Ashley Smith is a transgender woman and LGBTQ activist from San Antonio, Texas. Like most transgender Texans, she’s concerned about Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anti-transgender bathroom bill initiative, an attempt to legally force trans Texans to use the bathrooms that correspond to their sex assigned at birth.
With Abbott calling for a special legislative session to ensure the bathroom bill is passed, Smith decided to protest in a less-traditional but modern way. She wanted to take a photo with the governor.
The perfect opportunity arose when he was about to announce his re-election campaign in San Antonio last Saturday. Because the event was free, she grabbed a ticket and the two ended up having a pleasant enough conversation.
“While waiting in line, I became nervous because I hadn’t planned what I would say to him. When I finally met him, we discussed some work I have been doing for one of the state universities, and it was a friendly conversation,” Smith explained to the Daily Dot.
Smith then took the selfie with Abbott that has since gone viral. It has been shared over 3K time on Facebook and covered by numerous outlets like CNN, Reuters, and the Hill. On the Facebook post, she called the governor her “#bathroombuddy,” pointing out how the two would be legally required to share a bathroom together if the bill becomes law: “How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t?”
But at the time of their meeting, she decided not to talk about the bathroom bill with the governor. She told the Daily Dot that a dozen protesters “had already been escorted or carried out of the building,” and that the governor’s mind was practically made up on the matter anyway.
“I was more focused on getting my photo, which has had a tremendous audience. Hopefully, the picture has moved some opinions and elevated the conversation about this bill,” Smith said.
How will the Potty Police know I'm transgender if the Governor doesn't? #bathroombuddy #satx #indivisible #stopsb6 #noh8 #transgender #translivesmatter #sunsetandsinedie #classroomsnotbathrooms
For Smith, the bathroom bill is extremely dangerous. She calls the initiative “devastating” to the transgender and gender nonconforming community in Texas, and she points out that the bill is designed “to target, demonize, and stigmatize 125,000 transgender Texans.” In particular, Smith stresses that transgender children, nonbinary citizens, and transgender women of color are particularly vulnerable under the bill.
“The law would encourage vigilante justice against anyone who doesn’t look stereotypically male or female,” she told the Daily Dot. “Those who are more obviously transgender would likely see increased discrimination and face humiliation everywhere they go in public. I especially worry about young people who may decide that they would rather die than to face the state-sanctioned discrimination in addition to the tremendous challenges of coming out in a conservative part of the country.”
Smith points out that Texas has a mixed relationship with the LGBTQ community. In San Antonio, the city has a non-discrimination ordinance that protects queer and transgender citizens. And while some major Texas cities “seem to be somewhat LGBT-friendly,” Texas’s more suburban and rural portions are not.
“These areas are socially conservative and are over-represented during the Republican primaries,” Smith said. “It seems like the most extreme 5 percent of Texans decide who governs the state. We need to organize and get out the vote, or the circus we’ve seen in Austin this year will only continue.”
Smith’s first activist venture happened during Texas Legislature’s 2015 regular session when she visited the Capitol in Austin to protest Republicans’ attempt to pass a different anti-trans bathroom bill. Then, like many, she was most encouraged to dedicate herself to political activism during the 2016 election.
Since then, she helped create an Indivisible group in San Antonio, a grassroots anti-Trump organization focused on resisting the current administration. She has volunteered for multiple candidates during the San Antonio municipal elections, and she has visited Austin half a dozen times throughout 2017 to fight back against 25 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed during the Texas Legislature’s regular session—like ones that would require teachers to out LGBTQ students, target transgender children, and allow organizations to avoid giving children up for adoption to LGBTQ families.
— John Anthony Salazar (@JohnSalazar) July 17, 2017
But with her newfound virality, Smith says she is only getting started. Now that she has a platform as an LGBTQ activist, Smith says the next step forward is to shed light on the everyday experiences of trans people in the state.
“One mission I have is to show everyone that transgender people exist in our community, that we are just ordinary folks, and that there is no reason to be afraid of us,” she said. “Given a fair shot, we can contribute to Texas’ culture and the economy as much as anyone else.”