The Texas Senate approved a so-called ‘bathroom bill’ Tuesday that would restrict access to restrooms and locker rooms in buildings operated by local governments—including public schools—based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or state-issued ID. The bill would also restrict local anti-discrimination ordinances.
It passed in a 21-10 vote over the strong objections of law enforcement, groups of superintendents, business officials, and transgender advocates who said the bill discriminates against transgender people and that taking a statewide stand on such a divisive issue may drive tourism dollars from the state.
Supporters of the bill, SB3, said the bill would help protect the privacy and safety of women and children. Some parents told a Senate committee last week that their schools had passed policies that permitted transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity with very little public input.
If the House approves SB3, Texas will become just the second state to enact restrictions on transgender restroom access in public schools. The first, North Carolina, faced a lawsuit from the Obama administration’s Justice Department. It has since amended its law, but transgender advocacy groups say the changes don’t resolve their concerns.
The Texas Senate must give the bill one more OK before it moves to the House. Its vote comes in a special session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after legislators failed to pass such a measure during their regular session.
It also comes at a time when transgender advocates, conservative groups, states, and school districts have sometimes sparred over how federal law applies to transgender students.
The Obama administration previously asserted that Title IX, the federal gender non-discrimination law, guarantees the rights of transgender students to access bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth. But the administration of Donald Trump lifted that guidance shortly after he took office, bringing an end to a multi-state lawsuit led by Texas that said the federal guidance threatened the privacy rights of students.
Absent that guidance, states and schools are on their own to interpret federal law in this area. Transgender advocacy groups and groups like the ACLU have said they will continue to assert their interpretation of Title IX in court.
Photo: Protesters gather on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin last week while State lawmakers began a special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. LGBT activists bitterly oppose “bathroom bill” proposals. --Eric Gay/AP
Further reading about transgender students:
- Trump Administration Rescinds Transgender-Student Guidance
- Podcast: What a Federal Policy Shift Means for Transgender Students and Schools
- Transgender Student Gavin Grimm: ‘This Case Is Bigger Than Me’
- DeVos Won’t Rule Out Vouchers for Schools That Don’t Allow LGBT Students
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.