Transgender bathroom battle continues with Texas lawmakers

Cassi Pollock

The battle over gender-neutral restrooms has been highly contested on both sides of the political aisle in recent months, and over the weekend, top Texas and local lawmakers weighed in on the issue and its future in the Lone Star State.

“One of the reasons we have to begin to get past this issue of LGBT inclusion is that it’s an unfortunate distraction,” said former Houston mayor Annise Parker Saturday afternoon.

Parker, who is openly lesbian, was in office when Harris County residents rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in a November 2015 referendum, a measure that the city council had previously passed in May 2014.

The ordinance would have banned discrimination against categories such as gender identity, sexual orientation and race. 

When it came to restrooms and other sometimes-public areas, some argued the statute would allow men to use women’s restrooms and vice versa, among other things. Sixty percent of voters rejected HERO, and the ordinance failed.

Parker said the LGBT community’s agenda moving forward must include fundamental human rights. 

Parker said she considered a civilized society to include three things: clean water, air conditioning and accessible restrooms.

“Why would we deny our brothers and sisters access to something so fundamental?” Parker said, specifically referring to restrooms.

At the statewide level, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick once again vocalized his opposition to gender-neutral bathrooms, maintaining his intention to make the bathroom debate a legislative priority when the Texas Legislature reconvenes in January.

“I don’t want 16-year-old boys showering with 16-year-old girls,” Patrick told Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune, Saturday morning. 

Other top Republican officials, such as Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have also objected to the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms. 

Abbott told Houston residents to vote against HERO when it was on ballot last fall.

Current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Friday that HERO was a vote based on fear, not discrimination.

Turner said he was hopeful the issue would resurface once communities improved on diversity.

“We will keep moving forward,” Turner said. “When you look at the mayor before me, and where I am in the fourth-largest city — soon to be third — put me on the stand to testify that my city is very much embracing people.”