Conservative Christian pastors held a rally Thursday on the steps of the Texas capitol in support of anti-transgender legislation, framing the debate over restricting where transgender students can use the bathroom as “spiritual warfare.”
The anti-trans “bathroom bill” faces growing opposition from businesses, law enforcement leaders, and prominent Republicans. Supporters of the discriminatory measure may be running out of time as lawmakers head into the final weeks of the special legislative session.
SB 3 would require multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, and changing facilities operated by public schools or local governments to only be used by “persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”
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Supporters of the anti-trans policy have said the legislation is needed as a response to guidelines issued by the Obama administration directing public schools to create accommodations for transgender students. Those guidelines have since been rescinded by the Trump administration.
Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) said the state’s cities have “gone a bridge too far” in passing ordinances that create protections for transgender people, and dismissed concerns that the legislation would jeopardize the safety of transgender people.
“What we have heard by the other side is typical, and that’s where they take an issue and they distort it. They refuse to listen,” Simmons said.
The rally was sponsored by the Texas Pastors Council, Texas Values, Texas Right to Life, and Vision America Action, organizations that have a history of opposing protections for the LGBTQ community.
Dana Hodges, state director of Concerned Women for America’s Texas chapter, told the crowd at the rally that women’s rights were being “violated and ignored.”
“When did it become OK for a small number of Texas students that are sexually confused to make the rules for the women of the state of Texas?” Hodges asked the crowd.
Supporters argued that the bill is about privacy and safety, but there is no evidence to support claims that allowing transgender people to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity endangers the public.
Stephanie Martinez, a transgender woman and activist, was among the more than 200 people who testified against the bill during a marathon senate committee hearing last month. A few days before the committee hearing, Martinez was assaulted by two men who allegedly targeted her because she is transgender woman.
At least 22 transgender people died as a result of violence in 2016, according to data from the Human Rights Campaign. So far in 2017, at least 16 transgender people have died as a result of violence. Kenne McFadden, a trans woman in San Antonio, was found dead in April in a case that police are now ruling a homicide.
House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) were a constant target of criticism by speakers at Thursday’s rally. The bill was passed by the state senate on July 24, but has yet to be taken up by the house.
Pastor Willie Davis, pastor of a Houston area Baptist church, said that the “speaker of the house need to let the house vote.” Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst for Texas Values, led the crowd in chants of “let the house vote.”
The bill faces an uncertain future in the house, as powerful GOP lawmakers, including Straus and Cook, have made no secret of their opposition to the anti-trans bill.
In an interview with the New Yorker, Straus said that he can’t “imagine anyone really wanting to follow North Carolina’s example,” and that a floor vote on the bill would be close. Straus said he was “disgusted” by lawmakers pushing the bill, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) in particular.
“Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands,” Straus said he told a state senator who met with the Speaker on behalf of Patrick.
Cook, chairman of the house state affairs committee, told the Dallas Morning News that if the bill is referred to his committee he may hold hearings, but it seemed unlikely that he would allow the bill to reach the floor of the house.
“I’m struggling with, where is the necessity of this bill?” Cook said. “The bill is unnecessary.”
Republican Michael Williams, former Texas railroad commissioner and education commissioner, told Texas Monthly that there is no evidence to support the claims made by proponents of the so-called bathroom bill.
“We want to protect the women in our lives,” Williams said. “But the reality is, help me understand what the threat is to them. Show me evidence that some transgender woman is posing a threat to them.”