Bathroom Bill: Imagined Fears Versus Possible Discrimination
Senate takes testimony on controversial gender-designated bathroom restrictions
Dozens of transgender people and parents of transgender children testified Friday, often emotionally, that Senate Bill 3, or the bathroom bill, was discriminatory and would expose them to violence at a public hearing on Friday. Also present were social conservatives, who claimed bathrooms are unsafe for women and girls if they are not restricted to the sex assigned at birth in schools and public buildings. After ten hours of testimony, the Senate State Affairs Committee sent the bill to the full Senate. But as the legislation’s sponsor, state Senator Lois Kolkhorst, said at the beginning of the Friday’s hearing, “We must hear all voices today.”
Outside of the hearing room—which the Senate notably selected instead of the hearing chamber—Erin Edmonds (who uses they/them pronouns) silently mouthed the contents of their speech with a timer on their iPhone. The Senate had imposed a time limit on the testimonies of participants. “In two minutes, they just hit you with that buzzer and you’re done,” Edmonds said.
This wasn’t Edmonds’s first time testifying about the so-called bathroom bill, which would bar transgender and gender nonconforming people from using the bathroom they identify with in public buildings and universities. During the regular legislative session, Edmonds invited Senator Kolkhorst, who was a golfer in college, to go play a round. Kolkhorst never accepted the invitation, but throughout the session she repeatedly referenced Title IX protections, which prevents gender discrimination in schools, as a reason for implementing the bathroom bill, a point that irked Edmonds.
“It’s really upsetting to hear her talk about what it means to bar trans people from competitions and bathrooms and locker rooms,” Edmonds says. “Why are people looking at other people’s junk anyway?”
Supporters of the bill said the bill’s passage is essential for the protection and privacy of young children. “They are trying to change 5,000 years of tradition and common sense in one swoop and that is not right,” said Dave Robbins, from Holland, Texas. “Men don’t need to be in restrooms with little girls that will cause the little girls to be fearful.”
But most of those who provided official testimony—parents, college students, teachers—saw the bill as an encroachment of civil rights that could put transgender students in danger of harassment and bullying. Samuel, a nineteen-year-old who identifies as gender fluid and requested not to have his last name published, said he is most bothered by the legislators’ refusal to acknowledge that there is more than one scenario for assault, which is commonly cited as a reason to pass the bill.
“They don’t focus on transgender victims, such as trans women being assaulted by men, trans women being assaulted by cis women or vice versa,” Samuel said. “There are many different set of victims that they’re ignoring to prioritize female victims being assaulted by men only.”
Others, like Wilburn Wright, a psychologist and a lifelong Republican, said the proposed law is unenforceable. “What are they going to have? Crotch sniffing dogs and TSA groping, or maybe certified teachers checking birth certificates as they go in the bathrooms? It’s just stupid,” said Wright, who noted that he had campaigned for both Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and former President Richard Nixon.
Even an Air Force war veteran with twenty years of service under his belt took a turn to speak on the record. John Weisen drove from San Antonio on behalf of his 27-year-old transgender son, who he said bore male characteristics, would be forced under SB 3 to use the women’s bathroom. “It leaves him basically open to harassment regardless of what he does. Either they are breaking the law or using a bathroom that is the opposite of their appearances,” said Weisen.
Meanwhile, business leaders in the state criticized the bill, saying it will negatively impact the state’s economy. “In our industry, we’re selling against perception. Perception is our reality,” said Cassandra Matej, the president and CEO of Visit San Antonio. Matej testified that conventions and other major events had already pulled out of the city because of the bathroom bill debate, costing the city $3 million in economic impact. “As we’re selling Texas and San Antonio as welcoming and diverse, I’m getting calls on a daily basis from customers stating that they will not come back to Texas,” she said.
Throughout Friday morning, citizens voiced their stance on the bill in two-minute intervals, often sharing intimate details of their personal lives to strangers. Wearing his recently acquired “Mr. Black Trans International” sash, Trenton Johnson, a transgender activist from Dallas, cited race as one of the reasons he was testifying against the bill. “I wanted [the legislators] to understand the African-American perspective without making this about race,” Johnson said. “But it has something to do with race because my Latino trans brother or my white trans brother will experience this a little differently than I will as an African-American trans man.”
Johnson argued that his skin color already puts him “at the bottom of the pole.” He said that on top of that, if he was forced to use a female restroom, he would automatically be profiled by women in the restroom. “If I go into an establishment where it’s predominantly white—people don’t look like me—I’m not going to be looked at as, ‘Oh, he must be trans,’ due to this new bill,” Johnson said. “I’m going to automatically be looked at as a rapist, as a pedophile, as a sex offender, or anything of that nature.”
Similarly, a transgender woman from Houston, Anandrea Molina—who primarily spoke in Spanish—said that people like her are a “minority inside of a minority,” because they go through different issues such as immigration status and language barriers.
The official testimonies weren’t the only way people made their voices heard. Around 11 a.m., a group protesting SB 3 gathered at a press conference in a courtyard near the hearing room. Unlike the formality of a public hearing, speakers had more than the two minutes. They used the time to share their own and loved one’s experiences.
Matching his wife and three young children in purple t-shirts emblazoned “Support Trans Youth,” Frank Gonzales, the father of a seven-year-old transgender child, was among those to speak.
“Stop trying to force my innocent little girl into a man’s restroom,” Gonzales said. “This is not a Christian value. This is not a Texas value. And as the father of a transgender child who is simply living the life she was born to live, I will not stand for it.”