By GJ Sevillano
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that a special legislative session to the 85th state legislative session will begin on July 18, 2017. The special session will give the legislature a chance to resolve certain unsettled issues from the regular. On the Governor’s agenda are 19 issues including education policy, property taxes, maternal mortality, and the reemergence of the infamous “bathroom bill” (SB6).
Senate-Leader Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put immense pressure on Gov. Abbott to call the special in order to, among other measures, pass a bill to prohibit transgender people from using the restroom that corresponds to their identity. Supporters of the bathroom bill claim to be motivated by a desire to protect the privacy of women and children. However, these sentiments ring hollow within the halls of the legislature, and instead echo discriminatory language heard during the times of Jim Crow segregation.
On May 21, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) addressed the House on the issue of using bathrooms as a contemporary mechanism of discrimination and said, “Bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now…America has long recognized that ‘separate but equal’ is not equal at all.” Of course, what Thompson is referring to is the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that upheld racial segregation laws for public institutions, such as bathrooms, and created the doctrine of “separate but equal” that was eventually overturned in the landmark class action case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. In that case, Oliver Brown represented his third-grade daughter, Linda Brown, to fight for her right to attend a public school in spite of the color of her skin. Now parents of trans-youth all across Texas may face similar hurdles that the Brown’s overcame over 60 years ago as Texas attempts to revive the separate-but-equal doctrine for these students.
Joana Smith, a mother of a 7-year-old transgender son, fears that the decisions regarding the “bathroom bill” would negatively impact her son’s life. She told Meredith Hoffman of the US News, “He would be very embarrassed and ashamed to be outed; I worry so much that it would just ruin his life.” The proposal on bathroom access already discussed in Texas would prohibit Smith’s son to use the boy’s bathroom at school. Smith plans to pull her child out of school if the measure is implemented. Escape, too often, is the only choice these families face. Teresa, another mother of a transgender child, told Hoffman that her 12-year-old daughter fought through verbal attacks when she transitioned in the second grade, but finally found safety after switching to a completely different school.
But the “bathroom bill” proposed in Texas is but one part of an active effort by the state to demote transgender people and trans-youth to second-class citizens in America.
In tandem with their current pursuit of the discriminatory “bathroom bill,” Texas has vehemently opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and has actively worked to render it null. The state helped to lead successful litigation to gut portions of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557) relating to protection against discrimination transgender people in addition to pregnancy termination. Section 1557 outlines a wide net of anti-discrimination statutes that protects people from discrimination on the basis of disability, race, color, age, gender, or national origin. Texas, joined by other states and several health providers, claimed this protection was a violation of religious freedom.
By ruling in Texas’s favor with a nationwide injunction, the court opens the door for any health program or activity receiving federal funds to choose to decline health insurance coverage, services, and procedures for transgender people and trans-youth, like the kids of Joana Smith and Teresa. This decision accelerates the formation of a second-class citizenship for these marginalized groups.
At the heart of the “bathroom bill” and the temporary block on Section 1557 is the disparate nature of Texas legislators and the real, lived experiences of young people in Texas. Transgender people and trans-youth are being marginalized because of a single characteristic: gender identity. Concluding her address, Rep. Thompson (D) summarized these sentiments as, “Based on fear, and not fact.”
As the Texas special legislative session is a little over a month away, it is important to understand that these legislative decisions have a major impact on Texan lives, especially the lives of transgender people and trans-youth’s equal access to something as everyday as using the bathroom or something as life-altering as receiving healthcare.
GJ Sevillano is a 2017 YI Scholar originally from Los Angeles, California. He is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in American Politics and a certificate from the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. His advocacy work reflects his passion and enthusiasm for political literacy and social equity.