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Texas bathroom bills will come back from the dead

Socially conservative Texas Republicans won’t give up easily, and neither will the organizations that oppose them.

by Carter Sherman
Aug 17 2017, 7:15am

After months of strife among Republicans, hours of volatile testimony, and an onslaught of nationwide controversy, all proposals to enact a “bathroom bill” in Texas died quietly Tuesday night. The state Legislature wrapped up its special session without even giving a bathroom bill a committee hearing.

But people on both sides of the issue agree: This doesn’t mean the fight over Texas restrooms is finished. Socially conservative Texas Republicans won’t give up easily, and neither will the organizations that oppose them.

“This is certainly an encouraging moment, but it’s not an absolute victory here,” said Dan Quinn, communications director for Texas Freedom Network, an organization that opposes bathroom bills. “We’re going to keep fighting these bills every time the Legislature comes back to town, because the leaders in the Senate and in the governor’s mansion are obsessed with passing this kind of bill.”

During the state Legislature’s regular session, Republicans initially proposed several different measures containing language that would have restricted transgender individuals from using restrooms that match their gender identity. When none moved forward, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session of the legislature. Abbott made it clear then that passing a bathroom bill was one of his main priorities.

“We will stay in the battle in whatever way’s necessary.”

But moderate Republican and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus refused to allow any such bills onto the floor and said that they’re economic impact would be too great. Texas business leaders, who often align with the state’s conservative interests, have also denounced bathroom bills.

Straus, who did not respond to a request for comment, was also reportedly worried about its moral costs: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a staunch proponent of the bathroom bill, once tried hand Straus language that Patrick supported, according to the New Yorker. “I’m disgusted by all this,” Straus reportedly said. “Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

But the issue galvanizes socially conservative Texans, a powerful faction of the Republican party, Quinn explained. And as long as Republicans practically rule Texas — right now, they run the House, Senate, and governor’s mansion — bathroom bills are fated to return.

“We think the voters will have a say, though, in the upcoming election,” said Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst with Texas Values, a faith-based grassroots advocacy groups. It’s a clear warning to lawmakers who opposed bathroom bills this session. Hudgens also finds threats “really hard to believe” from executives outside Texas to leave the state over the issue.

“If they want to pull out of one of the best business economies in the world, then let them do it,” she said.

The battle will now likely move to the city and county level. While Hudgens said she wants to bring a bathroom bill back to the state capitol, the Texas legislature won’t meet again for another two years.

A man urges people to vote against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance outside an early voting center in Houston on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015.

Bathroom bill advocates frequently point to the success two years ago of the campaign against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was designed to protect LGBTQ rights, including bathroom choice. The ordinance, however, was handily defeated after opponents argued it would enable male sexual predators to enter women’s bathrooms.

“As the mayor of Houston found out, we’re not intimidated,” Dave Welch, president of the Texas Pastor Council, told VICE News Monday just before the bathroom bill was gone and buried. “We will stay in the battle in whatever way is necessary.”

And their opponents, it seems, are ready to meet them there.

“We don’t want to see bathroom bills every two years. We want to see this not being an issue moving forward,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Texas Equality, the largest organization in the state dedicated to protecting LGBTQ rights. “And I think that work is going to involve continuing to expose that bathroom legislation is a solution in search of a problem.”