Two popular Austin small businesses were among 200 others across Texas to sign a letter last Tuesday opposing any upcoming state legislation prohibiting transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
The two businesses, Home Slice Pizza and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, signed lobbying group Equality Texas’ letter addressed to the Texas Legislature in response to proposals from state officials to bring up bans in the next session, which reconvenes in January.
“Our mission is to bring people together over food and beverages and just celebrate life,” said Joseph Strickland, Home Slice Pizza owner. “We didn’t have to think really hard about that one.”
On Oct. 20, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced he had renamed his sex-specific bathroom bill — a legislative priority of his next session — the Women’s Privacy Act, which mimics North Carolina’s House Bill 2. The controversial North Carolina bill was signed into law in March, and overturns city nondiscrimination ordinances and mandates individuals use the restroom that aligns with the gender specified on their birth certificate and not their gender identity.
The issue of local control, or conflicts between the state and city officials, on such policies will resurface when the Legislature reconvenes, according to state lawmakers in previews of the next session.
Austin City Council took matters into its own hands when it passed an ordinance in 2014 requiring individual public restrooms that lock to have gender-netural signs instead of designating separate male and female restrooms.
“Once we sat down and thought about it for a second, it just seemed like the right thing to do to get on the right side of history, not the wrong side,” Strickland said. “We understand that some people are going to be uncomfortable with it.”
The Council last month also approved a resolution stating it opposes any state laws that would “diminish the city’s ability to protect civil rights, threaten its welcoming business environment or tarnish its status as an inclusive community,” according to the resolution.
UT’s Student Government passed its own resolution in September to petition to change individual restroom signs and add gender-inclusive restrooms to pre-existing buildings.
James Che, the co-director of the student government’s Texas Queer and Transgender Students Alliance agency, co-authored the resolutions and said seeing the University take action is rewarding.
Che, a geological sciences and humanities senior, said he identifies as genderfluid.
“The fact that we’re actually able to meet with building managers and use SG as a platform to get our voices out there is really powerful for us,” Che said.
As a transgender student, Ivan Moore, UT’s TransAction president and an English junior, said having small businesses change their signs makes his life simpler.
“It sucks when I’m trying to leave the house or whatever and I have to think about am I going to need to go to the bathroom while I’m there [or] should I try to go to the bathroom before,” Moore said.
Although he applauds the LBGT-friendly change, Strickland said it should be up to the businesses’ management on how they choose to mark their restrooms.
“I think we should be able to make our own choices,” Strickland said. “I don’t think it should be mandated one way or the other.”
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema did not return requests for comment on this article.
During TransAction meetings, many members say they are worried about their future in Texas when it comes to bathrooms, Moore said.
“It won’t be safe for me to live in Texas anymore,” Moore said. “I mean not that it really ever has been, but now it will be even less so with [if] state Legislature basically backs up us being harassed and assaulted.”