Texas House Speaker Takes Stand Against Anti-Trans Bill, Cites Suicide Risk

Joe Straus
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has spoken out against the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that legislators will consider in a special session this month, saying, “I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”

Straus made the comment in an article on Texas politics published online this week by The New Yorker. The moderate Republican was describing a meeting with two state senators sent to his office by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the legislative agenda.

“One of the senators carried an envelope that apparently contained the language of a bathroom bill that Patrick would accept,” The New Yorker reports. “The senator, whose name Straus would not disclose, was a lawyer, and told Straus that the language had been carefully crafted to insure that the bill would override any local antidiscrimination ordinances. The senator started to open the envelope, but Straus said not to bother. ‘I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,’ he said. ‘I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.’”

Texas’s Senate Bill 6, which would restrict trans people’s access to restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities in government buildings, passed the Senate in March but did not receive a vote in the House before the regular session ended in May. The bill would require people to use the facilities designated for the “biological sex” noted on their birth certificates. It is time-consuming and costly to change the gender on a birth certificate.

The House instead passed a compromise as an amendment to a school safety bill, affirming students’ right to use the bathroom with “privacy, dignity, and safety,” but not outright restricting anyone’s access. It also would affect only elementary and secondary schools, not state universities or other government buildings. Patrick would not accept the compromise.

Now Gov. Greg Abbott, like Patrick a deeply conservative Republican, has called a 30-day special session of the legislature to begin July 18, and a “bathroom bill” will be on the agenda. Straus has pledged to do whatever he can to block it, perhaps assuring that it stalls in committee. The legislature, he told The New Yorker, does not have to act on any specific item during the session, adding that the Abbott can call as many special sessions as he likes.

“So the bill could stay in committee and not get voted out?” New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright asked Straus. The speaker simply smiled. He has not made further public comments on the matter since the article was published, and it’s unclear if he would accept a less restrictive version of the bill.

An aide to Patrick, meanwhile, told the Associated Press the lieutenant governor did not send any senators to meet with Straus about the restroom legislation. “The Lt. Governor hopes the Speaker did not make these comments. Obviously no one wants to see harm to anyone as a result of any legislation that is passed,” Patrick spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said in an email to the AP.

Transgender people are at high risk for suicide, particularly when their gender is not affirmed in public settings such as schools and workplaces. A recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 40 percent of trans Americans had attempted suicide at some point, while the rate for the general population is 5 percent.

Texas LGBT rights activists praised Straus’s stand. “I’m pleased to see he said that,” Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, told the AP. “It’s true that literally people’s lives are at stake here.”

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