Wearing his daughter’s hot pink backpack with its printed rainbows, butterflies and hot air balloons, Frank Gonzales walked into state Sen. Bob Hall’s Capitol office on a mission.
He was there on Monday to explain to the Republican senator that represents him why he should reconsider his support for the so-called “bathroom bill.” His reason came in the form of his daughter Libby, a shy, lanky 6-year-old with wavy brown hair that went past her shoulders.
A transgender girl, Libby would be among those most directly affected by Senate Bill 6. The measure would require transgender kids like her to use multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in schools that match their “biological sex” and not their gender identity. For Libby, this would mean she would be unable to use the girls’ restroom at school.
“For me, it wasn’t a choice — I’m always going to be an advocate for my child,” Gonzales said in explaining why he had traveled down from Dallas with his family. “We never had an issue until SB 6 came up. We were forced into this.”
Flanked by three other transgender individuals and advocates with Equality Texas, the Gonzales family crowded into the reception area of Hall’s office only to realize the senator was on the chamber floor. Instead, they were greeted by his legislative director, Kathi Seay, who smiled at Libby and said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
What ensued was a tense, 20-minute-long conversation in which Gonzales and his wife Rachel attempted to explain why SB 6 would be “detrimental” to Libby’s safety and why it was unfair and discriminatory. Others in the group chimed in.
“I don’t think anyone would want me to go into the women’s restrooms,” said James Glick, a transgender 26-year-old Starbucks employees from Dallas who was sporting a beard, black slacks and a striped tie.
“I’ve been out for 20 years, and I feel more threatened today than I did 20 years ago,” Antonia Harten, a 74-year-old retiree from the Rio Grande Valley, explained to Hall’s staffer.
The Gonzales family, Glick and Harten were among the almost 400 individuals who had signed up to visit lawmakers on Texas Trans Lobby Day in hopes of explaining why they believe legislation like Senate Bill 6 would be harmful to transgender Texans. It was a precursor to what’s expected to be a long day in the Capitol on Tuesday when the Senate State Affairs Committee is set to consider the bathroom legislation.
But in those 20 minutes inside Hall’s office, the lobbying didn’t appear to be working. Seay defended Hall’s support for the bathroom legislation, which would also regulate bathroom use in government buildings and public universities and would nullify local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender residents use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
“I can tell you that discrimination is in the eye of the beholder,” she said in responding to the group’s concerns. Though Seay conceded that Hall would likely approve of a measure that focused on locker rooms and not bathrooms, she echoed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who are leading the charge in insisting that the measure was meant to provide comfort and privacy for all students.
“You’re talking about passing a discriminatory law based on comfort,” Gonzales shot back.
Sitting in one of the sturdy, wooden reception chairs, Libby watched the back and forth, playing with her hair and pulling on her long-sleeve t-shirt emblazoned with a large heart and the words “All you need is love.”
As the meeting wrapped up, Seay asked Libby where she wanted to use the bathroom. Libby muttered back: “In the women’s restrooms.”
Libby walked away from the meeting with a grape lollipop, but the family left unable to sway Seay. Still, it had gone better than expected, Rachel Gonzales said.
Earlier on Monday, the family had joined a news conference on the north steps of the Capitol to call out those supporting the bathroom measure. Frank Gonzales was among the featured speakers and offered an emotional defense of his daughter, indicating he would hold Patrick, Kolkhorst and those behind the legislation personally responsible for any bullying or danger that would come their daughter’s way because of bathroom regulations.
It appeared to be a coincidence that the event was scheduled the day before the Senate committee would consider the measure, which is expected to easily make it out of committee.
And while lobbying against the bill will likely do little to sway conservative lawmakers in the Senate — most of whom have already endorsed the legislation — it was clear that the proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans have begun to galvanize a community in Texas that had largely remained unseen in state politics.
At the news conference, event organizers celebrated the fact that almost 400 attendees, a record crowd that included transgender people and their supporters, had traveled to the Capitol on Monday for the lobbying event.
In the arms of her parents, Libby was at the front of the crowd. They stood beside a blue banner that read: “Transgender & proud and we vote.”