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Council Members Unanimously Reject Texas Town’s Anti-Trans Bill

Rockwall Mayor Jim Pruitt

It was standing room only in the chambers of the Rockwall City Council on Monday evening.

Supporters and opponents showed up to watch the Texas city council deliberate on an ordinance proposed by Mayor Jim Pruitt, one that would force trans people to use the bathroom that matches with the sex they were assigned at birth, not their gender identity. “I just think that it's insanity not to have those protections in place," Pruitt told Dallas TV station WFAA last week.

Unfortunately for the mayor, he couldn’t find anyone on the town’s city council who agreed with him. The ordinance died in debate, after not a single one of the five council members stood up to support it.

The proposed legislation would have been nearly identical to a bill passed in Oxford, Alabama last week, fining transgender people $500 for using the bathroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity. Council members told Pruitt during the Monday deliberations that such legislation is “unenforceable,” as Houston TV station, KHOU, reports.

Pruitt put forward the bill following Target’s recent decision to allow all staff and customers at stores nationwide to use the restrooms that best correspond with their gender identity. 

“We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day,” the company stated in an April 19 press release. “We believe that everyone — every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally.”

“I don’t know why we’re having this conversation,” Pruitt told the council, according to the Dallas Morning News. “We are because someone decided to make a policy to allow men unfettered access to women’s bathrooms."

But Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Lewis argued that if Pruitt doesn’t agree with the company’s statement, the solution is simple: Don’t go there. Others have the exact same option, he said. “If Target wants to have this policy, I have the choice of not shopping at Target,” Lewis told the Morning News.

The bill was vocally opposed by the local Hilton Hotel, which warned that passing an ordinance targeting trans bathroom use would be bad for the town’s local economy. Rockwall — with a population of just over 37,000 — is located outside of Dallas. “Our business will suffer,” Hilton general manager James Montgomery told KHOU. “This will negatively affect travel and tourism to our area.”

After the passage of House Bill 2, a controversial North Carolina law similar to the one Rockwall rejected, more than 160 businesses have come out to condemn the Tar Heel State. Companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank nixed planned expansions in the state, causing millions of dollars in lost revenue. 

Montgomery warned that if Rockwall were to pass its own anti-trans legislation, Hilton might be forced to follow suit and leave the town. As KHOU reported, "the hotel employs 175 workers and pays $750,000 in property taxes."

Kenda Culpepper, the Rockwall County District Attorney, didn’t offer her support for the legislation, but according to KHOU, she attended the meeting to provide information about the alleged ramifications of Target’s policy. “This is about sex predators that will use this issue ... as an excuse to get into the bathroom to possibly assault children," Culpepper said.

“Rockwall County is not immune to sexual offenses,” she continued, “and yes, it happens in bathrooms.” Culpepper also happens to be the mayor’s wife.

Culpepper’s fear isn’t trans people. She believes that Target’s inclusive bathrooms will be exploited by sexual predators, but there’s no evidence of that being the case. In the more than 200 localities across the country that allow trans people equal bathroom access, there are no reported incidents of someone pretending to be transgender to enter the bathroom of the opposite sex and harm other restroom users.

Lacking a council member to second the ordinance, the legislation quickly died. Pruitt has claimed that he won’t try to pass an amended version.

In a press release, Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT nonprofit, celebrated the defeat of the Rockwall measure. “Discrimination has no place, anywhere in Texas,” the group said. “Small town Texas values were on fine display and Rockwall shows what Texas is really all about: local communities.”

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