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Super Bowl Glare Fixes Attention On Texas ‘Bathroom Bill’

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – As Houston readies to host the Super Bowl, a push by lawmakers in Texas to restrict bathroom access for transgender people is raising fears the state may be unable to score future major sporting events and could lose championships on its books.

The proposed measure is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina that prompted the National Basketball Association to pull its showcase 2017 All Star game from Charlotte, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association moved seven championship events amid economic boycotts estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The financial hit in Texas, whose economy is bigger than Russia’s and boasts one of the nation’s largest travel and tourism industries, is forecast to be much bigger.

Influential business officials and activists say the legislation could also hurt the state’s ability to attract investment and is at odds with the progressive tradition of its biggest cities.

The cost of the so-called “bathroom bill,” which bars transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, could run as high as $8.5 billion and result in a loss of 185,000 jobs in the first year alone, according to the Texas Association of Business, a conservative group that is the state’s leading employer organization.

“It would be a blot on the reputation of the state of Texas, which many of us have been working to change,” said Annise Parker, who as Houston’s mayor from 2010 to 2016 was the first openly lesbian candidate elected to lead a major U.S. city.

Parker, who served as mayor when Houston won hosting duties for Super Bowl LI to be played on Feb. 5, said by just filing the measure, which opponents decry as discriminatory, there has been damage to the image of the state that serves as headquarters for more than 50 Fortune 500 companies ranging from Exxon Mobil to grocer Whole Foods.

Texas has several upcoming marquee sporting events that could be at risk if the bathroom bill, known as the “Privacy Protection Act” or Senate Bill 6, is approved.

The legislation’s outcome is unlikely to be decided before the NCAA women’s Final Four basketball championship is held in Dallas this spring, but it could affect the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball championship in San Antonio next year. The NCAA declined to comment.

That event’s economic impact in the San Antonio area is estimated to be $135 million, according to economist Steve Nivin at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Other estimates run as high as $234 million. The Super Bowl is expected to bring the Houston area a net economic benefit of around $350 million, according to the Host Committee.

ECONOMIC DOOM

Visit San Antonio, the city’s independent convention and visitors organization, said the bill is bad for business.

“Visit San Antonio is actively working with our state and regional travel and industry partners to oppose SB 6 and any other legislation that could cause San Antonio and Texas to be less competitive and welcoming,” Casandra Matej, the group’s executive director, told Reuters.

The Big 12 Conference, which in December plans to hold its football championship game in Arlington at the stadium used by the Dallas Cowboys, said in a statement it was tracking the legislation and would, “at an appropriate time, discuss its impact with our member institutions.”

Under the measure, local governments would not be able to adopt ordinances dictating bathroom and locker room policies for businesses. Local governments also would be forbidden from considering those policies when awarding contracts.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Tea Party Republican, has said the bathroom bill is a common-sense measure that protects against sexual predators and is a top legislative priority. He dismisses concern over any economic fallout.

“You have heard predictions of economic doom if we pass this bill,” he told a news conference in January. “It is just more talk from the opponents who have nothing else to say.”

The bill is likely to pass the Republican-controlled Texas Senate, but its fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain.

Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican who drives the agenda in that body, has shown tepid support, saying there are worries in his San Antonio district about what would happen to the 2018 Final Four if the bill becomes law.

“We should be very careful about doing something that could make Texas less competitive for investments, jobs, and the highly skilled workforce needed to compete,” Straus said in a speech this month.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forysth in San Antonio; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alan Crosby)

IMAGE: Texas state Republican Senator Dan Patrick speaks during a meeting of the state Senate in Austin, Texas July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone/File Photo

Reader’s Transgender Locker-Room Scenario Isn’t Worth The Worry

Dear Roz:

OK, I think I have an answer for you. But I must say, your email, which I highlighted in this space a few weeks back, had me stumped for awhile. That’s why I asked readers to weigh in on the question you posed:

Namely, how should you, a self-described left-wing progressive and supporter of gay rights, respond if ever you find yourself sharing the locker room at the public pool with a transgender woman who still has male reproductive equipment?

You wrote: “I have no problem with trans people of whatever biology or stage of transition in bathroom stalls, but what about locker rooms, where nudity is normal? I would be very uncomfortable if I was unclothed and someone two feet away from me took off their clothes and a penis appeared.”

Roz, the response from many readers can be summed up as follows: Relax. You have nothing to worry about.

John from Butte wrote, “Please tell Roz that the estimated 700,000 to 2,000,000 transgender people in the USA are using showers and locker rooms very well today just as they have for many years and she doesn’t even know about it. The fact she doesn’t know is proof that transgender people are discreet, sensitive and careful.”

Robyn, a transgender woman from greater Richmond, said that, “Revealing the mysteries that lie beneath the surface is not something I’m even remotely inclined to consider. Until the day arrives that I am comfortable my naked appearance will seamlessly blend in with the other ladies present, you will not find me in a locker room. To do so would undermine every other effort I make to be normal.”

A reader named Lindsey agreed: “As a transgender woman (albeit one beginning her transition to womanhood), I can tell you there is not one pre-op transwoman that will willingly expose herself to others in a locker room or fitting area.”

Reading their emails, Roz, it struck me how obvious the answers seemed in hindsight. But then, when a thing is alien to your experience, it’s often hard to think past the newness of it. And that can leave you vulnerable to demagogic lawmakers who see potential votes in your anxiety and irresolution.

That’s the story of North Carolina and other states where new laws raise the specter of police officers stationed outside every public toilet to look up your dress or down your pants to ensure your sex parts correspond to the gender of the restroom. We are told they’re passing these laws to deter child molesters.

