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April 20, 2017

Texans Testify Against Transgender Bathroom Bill Through the Night

IPI expert referenced: Tom Giovanetti | In The News | Media Hit
  Austin American Statesman

By Chuck Lindell

Transgender Texans, and parents of transgender children, flocked to a Capitol hearing that began before midnight and lasted until the early morning to oppose a bill that would block cities and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies.

Several choked back tears as they decried House Bill 2899 as discriminatory, recalling years of rejection, harassment and fear about something most people take for granted – going to a public restroom.

“Trans people, we can choose not to transition and hate ourselves, or we can step out and be authentic and often invite hatred upon ourselves merely by existing,” said Emmett Schelling of San Antonio. “This basically green lights citizens who might have a bias already to openly be worse than they already are.”

Of 72 people who testified over five hours, 66 opposed HB 2899. Several told the House State Affairs Committee that they avoided eating and drinking at work or at school to avoid having to use the bathroom.

Shortly before 2 a.m., Frank Gonzales of Dallas, holding a sleepy trans daughter Libby, 7, said he feared the message HB 2899 would send if approved.

“My family would become a target for hate groups and lawful discrimination,” he said.

His wife, Rachel Gonzales, said “many, many families in Texas, including my own, are counting on you to keep our families safe.”

“It’s terrifying to know the ugly in this world is targeting your child,” she said.

The majority of those who testified opposed HB 2899, including elected officials from Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso. Business organizations, including several that cater to travel and tourism, also registered their opposition, with representatives arguing that passage of the bill would hurt the state’s economy and damage its reputation as an open and welcoming state.

The half-dozen witnesses who spoke in favor of the bill included pastors and social conservatives.

Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, which he described as a free-market conservative think tank in Dallas, said the House bill was an improvement from a Senate version because it was a small-government solution that limits the creation of additional protected classes of people.

“It will limit the ability of cities to get involved in this type of social justice activity,” he told the committee.

Dave Welch, president of Texas Pastor Council, said Christian pastors from across the state are pressing for a uniform, statewide standard to counter local laws that have created “a definition of gender identity that differs from city to city.”

Welch took exception to witnesses who opposed HB 2899 because they feared an economic backlash from boycotts.

“We need our women and children protected,” he said. “They are not for sale.”

The author of the bill, Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said Texans deserve a uniform policy to protect their safety and privacy statewide.

“It protects our citizens in an area they believe they need to be protected in,” Simmons told the committee. “This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it is in Abilene, the same in Houston as it is in Hutto.”

HB 2899 applies only to the portion of nondiscrimination ordinances or policies that concern multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers and changing facilities, he said.

But Cathryn Oakley with the Human Rights Campaign said the bill discriminates against transgender people.

“It singles out one group of people for no reason other than sheer dislike of them,” Oakley said. “This is not about bathrooms. It’s never been about bathrooms.”

Jimmy Flannigan, who introduced himself as the first openly gay man to serve on the Austin City Council, said HB 2899 represented a state intrusion into people’s lives.

“Yes, there are economic issues. There will be jobs lost, there will be money lost. But this is also about people’s lives,” Flannigan said. “This is no role for government. It is not small government, it is not big government, it’s discrimination.”

Said David Stout, an El Paso County commissioner: “This bill not only goes against my community’s values but it flies in face much of the work we have been doing to eradicate discrimination,” Stout said.

The State Affairs Committee closed the hearing at 4:39 a.m. without voting on HB 2899, a common practice.

Earlier:

The House State Affairs Committee meeting, delayed by long debates on the Texas House floor, got underway around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday with an overflow crowd, many in attendance to speak on a new transgender bathroom bill.

They’ll have to wait a while longer, however.

Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, announced at the start of the meeting that the public hearing on House Bill 2899 will be the last to come up in an agenda that includes nine other bills.

A new version of HB 2899 will be unveiled tonight by the author, Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, that would block cities, counties and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies. The bill also would nullify local anti-discrimination protections that regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.

Simmons’ bill was given an extra boost Tuesday when Gov. Greg Abbott called it “a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.” Abbott also said he would work with the House and Senate to get a transgender bathroom bill to his desk before the session ends May 29.

By targeting local anti-discrimination policies, such as Austin’s protections based on gender identity, Simmons’ bill takes a different approach than Senate Bill 6, which would require government buildings and public schools and universities to limit bathroom use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

SB 6, approved largely along party lines last month in the Senate, also would block cities and counties from requiring businesses to adopt transgender-friendly restrooms.

The Senate bill, however, has languished in the House, where it has yet to be referred to a committee for work.

This story will be updated with testimony and discussion.

The committee will not vote Wednesday night on HB 2899, Cook has said.


 

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