State lawmakers file gender-specific locker room, bathroom legislation for second time

State lawmakers file gender-specific...

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Senate Bill 98 did not move very far during last year's legislative session, but sponsor Senator Ed Emery is hoping this time around will be different.

"I think people have acknowledged that maybe there is a concern about the safety of students and that needs to be addressed," he said.

Emery's bill aims to "accommodate the safety of all students" in the public school system, he said Tuesday. 

The language of the bill states that "all school restrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms accessible for use by multiple students shall be designated for and used by male or female students only. The act provides for the best available accommodations for students who assert that his or her gender is different from his or her biological sex."

In other words, transgender students would separate from the rest of the student population in locker rooms or bathrooms. If a student was designated male at birth but identifies as female, the student would not be able to use the female locker room or bathroom. They would be required to use a gender-neutral bathroom instead.

The bill acknowledges that a person's biological sex is determined by their chromosomes, anatomy and birth certificate.

"If we're going to legislate something it needs to be logically and reasonably sound," Emery said. "We don't want to get into the opinion arena, we want to stay with things that are absolutes. Those are all things that can be measured and established."

But the LGBTQ community maintains that a person's sex or gender identity is not solely based on the appearance of their external anatomy or what is written on a birth certificate. Instead, a person's sex is a "combination of bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics," according to GLAAD.

Steph Perkins, the Executive Director of PROMO or Promoting Equality for All Missourians, said in a phone conversation Tuesday that the legislation, which on the surface aims to protect transgender students' privacy, can actually end up harming them.

"What it does do is it forces trans students to either use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth, which would not be the bathroom they should be using, or forces them to use a gender-neutral bathroom," he said. "Unfortunately, as some people see that as a compromise, it is actually not a compromise."

Perkins said requiring a student to use a gender-neutral bathroom, faculty bathroom or similar facilities could mean they don't have access to the bathroom before or after school, which might limit their participation in extracurricular activities.

"It also forces them to be outed," he said. "The other students may not know that they're transgender and it forces them to be doing something different from other students. It singles out students in a way that opens them up to bullying and limits their successful participation in activities that other students may have access."

He said privacy issues could be addressed in other ways and still allow transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room they identify with. He cited the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights investigation in Nov. 2015 that an Illinois school district had violated Title IX. A transgender student there was fighting to use the woman's locker room at her suburban high school.

"There are a lot of students that need privacy," he said. "Those can be met with some reasonable accommodations like putting up a couple extra shower curtains to create a private space for anyone. We want to make sure that trans students are respected as themselves."

Emery said Senate Bill 98 acknowledges a transgender students' rights and insists that public schools accommodate that, but at the same time protects the privacy of other students who do not identify as transgender.

"It also wants to protect the other 98, 99 percent of students whose parents probably don't want them mixing in with the biological compromises that might come from mixed shower stalls," he said. 

Senate Bill 98 is not the only bill of its kind to be filed for 2017. Representative Jeff Pogue has also filed House Bill 202, which requires all public restrooms, other than single occupancy restrooms, to be gender divided.

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