But, Roz, how many children have you heard about being targeted by cross-dressing rapists? Statistically, wouldn’t those kids be in greater danger from priests and, well, demagogic lawmakers? While we’re on the subject, which would be more disruptive: the person who presents as a man in every visible aspect who enters the men’s room, or that same person strolling into the ladies’ restroom?

Again, things have a way of becoming obvious if you just stop and think.

That’s why we are often encouraged not to. After all, thinking people are less likely to let themselves be stampeded into sweeping, vote-getting restrictions based on vague, unfounded fears of what could happen. Not “has happened,” mind you. Not even “will happen.”

“Could” happen.

What conservative advocates of, ahem, “small government” never seem to appreciate is that, left to their own devices, good people usually find ways to figure this sort of stuff out, to make accommodations that allow locker rooms, restrooms and other public facilities to function smoothly without heavy-handed government guidance.

So, Roz, in the unlikely event you ever encounter that penis you fear, I am confident you and its owner will work something out. And I’ll bet you won’t need any lawmaker’s help to do it.


Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

(c) 2016 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo: A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access is seen in the bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File photo

Texas Leads The Way In Transphobia, Yet Again

Texas is leading a pack of 11 states suing the Obama administration, to no one’s surprise, and this time the lawsuit comes on the back of the same ugly transphobia that has tainted the Lone Star state in recent years.

The lawsuit comes in response to a directive earlier this month by the Justice Department and the Department of Education that asks schools to allow students to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identities. Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia joined Texas in the lawsuit.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a longtime, outspoken opponent of LGBT rights, praised the lawsuit in a statement this week, saying that President Obama “is more devoted to radical social engineering than to the democratic process and the separation of powers.” Cruz continued by saying that transgender equality will lead to the exploitation of girls at the hands of grown men, even though there are no known cases of transgender individuals taking advantage of bathroom access to commit a crime. 

The effort to brainwash the good people in Texas isn’t new. Texas’s struggle against recognizing transgender rights began last year with a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in Houston, first passed by the city council and then subjected to a city-wide vote by the state’s supreme court.

HERO, or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, included protections both gay and transgender residents and was championed by the city’s first lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.

In response to the effort, groups such as Campaign for Houston began a culture-wide propaganda campaign, enlisting the likes of former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman and pastor Ed Young. Conservatives in the state leaned heavily on the “men in girls’ bathrooms” narrative. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted before Houston voters took to the polls, urging residents to “Vote NO on City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.

HERO was soundly defeated by Houstonians in a referendum vote.

This transphobic hysteria was so profound that it made waves in other states such as North Carolina, which went all-out by passing House Bill 2, an ordinance that trumped any local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, including protecting the transgender community’s right to use bathrooms based on gender identity. The state legislature’s bill was introduced, passed, and signed into law in a single day. 

Texas’ latest transgender lawsuit follows a pattern by the state to challenge just about any move by the Obama administration that can be felt at the state level. Greg Abbott has spearheaded most of the lawsuits dating back to his time as Texas’ Attorney General, when he sued the federal government 31 times. His most prominent lawsuit came when he led 26 states in challenging Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

On the Democratic side, things are looking much different — as expected. Sen. Bernie Sanders took the lead this week by responding to a presidential questionnaire from the Trans United Fund. Sanders said he would utilize healthcare services and push for nondiscrimination policies.

“Too often, it seems as if the ‘T’ in LGBT is silent,” Sanders said. “In my administration, the T will not be silent.”

“It’s powerful that the Sanders campaign took the time to complete the survey and are unabashed in their support,” the Trans United Fund said, according to Buzzfeed. And although Hillary Clinton has vowed to stand with the transgender community, the group’s leaders said they felt “disappointed and perplexed” after the Democratic frontrunner failed to respond to the survey.

As Secretary of State, Clinton approved a policy allowing transgender people to change their gender identity on their passport as long as they obtain a doctor’s note certifying that they received “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.”

Photo: Texas governor Greg Abbott is given directions before an interview with CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this July 14, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

White House to Public Schools: Let Students Use Whatever Bathroom They Want

Published with permission from Alternet.

The Obama administration issued a directive to all public schools Friday, instructing school officials to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity, the AP reports. A copy of the letter, which was sent to every public school district in the country from the Department of Justice, was posted on the DOJ’s website.

The letter said that “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” adding that the DOJ’s interpretation is “consistent with courts’ and other agencies’ interpretations of Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination.”

The directive comes less than five days after North Carolina governor Pat McCrory ignored a deadline imposed by the U.S. Justice Department to refuse to enforce HB2—the controversial “bathroom bill” that blocked city and local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections. McCroy sued the federal government, accusing the Justice Department of “baseless and blatant overreach.” The Justice Department responded by suing North Carolina for discrimination.

In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch—who gave an impassioned speech on transgender equality this week—said, “there is not room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex.”

Though it does not impose any new legal requirements, the guidance clarifies expectations for schools to comply with Title IX, which requires schools receiving federal funding to ensure that no person is subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex. The Obama administration is also releasing a 25-page document with specific suggestions on “ways schools can make transgender students comfortable in the classroom and protect the privacy rights of all students in restrooms or locker rooms.”

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffen heralded the administration’s directive. “This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools,” Griffin said in a statement.

In recent years, the Obama administration has thrown its support behind the LGBT community. Earlier this month, President Obama indicated plans to declare the Stonewall Inn—site of the legendary Stonewall Riots that kickstarted the modern gay rights movement—a national monument. Still, if history (and North Carolina) is any indication, we still have a long way to go in eliminating gender discrimination.

Elizabeth Preza is an AlterNet staff writer focusing on politics, media and cultural criticism. Follow her on Twitter @lizacisms.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House in Washington after a visit to Flint, Michigan, to address that city’s water crisis, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan