Texas Moves to Limit Transgender Bathroom Access

AUSTIN, Tex. — One of the most powerful Republican officials in Texas put the state on the front lines of the nation’s culture wars on Thursday, announcing the filing of a bill that would require people in government buildings and in public schools to use the bathroom that corresponds with their “biological sex.”

The bill, announced by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is similar to one that caused a political uproar in North Carolina and led to widespread boycotts there by companies, entertainers, sports events and gay rights groups, which said the bill discriminated against transgender people who use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Mr. Patrick played down the potential economic fallout for Texas and denied that the bill, which has been in the works for months, was discriminatory.

“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Mr. Patrick told reporters at the Texas Capitol. “The forces of fear and misinformation will pull out all the stops, both in Texas and nationally. But we know we’re on the right side of the issue, and we’re on the right side of history.”

Democratic lawmakers, civil rights groups, gay and transgender rights activists, and the state’s most influential business lobby, the Texas Association of Business, swiftly condemned the legislation and predicted an economic blow to Texas if it passed.

“If it’s like H.B. 2 in North Carolina, it’s discriminatory, and it’s bad for business,” said Chris Wallace, the president of the business association, adding that the bill was likely to discourage corporate relocations to Texas and stop potential workers, particularly millennials, from coming. “We do not want our state to have an unwelcoming brand to future workers.”

Mr. Wallace said his organization would “fully engage” in an effort to block the measure in the Texas Legislature, which starts its 140-day session on Tuesday. A study commissioned by the business group found that North Carolina-style bills on bathroom access and other, similar measures could result in an economic loss in Texas ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion, including the loss of up to 185,000 jobs.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called the bill an anti-transgender measure. The Texas Democratic Party described it as an “$8.5 billion bathroom bill,” for the high-end estimated decline in gross domestic product predicted by the Texas Association of Business. Freedom for All Americans, which promotes the rights of transgender people, said defeating the bill would be one of its top national priorities. And as Mr. Patrick and State Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst, a Republican who filed the bill, spoke with reporters at the Senate, protesters outside the chamber could be heard booing and later shouting: “Shame! Shame!”

“What just happened in Texas today will fire up the L.G.B.T. community nationwide like it hasn’t been in a while,” said Kevin Nix, who was part of Houston Unites, which supported a Houston anti-discrimination ordinance that was defeated in 2015 after opponents said it would let men use women’s bathrooms.

“This is a fake issue — it’s already illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass — and one that discriminates against transgender people,” Mr. Nix said.

The Texas version of the legislation, called Senate Bill 6, or the Texas Privacy Act, would prohibit cities and counties from telling private businesses what bathroom policies to adopt. In addition, local governments would be forbidden to consider a business’s bathroom policy when awarding contracts. The bill would also require school districts, local governments and state agencies to adopt a policy in which bathrooms are designated for and used by people according to their “biological sex,” with some exceptions, including for emergencies and custodial purposes.

It also allows the Texas attorney general to enforce the bill, to investigate alleged violations by school districts and government entities, and to file suit to collect civil penalties. The North Carolina law does not include enforcement provisions.

Both chambers of the Texas Legislature are controlled by Republicans. Mr. Patrick presides over the Senate as lieutenant governor, but the bill’s passage is by no means assured, particularly given the involvement of the Texas Association of Business, which is typically aligned with Republican leadership. The House speaker, Representative Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio who is one of the state’s most prominent moderate Republicans, gave it a cool reception.

“Bathroom legislation is not an urgent concern for Speaker Straus,” Jason Embry, his spokesman, said in a statement.

Senator Kolkhorst defended the bill as “thoughtful and unique.” The bathroom rules, she noted, would not apply to government-owned facilities leased by private entities, as when companies and groups rent city-owned convention centers or stadiums.

Mr. Patrick, an outspoken conservative and talk-radio host, was the Texas chairman of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign. He was instrumental in the high-profile political battle that set the stage for the bill announced on Thursday: the defeat in 2015 of the anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston.

After the ordinance was defeated, Democrats and others predicted a backlash of canceled events that, for the most part, never materialized. Houston is hosting the Super Bowl next month.

The North Carolina law, which lawmakers failed to reach a deal to repeal, requires transgender people in public buildings to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate. The General Assembly’s passage of the law in March ignited a national backlash, as companies suspended expansion plans in the state and entertainers canceled concerts. The National Collegiate Athletic Association stripped the state of its right to host seven championship events this academic year, and the N.B.A. moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.

The N.C.A.A. plans to hold several championship events in Texas, including this year’s women’s basketball Final Four in Dallas, and next year’s men’s basketball Final Four in San Antonio. The Irving, Tex.-based Big 12, one of the five “power conferences,” is set to hold its first football championship in several years in Arlington, Tex., in December.

© Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press Protesters outside the Texas Senate chamber on Thursday tried to drown out a news conference on the filing of the bill.

Texas unveils 'bathroom bill' that critics say targets LGBT rights

A Texas Republican state senator introduced legislation on Thursday to limit public restroom access for transgender people, despite warnings from a business group that the measure would hurt the Texas economy because it was discriminatory.

The "Texas Privacy Act" has been marked as a top legislative priority for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican and conservative Christian who guides the legislative agenda in the Republican-controlled state Senate. He said the measure protected the privacy and safety of Texans.

"It is the right thing to do," Patrick told a news conference along with its sponsor, Lois Kolkhorst. The event was punctuated by the howls of protesters nearby in the Capitol building chanting: "Shame, shame, shame."

Similar bills have been filed for several other state legislatures this year that socially conservative backers say offer common-sense protections against sexual predators. Critics say the laws are designed to infringe on the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A major industry group, the Texas Association of Business, said a study it helped conduct showed such legislation in Texas could result in economic losses ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion for the state.

A law enacted by North Carolina in March 2016 to restrict bathroom access for transgender people - the first such state measure - prompted a federal civil rights lawsuit and has been blamed for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses and the relocation of major sporting events from the state.

Kolkhorst said the Texas bill would prohibit any local government from adopting an ordinance that prevents a business from making its own policy on access to places such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

Local governments are also forbidden from considering those policies when awarding a contract, she said.

Chuck Smith, chief executive of LGBT rights group Equality Texas, said the legislation appeared to be unenforceable and targeted a marginalized group of people.

"If this legislature is interested in dealing with predatory behavior, then the target of this legislation needs to be sexual predators. Transgender people are not the predators. Transgender people are more likely to be the victims," he said in an interview.

At the end of last year, four states had legislation limiting transgender bathroom rights that were set to be on the agenda when lawmakers convened in 2017.

Similar legislation was filed this week in Virginia and Kentucky.


Texas bathroom bill on the radar of the NCAA, Big 12

Less than a year after the sports and entertainment industries turned their backs on North Carolina for passing its so-called bathroom bill, Texas’ lieutenant governor on Thursday helped unveil a legislative proposal that has much of the same intent as North Carolina’s law but appears to include the potential for exceptions for special events.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a conservative Republican and president of the Texas Senate, has been pushing for legislation he said would protect women and children by ensuring that transgender people would have to use public restrooms and locker rooms assigned to their "biological sex" on their birth certificate.

The Texas bill (SB6) contains language that would appear to make it possible for a private organization to determine the bathroom-usage rules at public facilities they rent — the situation that occurs when, for instance, the NCAA signs an agreement to hold the Final Four at a facility such as the Alamodome, which is owned and operated by the City of San Antonio.

Specifically, the bill states that a “private entity that leases or contracts to use a building owned or leased by" a public entity “is not subject to a policy developed under” the bill. In addition, the bill says that the state and various localities “may not require or prohibit a private entity that leases or contracts to use a building owned or leased by” a public entity “from adopting a policy on the designation or use of bathroom or changing facilities located in the building.”

The timetable on when the bill could pass is uncertain but Patrick labeled it a "top priority."

"This issue is not about discrimination — it's about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense," Patrick said in a statement, adding in his news conference Thursday, "we're on the right side of history. You can mark today as the day Texas is drawing a line in the sand and saying no."

The NCAA made an emphatic statement against North Carolina's HB2 in September when it removed all of its championship events from North Carolina, stating the bill is contrary to the association's overall initiative for inclusion. That move, the NBA's decision to relocate its All-Star game form Charlotte plus numerous event cancellations (including a Bruce Springsteen concert), reportedly has cost the state close to $4 million. Former Gov. Pat McCrory was not re-elected.

Most notable among upcoming NCAA championship events to be held in Texas is the women's Final Four in Dallas on March 31 and April 2. The men's Final Four is scheduled for San Antonio in 2018. The Football Championship Subdivision holds its championship game Frisco, Texas, annually.

NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn told USA TODAY Sports the association had no immediate comment on the bill's introduction.

Hudson Taylor, executive director and founder of Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination through the sports world, argues that the accommodation is masquerading a big-picture transphobic policy that he believes the NCAA and other organizations will see past.

"SB6 in Texas, regardless of any workaround, would not make (a safe environment) possible — namely because any fan or athlete attending a sporting event is also going to be required to eat somewhere, sleep somewhere," Taylor said. "More than anything it's about the larger transphobic message sent. A lot of these anti-trans efforts work under the guise of safety for women and children when statistically that doesn't hold up. In reality, there's way more trans women killed each year and states requiring trans people to use a different restroom creates an atmosphere that's very overtly putting the trans community in harm's way."

After the NCAA's move against HB2, the Atlantic Coast Conference quickly followed suit. Should the NCAA take similar action with SB6, the same domino effect might occur with the Big 12.

“The Big 12 Conference is aware of the filing of Senate Bill 6 in the Texas State legislature," said Bob Burda, the league's associate commissioner for communications. "We will track the bill’s progress through the legislature, and at an appropriate time discuss its impact with our member institutions.”

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