Texas lawmakers spent nearly 21 hours listening to tense questions and arguments over a proposed "bathroom bill" that would require people to use public facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that align with their "biological sex" — before voting 8 to 1 to pass the bill out of committee in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Hundreds of people testified on Tuesday, ranging from concerned parents to transgender children to tourism bureau leaders and even the lieutenant governor of another state. Though the majority of citizens who signed up to comment on the bill opposed its passage, the first several hours of the hearing were largely devoted to lawmakers and invited speakers who expressed support for the bill.
"In Texas, this is what we value. We do value safety, protection and privacy in those most intimate settings," said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the primary sponsor of the bill. "It’s a place where many of us find ourselves vulnerable." The bill will now be considered by the full state Senate, likely later this week, before moving to the state House of Representatives for consideration.
Of the 13 states that are currently considering similar bills, Texas is the most populous and several argued during the hearing that it will prove a bellwether — particularly now that the Trump administration has rescinded Obama-era guidance in support of transgender rights, saying this is an issue that should be left to the states. The bill, known as SB6, would affect facilities in public schools, universities and government buildings, though not private businesses. In the measure, "biological sex" is defined as the sex listed on one's birth certificate.
Like many of Tuesday's speakers, Kolkhorst made the argument that the state must prevent policies that allow bathroom access based on gender identity because predators will falsely claim they are transgender in order to enter women's spaces. "While the media makes it so much about transgender [issues]," she said, "this is a bill to say men should not go into the women’s restroom."
But she and other lawmakers also skirted a fundamental question related to the status of transgender people in American society: whether their sense of themselves should be considered authentic by the government.
If a transgender woman ("born male, but identifies as a woman") goes into the women's bathroom, Democratic state Senator Jose Rodriguez said, "It sounds to me like you feel that's a man actually going into a women's bathroom, not a woman, is that correct?" Kolkhurst was silent and he rephrased, saying it was his understanding that "it's not a man going into the bathroom."
"Senator, you and I may disagree on this," Kolkhorst responded.
Other speakers debated the nature of sex and gender, some saying that transgender people should be respected but anatomy must also take legal precedence over one's sense of self. and some speakers suggested that anatomy was the true dividing line. San Antonio-based pastor Charles Flowers called the idea that gender is determined by someone's brain "foolishness."
LGBT rights advocates have repeatedly called the predator argument a red herring, pointing to the lack of problems occurring in cities, school districts and states that have policies affirming the rights of transgender people in the public square. Before the meeting adjourned for a break around noon local time, one panel of speakers opposed to the bill was invited to give testimony and among them was David Wynn, a Texan pastor and transgender man. He said the public-safety argument is not borne out by research and that the bill "feels like discrimination to me."
Appearing in his clerical dress, with little hair on the top of his head and a bushy beard, Wynn said he would not only feel uncomfortable in the women's room but cause much more disturbance there than in the men's. "We’re people. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about people," Wynn said. "Transgender people are the ones who need protection." When a lawmaker asked which restroom he would use at the state capitol, he noted that he had used the men's before speaking at the hearing without incident.
As the day wore on, a long line of transgender people — including the first openly transgender mayor in Texas — testified that such a bill, even if aimed at predators, would make it difficult for them to participate in public life. Transgender kids said they worried they would be bullied in school and many of their supporters feared such a measure would "turn every citizen of the state into a potty patrol officer," as one former school teacher put it.
Among panelists opposing the bill were some well-known social conservatives such as Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, who said the bill would serve as a necessary "deterrent" to bad actors and embolden ordinary citizens to "sound the alarm" if they felt something was amiss in a women's-only space. North Carolina's lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest was also present.
Forest has been one of the strongest proponents of HB2, a controversial law in his state that — like the Texas bill — restricts bathroom access and also bans cities from passing non-discrimination protections that force businesses to allow transgender people to use facilities that match their gender identity. He was mainly there to counter a potent argument the bill's opponents have repeatedly deployed: that passing such a law would cause economic havoc in the state because many organizations view these measures as hostile to LGBT rights.
Though Forest acknowledged that the state has lost hundreds of millions in economic impact because of the law — from businesses that canceled expansions, performers that canceled concerts and sports leagues that cancelled events — he said that economic gains in the last year have outpaced any negative outcomes. He listed several companies that had added scores of the jobs to the state in February alone and said that actions such as the NBA moving its All-Star Game to another state should not influence lawmakers.
"I will never trade the privacy, safety and security of a woman or a child for a basketball ticket," Forest said, "and neither should you.”
The last speaker to have a say before the committee adjourned early in the day, before reconvening until nearly 5 a.m. local time, was a elementary-aged transgender child who appeared with her tearful mother. "From the moment she could communicate, she let us know she was a girl, " the mom said. "Dadgummit, transgender people are real."
The mom invited anyone who hadn't met a transgender person to come to their house to have dinner with their family. Then her child ended the session by suggesting, in a childlike way, that the culture wars have blown something simple out of proportion. When she goes to the restroom, "I've got to tinkle and get out," she said. "That's all."