Highly debated bathroom bill raises concerns about privacy and transgender rights

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Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, speaks at the State Capitol for a public hearing on Senate Bill 6. About 420 people registered to testify in support of against the bill.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Update (8:05 a.m.): After approximately 13 hours of public testimony, the committee voted 8-1 in favor of SB 6 at 4:50 a.m Wednesday. The bill will move to the full senate for further deliberation.

Original post: During the committee hearing for Senate Bill 6 Tuesday, transgender individuals used the bathroom according to the gender with which they identify, a situation which will not occur if the bill becomes law.  

SB 6, sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, requires the biological sex on a person’s birth certificate match the gender-specific restroom, shower or locker room they use in public buildings. Those supportive of and opposed to the bill joined at the Capitol for a public hearing in which approximately 420 witnesses registered to testify. 

Kolkhorst said the bill is a nondiscriminatory approach to provide privacy for all people. 

“I’m proud to offer this bill to try to strike a balance to protect, defend and give a dignified way as to how we move forward,” Kolkhorst said. 

Kolkhorst said there is a process in Texas that enables individuals to change the gender on their birth certificates, but many transgender individuals testified that they do not have the resources to do so.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said Texas Penal Code already prevents people of the opposite sex from entering a bathroom and questioned the intent of the language of the bill. 

“I think (the language of the bill) is what leads to the concerns that many of the people in my district (have) that this is discriminatory and that this is targeting transgender children,” Garcia said.

School districts across the state have adopted policies allowing transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room facilities in accordance with their gender identity. Opposition to these policies come from parents and community members who claim the policies are unsafe for their children by allowing boys to enter girl’s bathrooms.

Kolkhorst said she wants to unify the state policy about this issue and prevent inconsistencies in local laws.

Testimony in support of the bill emphasized the legislation would make intimate facilities safer, particularly for women and children. Ten-year-old Shiloh Sattefield and her dad, Rob, spoke in favor of SB 6.

“I felt very, very uncomfortable knowing that a boy could come into the restroom with me,” Shiloh said. “The restroom is a private place and I’d like to keep it that way.” 

Transgender pastor Seth Wynn said although the bill aims to protect the privacy of individuals, it actually puts transgender individuals, the most vulnerable men and women, in harm’s way.

“When they go into the public bathroom that is congruent with their gender identity, they are the most vulnerable person in that facility,” Wynn said. “They are already targets for bullying and shaming and violence. They already represent one of the highest rates of suicide among marginalized people and that is directly related to demeaning public policies like this bathroom bill.”

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said a lack of evidence proving transgender people commit crimes in these spaces led him to believe it discriminates against members of the transgender community. Rodríguez also questioned the constitutionality of the bill due to its limited scope of only applying to facilities in public buildings.

During the hearing, senators said the bill would not have a negative economic impact. However, representatives from business associations and tourism departments across the state who testified said the bill would cost their city revenue and jobs.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest testified in favor of SB 6 after his state passed a similar bill last year. Forest said the state economy has grown since the bill was passed, but there is a lot of dispute about the bill’s potential impact.

“This issue is not about the economy,” Forest said during the hearing. “This issue is about privacy, safety and security in the most vulnerable places we go.”

At the time of publication, the committee hearing had not adjourned and no action had been taken on the bill.