Bathroom Bill Will Blight March Magic

The Forrest Four-Cast: March 22, 2017

On March 6, SXSW was one of several organizations that spoke at a press conference opposing SB6 (the so-called Texas Bathroom Bill). Representing our 200-person company as well as the thousands of forwarding-thinking professionals who come to Austin each spring, I said:

“SXSW opposes all discriminatory legislation and unequivocally supports civil rights for all. We’re proud to use our platform to call out policies that could harm so many people, and harm Texas. We are asking lawmakers to end this needless pursuit of discriminatory laws, and to focus instead on making our communities as economically strong — and culturally vibrant — as possible.”

A few days later, some of the world’s most brilliant thinkers and insightful artists started arriving in Austin for SXSW 2017. Many local residents began to step away from their jobs for a few days to be part of this annual celebration of creativity and innovation, a celebration that brings more than $325 million dollars in economic impact to Austin — plus massive media coverage of the city from outlets representing every corner of the globe.

However, one group that did not rest during SXSW was the Texas Legislature. On March 8, a Senate Committee passed SB6 by an 8–1 vote despite hours and hours of citizen testimony against the bill. The bill has now moved to the Texas House of Representatives.

According to an email update from the leader of the pro-business, pro-LGBT organization known as Texas Competes, “House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has made it clear that this bill is not a priority, and that he has concerns about its economic impact. SB6 will likely be referred to the House State Affairs Committee. That Committee’s chair, Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), has also signaled his lack of interest in passing a Bathroom Bill. We therefore expect slower movement in the House.”

“Slower movement” sounds promising. But in the completely unpredictable political climate of 2017, we must remember that the opposition of key House members is the only thing keeping SB6 (and the two dozen other anti-LGBT bills filed) from the desk of Greg Abbott — where such bills could be signed into law by the Texas Governor who hasn’t yet publicly opposed these measures. Additionally, there are possibilities that more anti-LGBT legislation could be attached to other legislative actions before Lone Star lawmakers.

Division and discrimination are not the values that characterize most residents of this great state. A lot more of us support an inclusive vision of the future, one that supports big opportunities as opposed to state-sponsored bigotry. This vision was articulated via a keynote speech at SXSW 2017 from the woman who leads much of the effort against SB 6. Click here to watch the powerful March 12 presentation covering the importance of diversity and inclusion from Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes. If her speech touches your heart, then please sign the online pledge against the Bathroom Bill organized by Texas Competes. Several other groups are also fighting this misguided legislation, including Texas Welcomes All and the Texas Association of Business.

The stakes here are huge. If SB6 becomes law, the international innovation community that traditionally gathers in Austin in March will likely find another home. This departure will mean lost revenue, lost taxes, lost jobs, and a lost path for Texas to lead the world forward.

Hugh Forrest tries to write four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts generally cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith or meditating, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.

Bathroom Bill Will Blight March Magic was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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