Metro Weekly

Texas Senate hears testimony on anti-trans bathroom bill

Bill restricting transgender people's ability to access restrooms expected to easily pass state's upper chamber

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

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate heard hours of testimony in favor and against SB 6, a “bathroom bill” that seeks to prohibit people from using restroom, shower or changing facilities that do not match their biological sex at birth.

Republicans pushing the bill and witnesses testifying in favor of it attempted to cast their support as concern for the safety of women and children in intimate spaces and not a measure targeting the transgender community for discrimination. However, the effect of the bill would essentially single out transgender people by barring them from using public or shared facilities that match their gender identity — even if they have transitioned and no longer present as the gender they were assigned at birth.

Witnesses speaking in favor of the bill included the usual lineup of conservative figures, including North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest — who was one of the chief proponents of North Carolina’s HB 2 — Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, radical liberal feminists who oppose transgender females being allowed into “women-only” spaces, and several anti-LGBTQ ministers who had previously clashed with former Houston Mayor Annise Parker over the city’s trans-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance.

Perkins, in particular, noted that it was not so much transgender individuals that posed a threat to safety and privacy in restrooms, but voyeurs and sex offenders who could attempt to take advantage of the law to commit attacks or expose themselves in restrooms and locker rooms. Without SB 6, he argued, women and children who might otherwise complain or try to report the presence of biological men in women’s spaces would essentially be cowed into silence by uncertainty or by political correctness. 

Testifying against the bill included Chuck Smith, the CEO of LGBT rights group Equality Texas, members of the business community, parents of transgender children, and some transgender people, including Rev. S. David Wynn, the pastor of Agape Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth.

Wynn, a transgender male who has been unable to change the gender marker on his birth certficate, was asked by senators what it would mean if he were forced to use the women’s restroom. He responded that such a situation would be very uncomfortable, and told a personal story about how humiliating it was when he was first transitioning and had to use a women’s restroom. Even then, he says, women in the restroom threatened to go to authorities about his presence there.

Both sides also put up child witnesses for their cause. Shiloh Satterfield, a cisgender 10-year-old girl, expressed her discomfort at the idea that someone she considers a boy would be able to use the same restroom as her, calling the idea “scary, awkward, and very, very weird.”

But Marilyn Morrison, a transgender female in the third grade, testified against the bill, telling legislators that it would be “embarrassing” to have to use the boys’ restroom. Her mother, Chelsa, nearly broke down in tears when testifying, bristling at testimony from opponents that she was forcing her daughter to be transgender. Chelsa Morrison told the senators on the committee that transgender people are real people and will not disappear just because the legislature decides to pass a bill restricting their ability to access public spaces. 

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has made passage of SB 6 one of his top priorities this legislative session, held a press conference on Monday to launch what he calls the “One Million Voices” campaign. Patrick is attempting to rally a million or more people to express their support for the bill, particularly leaning on pastors to spread the word to their congregations.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs will continue hearing testimony throughout the day and into the night on the bill, according to its chairwoman, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 6 is expected to pass the committee and easily pass the Senate, which Republicans control by a 2-1 margin. The biggest hindrance to the bill politically appears to be House Speaker Joe Straus, who is reluctant to provoke the ire of Texas’ business community, which has largely sided against the bill.

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