by Rep. Thomas Oliverson, House District 130
On the first day of the Texas legislative session, a reporter asked me whether or not I felt like the “bathroom bill” (Texas Privacy Act – SB 6) was essentially a non-issue. I remember saying “No, it is not a non-issue, and we are going to have to act now.” Despite all that I have seen and heard since Texas Senator Lois Kolkhorst filed SB 6, my opinion hasn’t changed. I strongly believe that the privacy issue is important, but perhaps I should take some time to explain why I feel that way.
When my wife and I discuss the bathroom privacy issue, she mentions that for as long as she can remember, there have been men dressed as women using the women’s bathroom. They come in, go into the stall, come out, wash their hands and leave. She didn’t feel threatened by this because in her mind, they were in the bathroom trying to be like her, instead of trying to get a look at her. But she also knew that if she did become concerned at some point, she could ask this person to leave or report the incident and she would also have the legal right to raise a concern or a complaint about the incident. There was also no effort by transgender activists and misguided lobby groups that were trying to create new laws to shame and punish her if she expressed concerns about someone who appeared to be in the incorrect bathroom. I have also heard school officials mention that they have been quietly dealing with this for years, and working it out on a case-by-case basis. So if that was the status quo and it seemed to be working, what’s the problem?
Actually, I don’t think this problem began with bathrooms at all. I think this issue is a symptom of a much larger problem within this country, one that seems to be focused around the progressive idea that “tolerance” means “endorsement,” and anything less than “endorsement” means “intolerance,” which requires “corrective action.” How this applies to the bathroom privacy issue can clearly be seen in the “Dear Colleague” letter released by the Department of Education/Department of Justice in 2016. You may recall it asserted that the new and “appropriate” implementation of Title IX (federal sex discrimination law) meant that schools would be required to follow a student’s decision on which restrooms and locker rooms to use, based solely on the student’s personal “internal sense of gender.” In addition, it forbade the common practice of letting public schools provide a private single use bathroom as the appropriate accommodation. Instead, the letter stated that such students must be allowed “full access” to the communal changing areas and showers based on their own personal sense of gender, regardless of whether or not they change their appearance or anatomy. Any students who felt uncomfortable enough to object to this practice would themselves be removed from the communal changing areas and showers, thus punishing the “intolerant.” So poorly thought out, this new implementation meant a teenage boy could say he personally and internally identified as a girl, thus forcing the school to allow him to walk right into the girl’s shower room. This forced compliance with the uncomfortable and mandated acceptance of new personal definitions not found anywhere in Texas law is unreasonable.
Sadly, failed lawsuits followed by executive action or ordinance has become standard operating procedure for some activists within our country when they can’t get support from the legislature or at the ballot box. There have also been bills filed that go in the opposite direction of the Texas Privacy Act, expanding government power to punish people and private businesses for handling the bathroom and shower privacy issue according to their own conscience, similar to what was tried in Houston. These aggressive efforts that have been rejected by the voters reveal a very calloused attitude towards the rights of others and I believe generally reflect a mindset that refuses to tolerate the existence of any viewpoint except their own. It is exactly the same kind of mentality that led a lesbian couple to sue a known Christian baker for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a wedding ceremony, despite the fact that there were other willing bakers that would have provided that service.
This friends, is exactly why bills like SB 6 have become necessary. We, as legislators, must create a reasonable backstop that reminds all interested parties that everyone has rights, including the right to disagree, and each person’s rights are equally important. We must find a way to coexist. Yes, President Trump has rescinded the ill-advised “Obama bathroom letter,” but Trump’s letter says specifically that this issue should be decided at the state level. Hence, our school districts need the consistent, statewide guidance that SB 6 provides, so schools can focus on education instead of how to handle the bathroom and locker room issue. The Texas Privacy Act and other religious freedom bills are a necessary defense against current and future assaults on our rights to hold values and religious beliefs that are different than the ones a vocal few insist we have. If you believe in these values like I do, the time to act is now.
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