Just one day before President Trump announced his intention to ban transgender service members from the U.S. military—in a series of tweets the U.S. military itself was unprepared for—21 members of the Texas Senate voted to advance their own anti-transgender agenda.
Proponents of the “bathroom bill” SB3 unconvincingly insist that it will protect Texans’ privacy and safety. It won’t, of course, as Texas’s law enforcement chiefs argued at a recent Capitol press conference. What it will do is risk hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and investment, trigger protracted and expensive litigation against the State, and most importantly, threaten the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming Texans.
Barring transgender people from public restrooms prevents them from participating in public life. Every one of us needs access to restrooms throughout the day in order to do our jobs, attend school, or wait in line for ten hours to testify against bigoted legislation at the Texas Capitol. Were SB3 to become law, transgender Texans would be left with the impossible choice between risking their personal safety and dignity to comply with the state mandate that they use the wrong facility, or breaking the law. That’s not a choice at all: it’s an expulsion from every-day life.
The effects of SB3 on transgender schoolchildren would be especially harmful. At the ACLU of Texas, we get calls every fall from parents concerned about whether their transgender children will have access to a safe and fair learning environment when they start school. We meet kids locked out of the formative experiences of youth, like attending school dances or participating in band or cheerleading. And we hear from kids who put their health at risk every day rather than endure the humiliation and stigma of using a restroom that doesn’t correspond to their gender identity. This type of discrimination causes kids to suffer academically and socially, and puts them at an exponentially higher risk for depression, bullying, self-harm, and suicide.
And now the governor, the lieutenant governor, and 21 Texas senators want to give that bullying the State’s seal of approval.
But much like North Carolina’s now-repealed HB2, which similarly barred transgender people from public spaces, SB3 plainly violates federal law. Both Title VII and Title IX of our federal civil rights laws expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, and as the Supreme Court ruled in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1989, that prohibition includes gender non-conformity.
Since that decision, virtually every federal appeals court to consider the issue has recognized that discrimination on the basis of transgender status is sex discrimination, to say nothing of SB3’s likely violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. If SB3 is passed and enacted, the State of Texas should expect to see us and our partners at Lambda Legal in court.
This is not the first time that bathrooms have been central to a civil rights battle. In the past they’ve been used to segregate races, deny women employment opportunities, and push gay men out of public life. Then, as now, such fearmongering pretexts only served to exclude people from equal access and to deprive them of their dignity and equality.
Let’s not repeat that shameful history by targeting transgender Texans today.