Patrick’s ‘bathroom bill’ deserves to be taken seriously

Noah M. Horwitz

On May 1 of last year, Houston City Council Member Mike Knox participated in a picket outside a local Target. He and his fellow miscreants protested the department store’s inclusive policies regarding the transgender community, as well as other pro-LGBT policies.

The most controversial policy in question pertained to bathrooms. Patrons were allowed to use the bathroom matching their gender identity. Knox and company would rather Target prohibit transgender people from using their preferred bathroom, although they were light on specifics of how that should be enforced.

Enter Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Flanked by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Patrick announced last week the filing of a bill, Senate Bill 6, which aims to crack down on “predator” men using women’s restrooms, ostensibly under the cover of non-discrimination ordinances that protect the transgender community.

There is no evidence of predators abusing non-discrimination ordinances. The data simply is not there. And much ink in this newspaper under my byline has espoused this point in the past, specifically in the lead-up to Houston’s shameful 2015 referendum on equal rights for LGBT people. The bathroom myth led to the non-discrimination ordinance’s downfall and the election of conservative zealots, such as Knox, to the City Council.

The handwringing and complacency I have seen since the ordinance’s unveiling is unnerving for many reasons. Far too many otherwise reasonable people have assured me that SB 6 — a mean-spirited bill that will have the express effect, if not the insidious intention, of killing transgender teens — will not survive Joe Straus’s House. This is wrong. The complacency reminds me of similar assurances in the lead-up to the non-discrimination ordinance debacle in Houston.

Potty politics is a strong force. The people swept up in its furor are sometimes not limited to a single political party. In 2014, Houston City Council Member Dwight Boykins, a Democrat on the nominally non-partisan body, voted against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as he callously pandered to his constituents’ will and against justice. Some Democrats in the State Legislature, more concerned with their re-election than their legacy, could easily do the same.

Knox’s office refused comment. And I had similar trouble in nailing down Republican positions on the bill. My hometown legislators, Sen. Joan Huffman and Rep. Sarah Davis, both Republicans of Harris County, provided no clarity. Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, tweeted at me that he was skeptical of such skirmishes in the “culture wars,” but did not state his position.

I cannot fathom what went into Knox’s mind to picket outside of a Target because a persecuted minority, a community in which nearly one in two have attempted suicide, could feel safer on the premises. Perhaps he really does think he is protecting women and children from predators?

Hatred is often surreptitious. It hides but is ever ubiquitous in plain sight if one simply looks hard enough. SB 6 has a good chance of passing, no matter what a complacent and often incorrect establishment has to say. The underlying hatred is being espoused by so many, including our leaders.

Much attention will be placed on Washington, D.C., as Donald Trump begins his presidency. Many, including myself, have dedicated inordinate time to his antics. But state and local affairs matter a great deal as well. People will die if this bill becomes law. We need to remember what our representatives do, specifically keeping it in mind during the next election.

Horwitz is a first-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @NmHorwitz.