Donald Trump has a chance to kind of nail something here, but we’ll get back to this in a moment.
Houston is hosting this year’s Super Bowl, but there was a brief moment in 2015 where plans could have very easily changed.
Two years ago, the same city that elected one of the country’s first openly gay mayors, rejected Proposition 1, a bill that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Houston’s housing, employment, public accommodations, and city contracting. It was pretty much argued as your average “bathroom bill” debate is expected to.
When the entire state of North Carolina passed their own discriminatory bill in 2016, every major American pro-league came out against the state’s decision. Hell, the NBA moved this year’s All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans because the state wouldn’t revert H.B. 2.
While Houston did this a couple of months before North Carolina, the NFL said that it was proceeding with things as scheduled in Texas.
Fast forward to today and the war over where people can comfortably relieve themselves remains alive and well. Staying with the Lone Star State, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is the champion in this year’s gubernatorial bathroom protection pledge class. (Also featuring legislators from 11 other states).
Patrick’s number one agenda item this legislative session is his version of a bathroom bill. (Let those words “number one agenda item” sink in for a moment). Here’s what the Texas Monthly’s R.G.Ratcliffe had to say:
“At the Austin Club, Patrick laid out the highlights of his agenda, building to his top priority, one that wasn’t likely to go over well with some of the assembled business lobbyists: a bill that would require transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender at birth, not the gender they identify with. Patrick has said his intent is to keep men out of women’s restrooms, and he has referred to the bill as the “women’s privacy act.” To Patrick’s critics, though, the proposal is rank discrimination against transgender Texans.
It’s the specter of that discrimination—or what people around the country might see as discrimination—that has business leaders spooked, and it’s not a feeling they’re accustomed to, especially on this topic. Restroom access was a nonstarter the last time the Legislature was in session, in 2015; a handful of House bills on the subject never even got committee hearings, and Patrick and the Senate ignored them. But in recent years, religious-right activists began promoting the idea that municipal antidiscrimination ordinances could allow a sexual predator to enter women’s public restrooms merely by declaring that he was a female at heart—though there’s no evidence that has ever occurred. North Carolina famously passed strident restroom restrictions, and business leaders in that state watched the backlash in horror: corporate relocations and expansions were halted, and major college and professional sporting events were moved out of state. The Texas Association of Business has estimated that similar restroom legislation, if passed in Texas, would cost the state economy up to $8.5 billion, including the possible loss of college basketball’s 2018 Final Four, in San Antonio.”
It’s that last part. That part that “would cost the state economy $8.5 billion” if Patrick’s perverse intrusion into the bathroom stall passes. That’s enough to give politicians pause.
And that’s where Trump comes in. Trump faced the bathroom bill question in North Carolina with a response that’s reasonable by his standards.
“North Carolina did something that was very strong, and they are paying a big price and there’s a lot of problems. One of the best answers I heard was from a commentator yesterday, saying ‘leave it the way it is. There have been very few problems.’ North Carolina, what they are going through with all of the business that’s leaving and the strife– and that’s on both sides. You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints they way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble, and the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment they’re taking,” he said in an odd cadence of English.
He later rescinded these remarks when he realized he probably needed more votes at the time. But with Trump we’ve come to learn that his least prepared answers are often what he actually means.
His answer gets to the heart of what really irks him about this issue: business. The Texas Monthly article highlights the fracture between Patrick and the business lobbyists, stating the “[Texas Association of Business] has used those [$8.5 billion] estimates to justify its strong opposition to a restroom bill, and various power brokers, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, have tried to persuade Patrick to drop the notion.
The only problem is, Patrick will probably undercut any bills that the business lobby supports if they oppose the restroom bill. This leaves businesses playing pickle, caught between staying in-state or packing up shop for greener pastures.
But Trump can change things. He can deliver on his promise of keeping the entire American economy working as quick as he did his promise to be a repugnant bigot. In fact, if Donald Trump doesn’t pass legislation either through Congress or through executive order outlawing this “rank discrimination,” he’d be objectively anti-business.
Would he actually do this? No. 1.It’s not in his best political interest given his base. 2. it’s not the “policy-du-jour.” That title belongs to his wildly confusing immigration ban. But sometimes the policies we stop talking about have a way of creeping up on us.
President Trump has a chance to make a nation-wide decision that is, if nothing else, a policy in support of the business communities he claims to understand best. He could do it in the city and the state that doubles as the new frontier in this battle for equality. And if he did it Super Bowl weekend, he’d have the only thing he’s ever wanted: an audience.
Whether he chooses to or not? As always, that’s only his business.