Anti-Trans Bathroom Bills Proposed in Texas

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March 5, 2015
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Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Demoya Gordon

Transgender people in Texas could soon be thrown in jail for going to the bathroom, if one lawmaker has her way. 

State Rep. Debbie Riddle has proposed two bills that would make it a crime for transgender people to use public restrooms appropriate for their gender identity.

Laws like these pose a real danger to transgender people and address none of the issues they supposedly remedy.

  • HB 1747 would make it a crime of “disorderly conduct” for transgender people who have not been able to change the gender marker on their driver’s license or other ID to enter public restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. 
  • HB 1748 would make it a Class A misdemeanor — punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine — for any person 13 years or older to use a restroom that does not match the “gender established at the individual’s birth or by the individual’s chromosomes.” 

It would also make it a state jail felony — punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine — for Texas building owners to allow any person seven years or older to use a restroom that does not fit his or her birth-assigned sex or chromosomes.

Know Your Rights: What to do if you're hassled in the bathroom

These bills target a nonexistent problem. Proponents of these types of “show your papers to pee” laws regularly play on transphobic attitudes by arguing that such measures are necessary to “protect” women and girls who are cisgender (that is, those whose gender identity corresponds with the gender to which they were assigned at birth) from an imaginary threat allegedly posed by transgender women. But they cite no incidences of anyone being harmed by a transgender person using the bathroom. 

In reality, these bills do nothing but increase the hostility and danger transgender people face when using public facilities. Studies consistently and repeatedly show that transgender people, especially women of color, experience alarming rates of harassment and violence in public spaces, including restrooms. 

Adding the threat of criminal prosecution to this already hostile environment would effectively deprive transgender people of fair access to public restrooms, a basic amenity cisgender people use every day without a second thought.

Brian McGiverin, attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, notes that these types of measures typically are motivated by political gain rather than any valid concern for the public. 

“It is shameful when politicians pander to hate in order to get attention,” said McGiverin. “We’re watching an old game — countless politicians have built their careers on raging against progress in civil rights, from George Wallace on down. The situation is reminiscent of a generation ago when politicians argued Jim Crow laws were necessary to protect the virtue of white women. This is no different. We all need to be vigilant against reactionary laws and policies designed to harm innocent people.”

The proposed bills are also out of step with medical and legal authority. The internationally recognized medical protocol for treating transgender persons focuses on affirming people in their gender identity in all aspects of life, including using the appropriate restroom. Similarly, 18 states, the District of Columbia and at least 140 local jurisdictions explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, and an ever increasing number have decided those laws require businesses to let transgender people use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.   

While the Texas bills are aimed at the transgender community, they would expose many other people to harassment, questioning and even violence, including anyone who does not conform to conventional ideas of masculinity and femininity. 

They would also disproportionately harm members of vulnerable communities — including immigrants, people of color, and people living with poverty and housing insecurity — who often lack the resources to change the gender marker on their ID and who are more deeply impacted by policies restricting restroom access.

The bills would also subject intersex people, including persons whose sex chromosomes and/or reproductive or sexual anatomy do not fit the typical definitions of male or female, to potential criminal prosecution. 

Anti-LGBT activists appear to have drafted the Texas bills in reaction to Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker’s 2014 executive order allowing transgender persons to use appropriate restrooms in city-owned buildings. In that respect, they mirror recently proposed laws in other states, which were also reactions to local advancements in transgender rights.

The conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky started pushing a bill restricting bathroom access in response to a Louisville high school’s decision to allow a transgender girl to use the girls’ restroom. That bill passed the Kentucky Senate February 27 after a vigorous debate in which Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, poignantly urged the body to vote down the bill, stating, “We have to protect the rights of everyone, but I think we are also judged . . . on how we treat those at the margins.” That bill now heads to the Kentucky House of Representatives for consideration.

In February, Florida Rep. Frank Artiles proposed a similar bill after Miami passed a Human Rights Ordinance prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons and a Miami-Dade County judge lifted a stay on same-sex marriages. That bill passed the state House Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 4 after more than an hour of testimony, including a statement from Cindy Sullivan, who highlighted the effect the bill would have on transgender people, saying, “You all just don’t get it. I’m so scared of all of you. You can put me in jail for being me.”

LGBT advocates, and all fair-minded persons, should fight these latest attacks on transgender and gender-nonconforming persons. They deserve to use public facilities with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. 

For more information, see our Transgender Rights Toolkit, “Equal Access to Public Restrooms” and our FAQ About Restrooms & What to Do If You’re Hassled.