Amid conflicting pressures from gay rights groups, social conservatives, corporations and the state’s Republican leadership, the Texas Senate on Friday waded back into the volatile issue of restricting bathroom use by transgender people in government buildings and schools.
The issue, which roiled North Carolina for more than a year and led to boycotts and other economic blowback, has become one of the most heated and high-stakes political dramas in Texas. It has deepened the divide between moderate Republicans and social conservatives and caused widespread fears that a wave of boycotts and protests would do serious damage to the Texas economy, which is still feeling the effects of a drop in the price of oil.
The so-called bathroom bill was approved by a Republican-dominated Senate committee on Friday evening and now heads to the full Senate for a vote, part of a fast-paced push by social conservatives to try to pass the measure into law in the coming weeks.
Earlier on Friday, more than 250 supporters and opponents of the bill signed up to testify before the Senate Committee on State Affairs. The testimony began in the morning and continued into the evening. The hearing centered on two bills requiring transgender people to use the bathroom, locker room or shower that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate, as opposed to their gender identity, in public buildings, including schools. The version that the committee ultimately approved passed by a vote of 8 to 1.
The newly elected mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, told the senators in opposing the bill that the mere filing of it has already cost his city millions of dollars in lost conventions. A number of transgender Texans testified against it, including Sierra Jane Davis, 22, a transgender woman from Austin and a former Marine.
Ms. Davis, who has the Marine Corps emblem tattooed on her left arm, said in an interview outside the hearing that the bill would “open the floodgates to more and more legislation, and lets the public see that we are allowed to be discriminated against.”
The chief executives of 14 Dallas-based companies — including corporate giants like American Airlines, AT&T Inc., Southwest Airlines and Texas Instruments — sent a letter to the governor expressing concern that the bill “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”
And on Wednesday, the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church wrote to the speaker of the Texas House and suggested that if the bill passed, the church would cancel its nine-day General Convention in Austin scheduled for July 2018.
“In 1955, we were forced to move a General Convention from Houston to another state because Texas laws prohibited black and white Episcopalians from being treated equally,” read the letter from Bishop Michael B. Curry and another leader. “We would not stand then for Episcopalians to be discriminated against, and we cannot countenance it now.”