Metro Weekly

Big Oil and Houston-area corporations oppose Texas’ proposed bathroom bill

Despite opposition from business community, fate of bill will be left up to House Speaker Joe Straus

The skyline of the city of Houston – Photo: Henry Han, via Wikimedia.

In a move that is likely to be ignored and disregarded by most Republican members of the Texas legislature, more than 50 business leaders have written a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott expressing their opposition to a proposed “bathroom bill” that is in danger of passing during a special summer legislative session.

Signatories of the letter include CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies, major Houston-area businesses, and leaders within the energy industry, which plays a crucial part in Texas’ economy. Among those leaders are Jeff Shellebarger, president of Chevron North America E&P, Linda DuCharme, president of ExxonMobil, Ryan Lance, the chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, and Bruce Culpepper, president of Shell Oil Company.

“As members of Houston’s business community, we write to express our concern with the proposed ‘bathroom bill’ being considered in this special legislative session,” the CEOs write to Abbott. “We support diversity and inclusion, and we believe that any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth and ability to create new jobs.”

The business leaders also urge Abbott to “avoid any actions, including the passage of any ‘bathroom bill'” that could potentially lead to boycotts, scuttled expansions, or relocations of businesses to the Lone Star State. North Carolina experienced a significant backlash after it passed HB 2, a bill that restricted transgender people to using the restroom matching their biological sex at birth.

The letter is symbolic, in that a number of the companies that signed onto it are from Houston, the hometown of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the chief person behind the push for a bathroom bill. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the timing of the letter’s release is also fortuitous, as LGBTQ advocates and progressive religious leaders held protests against the bill on Tuesday, and socially conservative leaders planning their own rally in favor of the bill on Thursday.

The Senate previously passed its own version of a “bathroom bill” last week. SB 3, approved on Wednesday by all Senate Republicans and one Senate Democrat, was almost identical to the version the upper chamber approved during the regular legislative session. Under that bill, public schools and local governments are prohibited from allowing transgender people to use facilities other than those designated for the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, driver’s license, or government-issued ID.

The bill adds an additional provision that was part of an unrelated bill seeking to block transgender athletes from competing in school sports, which failed to pass the House during the regular session. If the bill passes, student-athletes will be barred from competing in girls sports if their birth certificate lists their sex as male.

Meanwhile, the House has two versions of its own bathroom bill currently being considered. One, HB 46, would prohibit schools or local governments from adopting or enforcing nondiscrimination protections that would allow transgender people to use restrooms, showers or changing facilities matching their gender identity. Another version of the bill, HB 50, would only apply those restrictions to school facilities.

The fate of any bill will depend on House Speaker Joe Straus, who has resisted the push for a bathroom bill, citing fears over lost revenue and the lack of urgent need for such legislation. Straus may not even refer SB 3 to a committee, thereby killing it. And he has only promised Rep. Ron Simmons, the lead sponsor of the two House bills, a committee hearing on the issue, but has not committed to allowing a floor vote.

Social conservatives within the House caucus are urging Straus to allow a floor vote, as they believe a majority of House Republicans want to enact some form of restrictions on transgender people’s access to multi-user public restrooms. Some have previously threatened to oust Straus from his position as Speaker if he does not allow anti-LGBTQ legislation to pass and be signed into law by Abbott.

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