HOUSTON - For the first time, state lawmakers heard testimony in Austin on Tuesday for and against the so-called "bathroom bill." More than 400 people signed up to be heard.
Senate Bill 6, officially labeled the "Texas Privacy Act," would require people to use the restrooms, locker rooms or showers in government buildings, public schools and universities based on the gender on their birth certificate.
SB 6 would also override local laws, like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) rejected by voters in 2015, that would let transgender residents use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
The bill’s supporters say it's about safety and privacy. However, opponents, including many top Texas business leaders, worry about losing billions from companies and conventions that decide to go elsewhere.
One transgender Houston student and her family worry it could make what's already a difficult -- and for some, dangerous -- journey even harder.
Nearly anyone who's been a teenager can relate to feeling different from their peers, but what Carnegie Vanguard High School sophomore Maddie Whitley says she felt in middle school was something very few teens ever do.
"I saw the word 'transgender,' and I saw videos and other transgender kids explaining their experience, and I just clicked with that,” Maddie said.
After doing extensive research on the Internet, Maddie, born “Matthew” and listed as male on her birth certificate, broke the news to her parents near the end of eighth grade.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done,” said Maddie, who says both of her parents were supportive.
"There was a growth to it,” said Elaine Whitley, Maddie’s mother. “I had to go through all of these expectations that I had for my son thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, none of this is going to come true,' until I came to the point where I realized, ‘This is the same kid.’"
The family went to therapist who specializes in gender identity, who testified against SB 6 on Tuesday. By the end of her 9th grade year, Maddie says she began transitioning from Matthew into Maddie.
Both Maddie and her mom are against Senate Bill 6.
"I don't think I look like a boy, so to see me walk into the men's restroom I think would turn a few heads,” Maddie said.
“I just think it’s ridiculous, and it’s an unnecessary waste of time,” Whitley said. "(Transgender kids) desperately want to fit in, and they really want to go under the radar."
However, the bill’s author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has called the bill a priority during the current legislative session, say the bill would protect privacy and women's safety.
"We know in Houston it had zero impact,” said Lt. Gov. Patrick, referring to similar economic concerns during the debate over HERO, during a press conference on Tuesday. “This bill is the right thing to do.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Tuesday that schools can still make special accommodations for students with "special needs."
The lieutenant governor of North Carolina, Dan Forest, also spoke during the same press conference. He said House Bill 2, a similar law in North Carolina that’s drawn heavy controversy, has had almost no negative economic impact, despite the NBA and NCAA pulling major sporting events out of the state and major companies like PayPal cancelling expansion plans because of the bill’s passage.
"What it has cost today is one-tenth of one percent of our annual GDP," said Lt. Gov. Forest, who also mentioned record home construction and tourism during the same one-year period since HB 2 became law.
Whatever happens in the fight in Austin, Maddie says she’ll keep fighting for equality while being supported by her classmates.
"Everyone's super supportive, and everyone's just like loving and treats me as one of the girls,” said Maddie, who says HISD allows her to use the girls’ restroom.
Meanwhile, her mom says she’ll focus on education, including “parent-to-parent advocacy."
"This happiness that I see now, and the confidence, and she stands up straight and she's beautiful, and she's so authentic now and her real self, that was worth everything we've been through,” Whitley said.
If SB 6 is passed by the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday, it will go to the full Senate for a vote.
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