March 15, 2017 at 4:09 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Texas Senate approves anti-trans bathroom bill
Religious Freedom, gay news, Washington Blade

The Texas Senate has advanced an anti-transgender bathroom measure. (Photo by Daniel Mayer; courtesy Wikimedia)

The Texas Senate gave final approval Wednesday to legislation that would enable sweeping discrimination against transgender people in the state, barring them from accessing the restroom in public spaces consistent with their gender identity.

The chamber approved the legislation, Senate Bill 6, by a 21-0 vote after giving tentative approval to the bill Tuesday by the same vote margin following a five-hour debate. Made a priority for defeat by national LGBT organizations, the measure now heads to the House for approval before going to the desk of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

The legislation would forbid cities from enacting measures to bar discrimination against transgender people in restrooms and prohibit transgender people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity in public spaces, such as schools and government buildings. The measure, which is a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would gut non-discrimination ordinances in cities like Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth.

According to Time Magazine, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), the primary sponsor of the bill, gave an emotional speech Tuesday in favor of the measure, insisting its purpose was to ensure privacy in the state.

“I will tell you as a woman, this is not a joke,” Kolkhorst said. “This is about dressing rooms, lockers, showers and restrooms. This is about privacy and protection for all people,” Kolkhorst is quoted as saying. “It’s not perfect. It’s not easy when we talk about these issues. Cisgender. Transgender. How many genders are there? Are we created man and woman? Or do we internalize something different?”

Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement the legislation will “hurt transgender people – especially transgender kids – all across Texas.”

“This Senate vote was driven by one motive, and one motive only – discrimination,” McTighe said. “It’s more important than ever to support transgender youth, and instead some Texas lawmakers are bent on making life even harder and scarier for them. We’re committed to ensuring this bill doesn’t ever move out of the House, but there’s no doubt that today is a dark day for the Texas Senate.”

Although proponents of the measure say it’s needed for privacy in Texas, the state’s two largest law enforcement organizations – the Texas Municipal Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas — have said there’s no need for SB6.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Senate passage of the bill ignores the nearly 20 nearly of testimony against the measure when it came before a committee earlier this month.

“After hearing an outpouring of opposition to this bill during nearly 20 hours of citizen testimony last week, it’s outrageous that the Texas Senate would advance SB 6 to the House,” Winterhof said. “This measure is another product of Dan Patrick’s anti-LGBTQ agenda, and it’s troubling that lawmakers in the Senate cannot see it for what it truly is: An attack on their transgender neighbors, coworkers and friends who deserve the same dignity and rights as anyone else. We hope the House members recognize this and stop SB 6 in its tracks.”

Senate Bill 6 has been compared to North Carolina’s House Bill 2, an anti-transgender measure that has resulted in an economic boycott costing the state an estimated $400 million. The Texas Association of Business has warned that anti-LGBT legislation, including SB 6, could cost the state $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs.

President Trump expressed differing views on the campaign trail about the issue of bathroom access for transgender people. On one hand, he’s said transgender people should use the restroom they think is right for them, but he’s also said the issue should be addressed by the states. The Trump administration has revoked Obama-era guidance barring schools from denying transgender kids access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokesperson, said the White House has no comment on the anti-transgender state legislation in response to a request for comment from the Washington Blade.

“Because this is a state issue at this point this is not something we will comment on,” Huckabee Sanders said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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