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Rockwall City Council Rejects Proposed Restrictions On Public Bathrooms

Christopher Connelly/KERA
CD Kirven of Dallas said so-called bathroom bills target transgender people and put anyone who doesn't conform to gender norms at risk.

The Rockwall City Council last night rejected the mayor’s controversial proposal that would have regulated bathroom use.

The proposal would have required people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, not the gender with which they identify. Many say the proposal targets transgender people.

Before the meeting, about 70 advocates for transgender rights gathered in front of Rockwall City Hall to oppose the so-called bathroom bill. They held signs that said “transgender rights are human rights” and “We just need to pee.” They said the bill endangers transgender people. 

“What do we want? To pee in peace,” they chanted. “When do we want to? Whenever we need to.”

Inside, the council chambers and the overflow room were packed. Dozens of Rockwall residents spoke – most against the bill, but many were for it. Rockwall County Attorney Kenda Culpepper said the bill was needed since corporations like Target and Planet Fitness announced policies to allow people to use the restroom they felt appropriate.

“This is about sexual predators who will use this issue or these policies of businesses encouraging people to use whatever restroom they feel like using that day to get into the bathroom and possibly assault children,” Culpepper said.

  Karen Roggenkamp fired back. She says that her transgender daughter is not a boy in a girl’s dress – not a predator and not a pervert.

“I will not stand by as my child and other transgender children in this community are made second-class citizens because of governmental overreach,” Roggenkamp says.

Also against the bill: the general manager of the Hilton hotel in Rockwall, who said his company thinks the bathroom policy would be seen as discriminatory and hurt tourism.

Mayor Jim Pruitt, who proposed the ordinance, said it’s purely about security – not discrimination. But in the end, Pruitt failed to get traction from his fellow council members. His council colleague, David White, says he opposed the bill as soon as he heard about it.

“Leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone, that’s my political philosophy,” White said. “And this did not do that. It got into the business of where people get rid of their bodily waste and I think that’s the kinda most ridiculous thing I’ve seen the city of Rockwall get involved with in the five years I’ve been on council.”

All of the other council members at the meeting said they wanted to protect children -- but decided the law wasn’t the right way to do it.

After the council discussion, advocates for transgender rights hugged in celebration. But it was tempered by anticipation of more bathroom bills in other Texas towns. A Lufkin city council member said Sunday he’d introduce a similar bill there. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says a statewide bathroom bill could be a possibility when the legislature reconvenes next year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Karen Roggenkamp. 

Earlier story from the Associated Press: Rockwall has rejected its mayor's proposal targeting transgender people from using the public bathrooms of their choice.

The Rockwall City Council on Monday night voted down an ordinance that would require all people to use restrooms based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. The proposal resembles a law approved earlier this year in North Carolina.

Mayor Jim Pruitt argued an ordinance in the Dallas suburb was necessary to prevent predators from hiding in opposite-gender bathrooms. But opponents say the proposal is unnecessary and discriminatory.

The other five members of the council on Monday night questioned the need for the bill.

The bill ultimately was rejected after Pruitt's request for a vote failed to receive a second.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.