Texas’ Republican House leader opposes anti-trans bills because lives are on the line

“Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and House Speaker Joe Straus (R).
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and House Speaker Joe Straus (R).

Later this month, the Texas legislature will convene a special session to consider, among other things, a bill to limit transgender access to bathroom facilities. No such bill passed during the regular session, and it’s now clear just how adamant House Speaker Joe Straus (R) is about preventing the different variations from advancing.

According to a recent interview with The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright, Straus recounted an occasion when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), a fervent proponent of the anti-trans legislation, sent two senators to present him with a new “bathroom bill” proposal. Straus dismissed them without reading it, explaining, “I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan. I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

Patrick disputes that he arranged any such meeting, but Straus’ comment speaks for itself. It references the very high suicide attempt rate among transgender people — a rate studies have consistently found is exacerbated by discrimination and its consequences as well as family rejection.

In the interview, Straus went on to describe one of the bathroom bills the legislature considered this year as a “sweepingly discriminatory policy” that “would have sent a very negative message around the country.” He also indicated that he feels no obligation to pass such a bill during the special session, even though Gov. Greg Abbott (R) placed it on the agenda. “The Governor would have the option to call as many 30-day sessions as he would like,” Straus said, seeming to confirm that he would keep it from passing out of committee.

In addition to disputing that he sent two senators to meet with Straus, Patrick tried to dismiss the allegation that his legislation would be detrimental to trans people’s health. “The Lt. Governor hopes the Speaker did not make these comments,” spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said in an email to The Associated Press this week. “Obviously no one wants to see harm to anyone as a result of any legislation that is passed.” Sylvester also repeated Patrick’s claim that the bill “has never been about discrimination.”

Patrick has made something of a crusade out of his push for anti-trans legislation. He got his start last summer when he targeted Fort Worth Independent School District for implementing policies in accordance with its gender identity nondiscrimination protections. Then Texas led a multi-state lawsuit challenging President Obama’s guidance that schools across the country do the same, and Patrick promised not to abide by that guidance in Texas schools. This year, to support his legislative proposals, he launched a massive misinformation campaign to scare Texans into believing that transgender people threaten their privacy and safety.

It remains to be seen whether Straus will oppose any bathroom bill, or if he might compromise and accept a watered-down version. He seemed willing to consider a bill that would place some restrictions specifically on schools, but Patrick rejected the weaker legislation.

The 30-day special session, which could cost taxpayers upwards of $800,000, is set to begin July 18.