Rockwall Bathroom Battle Hints at How Statewide Fight Might Go Down

For supporters of equal rights and equal protection, the outcome of Monday night's Rockwall City Council meeting was good. Despite the best efforts of Mayor Jim Pruitt, the city did not pass a bathroom ordinance that would've required city facilities and  businesses to make sure customers use the restroom matching the sex listed on their birth certificates or face a $500 fine. Conservatism turned the tide against the move in Rockwall. The question is whether it will do the same during next year's session of the Texas Legislature, which is sure to tackle the important issue of where transgendered people use the toilet.

Pruitt's ordinance didn't get a vote because each of the six members of the council at the meeting refused to second his motion. The bathroom ordinance died, and Pruitt told reporters after the meeting that he has no plans to bring it back, despite his contention that Target, by making it clear that they will let customers use whichever bathroom shoppers feel is consistent with their gender identity, was "allow[ing] men unfettered access to women's restrooms."

The mayor's lack of support, made obvious by most the council, didn't stem from the desire to protect any transgendered or gender fluid individuals who might need to pee in Rockwall, but from a steadfast desire to uphold, above all else, the property rights of business owners.

"Government should stay out of private business affairs as much as possible," said council member Dennis Lewis, who initially believed he would support Pruitt's potty measure. "If Target wants to have this policy, I've got the choice of not shopping at Target."

Lewis' colleague, David White, stressed his libertarian bona fides when he explained that he didn't even support the sentiment of Pruitt's ordinance, much less its consequences. Common sense is enough to aid people in enforcing bathroom mores, he argued.

"I believe in as limited as government as humanly possible. I believe that when the government gets involved in where you pee or poop that's goddanged ridiculous," White said. "If my brother-in-law saw a man walk in the women's restroom he would say 'What the hell are you doing going in there?'"

"He would and then he would probably whup their ass if they were in there and he thought they shouldn't be," Pruitt responded, before adding that his ordinance would prevent those kind of potential assaults.

Rockwall's debate is a good object lesson in the battle over where people pee that is sure to take place in next year's legislative session. State Representative Matt Shaheen, who fought valiantly against Plano's equal rights ordinance, announced last week that he would be filing a statewide bathroom bill in 2017.

"If Target wants to close all their stores in the state of Texas, I will go over and help them pack and help them leave," Shaheen told the Texas Tribune. "I will die on this issue politically. I am going to bat for my wife and my daughters."

Given the hammerlock Texas Republicans have on both chambers of the Legislature and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's passion for dictating were people pee — as well as the national heat around the issue, which tends to draw Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott like moths to a flame — Shaheen's bill is likely to get a little more run than a similar measure filed by Debbie Riddle in 2015. It will be up to the Legislature's libertarians — and those who give a flip about the state's business interests — to stop it.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young