With the wellbeing of the transgender community as well as local and state economies in mind, a number of San Antonio business owners and leaders are organizing strategies to oppose Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 6.

The so-called “Bathroom Bill,” which prohibits a person from using the restroom that matches their gender identity, is discriminatory and, thus, a critical threat to the economy, said San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos Thursday at a meeting with local business leaders.

The Hispanic Chamber is spearheading an effort to unite the San Antonio business sector and present strong opposition of the bill to legislators. Right now, Cavazos said, efforts in San Antonio must be bolstered in order to keep the bill from passing.

Legislation similar to SB6 has been passed in other states, such as North Carolina, where the bill was passed last year and “cost the state millions in lost tourism revenue, and prompted the National Basketball Association and the NCAA to move games,” according to the Washington Post.

San Antonio is gearing up to host two major events in 2018 – the NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament and the NAACP National Convention – but there are fears that the city will lose hosting privileges for both if SB6 is signed into law.

When considering all of the NCAA and NJCAA sporting events that are supposed to take place in Texas from now until 2019, the state could potentially lose upwards of $158 million.

“Our hope is to oppose bills that are negative in nature and we feel that this will really impact one of our largest industries and employers in town,” Cavazos said, referring to the hospitality and tourism industry.

Patrick proposed SB6 last October and it was filed for the 85th Texas Legislative session on Jan. 5. The bill, which would apply only to state facilities, would require all individuals to use the restroom that coincides with the gender printed on their birth certificates.

State law currently does not mandate which bathrooms individuals can or cannot use.

“Transgender people have obviously been going into the ladies’ room for a long time, and there hasn’t been an issue that I know of,” Patrick said in a speech he gave last October at a Dallas Regional Chamber gathering. “But if laws are passed by cities and counties or school districts to allow men to go into a bathroom because of the way they feel, we will not be able to stop sexual predators from taking advantage of that law, like sexual predators take advantage of the internet.”

Many of those in opposition of the “Bathroom Bill” have adopted the attitude of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” According to Police Chief William McManus, the San Antonio Police Department has not received any complaints of sexual assaults in public restrooms.

“What [passing SB6] will create is not a solution, but a perception [of Texas] that will harm us economically,” said Jeff Coyle, spokesman for the City of San Antonio, who attended Thursday’s meeting.

City of San Antonio Director of Public Affairs Jeff Coyle gives attendees a glimpse of the past current and possible future of bathroom law in Texas.
City of San Antonio Director of Public Affairs Jeff Coyle gives attendees a glimpse of the past current and possible future of bathroom law in Texas. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

That perception of a non-inclusive Texas to many city leaders, including Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), is completely inaccurate when it comes to San Antonio.

“We are a welcoming city … and it is our differences as people in our city that bring us success and achievement,” said Viagran, who is on the board of the city’s tourism body Visit San Antonio.

San Antonio is a city increasing both in diversity and in population, Viagran added, and “has the most to lose out of all of this.”

“To put a perception out there that we’re not a welcoming state – that’s just adverse to what San Antonio is,” Justin Holley, partner/vice president of ABH Hospitality Management, told the Rivard Report. “It’s frustrating to us [in the hospitality industry] because we’re probably one of the most welcoming industries in the state and to risk the chance of losing the NBA, NCAA [events] with this bill” isn’t worth it.

Cavazos said the Hispanic Chamber has reached out to every chamber of commerce in the city to join them in their opposition effort, along with Bexar County, the City, and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, among other groups. They’re working to provide each organization with information and an economic study pertaining to the bill and hope to convene another public meeting within the next few weeks to better organize a united opposition, he said.

Representatives from the City, Visit San Antonio, the San Antonio Tourism Council, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce, the North San Antonio Chamber, San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association, and A Novel Idea, LLC participated in Thursday’s meeting, but Cavazos hopes future gatherings include a larger, more robust group.

In October, more than 200 small Texas businesses banded together and released an open letter by Equality Texas – a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equal rights group – opposing the legislation. That number has since grown to more than 300.

La Botanica owner Rebel Mariposa speaks about how millennial don't tolerate discrimination and places that do will limit their market.
La Botánica owner Rebel Mariposa was one of several local business owners who spoke out against SB6, the “Bathroom Bill” proposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in Oct. 2016. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“We want to continue to provide great jobs and great experiences for our employees and our customers. That’s why we oppose any Texas legislation – broad or narrow – that would legalize discrimination against any group,” the letter states.

The Hispanic Chamber already signed a resolution against the bill, in support of a pledge by Texas Competes, at its October 2016 board meeting. Texas Competes is a partnership of businesses dedicated to “a Texas that is economically vibrant and welcoming of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

“We believe that in order for Texas businesses to compete for top talent, we must have workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” the pledge states. “We believe that treating all Texans and visitors fairly is essential to maintaining Texas’ strong brand as the premier home for talented workers, growing businesses, entrepreneurial innovation, and a thriving travel and tourism industry.”

The Hispanic Chamber’s resolution voices the organization’s commitment to fight against “any bills … that would be harmful to Texas businesses by establishing new policies for the use of bathrooms in the workplace or public facilities by creating unnecessary and cumbersome exceptions related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any other protected groups.”

House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has not officially and publicly opposed the legislation, but has voiced concern over its potential impact on the state’s economy of losses of $8.5 billion a year, according to the Texas Association of Business.

Leading a strong effort in support of Senate Bill 6 is Texas Values, a Judeo-Christian organization that works to “preserve and advance a culture of family values in the state of Texas.” The organization’s president, Jonathan M. Saenz, did not return request for comment before publication, but Texas Values officials emailed the Rivard Report a document they wrote Thursday titled “Six Essential Facts about Senate Bill 6.”

In it, organization officials list six reasons they believe SB6 – the Texas Privacy Act – is a good move for Texas. They believe the bill “protects the privacy and safety of our schoolchildren … protects the freedom of businesses to set their own policies … is good news for businesses … and empowers individuals,” among other things. The document also states that the Texas Association of Business’ analysis of potential revenue losses for the state is “erroneous.”

To read the entire document, click here.

As legislators continue to deliberate on the legislation, Cavazos is hoping the San Antonio community will “wake up” and realize the gravity of the issue, which could have wide-reaching implications on much of the city.

“I think we’ve learned the hard way what happens if we don’t act when we need to,” he said. “This is a very easy decision for us not to make by sitting on the sidelines.”

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com