AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Republican speaker of the Texas House of Representatives says in an article published Monday he didn’t want a “suicide” on his hands over a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people that Gov. Greg Abbott wants to again try passing later this month.
The comments by Joe Straus in The New Yorker appear to repeat concerns raised by LGBT rights groups that efforts to restrict which bathrooms transgender people can use could elevate the risk of suicide. The author of the story, Lawrence Wright, said Straus told him about a senator coming to his office with a proposed compromise just before the bill collapsed in May.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan,” said Straus, according to the magazine. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
Aides to Straus did not return emails Monday. A spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has spearheaded the push for a North Carolina-style “bathroom bill” in Texas, also did not return a message. According to the magazine, Patrick’s office denied sending senators to Straus’ office.
Straus is the powerful leader of the GOP-controlled House and for months has gone against Abbott and Patrick — as well as most Texas Republican lawmakers — in his public rejection of efforts to impose bathroom restrictions on transgender people. His comments in the magazine, however, go further than his usual criticism that the bill is bad for the Texas economy.
In December, the largest survey of transgender Americans painted a grim picture of pervasive discrimination and harassment, finding that 40 percent of respondents said they had attempted suicide at some point. The survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality assessed input received in 2015 from 27, 715 respondents in all 50 states. Researchers have estimated that the overall attempted suicide rate in the U.S. is less than 5 percent.
Abbott made what he calls “privacy protection legislation” part of a lengthy special legislative session agenda that begins July 18. He said last week that Texas needs bathroom regulations for “protecting the privacy of women and children” to avoid what he described as a patchwork of conflicting regulations across the state.
Some of Texas’ biggest cities, including Dallas and Austin, have anti-discrimination ordinances that extend protections to transgender people in public spaces.
The driving force in Texas behind a “bathroom bill” is pushing back after the Republican House speaker was quoted as saying he didn’t want a “suicide” on his hands over efforts to restrict what restrooms transgender people can use.
A spokeswoman for Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday that “no one wants to see harm to anyone” and said the bill isn’t about discrimination. His office was responding to a New Yorker article that quoted House Speaker Joe Straus as saying he didn’t want the “suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
Straus for months has railed against a “bathroom bill” and has been blamed by Patrick for sinking the measure.
Straus’ comments in the magazine echo concerns raised by LGBT rights groups that such efforts marginalize a group of people who at least one recent survey has shown attempt suicide at a higher-than-average rate.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to revive the bill this summer.