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Star Wars versus the bathroom bill in Austin

Bathrooms at Capital Factory are labeled Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia instead of men and women. (Photo: Bettie Cross)

It's Star Wars versus the bathroom bill in downtown Austin. Two Star Wars characters are front and center in one company's push to allow transgender Texans to choose where they go to the bathroom.

"One of our floors is Star Wars themed," said Joshua Baer, founder and executive director of Capital Factory.

Star Wars is a force to reckon with at Capital Factory. You can't take a step without coming face to face with movie memorabilia. But it's in the bathrooms, where everyone needs to take care of business, that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia have been given a mission.

"The bathrooms instead of being labeled men and women are labeled Luke and Leia," said Baer.

The entrepreneur is a Star Wars fan, but read his t-shirt and you'll see he's also a fan of letting transgender people choose a bathroom based on which gender they identify with. So at Capital Factory entrepreneurs, programmers and designers choose a bathroom based on where they feel most comfortable.

"This was a fun little play on reflecting the way I think most of the people in the tech community and certainly here at Capital Factory feel about letting people be themselves when they're at work," said Baer as he talked about his t-shirt.

The Texas Legislature is debating a bill that would require transgender Texans to use the bathroom that matches the gender marked on their birth certificates.

"This bill would have a dramatic and immediate effect on Austin and we have a lot to lose," said Baer.

If the bathroom bill passes, tech leaders think there will be backlash from more than Formula One, SXSW and music festivals. The biggest impact could be on economic development.

"There are so many companies choosing to move here to Austin and relocating here and relocating their employees here and those companies will also choose to go other places," said Baer.

Desmond Thomas doesn't think Austin's tech sector can afford to break its promise of diversity.

"We're looking to really hire the best and the brightest around the world and that can't happen with bills like this and that will really drive startups away," said Thomas.

Right now Austin is ranked as one of the nation's top startup cities. To keep that position tech leaders say transgender Texans need to be able to open the door of the character they identify with.

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