Galvanized by concern over the transgender bathroom bill, about 1,000 advocates for equal treatment rallied Monday at the Capitol to decry Senate Bill 6 as a dangerous solution to a problem that does not exist.
“Our LGBTQ-plus family is under attack, again, and it is not OK,” actress Sara Ramirez, known for a longtime role on the “Grey’s Anatomy” TV drama, told the crowd on the Capitol’s south steps.
“Loving thy neighbor as thyself means making sure all Texans have equal rights — and the same access to bathrooms,” Ramirez said.
A similar advocacy day in 2015 drew about 80 participants to the Capitol. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s quest to crack down on transgender-friendly bathroom policies, begun about a year ago, sparked a surge of interest in fighting for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans, said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas.
“It’s motivated people who have not been advocates before to speak up,” Smith said, adding that about 1,000 people paid a $5 registration fee to participate in the event, which was capped by afternoon visits to lawmakers’ offices.
During Monday’s rally, Kathy Miller with the Texas Freedom Network reminded participants that there are other bills of concern, including several that would allow individuals, businesses and government officials to refuse to serve gay couples if same-sex marriage violates their religious beliefs.
“Religious liberty does not mean that people of faith are free to opt out of laws they don’t like, or impose their personal religious beliefs on others, or use religion as a weapon to harm fellow Texans,” Miller said. “Faith … should not be used as a license to discriminate.”
Most of the rally’s focus, however, was on SB 6, which would require public schools and universities and government buildings to limit bathroom and locker room use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate. Supporters say it is needed to protect the privacy and safety of women and children.
SB 6 was approved by the Senate last week and is awaiting action in the House.
“This bill is about one thing, and one thing only. It’s about treating transgender people as second-class citizens,” Smith told the crowd. “We will keep lifting up our voices louder and louder until SB 6 is firmly rejected by the Texas House.”
Ramirez said SB 6 targets a vulnerable population.
“Research shows a real danger of emotional and physical harm when a transgender child is marginalized by a school or peers,” she said. “Risks of depression, suicide and self-harm are significantly reduced when a child’s gender identity is affirmed, supported and accepted.”
Andrew Morrison introduced the crowd to his 8-year-old transgender daughter, Marilyn.
“Since Marilyn transitioned a year ago to live as her authentic self, we’ve seen her blossom,” Morrison said. “She’s displayed tremendous grit to fight discrimination.”
SB 6 will have a deep impact on “real kids with real lives, that go to real schools, that deal with a constant daily struggle of bullying and harassment,” he said.
“It perplexes me to think that some lawmakers can’t find an ounce of compassion to put themselves in someone else’s shoes,” Morrison said. “To all you legislators out there, the blood will be on your hands if anything happens to any of our kids or this entire beautiful community.”