Other Voices

The ‘bathroom’ bill isn’t about transgender Texans. It’s about politics of fear

Amber Briggle with her transgender son, Max, outside Eldon B. Mahon Federal Court building in Fort Worth in 2016.
Amber Briggle with her transgender son, Max, outside Eldon B. Mahon Federal Court building in Fort Worth in 2016. dkent@star-telegram.com

My state representative knows my transgender son by name. He makes it a point to shake his hand when we meet him, and pat him on the back. He uses the correct pronouns and calls him Max, instead of his birth name of Mary Grace. My state rep also signed on as a co-author to House Bill 46, which would strip local municipalities such as Fort Worth of current nondiscrimination ordinances, and prohibit other cities in the state to pass anything similar. This bill would make it legal to discriminate against transgender kids like my son Max, as well as veterans, seniors and anyone not protected by federal law.

I would like to believe that my representative cares about Max. But after seeing his name on that bill, my hunch is that he cares more about getting re-elected than he does about doing the right thing.

Those of us who have been following these “bathroom bills” understand that this is nothing more than the politics of division. Once marriage equality became the law of the land, the far right needed to find another target that would play into their politics of fear: the “T” in LGBT. Like marriage equality or desegregation, this has nothing to do with “common decency” — but it has everything to do with winning primaries.

I had hoped that by introducing my transgender child to my representative, he wouldn’t buy into that politics of fear. He would see Max for exactly who he is: a freckle-faced fourth-grader who dotes on his little sister and our rescue cats. Max is smart, funny, athletic and kind. And because he is transgender, he is also among the 75 percent of trans students who report that they don’t feel safe in school, and that maybe — just maybe — that might be something our representative would want to try to address. However, the politics of fear is strong.

So he threw my son and the estimated 145,000 transgender Texans like him under the bus.

Texas is a heavily gerrymandered state, and a case will soon be heard at the Supreme Court about this very issue. Gov. Greg Abbott refuses to make voter registration easier and more accessible with automatic voter registration (which already successfully exists in 35 other states, red and blue alike). If you move, your voter ID card is not forwarded to you in the mail. If you end up not voting for a while, you’ll be purged from the whole system. The current political system in Texas is counting on these deliberate acts of voter suppression to stay in power. And when people don’t feel empowered, they’re going to feel apathetic on Election Day. The cycle continues, and things only get worse.

I still believe, however, that the power is in our hands — but only if we vote.

A lot of Texas politicians know that if they can get through the primaries, they’re pretty much guaranteed an Election Day victory. When candidates are promised rewards for taking a hard stand on something like bathrooms, the allure of that politics of fear becomes even greater. But if we do our research and look at the facts, we will come to see this for what it is: a trick to try and get the most extreme voters to cast ballots for the most extreme candidates.

Pay attention to the distractions that our politicians try to conjure up, like this bathroom bill. This isn’t about bathrooms; this is about politics and power. If we all show up and vote in the primaries, we might actually have a shot of turning this ship around.

Amber Briggle is a small-business owner, mother of two, and advocate for transgender rights. She serves as a national member of the Parents for Transgender Equality Council through the Human Rights Campaign, and is a state board member of the League of Women Voters of Texas.