Texas Politics

Fort Worth Chamber joins fight against ‘bathroom bill’ in Texas

The battle over restrooms will be a big issue this legislative session in Texas.
The battle over restrooms will be a big issue this legislative session in Texas. Star-Telegram

Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce officials are weighing in on the state’s battle over bathrooms, siding strongly with opponents of proposed state regulations.

The chamber’s board of directors is the latest group to publicly oppose a bill geared to restrict which restrooms transgender Texans could frequent and join Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses and organizations also opposed to the proposal.

“Fort Worth has led the way in non-discrimination policies for almost two decades, which has helped us attract corporate relocations, expansions, skilled talent, conventions and tourists,” according to a statement released Friday by Matt Geske, vice president of government affairs for the group. “Companies have cited our inclusive policies as one of the reasons they choose to invest in Fort Worth.

“We must continue to send the message that Texas is a diverse and welcoming state or risk losing billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.”

Earlier this month, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed the so-called bathroom bill, known as the “Texas Privacy Act,” which drew quick support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Senate Bill 6 would prevent transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice and require them to use public restrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. Critics call it the anti-transgender bill.

Patrick made the proposal one of his top 10 priorities this session, saying it’s meant to prevent predators from abusing local laws.

“This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense,” he has said.

This has been a big issue in Fort Worth, after Patrick last year made big headlines calling for Fort Worth School Superintendent Kent Scribner’s resignation over restroom guidelines. Those guidelines have been rewritten.

Fort Worth Chamber officials say the bill would void the city’s local non-discrimination ordinances.

“In 2000, Fort Worth was the first Texas city to pass an ordinance to protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Geske’s statement said. “In 2009, the city expanded the ordinance to include protection of individuals based on gender identity.”

Costly proposition

Local estimates show the bill could cost Texas $8.5 billion in GDP, one of the factors used to gauge the status of a state’s economy.

A similar proposal that became law in North Carolina last year cost the state $630 million in lost business within half a year, Forbes estimates show.

A group of convention and visitors bureaus across the state, including those in Arlington and Fort Worth, have already opposed the “bathroom bill” in Texas. They joined an inclusive “Texas Welcomes All” campaign.

“Business and leisure tourism delivers a $2 billion economic impact each year in Fort Worth and supports more than 20,000 jobs,” Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, has said. “An important driver behind that is our friendly hospitality and a strong message that all are welcome here. We want to maintain that.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley