By Ese Olumhense
Houston will host Super Bowl 51 this Sunday, and with more than 100 million expected to tune in to the clash between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, transgender rights advocates see the spectacle as an opportunity to shine a light on a proposed bill that would restrict transgender people’s access to public restrooms and other facilities — and could cost Texas millions.
That proposal, Texas Senate Bill 6, was introduced in January. Officially titled the “Texas Privacy Act,” S.B. 6 would bar schools from instituting bathroom and locker room policies that allow transgender students to use the facilities matching their gender identity. It would also preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances. And like North Carolina’s much-condemned House Bill (H.B.) 2 enacted last March, S.B. 6 would impose civil penalties for violators — even students.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, in a January release announcing S.B. 6’s filing, said that the proposed act was an affirmation of some of the values shared by Texans: “common decency, common sense and public safety.”
“It is supported by an overwhelming majority of Texans, including both Democrats and Republicans, Hispanics, African-Americans and Anglos, men and women,” he added.
But lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocates have criticized bills like S.B. 6 for embracing a view they see as dangerous and discriminatory.
“It is absolutely shameful that Lieutenant Governor Patrick would use transgender children, and imply and outright say that they are sexual predators,” said Mara Keisling, founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It’s wrong.”
There are costly consequences for such stances, Keisling cautioned, citing North Carolina’s loss of an estimated $100 million because of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) decision to relocate its February 2017 All-Star Weekend from Charlotte. “While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by H.B.2,” the league stated at the time of the announcement.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) pulled all seven of its championship games from the state as well, after it had announced in April 2016 that it would not host championships in cities that do not have nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. Paypal and Deutsche Bank also cancelled planned expansions that would have employed hundreds of North Carolinians as a result of the law.
Texas could soon see a similar surge of bathroom bill backlash and, with San Antonio slated to hosted the NCAA Final Four tournament in 2018, top state officials like Texas House Speaker Joe Straus have advised legislators to be “very careful” not to jeopardize the state’s economic success.
Whatever happens with the bill in Texas will have likely influence on other, smaller states with similar legislation under consideration. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which tracks such bills across the country, legislators in 10 other states — Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming — pre-filed or introduced bills like S.B. 6 and H.B. 2.
This is less than the 54 bills introduced in 19 states in 2016 (the only one to pass was in North Carolina), but with legislative sessions ongoing, transgender rights advocates expect this legislation will continue to be introduced. But, as Keisling and others argue, such bills are very unlikely to be passed, given the economic risks.
“There is no advantage to it,” Keisling said. “You may think you’re going to score some political points, but you are going to hurt your state economically. And because you are hurting your state economically, you’re definitely going to hurt yourself politically.”
Republican Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s former governor and a staunch supporter of H.B. 2, lost his re-election campaign in November. Some blame fallout from H.B. 2 for his loss.
Keisling says this highlights the weakness of these bills as political tools, which she feels do little except turn conservative constituents against transgender people, particularly school-age children. For a population that already lives with higher-than-average rates of suicide and depression, as well as an elevated risk of assault and homicide, any political rhetoric condemning transgender people as “dangerous” or “menacing” has very real impact.
She recommends that both politicians and the public meet and speak with transgender people, which she feels will clear up much of the misconceptions about the community.
“Get to know some trans people,” she said. “You don’t have to know all the fancy lingo we’ve created, all you have to know about trans people is the golden rule: Treat trans people like you would like to be treated.”