CHICAGO: Rights activists celebrated Wednesday the collapse of legislation to restrict transgender people’s use of bathrooms in Texas, but proponents on both sides of the bitter divide warned the battle was far from over.
The bill, which would have required transgender people to use bathrooms matching their birth gender, roiled the ruling Republican Party for months in the second most populous US state and was seen as reflecting a wider national cultural rift.
Supporters said the bill was merely designed to protect women and children from sexual predators, while opponents argued that the legislation was discriminatory and would have made the Lone Star state a national pariah.
Although the bill had been approved by one of the state’s two legislative chambers last month, it was effectively killed late Tuesday when a special session of the state’s House of Representatives broke up without debating the measure.
The bill’s collapse came after the speaker of the house – a moderate Republican who opposed the legislation – refused to allot time for lawmakers to discuss it.
The chamber is not scheduled to meet again until 2019 when it reconvenes after elections.
But both backers of the bill and some of its fiercest opponents agreed that the issue was likely to flare up again.
“Obviously I’m very pleased … but we’re cautious because this will come up again in our next legislature,” Lisa Scheps, one of the leaders of the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
“Now we have to start working to fight it again … it’s not dead, it’s sleeping.”
Ron Simmons, one of the main architects of the legislation, also said the collapse of the bill had not settled the issue.
“The legislation might be dead but the issue is still very much alive until it is solved at the state or federal level,” Simmons told the Dallas Morning News.
Texas, which voted solidly for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, is regarded as one of the most socially conservative states in the country and a traditional bellwether of Republican politics.
Gay rights supporters and other civil advocacy groups vigorously fought against the proposal, which they argued would set the cause of equality back by years.
But observers said the crucial factor in its demise came with the intervention from major businesses with headquarters or operations in Texas.
Tech giants Apple and IBM joined with the likes of United Airlines and Capital One in signing an open letter warning that the bill would cost $5.6 billion in lost tourism and investment.
“IBM commends the Texas legislature for ending the Special Session without sending any of the discriminatory bathroom bills to the Governor (Greg Abbott) for his signature,” IBM’s chief diversity officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre said on Wednesday.
“Together, we stood up for the families, friends and employees who would have been affected should any of these bills have become law.”
The Texas Association of Business, a powerful corporate lobbying organization, purchased advertising in local media to voice its opposition to the bill in the build-up to the special session.
“The public campaign by business absolutely strengthened the position of the people that didn’t want to see this legislation,” said James Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
“It’s an indication of where the country is overall that the major business groups are voicing this commitment to civil rights, because it’s in their interest to do so,” Henson told AFP.
A similar bathroom law enacted by North Carolina last year led to protests and boycotts on a national scale. The state later repealed much of the measure.
The Texas battle drew particular attention as it carried strong echoes of similar divisions among right-wing conservatives and more socially liberal Republicans on a national level in the Trump era.
Trump announced a ban on any transgender personnel from serving in the US military last month, triggering criticism from several senior Republicans such as former presidential candidate John McCain.
“It’s just another episode in an ongoing conflict,” Henson said.