Misguided bathroom legislation would endanger students

Photo by Emily Albracht

Senate Bill 6, the Texas Privacy Act, more colloquially known as the “Texas Bathroom Bill,” is misguided and unenforceable, and poses a threat to the safety of transgender students. Initially promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to protect “public safety,” the bill instead would further endanger a group that is already at-risk. This must be stopped.

Evidence for how the proposal might endanger transgender students can be found in a study published Monday by university researchers from Johns Hopkins and Harvard, suggesting that marriage equality legislation had a significant beneficial impact on LGBT youth suicide attempt rates. The Associated Press reported that, “In 32 states that enacted same-sex marriage laws during the study, suicide attempts dropped 7 percent among all students and 14 percent among gay kids after the laws were passed. There was no change in suicide attempts in states without those laws.”

The profound correlation between marriage equality laws and youth suicide attempts strongly suggests that similar results may be found in states that enact non-discrimination legislation and transgender suicide attempts. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program notes on its website that, “almost 50 percent of transgender youth have seriously thought about suicide, and 25 percent reported that they have made a suicide attempt.” Transgender individuals have one of the highest reported suicide attempt rates of any group.

I teach my students that all claims must be supported by reliable evidence and sound reasoning; this bill is not supported by either. In its misguided attempt to protect Texans from sexual assault, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sexual assault, voyeurism, and exhibitionism are already prohibited by the law. The Lieutenant Governor worries that “we will not be able to stop sexual predators from taking advantage” of non-discrimination laws. That fear is ludicrous. Imagine someone committing one of these crimes attempting to use “being transgender” as a defense. Patrick additionally admits that transgender individuals have been using the bathrooms of their choice for years without any evidence of misconduct.

SB6 is a solution in search of a problem.

What the evidence does point to, however, is that there is a group of individuals in Texas who do face safety concerns in bathrooms: transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, when transgender Texans attempted to use bathrooms, 9 percent were denied access, 10 percent were verbally harassed, and others reported being physically attacked and sexually assaulted. Jace Valcore, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston, described being a victim of this kind of abuse in a recent column. The evidence is clear that transgender individuals in Texas need legal protection when using restrooms – not prohibitions that further endanger and stigmatize them.

As a gay teen growing up in Oregon during the passing of that state’s Measure 36, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, I saw firsthand how state laws can affect the self-worth of a teen coming to terms with “sexual minority” status. Hearing the hurtful rhetoric from members of my community and elected leaders, it was clear that Oregon was not willing to stand up for my rights. Like so many of my LGBT peers, I moved out of state to attend college, hoping to find sanctuary in a community that loved me unconditionally.

Transgender individuals should feel a sense of sanctuary in Texas. Instead of controlling where they relieve themselves, we should be addressing the real concerns that transgender individuals face daily: discrimination in the workplace, affordable healthcare, and harassment. If Texas were to stand up for the rights of transgender people, it would show them that their state believes they are worthy of dignity and equal treatment under the law, which they are.

SB6 puts public school teachers like me in a precarious position. We are tasked with protecting the physical and emotional safety of all children, without exception. However, our districts are prohibited from holding official positions on this legislation. Environment has an enormous effect on a student’s ability to learn, and legislation that denies any student the right to a safe educational setting must be stopped.

Texas, we're better than this. Text 520-200-2223 with your zip code and you will receive all of your elected officials’ phone numbers, both state and federal. Concerned Texans should contact those representatives and urge them to reject Senate Bill 6.