Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. has emerged as the first and only Democrat to cross the aisle and voice his support for the state's controversial Senate Bill 6, which aims to control which bathrooms transgender people are allowed to use in the state.
Lucio appeared at a news conference Monday with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and said he would vote for the “bathroom bill,” which would prevent most transgender Texans from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The Democratic senator from Brownsville has traditionally sided with conservatives when it comes to social issues, the Texas Tribune reported.
“Jesus spent his life reaching out to everyone, especially those who are at the margins of society, with compassion. His lesson is that all lives are sacred, thus no life is less valuable than any other — even those whose way of life seems foreign, strange, unfamiliar or even wrong,” Lucio said.
He added that he wanted to balance support of the transgender community “without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security.”
“The issue becomes more crucial when discussing how these issues affect our children, especially when they are at the age when they are trying to understand things about themselves and the world around them,” Lucio said. “They lack the maturity to fully comprehend circumstances and need to be guided by their parents and teachers. This is why I am voting for Senate Bill 6.”
Lucio's support means that Patrick now has 18 of the 19 votes needed to get the measure through the Senate, the Texas Tribune said.
Lucio's office said he was not available for interviews Tuesday. Immediately after his announcement, however, Lucio faced backlash from constituents upset about his decision. One of his most vocal critics was his own son — who shares his father's name and happens to be a Texas state lawmaker as well.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, also a Democrat from Brownsville, said that his office mistakenly received much of the negative feedback after his father appeared at the news conference. In a statement posted to Facebook on Monday night, the younger Lucio made it clear that his stance on the matter was different.
“On this issue, I respectfully disagree with my father and I oppose SB 6,” Lucio III wrote. “I believe this bill to be nothing more than a political ploy to appease certain narrow minded constituencies at the expense of some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society.”
The younger Lucio added that his office had yet to see data that showed that the transgender community posed a security risk to others in bathrooms, charging that Senate Bill 6 targeted people who are “just trying to live their lives and have a safe place to use the restroom.”
“My father preached love and service in my house growing up, and although I sincerely believe that his position is not rooted in hate, it is still wrong and will create adversity for many,” Lucio III wrote. “This is not a priority in Texas and should not be treated as one. I will stand up and oppose any attempt at oppression or prejudice whether the target group is gay, straight, white, brown, man, woman or child.”
He added that he and his father had a “civil and respectful” discussion about the bill that morning. They had hugged and agreed to disagree.
“I hope that regardless of your position on this or any issue you would approach your views and discussions with the same love and respect that my father and I displayed this morning,” the younger Lucio wrote.
Texas was among at least 11 states that filed or carried over legislation this year to close certain bathrooms to transgender people, The Washington Post's Amber Phillips reported. In late February, President Trump's administration rolled back federal guidelines that had stated that transgender students had the right to use public school restrooms matching their gender identity, bringing the issue back into the national spotlight.
Under Senate Bill 6, no Texas public school would be able to institute a bathroom policy that allows transgender students to use a restroom, shower or locker room that doesn’t match their “biological sex” on their birth certificate. The bill would still allow for schools to accommodate transgender students on a case-by-case basis, Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who introduced the bill along with the state’s lieutenant governor, reiterated at the bill's public hearing Tuesday in the Senate State Affairs Committee, which was attended by hundreds of people.
However, “public entities” that violate the law would be subject to a fine, Kolkhorst added.
The Texas legislation has been championed by the state’s conservative lawmakers, who tout it as a measure to protect privacy and argued that local nondiscrimination ordinances allowed men to use women’s restrooms.
“This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense,” Patrick said in a statement when the bill was filed in January.
He and Kolkhorst have since maintained that the bill is about women's privacy rights.
However, advocacy groups denounced the proposal as discriminatory almost as soon as it was announced. Equality Texas, a nonprofit organization that advocates the fair treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, called the bill a “shameful attack on transgender kids” in its campaign to stop the legislation.
“This proposed legislation is not about adding protection; instead it is an all out attempt to codify discrimination against transgender Texans. Plain and simple,” the group said in a statement. “If legislators were concerned with stopping sexual predators, they should introduce laws aimed at them, not transgender individuals.”
The National Football League preemptively issued a warning, saying passage of Senate Bill 6 could affect whether future Super Bowls were held in the state.
The Human Rights Campaign called it a “dangerous, politically-motivated assault on the rights of [Patrick’s] own constituents.”
“Patrick and his anti-LGBTQ friends in the legislature have clearly learned nothing from the self-inflicted damage caused by North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law and want to throw away $8.5 billion in revenue from lost visitors, businesses, sports leagues and major entertainment groups,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “If lawmakers vote to discriminate against transgender people, Texas will be closed for business.”
The proposed Texas legislation is similar to a controversial law passed in North Carolina last year, under which transgender people must use the restroom that matches the “biological sex” on their birth certificate.
Its passage prompted widespread protests and boycotts of the state. Both the NBA and the NCAA ditched plans to hold special games and tournaments in North Carolina, causing a potential loss of more than $100 million in tourism revenue, CNBC reported.
In December, North Carolina lawmakers convened a special legislative session to rescind the law but failed to do so.
On Tuesday, a group of conservative lawmakers from North Carolina spoke at the Texas Senate's public hearing in support of Senate Bill 6, saying the economic impact to North Carolina because of HB2 had been minimal.