One of the most heated debates in Austin this legislative session is over Senate Bill 6. Introduced as the Privacy Protection Act, the “bathroom bill” would bar people from using restrooms or locker rooms in schools and other government buildings that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates. It would also would nullify local protections passed in order to give transgender people the right to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Opponents say it’s discriminatory, but a key argument in favor of the bill is that it is a public safety measure, though the data to support that argument is largely anecdotal. Opponents raise their own anecdotal evidence, and one researcher is collecting data to add clarity and rigor to the debate.
Linking public safety and transgender Texans
Earlier this legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the bill is about public safety, though he clarified that he didn’t think public safety was directly threatened by transgender people. While sexual assault and other crimes that might occur in bathrooms remain illegal, Patrick says that transgender protections can make it too confusing to enforce the laws
“It’s about preventing a free pass to sexual predators, who are not transgender, to be able to walk into any bathroom with any child or any woman at any time,” Patrick says.
This got one listener wondering: Is there any evidence to back up the claim that SB6 would keep Texans safe? Taken a step further, the question gets at whether expanding rights for transgender people undermines safety or leads to greater incidents of crimes in bathrooms.
Back when the Senate Committee on State Affairs held a hearing on Senate Bill 6 about a month ago, hundreds of people packed in into the committee chamber and an overflow room in the heart of the Texas Capitol. Testimony lasted for 20 hours, proponents and opponents raised a host of issues and concerns. But the first to bring up public safety was the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham).
“There’s been a number of incidences just here in Austin, recently. Just a few days ago at the Salvation Army store, a man was recording a woman changing in a dressing room,” she says.
Kolkhorst talked about that incident and more that were worse, all where women and girls have been harmed or spied on in bathrooms. She said it’s the consequence of giving people the right to use the bathroom based on their gender identity as opposed to the sex on their birth certificate.
“While many have made this about a transgender bill, it’s more about someone who will use this bill as an excuse to go into the most intimate places we find ourselves in,” she said at the hearing.
Kolkhorst did not reply to a request for comment.