Texas revives transgender 'bathroom bill' for public schools

2017-05-22 11:24
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Austin - A transgender "bathroom bill" reminiscent of one in North Carolina that caused a national uproar now appears to be on a fast-track to becoming law in Texas - though it may only apply to public schools.

A broader proposal mandating that virtually all transgender people in the country's second-largest state use public restrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates sailed through the Texas Senate months ago.

A similar measure had stalled in the House, but supporters late on Sunday night used an amendment to tack bathroom limits onto a separate and otherwise unrelated bill covering school emergency operation plans for things like natural disasters.

Republican Representative Chris Paddie authored the hotly-debated language, saying it had "absolutely no intent" to discriminate. Under it, transgender students at public and charter schools would not be permitted to use the bathroom of their choice, but could be directed to separate, single-occupancy restrooms.

"It's absolutely about child safety," said Paddie, from the East Texas town of Marshall. "This is about accommodating all kids."

His change passed 91-50. Final House approval should come on Monday, sending the modified bill to the Senate, which should easily support it. Texas' legislative session ends on May 29, but that's plenty of time - even if the bathroom bill is scaled-back enough to only affect the state's roughly 5.3 million public school students, and not the general public.

'Shameful'

"This amendment is the bathroom bill and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people," said Representative Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat. "Some people don't want to admit that because they are ashamed, and this is shameful."

A small group of Democratic women legislators went into the men's restroom just off the House floor before debate began in protest. With Republicans enjoying solid majorities in both of Texas' legislative chambers, though, such opposition was purely symbolic.

Houston Democratic Representative Senfronia Thompson, one of the House's longest-serving and most-respected members, likened the new language to when restrooms nationwide were segregated by race.

"Bathrooms divided us then and bathrooms divide us now. Separate but equal is not equal at all," Thompson said, drawing floor applause.

While Barack Obama was still president, the US Department of Education tried to implement requirements that school districts nationwide allow transgender students to choose campus bathrooms or locker rooms they wished to use.

Texas led a lawsuit challenging that directive and a federal judge in Texas ordered it suspended. President Donald Trump then rescinded the order in February.

Supporters described limiting the scope to schools as "middle ground" and hinted that it could soften the kinds of costly boycotts that hit North Carolina after it approved its bathroom bill last year. 

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