"What do you think of the Bathroom laws being proposed in the U.S.?" Asked every foreign journalist
After news of me being trans and a mayor broke literally around the world, everyone wanted to know my opinion on the 'Bathroom laws' that were either enacted or in some process of becoming a law. Of course I was against them, but I started thinking, why would I just sit by and let this happen? So Jess the advocate was born.
I was asked to join 'Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination", a nationwide group of mayors opposed to discrimination. Of course I did. They published a Q&A on discrimination and what we could do about it:
- The Texas 'Bathroom Bill' -
The Texas Senate Proposed SB6, a bill that would restrict bathroom use to the gender marker on your birth certificate, and strip cities rights to pass non-discrimination ordinances.
The public hearing for this was in March and I was there, along with 400+ trans people and a couple of thousand supporters. We testified, either by speaking or submitting written testimony. It was 87% against, the Senate ignored the publics wishes and passed the bill on the the Texas House of Representatives.
State Representative warns the public of the toxic attitude in the legislature :
Next they added 400 amendments to the state budget bill in hopes of giving them a free ride as the budget was definitely going to pass. Many of these amendments contained anti-trans language. We formed a plan to make ourselves seen.
The press covered the event:
We claimed victory as the amendments we were against were defeated. More importantly, the proponents decided they could not pass the bill (SB6) in the house as written. So they took a page from North Carolina and watered down the language and produced HB2899. Still a pure and simple bill to allow discrimination. This time sloppy writing allowed discriminating against not just LGBTQ+ people but added veterans and pregnant women.
Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination asked some of their members to comment on the new bill:
HB2899 public hearing was held April 19, 2017 and we were back.
This time the results were 95% against. The House committee has not voted yet on if the bill should go before the full House, but we are optimistic they will kill it in committee. The House seemed to be a much more intelligent group. Where the Senate would listen to easily debunkable sudo-science without question, the House would question the validity of everything presented, both for and against.
The Dallas News covered the hearing with their Capital reporter sitting in through the hearing that lasted until the wee hours of the next morning. She live tweeted as testimony occurred and summed it up in this article:
The Texas Observer as well:
The Bathroom bills failed to get out of committee and died in the house of representatives. This would have ben the ends of it, but Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, seeing defeat, held up passage of a critical budget for Texas medical regulatory agencies. This forces Governor Abbott to call a special session of the Texas legislature at a cost of estimated. one million taxpayer dollars.
July 18, 2017 the session began.
The Saturday before the session began, Governor Abbott made an appearance in San Antonio to announce his bid for re-election. After the announcement he posed with attendees for photo ops. Little did he know that Ashley Smith, a transgender woman and architect from San Antonio was in the crowd and aiming for a photo, which she got. She posted the photo after adding the line “ #BathroomBuddy “ and tagging the governor and herself, pointing out that she was Transgender. Her photo went viral and just like that she was an Internet star and hero to the transgender community, not to mention a major embarrassment to the Governor .
The Texas 2017 special session spawned the creation of one of the largest coalition of rights organizations in recent memory. ‘One Texas Resistance’ was made up of 27 groups and supplemented by several grass roots activists.
We were organized like never before, with protests planned for everyday of the session and thousands of volunteers committed to man the events.
On opening day of the session we held a rally attended by around 2000 protesters. It began on the steps of the Texas Capital with speeches, then moved inside, chanting in the rotunda. Whether or not it was our protest is unclear, but the Senate adjourned shortly after we entered the capital and members went home.
The Transgender grassroots activists were a part of the coalition and I was among several selected to help coordinate. Our day to protest was scheduled for the first Friday of the session, so we spent the time between the opening rally and Friday lobbying any and every legislator we could. There were many heated discussions in the offices and halls of the Capital extension.
Late Wednesday night we got the news that the Senate committee on State Affairs would hold its hearing on the bathroom bill on Friday. Great timing for us as we already had people coming in from across the state to participate in the protest. We shifted our focus on testifying and another member of the coalition took out place protesting that day.
Friday Morning before sun up, Ashley Smith and I made our way into the capital well before the doors opened thanks to a friendly Senator. The hearing rules had been modified to be paper sign up only, the normal computer system was not put online. It was first come, first serve with an unspecified cutoff time, so we wanted to make sure to get a spot. As it turned out, we were numbers 1 & 3 on the speaking list.
The hearing was held in the same room as the one in the spring and the faces were familiar. I was literally the first speaker of the hearing and my speech was based on my experiences as an Alderman and Mayor. I pointed out the Texas already had penal codes to cover attacks and voyeurism, that no law enforcement office in the state (or US) had any incidents of transgender, or anyone pretending to be transgender attacking anyone in public bathrooms. My logic fell on the deaf ears of the committee. They just stared at me blankly, asked no questions and actually cut me off mid sentence.
The day turned to night with hundreds of people testifying, 97% against the bill. The committee voted to bring the bill before the full senate, paying no attention to either logic, facts or the will of the people. We expected as much as Dan Patrick (Lt. Governor) rules the senate with an iron fist, and many senators are afraid to cross him.
The following Tuesday the Senate took up the debate. When they heard it back in the spring, it took only a few minutes to pass, this time the debate raged for over 6 hours. At one point a senator opposed to the bill read aloud the testimony of Libby Gonzalez, a 7 year old transgender girl. Then he read my testimony, word for word. Maybe the committee closed their ears to it but he made sure the full senate heard what I had to say. Opponents put up a good fight but the bill passed anyway, again ignoring the facts.
During the following days and weeks the Capital would see organized protest every day. Major businesses sent top executives to lobby against the bill. Law Enforcement officers held a press conference on the capital steps voicing their opposition, reiterating the fact that this was a law in search of a problem , that it would make their job harder and actually make women and children less safe. Major religious leaders joined together and held their own press conference, also on the capital steps and voiced their strong opposition.
Now it was up to the House to pass or kill the bill. The House Speaker Joe Straus maintained his opposition and allowed the bill to die without even a committee hearing.
It was over, we won.
We know that they will try it again when the Texas Legislature meets next in 2019. In the mean time we must now turn our efforts to electing as many reasonable, logical and anti-discrimination minded people we can.
And we will be back, you can count on that.