LGBT

Texas Bill Would Punish Businesses If They Don’t Discriminate

CREDIT: AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

Texas Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) in 2009, blowing bubbles on the House floor "just because I felt like it."

Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) has introduced two new bills that seek to criminalize the use of bathrooms by transgender people. Not only could trans people face jail time and fines for using gender-segregated facilities that match their gender, so too could businesses who make their facilities open to trans patrons.

H.B. 1747 would amend Texas’ existing laws on disorderly conduct by adding a provision that relates to when a person “enters a public restroom that is designated by a sign for members of the opposite sex of the actor.” Sex, it specifies, is established by the individual’s driver’s license. In Texas, transgender people actually can obtain identity documents that match their gender — if judges cooperate.

Riddle’s other bill, H.B. 1748, does not offer the same flexibility. It defines gender as what is “established at the individual’s birth” or “established by the individual’s chromosomes,” with chromosomes controlling if there’s a mismatch. Thus, it erases the experience of transgender people as it sets out very strict rules for who can use what facility.

Under HB 1748, it would be a Class A misdemeanor for any individual over the age of 13 to “enter a locker room, shower facility, or toilet facility that is designated for use by persons of a gender that is not the same gender as the individual’s gender.” Under Texas law, a Class A misdemeanor shall be punished by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail. The bill creates exceptions only for those serving a custodial purpose, providing medical assistance, or accompanying a young child that is not of the same gender.

The bill also targets any “operator, manager, superintendent, or other person with authority over a building,” stipulating that they may not allow anyone to enter a locker room, shower facility, or toilet facility that does not match their gender. Any facility owner who does allow such access has committed a state jail felony. Texas law would dictate a minimum of 180 days in prison with a maximum of two years, as well a fine up to $10,000.

ThinkProgress has sought comment from Riddle’s office since Monday morning, successfully making contact several times over the course of the week. She has refused, however, to respond with any statement about the anti-transgender legislation she has introduced. On Facebook, however, she did mention back in January her intention to introduce a bill that “will protect women & children from going into a ladies restroom & finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.”

Riddle’s legislation mirrors similar bills introduced in Florida and Kentucky. Florida Rep. Frank Artiles (R) justified his bill, which is nearly identical to Riddle’s in the way it criminalizes transgender bathroom usage, by using the same line that a man could “choose to feel like a woman that day.” Such claims ignore that transgender people experience and identify with a consistent gender, not one that flips from day to day.

The Kentucky bill, which surprisingly advanced out of a Senate committee this week, specifically targets schools. It would allow cisgender students to sue schools that allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their identities. Its sponsor, Sen. E.B. Embry, Jr. (R), admitted that his primary concern is “those who cross dress but are clearly boys (or girls as the case may be),” but his bill nevertheless would target all transgender students as well. Riddle’s bill in Texas similarly includes schools among the building owners that would be criminally liable for allowing transgender bathroom access.

Despite supposed concern for the privacy of women, these bills actually threaten the safety of transgender people, who face significant levels of discrimination and harassment when trying to use the restroom. Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), condemned the bills as “pernicious” for the risk they pose to transgender people. “Lawmakers who sponsor this kind of mean-spirited legislation purport to be looking out for public safety,” he explained. “But in reality, they are creating unsafe conditions by putting transgender people at great risk for harassment and violence.”