Testimony Against SB6
Before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs
March 7, 2017
Hello Madam Chair and Senate Committee Members. My name is Omar Narvaez and I am Law and Policy Advocate for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (“Lambda Legal”). Lambda Legal is the Nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit legal organization making the case for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) people for more than forty years. Lambda Legal has served our Texas LGBT community from its South Central Regional office in Dallas for more than twenty years. Our work has included cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas “Homosexual Conduct” law and all of the remaining state laws that criminalized same-sex intimate relationships.1
I am a proud born and raised Texan from Houston, now living in Dallas, and I am honored to appear before you. My message is simple: Say “no” to Senate Bill 6.
Current laws already protect against predators in restrooms and other sex-separated spaces. There has been no showing whatsoever that those laws are insufficient.
Instead, without any basis in fact, SB6 cruelly targets some of our state’s most vulnerable young people — transgender students. If enacted, it would inflict further stigma and pain on students who are simply trying to make it through the school day, get an education, and survive the mean-spirited accusations of some adults who should be seeking to understand and support them — and all students in our great state of Texas — rather than singling them out for discrimination.
Please let me stress: transgender students are not a threat to anyone. That is why SB6 is a misguided non-solution looking for a problem. And, if enacted, it would open our great state to expensive litigation that the state will surely lose.
I am confident in predicting that Texas would not be able to defend SB 6 in court because numerous courts already have spoken to these issues, and their condemnation of this kind of ill-advised discrimination is piling up. For more than fifteen years, our federal courts have been recognizing that discrimination against transgender individuals is unlawful sex discrimination.2 This includes our federal courts here in Texas, for example in a case Lambda Legal won on behalf of a transgender woman nearly a decade ago.3
More recently, a series of federal court cases have challenged the same discrimination against transgender students that SB6 would impose here in Texas. And the decisions confirm that SB6 would cause a significant waste of taxpayer dollars trying to defend a policy that is indefensible.4
The most recent of these court decisions came just last week in Lambda Legal’s case against the Pine-Richland School District in Western Pennsylvania.5 In that case, federal district Judge Mark Hornak ruled in favor of our clients, three transgender students at Pine-Richland High School. Judge Hornak ordered the school district to allow these students to use the restrooms that match who they are and to stop enforcing the discriminatory policy the District adopted last fall.
Judge Hornak’s order explains that the school district violated the U.S. Constitution by ordering the students either to use the wrong restrooms or to use single-user facilities, separate from other students. Judge Hornak ruled that we are likely to win on our claim that the District’s exclusion of our clients from “common school restrooms does not afford them equal protection of the law as guaranteed to them by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Basically, the federal court told the school district to let transgender students use the bathroom they identify with — consistent with the gender they live every day in every aspect of their lives.
In addition to the U.S. Constitution, transgender students also are protected by Title IX, the federal law protecting students from sex discrimination in school. Numerous courts have concluded that this federal law does not allow schools to limit bathroom access based solely on birth-assigned sex or according to sex stereotypes, including the stereotype that a student’s gender identity must correspond to birth-assigned sex.6
In addition to the fact that SB6 is fatally flawed as a legal matter, it also would be devastating for our Texas economy. We know this from studies of the business climate here in Texas. For example, the Texas Association of Business’s analysis predicts up to $8.5 billion in GDP losses and up to 185,000 lost jobs.7
But the most concrete evidence comes from North Carolina, where that state’s House Bill 2 of last year — which was the unwise model for SB6 here — has brought terrible consequences to the Tar Heel state.8 This is because targeting transgender people sends the powerfully negative message that a state is not open and welcoming to everyone. In addition to massive corporate opposition to North Carolina’s HB2,9 major entertainers, sports leagues, and consumers all have expressed outrage, including through boycotts with huge, negative economic effects.10
Lambda Legal along with the ACLU of North Carolina immediately challenged North Carolina’s HB2 last year and the courts already have granted a preliminary injunction requiring that our clients be allowed access to the restrooms that match their gender identity. If we need to, of course, Lambda Legal will be ready to immediately challenge SB6 here. But, we strongly hope the lessons from other states will be heeded and litigation will not be necessary in Texas.
Texas is known as the “Friendship” state and SB6 is simply un-Texan. Honorable Senators, please do the right thing — the Texan thing — and reject Senate Bill 6. Keep Texas known as the “Friendship” State, with a growing, thriving economy and a bright future for all of us.