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I was hitchhiking from a college town in Kansas back home to the Philadelphia suburbs with an empty stomach and empty pockets when a driving rain led me to seek shelter in a Greyhound bus station in St. Louis.

It was 1971 and I was 18 years old.

I was in the bus station’s men’s room, digging through my backpack for dry clothes, when a well-dressed man in his late 20s approached me and offered to drive me to his apartment. I’ll never forget his come-on: “I’ve got a cool new stereo and we’ll get high.”

I passed on his, um, kind invitation, and never for a moment felt threatened.

That’s the first and last time I remember such an encounter in a public bathroom. I doubt many readers have a lot of experience fending off come-ons, or worse, sexual predators in a public bathroom, either.

If there’s a real problem with bathrooms, here in Texas or anywhere, it’s probably the high percentage of people who don’t wash their hands after using the facilities. Germs are a greater threat to our everyday well-being than some nonexistent threat posed by transgender people in society. Funny, but true.

Yet Texas stands at a crossroads, one direction leading to greater social justice, the other down a backwards path to discrimination.

Tech Bloc CEO David Heard and State Sen. José Menéndez (D-26) held an important public conversation Friday that framed the looming political fight in the Texas Legislature when lawmakers convene for a 30-day special session on Tuesday.

“I’m not really sure what problem this legislation is attempting to solve,” Heard said in his opening remarks. “It seems to me to be less about public safety and more about discrimination fueled by presumed religious morality.”

Menéndez made it clear that the outcome of such legislation being passed and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott could be economically devastating for San Antonio’s convention and visitor industry.

“We want the public and business leadership to understand the damage this bill can do,” Menéndez said. “This will probably be the last conversation we’re going to have regarding this [bill] before the special session. We have some serious concerns about the bathroom bill. I think it will have an incredibly detrimental effect on our city and state, and I believe San Antonio will be disproportionately impacted.

“The economic impact to this city is greater than any other in this state.”

Many readers probably feel that what lawmakers do or do not do in Austin is beyond the reach of individual voters who lack the influence that special interest money buys in the state capitol. Rivard Report editors believe otherwise. We know lawmakers care about public opinion. That is why we published a guide Saturday to help readers contact their elected officials ahead of the legislative debate.

Give it a try. It only takes a minute to send an email, make a call, or take to social media to share articles and express your views.

Those who believe there is a need for legislation forcing transgender people to use bathrooms that match their biological identity at birth aren’t really addressing a gender problem related to bathroom use or the imagined problem of sexual predation. Few, if any, public bathrooms are guarded now, yet rapists don’t seem to prey on women in such circumstances. Bars can be more dangerous than bathrooms in that regard.

Some conservative political leaders, including Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, mistakenly equate transgender individuals and, for that matter, others in the LGBTQIA community with sexual deviancy and criminal behavior. Sexual identity has nothing to do with it.

Gov. Greg Abbott makes his campaign announcement at Sunset Station.
Gov. Greg Abbott makes his campaign announcement at Sunset Station on July 14, 2017. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

That’s the great divide socially right now in our state and our country. The courts have recognized landmark social change and codified it in recent years – gay marriage, for example. That kind of evolving legal thinking would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. Many people simply cannot keep pace with that kind of social change and still hold very fundamental views to the contrary.

No minority community has ever won recognition or acceptance without bitter and protracted political and social struggle. What we are experiencing now with legislation that isolates and stigmatizes transgender people is no different, really, than what people of color, or women, or others have endured in a fight for equal rights.

Yes, passage of the so-called “bathroom bill” could impose devastating economic consequences on our city, but I’d argue that defeat of the legislation is even more important to our city for reasons of social justice.

That’s why all of us should contact our elected representatives and hope that another Republican leader in this state, House Speaker Joe Straus, and enough fellow Republicans and Democrats have the numbers to prevail in this important moment.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor and publisher of the San Antonio Report.