Texas uses special session to keep trying to discriminate against trans people

Two anti-trans bills have been introduced so far.

Next Tuesday, Texas lawmakers will convene for a special session, a primary goal of which is to revisit legislation targeting transgender people for discrimination. And one member of the legislature has already introduced two different proposals for the special session toward achieving this goal.

Rep. Ron Simmons (R) has introduced a pair of bills, HB 46 and HB 50, that likely represent just the first shot across the bow for this special session.

HB 46 doesn’t include any references to LGBTQ identities, but it still aims to usurp local nondiscrimination protections. Like “preemption” laws passed in Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, the bill would prevent municipalities from adding classes to nondiscrimination laws that aren’t already protected under state or federal law. Since neither Texas nor the United States explicitly protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, this could override protections many Texas cities, counties, and school districts already offer.

There is a catch, though. HB 46 is written much more narrowly than the other state laws that it mirrors. The bill states that the municipalities cannot extend protections to a new class of persons “to the extent that the order, ordinance, policy, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.” In other words, it seems the bill would still allow schools and municipalities to protect LGBTQ from discrimination except when it comes to bathrooms. Thus, the bill primarily targets transgender people, though it could conceivably be used to block people from facilities for their sexual orientation too.

It’s worth noting, however, that this would have implications for all of the different ways transgender people might be protected from discrimination. It would obviously have an impact on public accommodations if transgender people can’t use facilities that match their identities in public. But it would also compromise protections in education and employment. A transgender person who is protected when applying for a job but then can be banned from the bathrooms in that workplace isn’t really protected. Likewise, it’s incredibly harmful to transgender students’ mental health and access to education to segregate them out of a school’s bathrooms.

Meanwhile, that’s exactly what HB 50 does. Using almost identical language as HB 46, HB 50 simply takes a narrower approach, targeting only school boards and not other municipalities. Under HB 50, school boards would be prohibited from enforcing policies that recognize transgender students’ gender identities and allow them use matching facilities accordingly.

While both of Simmons’ bills are problematically discriminatory, neither quite rises to the occasion of the original sweeping legislation championed uncompromisingly by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

Patrick spent the entire regular session pushing for a bill that was designated as SB6. This legislation explicitly specified that Texas legal protections only apply to “biological sex” — “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate” — thus preventing transgender people from being protected by them. Going a step further than the prohibitions in Simmons’ bills, SB6 would have mandated that municipalities and school districts establish restroom policies banning transgender people from accessing them. It further would have established that any violation of that mandate would have opened those entities to civil liability; in other words, people could sue for thousands of dollars if they had to share a bathroom with a trans person.

The special session seems to promise a showdown between Patrick, who oversees the Senate, and House Speaker Joe Straus (R), who blocked the anti-trans bills introduced during the regular session.

Patrick has demonized transgender people as “predators” who are “confused” and “troubled” and who “threaten the vast majority.” Straus, meanwhile, seems to agree with LGBTQ advocates that these discriminatory bills would have real consequences for transgender people — saying in a recent interview, “Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”