Come January, when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes in Austin, look for more hysteria about an imaginary threat to public safety as Republicans make good on their promise to launch another round of “bathroom bills” targeting transgender people.
It’s a laughable concept, but conservative extremists scared the devil out of many folks during the last session by warning that men masquerading as women would do God-only-knows-what to the innocent children who encountered them in public restrooms. Forget about crime in the streets. Right-wing church leaders and politicians will be too busy warning everyone that some people using closed-door restroom stalls to relieve themselves might not be biologically equipped to conform to the stick figure posted at the restroom entrance.
The eeek factor was over the top, thanks to the insanity of the authors of multiple bathroom bills. After all, the lewd messages that have always existed on restroom walls of both men and women (female sources confirm) make it pretty clear that weird people (gay, straight, trans, or whatever) have always prowled them.
The antigay rhetoric was nothing new to the LGBTQ community, but the brouhaha sure gave the GOP traction among Southern Baptists and other staunch conservatives. North Carolina is another state where lawmakers obsessed on the issue of transgender people’s use of public restrooms in 2016, and succeeded in passing an anti-trans law.
The North Carolina bill reportedly cost the state billions in revenue because of a loss of commerce related to conventions, tourism, and corporate relocations.
Sadly, the bathroom-bill debate—definitely one that captures the public imagination more vividly than other issues—is only one of the legislative controversies that Texas’ LGBTQ community will be forced to endure in the new legislative session.
In September, conservative lawmakers speaking at the Faith, Family, & Freedom Forum sponsored by Texas Values promised to target LGBTQ people in 2019, in accordance with the goals set by the Texas Republican Convention in San Antonio in June. Republicans introduced some 33 anti-LGBTQ bills in the last session, and even more could be floated in the new one.
Republican delegates to last summer’s state convention left a threatening message to the LGBTQ community in their wake, signaling their intention to launch another battle in what has become a cultural war. Plank 316 in the platform reads, “We urge the Texas Legislature to pass religious liberty protections for individuals, businesses, and government officials who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.”
The legislation that conservative lawmakers plan to introduce along with a bathroom bill (likely targeting public schools in particular) would allow business owners, healthcare professionals, government employees, and others to turn away LGBTQ people if their personal religious convictions cause a conflict.
Although Republicans failed to pass much of their discriminatory legislation in the last session, they may be able to make more progress in the new session, owing to the retirement of House speaker Joe Straus. The moderate Republican enraged hard-line conservatives by blocking the bathroom legislation that governor Greg Abbott placed on the 2017 Special Session agenda, just as the speaker had done in the regular session.
Republicans are expected to maintain their supermajority in the Texas Senate in the new session, and that will allow them to set the agenda for what legislation will be considered. The appointment of a new speaker to the House will be key, and that hinges on whether Republicans can maintain a supermajority in that chamber.
There could be yet another stumbling block for Republicans, though, because Governor Abbott signaled in a September 28 debate with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez that he would no longer advocate for bathroom legislation, presumably because of the feared economic impact that was seen in North Carolina. The unknown factor would be whether he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.
When the results of the November 6 midterm elections are known, we will have a clearer indication of what to expect from Texas lawmakers next year. The midterm elections traditionally draw a smaller turnout, but this year could be different.
In any case, the culture war is on with renewed vigor in the wake of the U.S. Senate’s battle over the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in October 6.
By the time the Texas Legislature wraps up its work the next time, there could be a flurry of sign-making underway across the state to explain which restroom and showering facilities certain people can use in schools and other public buildings, and who will be welcomed as customers in businesses.
This article appears in the November 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.