soon after the special session started. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, as presiding officer of the Senate, had made passage of the bill one of their top priorities.

But despite some pushback from some more conservative members of his caucus, House Speaker Joe Straus was skeptical of the bill, calling it “unnecessary” and expressing concern that passing such a measure would deny Texas economic opportunities if the business community chose to punish the state via an economic boycott.

Eventually, Straus allowed hearings on two House bills restricting transgender restroom use, but did not allow the bills to move out of committee and receive a floor vote. One of those bills was broader, going so far as to prohibit localities from enforcing LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in public accommodations, while the other simply restricted transgender restroom access in public schools.

Straus also refused to grant any hearing to the Senate’s version of the bill, which was much more expansive, and even contained an unrelated provision that would have banned transgender female students from competing in intramural sports.

If Abbott desires, he can call lawmakers back for a second special session sometime within the next year-and-a-half, but he is not expected to do so, the Senate bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), told The Dallas Morning News.

Lou Weaver, transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, said he was “cautious about any possible next steps by our elected officials,” but thanked the activists on the ground for their unwavering dedication to seeing all three versions of the bathroom bill defeated. 

“This victory for fairness is a testament to the courageous leadership of thousands of transgender Texans and their families who shared their stories and built a movement to stop discrimination from advancing,” Rebecca Isaacs, the executive director of Equality Federation, added. “We congratulate them along with Equality Texas, and the many other local groups, businesses, and national partners who had boots on the ground for months on end.”

The business community was instrumental in defeating the proposed bills, with representatives from various Texas-based companies expressing their opposition to any legislation that could potentially be deemed discriminatory. A study by the Perryman Group on behalf of the tourism organization Visit San Antonio estimated that the bill could have potentially drained about $3 billion from the state’s economy

A similar backlash occurred in North Carolina after lawmakers there passed the controversial HB 2 law, which cost the state several business opportunities as well as the chance to host major sporting events.

LGBTQ advocates were also instrumental, organizing various rallies on college campuses and at the State Capitol in Austin to express their disgust with the legislation and urge lawmakers to table the bill. Activists also delivered signatures from more than 50,000 Texans to lawmakers expressing their opposition to any bathroom bill — even one that simply applied to schools.

GLSEN, a national organization pushing for pro-LGBTQ measures in schools, praised the defeat of the bills, saying it showed “progress is being made.”

“As students return to school in a couple of weeks, many transgender youth will face a new school year with uncertainty and fear after the painful public debate about banning bathroom access,” Nathan Smith, GLSEN’s director of public policy, said in a statement.  

The Human Rights Campaign also lauded the defeat of all three versions of the bill, but also warned that their members and supporters stood ready to jump into the fray once more should lawmakers force their hand.

“We hope that this time, the issue remains settled: Texans don’t want harmful, anti-transgender legislation,” JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at HRC, said in a statement, even as she acknowledged the passage of other anti-LGBTQ legislation, including a bill to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to adopt

But rest assured, the same eyes that watched Texas lawmakers this year will continue to keep a strong, watchful eye, and if the legislature attempts to attack our communities again, all of us will come out with the same level of force and strength that we did throughout the regular and special session.”

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