AUSTIN, Texas — One of the most powerful Republican officials in Texas put the state on the front lines of the nation’s culture wars Thursday, announcing the filing of a bill that would require people in government buildings and in public schools to use the bathroom that corresponds with their “biological sex.”
The bill, announced by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, is similar to one that caused a political uproar in North Carolina and led to widespread boycotts there by companies, entertainers, sports events, and gay rights groups, which said the bill discriminated against transgender people who use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Patrick played down the potential economic fallout for Texas and denied that the bill, which has been in the works for months, was discriminatory.
“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Patrick said at the Texas Capitol in Austin. “The forces of fear and misinformation will pull out all the stops, both in Texas and nationally. But we know we’re on the right side of the issue, and we’re on the right side of history.”
Democratic lawmakers, civil rights groups, gay, and transgender rights activists, and the state’s most influential business lobby, the Texas Association of Business, swiftly condemned the legislation and predicted an economic blow to Texas if it passed.
“If it’s like HB2 in North Carolina, it’s discriminatory, and it’s bad for business,” said Chris Wallace, the president of the Texas Association of Business, adding that the bill was likely to discourage corporate relocations to Texas and stop potential workers, particularly millennials, from coming. “We do not want our state to have an unwelcoming brand to future workers,” he said.
Wallace said his organization would “fully engage” in an effort to block the measure in the Texas Legislature, which starts its 140-day session Tuesday. A study commissioned by the business group found that North Carolina-style bills on bathroom access and other similar measures could result in an economic loss in Texas ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion, including the loss of up to 185,000 jobs.
The ACLU of Texas called the bill an antitransgender measure. The Texas Democratic Party described it as an “$8.5 billion bathroom bill,” for the high-end estimated decline in gross domestic product predicted by the Texas Association of Business. Freedom for All Americans, a group that promotes the rights of transgender people, said defeating the bill would be one of its top national priorities. And as Patrick and state Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst, a Republican who filed the bill, spoke with reporters at the Senate, protesters outside the chamber could be heard loudly booing and later shouting: “Shame! Shame!”
Both chambers of the Texas Legislature are controlled by Republicans. Patrick presides over the Senate as lieutenant governor, but the passage of the bill is by no means assured, particularly given the involvement of the Texas Association of Business, which is typically aligned with the Republican leadership. The speaker of the House, Representative Joe Straus of San Antonio, who is one of the state’s most prominent moderate Republicans, gave it a cool reception.
“Bathroom legislation is not an urgent concern for Speaker Straus,” Jason Embry, his spokesman, said in a statement.