Texans of all stripes came out in force against the Texas House's bathroom bill Wednesday night, stretching a late-night public hearing for House Bill 2899 well into Thursday morning. City leaders from Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso called the bill discriminatory and transgender Texans from across the state told stories of the fear they feel from potential bathroom legislation.
HB 2899 would roll back city protections of any LGBTQ individuals and prevent future non-discrimination policies. Witnesses, even those with traditionally conservative bona fides, called this dangerous and bad for business. Those who spoke in front of the Texas State Affairs Committee to oppose the bill outnumbered those in favor, 66 to 6.
"The residents and businesses of Dallas believe discrimination in all forms have no home in our community," Dallas City Council member Lee Kleinman said, speaking on behalf of the city. "Please do not perpetuate this discrimination. Equal protection under the law for all residents, no exceptions."
Phillip Jones, head of Visit Dallas, said 24 conventions and events told him that they wouldn't come to Dallas if the state passes a bill that dictates which bathroom people use by the gender on their birth certificates. He urged the committee to amend the bill to allow cities to keep their current non-discrimination ordinances, and to allow new ordinances to be passed by referendum.
Jimmy Flannigan, Austin's first openly gay city council member, said that the discrimination embodied by HB 2899 goes against Texas values. "[HB 2899] effectively requires the city that I represent enforce discriminatory practices on me and my friends and family," he said.
Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, a group that's fought HB 2899 and its stringent Texas Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 6, told the committee about the threats he feels bathroom legislation poses to the businesses he represents. "You do not want to tie the hands of Texas employers on their ability to recruit talent," he said.
Emmett Schelling, a transgender man from San Antonio, told the committee about his life and the problems legislation like SB 6 and HB 2899 would cause for him."We can choose to either not transition and hate ourselves or choose to step out and be authentic...and often invite hatred," Schelling said. "This might be an economic stance for cities but this is a life and death stance for us."
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Tension rose in the room when some of the few speakers in favor of the bill took the mic. Dave Welch, head of the Texas Pastor Council told the committee that the state needed a "uniform standard" for who's allowed in what restroom, and then got in an argument with state Representative Eddie Rodriguez, who argued that the state already had laws on the books to prevent bathroom attacks.
At times, even the Republicans on the committee seemed to question what everyone was doing, bickering over who could use what bathroom as the clock made its way toward three in the morning. "I’ve been on this committee a long time and I’ve never seen that community present any problems," Committee Chairman Byron Cook said of any threat transgender individuals pose to people in bathrooms. "These are issues that have always historically taken care of themselves."
At 4:39 a.m., after 72 witnesses and more than five hours of testimony, Cook finally brought the hearing to a close. Committee members, as they often do after a first public hearing, left the bill pending.