With Texas Republicans working to pass their own version of a “bathroom bill,” one of the nation’s most prominent LGBT civil rights organizations is opening offices in Texas to fight it.
The Human Rights Campaign is setting up three field offices in Austin, Houston and Dallas for the legislative session and have set their eyes on defeating Senate Bill 6 and other anti-LGBT legislation that’s been proposed by Texas lawmakers. This is the first time the organization will have full-time staff in the state, and they will be working with organizers on the ground in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
"This is a significant investment that we'll be making here in the state," the organization's president Chad Griffin told The Texas Tribune. "There's an estimated nearly 800,000 LGBTQ eligible voters in this state ... and they are ready to be organized and activated."
The move comes amid a growing fight over SB 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
The measure, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities, faces fierce opposition from the state’s major business group, tourism bureaus across the state and LGBT rights advocates who have decried the proposal as discriminatory against transgender people and bad for business.
The Human Rights Campaign fought against a similar measure passed in North Carolina last year, which was estimated to have cost the state millions in canceled events and business expansions.
Patrick’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Though there is virtually no evidence that transgender-inclusive policies have led to an increase in sexual predation in bathrooms, Patrick has maintained that SB 6 is aimed at preventing men from entering the women’s restroom under the pretense of being a transgender person and is not discriminatory.
"Does anyone in here who has grandchildren, have a granddaughter who's 8 or 9, want them to walk into a bathroom with a man?" Patrick said at a recent Tribune event.
As part of the Human Rights Campaign's ramped-up efforts in the state, Griffin said they're planning to mobilize constituents around the bathroom legislation "to ensure that the voices of fair-minded Texans are heard throughout this legislative session."
"In addition to listening to the business community, Dan Patrick should take the time to get to know transgender Texans and their families," Griffin said. "What he'll find is that they're just like everyone else — they're his neighbors, they're his fellow congregants at church — and when he gets to know our community it's going to make it harder and harder for him to hold these hateful views against us."
Despite a Republican-controlled Legislature, the measure is expected to face an uphill battle at the Capitol. In announcing the bill this month alongside its primary author, Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Patrick admitted himself that he was in for a “tough fight” in the Texas Legislature. But since then, 10 additional Republicans in the Senate have signed onto the bill as co-authors.
Still, the measure hasn’t been endorsed by a majority of Republicans outside the Senate. House Speaker Joe Straus has made clear that legislation regulating bathrooms is not the “most urgent concern of mine,” and he’s said lawmakers should be “very careful” about doing anything that would negatively impact the state’s economic competitiveness.
Gov. Greg Abbott for his part has remained neutral on the legislation even as pressure builds on him to weigh in on the proposal.
Read related Tribune coverage:
- The so-called bathroom bill has drawn national attention to the Texas Legislature. But what would the proposed bill actually do? We've annotated the text to explain in plain English how the bill would impact communities across Texas.
- Following North Carolina's lead, Texas Republicans have unveiled Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.”
- For Benjamin Elder, a transgender 10-year-old from Friendswood, the bathroom fight in Austin is just silly.