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Nix: To stop predators, check chatrooms, not bathrooms

Jan. 6, 2017 at 11:27 p.m.

Kevin Nix is senior director of public affairs and communications at Houston-based Legacy Community Health. (Special to the News-Journal)

A recent poll conducted by Texans for Dan Patrick shows almost 70 percent of Texans support "passing a law to make it illegal for a man to enter a women's restroom." Shocker. This is like asking if we like barbecue or football, or if we want our trash picked up. The only news here is that the number wasn't closer to 100 percent.

It always has been — and always will be — illegal for a sexual predator to attack a woman in a public restroom. If you break the law, you go to jail.

So Senate Bill 6, Texas' new so-called "bathroom bill," unveiled Thursday in the faux-name of safety, is unnecessary. What is needed is greater attention to where sexual predators are these days: the internet. The data clearly show the very real threat: Predators now hide behind computer screens — not in bushes and bathrooms.

Last year, a single law enforcement sting called Operation Broken Heart III, arrested 126 internet predators in the Houston area while eight were arrested in Fort Worth. Fifteen — out of about 100 who contacted undercover officers posing as teenagers online — were arrested in North Texas in 2015 for suspected sexual behavior. Quite disturbing were the 12-year old twin girls in Houston who let a man they met online into their home through a bedroom window.

Fortunately, these men were nabbed by dedicated law enforcement officials and faced justice. But hundreds more are out there, camouflaged and creeping on social media sites, apps and gaming systems like Xbox waiting to lure women and children. This is the clear and present danger. It's looking like more than 60 bills will be filed this session that root out sex offenders where they are actually preying on women and children — which aren't in public restrooms.

So how did the public dialogue get stuck in the bathroom?

The purpose of any "bathroom bill," including Texas' own SB6, is to stop transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity. Some don't care to understand transgender people and want to rail against them. Others are well meaning and open to education. It can be hard, after all, to understand what it's like to be transgender, especially if you've never met a transgender person. At the end of the day, we are all God's children, and everyone should be treated fairly under the law.

As we head into legislative session, it's becoming clear there will be a very public bull's-eye on the back of transgender folks. Such discrimination isn't without consequence.

The severe economic and political fallout from North Carolina's HB2 law, which included a transgender bathroom ban, is well documented. Passage of the law cost the state millions of dollars, angered major businesses and spurred the electoral defeat of the state's governor. North Carolina is now a proxy for what does and will happen if anti-LGBT discrimination is passed in Texas. It's not theoretical.

There also is a public health component to "bathroom bills." As one of largest community health centers in Texas, Legacy sees up close the reality that transgender youth are at a higher risk of depression than their non-transgender peers. More than 40 percent of transgender Americans try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with almost 5 percent of the general public, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Everyone in Texas politics and media should tread carefully here. The bathroom discussion serves as "proof" of blatant discrimination.

Moms and dads care the most about the safety of their family, which extends to the increasingly dangerous digital world. Let's not give predators any sense of comfort that lawmakers are looking in the wrong place — the bathroom — to catch them.

— Kevin Nix is senior director of public affairs and communications at Houston-based Legacy Community Health.

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