LGBT Rights Expert Weighs In On Bathroom Bill


Written by: Justin Ikpo (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: August 01, 2017

After hours of emotional testimony on July 21, Texas sub-committee members passed a divisive bill that restricts the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals in public facilities. Senate Bill 3, which faces opposition in the House, has become one of the most contentious issues state government has battled with in recent years.

The bill restricts the use of restrooms in state government buildings, including public schools, based on the sex listed on an individual’s birth certificate, instead of the gender with which a person identifies. It also restricts the ability of public school students to participate in athletic events that reflect their gender identity.

Dr. George Cunningham, professor and director of the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport, has researched diversity issues within the LGBTQ community for several years. Cunningham said people often develop attitudes toward sexual minorities and LGBT individuals based on history, culture and religion.

“Such attitudes can make these individuals seem different than the norm or adjust how people think of themselves and about others,” said Dr. Cunningham. “I think we're seeing a lot of this belief that anything that's different is viewed with a skeptical eye despite evidence to the contrary.”

Over the years, the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport has researched LGBT issues in a more broad way — one that stretches further than just the higher education and professional levels. Dr. Cunningham spoke about the restrictions of the bill and how general assumptions against transgender individuals do not often align with collected data.

“Our research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals have different experiences than do transgender individuals,” he said. “While LGBT individuals are frequently grouped together, our research shows transgender people actually experience more prejudice. And, this trend has remained over time.”

Lawmakers attempted to pass the bill earlier this year but it failed to pass through the House. With the bill’s recent passing through the Texas State Senate and its increasing support, Dr. Cunningham suggested that the bill could usher in discriminatory actions that will harm the LGBT community.

“I think this bill will set up a culture that normalizes discrimination and prejudice,” he said. “One where people are forced to either hide or not disclose their identities out of fear that they'll be abused in some way — no matter how subtle.”

In addition, longstanding discriminatory effects could contribute to suicide rates amongst LGBT youths in public schools. Research has shown that LGBT youth are at a higher risk for attempting suicide than their non-LGBT peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Federal and state laws can influence suicide rates. For example, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, suicide rates of LGBT individuals decreased. The opposite can also occur, and according to Cunningham, that is what makes the potential passage of SB3 so frightening.

“There's research showing that when people are denied their basic rights or opportunities to operate in society as others do, then they're more likely to experience psychological distress, experience suicidal tendencies, and even commit suicide than their peers who don't experience the same forms of discrimination,” said Dr. Cunningham.

Senate Bill 3 is currently awaiting state House approval.