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Bathroom Privacy Becomes An Election Issue

nicole at tribune fest (620-240)

After being denied a chance to have this discussion on the floor of the Texas House, a Saturday panel discussion was a welcome sight that included many state officials, political observers, and activists in the same room to discuss the issue of privacy in bathrooms, showers and locker rooms.

Texas Values Policy Analyst Nicole Hudgens spoke at “The Politics of Bathrooms” panel at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23. Hudgens appeared alongside House Privacy Act author Rep. Ron Simmons to lay out the advantages of keeping men out of little girls’ restrooms in our public schools and government buildings.

Though the room was packed (standing room only) for this issue that dominated the headlines during the 85th Legislature, moderator Alexa Ura started it off by asking Hudgens “How much more time are we going to spend on this?”

“As a young woman myself, this issue really does matter,” Hudgens said, noting the origins of the issue on the federal level (Obama Administration Title IX funding directive) and on the local level (school board rules made in secret in Fort Worth ISD, Dripping Springs ISD, Coppell ISD, and now San Antonio ISD).  ”… This issue is just getting started.”

Fellow panelists Lou Weaver of Equality Texas, and Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes clearly argued that biological men should be allowed in women’s restrooms and intimate facilities, and Rep. Jason Villalba adding criticism to efforts to keep men out of women’s bathrooms.

Unfortunately, Hudgens said at the panel, neither Rep. Simmons’s nor Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s privacy legislation made it through the Texas House in either the Texas Legislature’s regular session or the special session this year.

Despite being listed as a priority item by Gov. Greg Abbott, having overwhelming support of the public according to polls (particularly women), bipartisan support in the Texas Senate when the bill passed (thanks to Sen. Eddie Lucio), Speaker Joe Straus and particularly State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook prevented the bill from being heard by the entire House of Representatives. Because of that, Hudgens said, students like those in San Antonio ISD, or Dripping Springs ISD elementary students like 10-year-old Shiloh are left with uncertainty over whether their privacy will be violated this school year.

The recent San Antonio ISD situation is more proof that the desire to create special protection for transgender by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to school policies on discrimination protection is the primary force pushing for a change in law. With little transparency, local government has made a mess out of this issue, as parents are shut out of the process and fair notice is thrown out the window. A state law such as last session’s Texas Privacy Act would have prevented the closed-door decision-making and sneaking around that only creates more controversy and divisiveness around this issue.

The only time when Texans have been allowed to vote, Hudgens noted, was in Houston when the mayor’s “bathroom ordinance” was defeated 61-39 percent. The Houston ordinance sought to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to existing discrimination protections and the failed ordinance would have allowed men into women’s bathrooms.

Privacy opponents on the panel pointed out that several large corporations had signed letters against the Texas Privacy Act. However, it was discovered that many of these companies refuse to enact policies of their own allowing men into women’s restrooms and changing areas. Furthermore, many do business in countries that treat women as second-class citizens.

Regardless of the differences on the stage, the panelists agreed privacy is an issue that is not going away – it will be an election issue as well as a bill in the 2019 legislative session.

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