Legislature endangers all Texas children with ‘bathroom bill’ myopia

  • Editorial Board
1:20 p.m Friday, May 26, 2017 Opinion
Frank Gonzales, far right, and his wife, Rachel and their daughter Libby, 6, a transgender child, attend a rally against Senate Bill 6 at the Capitol on March 6.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Republicans would have us believe that few issues require the immediate attention of state lawmakers more than regulating which bathrooms transgender Texans can use.

Such urgency for a manufactured problem conjured by Republicans has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with mandating the type of bathrooms transgender Texans, including students, can use in schools and other public places. Instead of pushing such punitive policies that can be discriminatory, state legislators should be advancing solutions addressing the welfare of children in the state’s troubled foster care system and the education of more than 5 million children in its public schools.

Sensitive social issues like determining which bathrooms transgender people use belong where communities directly affected can decide how best to handle: at the local level.

RELATED: Transgender bathroom issue continues to roil Legislature.

And yet, if they get their way, members of the GOP-majority Legislature could shamelessly pass a frivolous bill to restrict restroom access in public schools based on a child’s biological sex. They seem to be fine with underfunding public schools, as they did this session to the tune of at least $1 billion. But bathrooms for transgender people was a priority that they decided had to get done.

After several failed attempts to deliver broader legislation to regulate bathroom use by all transgender Texans, desperate GOP lawmakers targeted transgender schoolchildren.

Republicans appeared to find gold in a House amendment to Senate Bill 2078, which on the surface addresses “multi-hazard emergency operations” plans at public schools.

The House amendment says schools must provide “single-occupancy facilities designated for use by a student who does not wish to use the facilities designated for use or commonly used by persons of the student’s biological sex.” The state attorney general would be responsible for defending the bathroom law by filing lawsuits seeking a court order or injunctions against schools or school districts.

With that, Texas ushers in a new era of “separate but equal.”

“This amendment was more about using trans kids as a negotiating tool at a contentious point in the session than about making kids safer. It paints a target on the backs of already vulnerable children,” Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said earlier this week.

We agree.

Back in January when the session began, Patrick identified passing a much broader bathroom bill as one of his legislative priorities.

It seemed unlikely then that such a measure would pass. Business watchdogs reminded state leaders of the negative economic impact similar legislation had in other states, including Indiana, North Carolina and Arizona. And House Speaker Joe Straus, who opposed Patrick’s bill, made clear transgender bathrooms weren’t a House priority.

Still, a GOP majority has kept the issue alive, despite roadblocks.

First, Senate Bill 6 — Patrick’s original “bathroom bill,” which sailed through the Senate — died in the House. It would have mandated that transgender people use bathrooms based on the gender listed on their birth certificates.

House Bill 2899, another doomed attempt, never made it to the House floor for a vote. Earlier this week, bathroom language added to House Bill 4180 — a catch-all measure intended to act as a safety net for locally important bills in danger of dying in the closing days of the legislative session — also died.

And yet, here we are. Still talking bathrooms as the end of the legislative session looms Monday. It’s a concession from Straus to an ultimatum from Patrick that has kept the bathroom motor going.

Patrick vowed to kill the “sunset safety net bill” to keep a long list of state agencies — including the Texas Department of Transportation — from shutting down. Patrick — with the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott — threatened to call as many special sessions as necessary to come up with the passage of a bathroom measure.

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It is true that the SB 2078 amendment is narrower in scope than SB 6. But SB 2078’s amendment will burden most of the children it targets. Goodness knows transgender children already are struggling with major burdens.

More than 41 percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide, compared with the overall U.S. average of 4.6 percent, according to a 2014 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Various studies, including one by the national education organization GLSEN, have found that transgender children experience bullying at a higher rate than their counterparts.

Though bathroom bill advocates say the issue is a matter of public safety and common sense, they have presented no data to show that assaults by transgender people in bathrooms are a public threat or crisis in Texas or anywhere else. And the question of safety cuts two ways: What about the issue of safety and transgender people in public bathrooms?

What is not in question is that we have a Legislature bent on solving a problem that does not exist. And that helps no one.

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